I was working at a barbeque joint in Seattle and this guy walks in. He was just another guy, I didn’t know him or anything, and he asked me, in this weird, kind of short-bus voice, “What’s good, brother?”
I didn’t know how to answer those kinds of stupid questions, I still don’t, so I just said, “Pretty much everything.”
After a couple interminable minutes of this guy humming and hawing (literal vocalizations) and saying things like, “Slicing the pork, eh? Maybe the pork slices you!” and, apropos of nothing, “How do you think an inside-out cactus would feel?” he finally settles on the baby-back ribs (“I hope they’re not offa my baby! Baby!”)
“What sides would you like with that?”
“What are the choices, Finnegan?”
“We have all of them listed right up there on the wall”, I said, pointing.
“Didn’t yer mum ever tell ya’ it’s not polite to point, mate?”
I stare with my dead-eyes.
“Mine neither, Stever.”
Another couple minutes later and he settles on the baked beans and coleslaw (“The make-means and Copeland-slaw, please!”).
“Mild, Medium or Hot sauce?” I ask.
“Oh, no hot sauce.”
“It’s not hot sauce, it’s barbeque sauce. It comes in mild, medium or hot.”
“Oh, no hot sauce”, he protested.
“It’s barbeque sauce. You can get it in mild or medium if you want.”
“So mild? Medium?”
“No hot sauce”, he repeated.
“It’s not hot sauce. It’s barbeque sauce.”
“Oh. Well then, how hot’s the medium?”
“Not very hot.”
“But is it hot?”
“I don’t know if you’ll think it’s hot. ‘Hot’ is a relative term. If you’re really sensitive then you might think it’s hot. Most people don’t find it very hot, though.”
“But I don’t want hot sauce”, he told me. Again.
“So Mild, then”, I squeezed out of my rage-contracted lungs.
“Well how hot’s a mild hot sauce, brother? I mean, can you even call a hot sauce mild? Seems rooty-tin fruity ta’ me, mate.”
A moment passed as this pale, stove-pipe hatted (did I mention he was wearing a stove-pipe hat?), thick-glasses wearing, long velvet coat havin’ apparent retard and myself locked stares across a 2 foot icy abyss of countertop filled with chile fixins, hot sauce, cactus refrigerator magnets (Oh! That’s where the cactus comment came from), and laminated menus. I looked deep into his brown eyes, searching for a spark of humanity, or suffering, or intelligence; something that would make me think twice about leaping over the counter and crushing his bony nose with my fist then boot. Somewhere off in the background, probably the kitchen now that I think about it, a Bob Willis and the Texas Playboys song played. Something to do with the range and the cattle.
“I love this old hangy-bangy American music. It’s like the church choir got to the drink!” he popped, slicing through the tension.
“The mild barbeque sauce will be in a separate cup. If you don’t like it you don’t have to use it.”
The bastard ate, happily. He came up halfway through his meal and said he wanted to try the medium hot-sauce, because the mild hot-sauce wasn’t very hot and it was “queer” that we called it “hot-sauce” at all. Then he stepped outside and got shot.
Well actually, that would have been very dramatic but really he stepped outside and got into a cab. But this was just about a week before he died. When I heard he got shot, this is after I learned who he was, I wasn’t sad or anything, even though I was a fan, because I was still mad about the whole hot-sauce thing. To this day when I think about it I get so angry.
Anyway, after he left the cook comes over and says, “Jesus Christ! Did you know who that is?”
“Do you know who that was?” I corrected, as far as I know.
“That was fucking John Lennon, man.”
“Oh shit! The Beatles!”
“Yeah. What did you say to him? What did he say?”
“He… he said…”
“He said, ‘What's so funny 'bout peace love & understanding’?”
“Wow. Wise man.”
Lucky for me the cook didn’t know that’s an Elvis Costello song.
I couldn’t break it to him his idol was just another slag who couldn’t manage to order a freaking rib-platter despite stereoscopic vision and an apparent grasp of human abstractions. The legend is perhaps better than the man, after-all. I mean, I didn’t mention this before but he had a big brooch on his jacket, about 5 inches across, that spelled “Elvis” in diamonds. What up with that?
Years later, while thumbing through Newsweek, I learned he wrote a song about our meeting. It was an old interview reprinted, and he was describing exactly our meeting in a Seattle “rib-joint” and how the back-and-forth inspired him to write a song. There it was, in such detail it could have only been me: Seattle. Baby-back ribs. Cactus magnets. Baked-beans and coleslaw. Mild hot-sauce. (The only thing different is he made me black, but I’d chalk that up to artistic license)
I had inspired a John Lennon song. Amazing. And to think I would have stabbed him in the belly given a chance.
The song came too late to be on Double Fantasy and was supposed to go on Milk and Honey. Of course John died so Yoko was left to finish the album, and she didn’t like the song so it didn’t make it there, either. I keep waiting to see it on a compilation. It’s called “Hot Mustard Man.”