CHEAP EATS Call came at 10 at night. I remember where I was. I was sitting at my new desk, deciding between not doing this thing I needed to do, not doing that thing I needed to do, or just going to bed and not being able to sleep because I had so many things to do. It was the perfect time for the phone to ring.
EARL BUTTER I got paid! I have pork! I have rum!
ME I'll be right there.
Used to be I needed a constant, flowy fix of Third Things or Plan C's, as I call them to save me from the paralysis of This vs. That. Now I find myself frantically scratching for Plans D, E, and F. It's alphabet soup in here, swirling, steaming, ready to blow.
[Enter pork, stage left.]
I'm rooming, temporarily, with Sockywonk in Noe Valley. So I opened her freezer door and said to Houdini, "There's pork. See you later."
Her head is in there too, between some beans and a Popsicle. Mountain Sam is going to bury it (the head) in his yard, then he's going to dig up the bones and make Houdini-head art. As testament to her greatness, Sockywonk is thrilled to have my famous chicken in her freezer. I didn't show her the head.
"There's pork," I called to Socky. "Wanna come?"
"No thanks," she said. We'd just had dinner. She was in the tub.
Earl Butter said I eat like a caveman.
"Cavewoman," I said.
We were sitting around an aluminum bucket, me, him, and Jolly Boy, surrounded by dirty dishes, wadded aluminum foil, and half-empty glasses, listening to Jolly Boy's songs. They'd been drinking since morning and had recorded 11 of them.
"It took me three weeks to record 11 songs," I said, "and then I accidentally deleted them."
"That's why we paid a professional," Jolly Boy explained.
"You went into a studio?" It never ceases to amaze me, the things you can do with a real job.
"There's a new kind of reverb," Earl Butter said.
It did sound good. "How do you get it?" I asked.
"You 'shoot the room,' " he said. Neither of them knew what that meant.
Walking back to Wonk's through the Mission at 1:30 in the morning, I felt good for the first time in days. And some people won't even eat pork! Vegetarians. Orthodoxical Jews. Sockywonk. If anyone would have seen me on the sidewalks that night, and some people did, they would have thought: there goes the chicken farmer.
But they should have seen me three nights earlier at my shack in the woods, picking up and putting down the ax, trying to sing "St. Louis Blues" and only gurgling. Hating myself and hating the world because I couldn't do it for a change. I'd been crying and trying since sunset, strike one, strike two, and now the stars were on the edges of their seats, watching, waiting, and wondering.
Good thing I'm a good two-strike hitter, I thought. Then I thought: that's little comfort to the chicken you're trying to kill. Then I thought: what am I thinking? I never even get to two strikes. I swing at the first pitch I see, and ground out.
Twice I'd had Houdini stretched on the stump, and twice she'd broken free, unscratched. The third time wasn't close. She freaked. Strike three. I let her back in her home and went into mine, deflated and ashamed. Not that I was missing. I couldn't even swing.
It was 10 that night too when the phone rang. Mountain Sam. "Chicken Farmer!" he said.
"No. I need a new name," I said. I cried. I managed, in pieces, to explain myself. I wasn't a chicken farmer. Surprise! And yet: this chicken. To be dealt with. My subletter was moving in next day and had no idea (until now) how close he came to being a chicken farmer.
What friends are for: the Mountain not only there-there'd me, he tickled his tired brain, pulled real hard on the precious hairs of his beard, and said, "Maybe sleep? Maybe in the morning?"
It was just the thing. I set my alarm for 5:30. It would be just light enough for me to sort of see, and not light enough for her. Didn't get to sleep until 2:30, which was probably for the best, because basically I was walking in my sleep when I did what I did. Which took the breath out of me, but nothing more.
It's a different, dreamier reverb at dawn than at dusk. *