CHEAP EATS Greg handed me an open can of beer and it slid right through my fingers; that's how greasy they were from eating meat, and that's why this week's love-letter-slash-restaurant-review begins in a puddle of foam on a beach blanket, and with the general sense that I very literally can't hold my liquor.
Earl Butter had some napkins. Also: two homemade balsa wood airplanes, which he had left, intentionally, in a brown bag in my car. The napkins were in his pocket.
"I don't want no kids touching my airplanes," he said as we were walking from the car to the party, bag of barbecue, a blanket, and a six-pack in tow.
We were not at the beach. We were in the Golden Gate Park, celebrating the recent arrival and impending departure of our old pal and ex Cheap Eats irregular Satchel Paige the Pitcher. He lives in Thailand now with his wife Ann Paige the Pitcher and their two little Wiffle-ballers, Nellie and Kelly Paige the Pitchers.
Every two years they all come back here just to get cold a little and see if they can make it into my column. Probably they have other reasons too. For years, for example, they've been trying to talk me out of my fear of flying and into visiting Thailand so they can take me to this restaurant near their house.
Greg is a vegetarian. I offered him the opportunity of a vegetarian's lifetime: to smell or even lick my fingers, but he passed on this. Probably because his girlfriend was sitting right there although it's possible, I suppose, that he just didn't want to lick my fingers. Or even smell them. Stranger things have happened.
Not that this is one of them, but Kid Coyote found a corner of a piece of old bacon in his backpack and ate it. He said it tasted like cologne. Now, a cologne that smells like bacon ... Don't do this to me! I'm practically a cannibal already.
Speaking of which, and bearing in mind that I recently renewed my poetic license, the love letter portion of this restaurant review will be in passionate, almost psychotic tribute to a red umbrella, not in attendance. It was cold out, and windy too windy to stand up straight but no threat of rain. Which was a good thing, because it was also too windy to open an umbrella anywhere but indoors, and everyone knows that's bad luck.
The umbrella, just to be perfectly clear about it, is in no way associated with last week's little number about the stuff guys leave at my apartment. Neither museum piece nor talisperson, this umbrella is an umbrella. It was given to me by a tall, dark stranger wearing mirror sunglasses, a funny hat, and a crooked, possibly fake mustache. He said something in French that I have not been able to translate any more precisely than, "Collect your family."
"Thank you. It's red," I said, accepting the gift with a polite smile, also in French (the smile, not the sentences). And it hasn't rained since.
Earl Butter hadn't had lunch so we detoured to George's, the new 24th Street barbecue, on our way to the park. It looks like it used to be a taqueria, but I'll be damned if I can think of which one. Anyway, it's a barbecue now. A kind of a smokeless barbecue. They admit it themselves on the back of the menu: "all meats are slow roasted continuously throughout the day." Technically that's roastecue.
The three-way George's special ($12.95) has chicken, beef, and ribs, so those were the three kinds of grease that lubricated my spilt can of beer at the picnic. And it was good meat, and good sauce, and good bean salad and salad salad by way of sides. I let Earl Butter eat the potato and roll, as I'd already had lunch once.
It was a great and windy and cold party, with kids and soccer balls and croquet, potato chips, Oreos, friends I hadn't seen in a while ... and all I could think about was my red umbrella, not in attendance.
At night now, if I sleep, I dream weather reports, and, yes, it's May, it's California, but I simply can't wait for it to rain.
Daily, 11 a.m.8 p.m.
3231 24th St., SF
Beer & wine
L.E. Leone's new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.