A Journey through the Sandwiches—Pambazo (Chapter One)

The roof gave in on Wednesday.

For weeks we had watched helplessly, myself and Fran Javier, as the situation in our trailer by the riverside deteriorated. First it was the rain battering down, not just on our roof but on the heavy branches above, assaulting them until they fell down on our tin ceiling with tremendous weight and clamor. These were tall trees out here on the river, big ones, that had rooted themselves into the banks some hundreds of years ago and never bent nor broke since then. And now this storm was giving their tops a savage trim.

The following day, we did not realize that the drainage pipe that would have otherwise solved the problem had been sheared clean off the side of the building, leaving rainwater in the center of our flat roof that pooled dramatically creating a waterlogged depression in the tin that you could see bending from inside, as the metal creaked and sank lower. And I had a droll thought then that you never realize how much water can weigh until it’s caving your home in.

What was wooden in the roof had been rotting, and you could hear the occasional sharp crack as another little piece of it splintered and gave way. I didn’t know enough about architecture to really understand how close we were getting to the breaking point, but I didn’t have to be an expert to realize the place was in a bad state. So I wasn’t entirely surprised when I woke up to find the roof collapsed, falling into the living area at an incline, safely tenting Fran Javier in the side of the room where he slept and deluging me with stagnant water on the other, full by now with insect eggs and lily pads. I angrily drank the last of the whiskey as I extracted myself, and dried off.

After we’d excavated Fran Javier from his impromptu lean-to, the two of us assessed the damage.

“We’ve gotta get the water out.”

“Towels are still soaked.”

“Ugh, so is my mattress. Soaked through. Okay, use them anyway. I’ll get the buckets and the squeegee.”

Fran Javier looked up. “God, the roof is fucked.”

I looked up into the open sky, through the dark and leafless branches over us at each tree’s highest point. It was gray—not the dark cloud cover of an imminent deluge, but gray enough to tell us that there would be no sun today, and probably for a while.

I had bought the trailer cash for $1400 near the middle of last year, and paid a nominal sum in lot fees each month at a steeply discounted rate. I knew about the landlord, see. I knew he had these secrets. So he let me get away with quite a bit. Being that he lived in an entirely different country at the moment, he didn’t come around often. And why would you? This was a swampy, humid place, difficult to access, unrewarding on arrival. And the people were scarce, the only neighbors I discovered during that first month of residency met by chance. I tried to be pleasant—raised in the Midwest, I’m a fairly pleasant person—but there was such an edge to all these interactions. I met six or seven people, a few who lived alone, and got bad vibes from all of them.

Fran Javier felt much the same way, and we’d spoken about it during our first weeks together here, trying to gauge the social temperature. “I was with these two dudes, y’know?” He’d pointed south, downriver. “They were sitting on the dock with a cooler, fishing, drinking beers. Younger guys, fourteen, fifteen. And they didn’t offer me a beer.”

“Were they cold to you?”

“They were cold to me! I don’t know why. Maybe people just aren’t nice, here. I’m from Guatemala, man. Everybody gets a beer there.”

“Well, have one of mine.” I reached behind my stool for the last two bottles of Stella Artois, dirt-caked at the bottom from being cooled all night inside the river mud.

I thought back on my own interactions, in light of the revelation that Fran Javier was getting the same cold shoulder. “Fuck ’em, anyway,” I said. “What are they, scared of us? That’s the sense I get. They didn’t call me a faggot or anything like that. No one’s been brandishing guns.”

“No, no. But they do have guns.”

“Yeah, that adds an edge to it.” I flipped a silver dollar from knuckle to knuckle, every turn devaluing it a little more. It was minted in 1889, which meant something for some reason. A mint one would get you tens of thousands, but it’d been too far gone when I received it for me to care for it. But even in the state it was in now, I wouldn’t use it as a dollar. It’s worth like thirty bucks. “We should have come more prepared, man. Maybe we should’ve come strapped.”

Fran cocked his head, his lips pursed in an expression of mild amusement as he leaned forward, reached into the back of his Levi’s, and withdrew a silver Smith and Wesson Stealth Hunter, a revolver, model 629. The first thing about it that I noticed was that the embossing was garish, and cheap-looking. The second thing I noticed—”Hey, that’s a .44 magnum, isn’t it.”

He nodded.

“You know, usually…” I started—but I let myself trail off. It didn’t need to be said. I was happy that we had the gun, no matter how much it worried me that having it could lead to us inevitably using it. And I didn’t want to get involved any possible scenario in which we’d need to.

Now I sighed, of fatigue and resignation. It was Wednesday, dusk. Night was coming soon, and I sat on the part of the wooden dock that served as our trailer’s porch and faced inland, at the eerie living tangle of the woods. There were people around here. People who could help, and we’d help them. But for some reason, we’d all developed this distrust. Despite myself, I was scared of them, especially at night, when the mind goes wild. Perhaps they see us as invaders, and they’re uncomfortable with our lifestyle. Maybe they don’t like us being here very much at all.

I went to sleep that night in a trailer on which repair work had only barely started. We’d gotten out the water, and now everything was damp. The roof still touched down into the ground on one side, turning what was once a rectangular trailer into a much smaller, scalene triangle sort of lean-to. Fran Javier and I wedged ourselves in there together with all our clothes on, no sleeping bags or bedding dry enough to use. I managed to mash a torn-up novel ruined by water into the shape of an angular pillow, which we split up and shared. And then we slept, eyes never on each other, but toward the darkness of those woods, and whatever may be in there, waiting for a moment of weakness on our part to pounce.

I’d resigned myself to an entire season of this, with months to go, and in my mind I tried to steel myself for the coming hardships. I didn’t know this at the time, but this ordeal would actually be over in a matter of days. It wouldn’t come from human aggression, not on the part of our neighbors. And we wouldn’t be flooded out into the river, the trailer destroyed and in pieces. Would that it would be so simple, to fall to nature, or our fellow man.

No, the end of our time here in this settlement would be brought down upon us by something unimaginably worse, something which, at the time, I had no reason to expect even existed—the python with arms.

TO BE CONTINUED FRIDAY… AT ONE O’CLOCK

Photo Credit: Chef Roger

Fun song parodies I do when on stage at karaoke

: A sampling.

“Booooorn gay—as gay as the wind, blo-o-ows. As gay as the grass groows… on a, sunny day-y-y…”—sung to Born Free by John Barry as performed by Matt Munro with meaning unchanged.

“I would. Suck you. Off”—sung to prince I would die for you.

“Keep blowing blowin blowin blowin COCK! Keep blowing blowin blowin blowin YEAH!”—sung to Limp Bizkit “Rollin'”, which accompanied the opening cinematic to one year’s edition of NHL HITZ.

“H to the -omo, Dick to the -izzay / Tickle my dickie til the tip gets jizzy” Jay Z “Homo”.

Photo Credit: Dragon Ball Super

A Journey Through the Sandwiches—Butterbrot

There’s very little on this earth that a dollop of butter can’t make taste better. Bread, eggs, leather. If you’re one of the survivors of a crashed airliner with a bunch of briefcases and a few rods of butter between you, you’ve got it made in the shade, my man. No cannibalism for your party—you’re sliding Land o’Lakes across a dead fuck’s boiled wallet and living decent. A few airplane nips of vodka keeping everyone nice and pickled? 255 days. Me and ten people could survive in the mountains for 255 days.

Recently, while tremendously high, I found myself asking the question, “what’s the difference between butter and cheese?” I invited my friend Louis over because it freaked me out so much.

“Is butter… is butter just rich cheese?” I asked him, eyes red and watering. He was dumbstruck for a minute. And then we both cried and ate a pound of Havarti.

The butterbrot is a sandie of German origin that is bread coated in butter. It is also known as a butterstule, a bütterken, a bemme, and a stulle. Do not call it toast. On top of the butter layer, a sort of anything-goes game is played, depending on the diner’s mood, the season, and the time of day. For breakfast, it could be topped with, say, blackberries and honey. For supper? Salmon roe. Do not call it toast. For lunch, egg salad. It is an open faced sandwich. Do not call it toast.

Isn’t this the same as a toast sandwich

No fuck you.

What’s with the fake sandwiches lately?

They’re not fake. These articles about sandwiches are almost-exclusively sourced from the famous Wikipedia article, List_of_sandwiches. The only exception I can think of is the chickpea salad, and since Wikipedia is the Online Encyclopedia Anyone Can Edit, over a long enough timeline, that absence is merely temporary. The butterbrot also has its own Wikipedia page, in which there is a subsection called “Decline“.

What’s with the bullshit sandwiches from this list then?

I am trying to illustrate a certain sense of austerity as I think about big things in my real life. Picture me with my chin resting firmly on my knuckles, my arm bent at the elbow on a desk made out of stone.

I’m gay.

Me too, dude.

Photo credit: Wikipedia user Pianist

A Journey Through the Sandwiches—Slider

Let me tell you a story. This is a true story. One night we were dragging Memorial, me and Paul and Jerad, listening to Papa Roach. So this was like 2006. I was, uh, nine.

So we’re just driving back and forth on the street. We might’ve been drinking shitty beer; someone definitely threw a beer at us, and then I made like I was gonna throw a metal pipe at him. This went on for hours. I grew up in the country.

So the midnight hour rises high, and we head over to McDonald’s, for ice cream. I feel like I should tell you that I never liked Papa Roach—I was in the backseat. I had almost nothing to do with any of this. So we pull up to the drive-thru, and what do we hear ahead of us, through the tinny speaker, but “no, the ice cream machine is broken.” And then the engine starts revving. And the tires squeal. And Jerad manipulates the handbrake into a burnout.

“Well, fuck this!” he says, not so much angry as he is resolved. “We’re going to White Castle.” Rrrrrrrrrk!!! And we’re off. Paul and I co-sign w/gusto. We spend most of the drive to St. Louis listening to The Smashing Pumpkins’ Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, which is an album I used to really like a lot before Billy Corgan revealed himself to me, personally, to be a dick.* But that was then. So we were beside all our rage about how we’d never be saved, rat in a caging it all the way northeast. We were seeing that Arch by dawn, yo. Getting on that riverboat, yo. Gambling our way down the Mississippi to our new lives.

So, we get to White Castle. First, we stopped at Wal-Mart for some toothbrushes, which we did manage to keep even as we got kicked out for some, uh, not discrete activity in the liquor aisle. It was like six in the morning at this point. And then boom! We stroll into that White Castle feeling like kings. Forty sliders, mother fuckers. Each. And we went ham. It was my first time in a White Castle. Actually, one of my first forays into seeking out interesting regional foodstuffs. Could this have been a trip that… Yeah, this was a trip that changed my life. We completely forgot to get any ice cream.

The slider is a small sandwich. It’s a smallburger. The conceit is that it slides down your throat, though if that actually happened, you would suffocate, choke, and die with your neck bent completely backward, head parallel to the ground, impotently coughing hunks of phlegmy USDA Select and bread into the air like a clogged-up garbage disposal full of forks. No, the only food that slides down your throat is eel and noodle. Eel, noodle, and some runny-ass egg. Jello, also. And soup. So that’s a slider sandwich. didn’t name them.

I bring up the White Castle example simply because that establishment gave me my first exposure to the style, and also a pretty good day. We had the opportunity to go to Six Flags, but didn’t, because I bitched out and had to go to work that day at a pizza restaurant back in Oklahoma. So this was a pretty solid round trip. We went to the Arch with the time we had. Never have gotten in that elevator, though. I’ve been twice.

I find it amusing that this is what it looks like when you GIS “slider”: 

Anyway, a slider is a small burger. It can be good or shitty. I used to work for a restaurant that had fun with them, different cheeses, meats. You get a lot of room to experiment when you’re dealing with things in miniature, and I don’t know about you, but I’d rather eat seven good smallburgers than one good, uh, Wahlburger. Or Smashburger. Whataburger. This place has charburgers, and I think it’s a front for a drug operation. And then there’s this, which, y’know what? Pretty funny. My sources tell me that for decades White Castle trademarked the spelling “slyder”. That shit is so unforgivably fucked up.

*My response to this has always been a quizzical “wait, what, Billy?”

What are you doing right now, anyway? Drinking a Monster Energy Tea and doing a puzzle. It’s 00:42 on a Thursday. I need to paint my nails.

A rare glance inside my long-rumored drug vault

Check this out, bitches.

Are you beginning to understand the sort of weight that I’m dealing in? The scale of my operation? Is a sense of respect beginning to tickle the tip of your dick? Look at this shit.

Zoom in. Let me explain. See those red petals? That’s dried flower of Rhocanesis Enhancis. You mix that shit into a tea. The shit makes you feel like Pac-Man, and your wife and four kids become the motherfucking ghosts. Do you see that green powder? That’s Kolkavakashnikov. That’s kava kava root mixed with volcanic soil mixed with gunpowder and coffee beans. The dried soul of a salamander is sprinkled over the top. You put that shit into a tea.

The little bags of white stuff? Exactly what you think it is.

The little blobs of black stuff? Exactly what you think it is.

The red flakes are reconstituted mephedrone. The orange powder is budding a couple strange varieties of psychedelic mushrooms. The counterfeit twenty dollar bill plates are not what they look like they are. The milk-white baggies are full of the stuff that almost killed Lamar Odom. The herb is homegrown White Fire OG. The pink shit is MPDV. Everything else is Molly. Call me bitches ###-###-####

A Journey Through the Sandwiches—Broodje kroket

George Orwell, known for 1984 (classic) and Animal Farm (overrated), is a fantastic author whose life and work has been thoroughly dwarfed by the titanic nature of his own, most seminal creations. As far as fates go, that’s not a bad one. But it does cause a situation wherein some of the writer’s less-acclaimed works fall by the wayside, my favorite of which I’ll tell you about right now.

Down and Out in Paris and London is the author’s first full-length work, published in 1933 after years of hard toil and work. And I do mean toil and work separately. In his days, he scraped for money, working as a scullion and other low positions in hotels and restaurants in Paris, toiling away for a bit of coin, a spot of bread, and a bug-free place to lay his head. Rarely did he get everything he needed. At the same time, he was working on his writing, chronicling his days, presciently believing that all of the bullshit would be worth it if he only wrote it down. He tried to publish it many times in many versions, unsuccessfully. Orwell was only a man, one man, but imagine how lesser our world would be if he’d ever given up.

Beyond the story of its creation, Down and Out is a delightful read, thoroughly different from the stark prose of Orwell’s more well-known works. He’s like, a funny guy, and you like this guy, this kid, this self-aware bum. And that charm is probably what got the thing published. Over the next seven years, Orwell would produce six books, some fiction, some memoir. And then the war came to Britain.

Orwell and his wife were patriots, and wanted to join the war effort in any way they could. Surprisingly, Orwell had to scrap and claw his way into the action just as hard as he’d had to scrap and claw his way into the writing world, declared by the medical board in June 1940 to be “unfit for any kind of military service” at the age of thirty-seven. So the man wrote, and dug for victory, planting potatoes.  And this aspect of his nature has always made me wonder about that title, Down and Out. Because it seems to me that George was never out. Always doing something, never giving up.

Anyway, all this horseshit obviously reminds me of a sandwich, so let’s get on with it. We’re here to discuss the broodje kroket, a croquette* filled with stew meat wrapped in bread that originated in the Netherlands. It’s a sandwich that grew to popularity in that country at the conclusion of the war. Now, these were hectic and disordered times, the likes of which those of us who are young and alive in the West in the 21st century cannot truly understand. 

So, following the war, Orwell went back to his writing, and the sandwich makers went back to work. In the chaos of the postwar years, supplies were limited—they made sandwiches out of anything! According to one of the world’s premier texts on croquettes, Het Volkomen Krokettenboek , which I haven’t read, because I can’t, the legend was they used to put any old shit inside these things. It was postwar Europe! They probably were putting any old shit inside these things! Unexploded ordinance! Fucking rat feet!

And that, my friends, is part of the charm. The enigma of a good lunch! There could be rat feet in it! And I, Sarah, would enjoy eating it. For the novelty, yes—but to experience the rare taste as well.

Anyway, like I mentioned earlier, the broodje kroket is a croquette filled with stew beef inside a roll of white bread. It’s served hot, with mustard. McDonald’s Netherlands literally sells a McKroket. I just came in my goddamn pants.

*a croquette… is like a mozzarella stick. A croquette is ______, covered in bread crumbs, and then fried. You fill in the blank. Lots of things are croquettes when you think about it. It’s a very nice word for a very nasty snack—nasty for your health, anyway. The term comes from the French language word “croquer”, which I am told by my French emissaries means “to crunch.”

Photo Credit: Smul Wereld

Translation du Sarah: “Small World Crunchy Bread”

What are you doing right now, anyway? I’m watching Furious 7 and drinking Mickey’s at 7:40 in the morning. And I would prefer it if you continued to not ask questions about my incredibly mysterious personal life.

A Journey Through the Sandwiches—Toast

And just like that, life became very difficult.

I had yet to leave Great Britain. And I needed to. It stunk. But I had nary a nickel to my name, so there I remained, stuck for the time being to just maintain, conserving my energy while seeking out an exit.

I was trying to buy passage to Norderney by cleaning pots for the kitchens at the Mablethorpe Resort in Skegness. There is a statue here, the Jolly Fisherman, of which the locals seem to me to be much too fond of. It was a festive place, when the sun was out, festive in a county fair sense, a certain open-air quaintness. The booths hawking whipped ice and crepes alongside roller coasters and riverboat rides.

I stopped in at a charming diner in the center of the street called Fat Mo’s, watching the Ferris wheel slowly rotate through the window. Only one carriage was occupied. I sat long enough to notice the lone rider went through twice.

These were sad days, warm but lonely, and the chill winds of autumn occasionally rose up to send shivers through me as I walked to and fro from work. Scrubbing gigantic cast iron cauldrons, and copper stills for fermenting, never getting answers as to what they were for. I just scrubbed and asked no questions, and took home the British equivalent of three dollars every day. Such was the compromise, me being an undocumented worker in a nation growing increasingly hostile to that sort of thing.

I needed every penny. Recent setbacks had left me without access to any of my stashes of guns and capital around the world, so the only way to get off of this island was the old-fashioned way, through grinding. I briefly teamed up with an aspiring white female rapper named Mei-A-Wana, selling mixtapes out of the back of her beat up Citroën DS 3. And this was going pretty well, until I started to outsell her tips with a shabbily produced chapbook of my poetry, titled How to Fix a Sandwich when Your Heart Was Broken First. She didn’t take kindly to my success, so I was back at the hardscrabble life of scrubbery in a matter of two weeks.

To save money, I ate intelligently, using food as fuel and nothing more. There would be great meals again, one day, but for now, I had a mission. I had focus. I needed to get to Norderney, and the quicker the better. I was beginning to become complacent with the utter averageness of my days.

For couldn’t I eke out an existence here forever? Could this not be what I do, who I decide to be? All it would take is staying. Staying in a peaceful life, with few challenges, no bad surprises.

Unable to afford the alcoholic beverages and other vices I prefer, I have been living spartanly, seeking my calm through meditation. First I approached this development with resignation, but now, I feel a certain contentedness. I live according to meager means, everywhere I lay my head my own Walden.

Which naturally leads me to the sandwich. This, I’m almost nervous to reveal. This, I once would have turned my nose at. Are my tastes devolving? Am I doing more for less? To what end am I eating these? Big questions we’ll ignore for now. First, we dine. My friends, please enjoy with me, on this picnic bench at sunset, our day’s reward, a freshly-made toast sandwich.

The recipe is a simple thing. Take three pieces bread. Toast one. Place the toasted bread between the regular. Augment with butter, pepper, salt—and then nosh. The outer bread is soft and cold; the inner slice, crunchy and warm, slick with melting butter, mildly spiced. It is a comfort. It is inexpensive. At around 300 kcals, it will get us through the night.

Sometimes we find ourselves in spartan times. In these times, we must learn to find happiness in the simple, not the grandiose—to seek satisfaction from the very act of being alive. It’s harder than it seems. In times like these, each toast sandwich is a blessing. It’s a sandwich for when life is trying.

Perhaps it’s because of the situation I am in. Perhaps I’m ripping off the end of Ratatouille. Regardless, I have no rude words to say about this sandwich. As a matter of fact, viewed through a certain philosophical lense, it may perhaps the greatest sandwich of them all—a sandwich for the hard times, egalitarian and true. A sandwich that promises a better tomorrow after the struggles of the day. A sandwich for the Sisyphus in all of us. A sandwich for the dreamers. A sandwich of the mind.

Related article: Bodybuilding.com—The Benefits of Post-Workout Carbohydrates

Photo Credit: FoodsofEngland.co.uk

I made you a crack pipe

for your birthday

it is made of foil

put a rock inside of it

set it to flame

inhale gently

ooh yeah

repeat as needed

who’s your daddy

time to party

some folks have their coffee

I have my morning rock

every day before work

I am a school bus

driver and a father

of four but I

have great taste in music

 

 

and some really cool

tattoos

 

A Journey Through the Sandwiches—Chip Butty

It’s funny to consider that throughout all of this, I’ve never told you the reason behind it all. The inciting event, I guess you’d say. So, I’ll tell you now—I’m chasing down the man who broke my father’s heart.

That man’s name is Gator Colfin, international land shark and cowboy. He’s a cool, calm con man, and thinks himself to be one sexy son of a bitch. My opinion on all that is irrelevant—I’m after the man for one reason alone.

Gator was husband to my dad until he wasn’t, and if you ask me, he didn’t need to be so rude about the exit. He was a son of a bitch before, but after the way he treated my dad, he’s a bastard, rabid dog to me, and he needs to be put down.

I had a tip that Gator was trying to return to Australia by way of England, I guess making his way into the southern hemisphere using a network of old friends and outstanding favors. If my information was right, I’d beaten him there by hours—now all that was left to do was mill about the possible points of ingress, and either catch him, or catch a hint to his next move. I’ve been hunting Gator for a while, see. The bastard is not often subtle. His OPSEC, often wack.

In my wait, I ended up gravitating toward a small sandwich shop on the sidewalk, built into a building where I could order through a brick window, very casually. You already know I’m always on the lookout for unknown sandwiches, but were you aware I also enjoy surprises? I ordered the first thing off the menu that I didn’t recognize, alphabetically down the list. “A chip butty,” I said with an affected accent, very obnoxious, stretching the words up and down like limp elastic, “a CHEE-IP butt-tee for me, bon soir.”

And in that British way of doing things, she stiffened her lip and got on with it, keeping calm and carrying me the sandwich on a darling red plastic tray, while I sat on the stone benches nearby, admiring pigeon formations in the clouds. I took a bite without looking—a blind taste test—and immediately, I spat it out. Directly on the tray, which the waitress was still holding. I looked up into her shocked expression.

“Jesus fucking Christ!” I bellowed. “Are we in austerity times here? Is this because of Brexit?”

“What?”

‘Wot?’ Lady, this is a fistful of soggy French fries squirted with ketchup on bread. You said this was a sandwich—I should end your shit for this.”

“Sir—“

“Ma’am.”

“Whatever. I’d be happy to refund to you the price of the meal, friend, if you’d just toss what’s left of it in the bin.”

“Gladly.” I chucked the wet and filthy roll into a garbage can, and scrubbed my fingers with napkin. I’d hardly even gotten a good look at it—my first impression was the portion I spat up, half-chewed French fries and white bread in a small mound, soggy with saliva and ketchup. “What the fuck.”

“Unfortunately,” the vendor continued, “while I would be perfectly happy to refund you your money, I’m afraid I am unable to. It’s a new policy. Because of Brexit.”

“I hope this island gets bombed.”

“Ma’am, please.”

“Or sinks into the ocean, more like. Subsumed in the salty depths. Hey, don’t look at me like that. Yeah, call the police. Bitch, I am an American. I’ll enter a kumite with your harmless-ass police force. Giving me a sandwich like that.”

It took me some days to negotiate my way out of the British court system, which is, as all systems are, susceptible to brute force attacks of unbearable annoyance. They could’ve ordered me deported, and matter of fact, I wish they had. It’s not like Gator Colfin would still be here. 

I took a big piss at the base of Big Ben while I pondered Gator’s widening lead. He’d felt close, days ago. I wasn’t just on his tail, I was ahead of him, damn it! Now he could be anywhere. And I was hungry as the dickens, but every sandwich felt a risk. I could not take a chance on being jailed again.

I was sitting on a bench in the London fog some hours later, smoking shisha out of a small hookah I sometimes carry around with me, holstered at my belt like a sword, and pondering the comical turns my story had taken—I was now a known British criminal, a fully-fledged hooligan, I believe they called them, outsmarted by my rival. And it had only taken one day to make that turn. The circumstances demanded a reset button. I set out for the nearest neighborhood where a fresh meal could be procured.

I found a mini-mart with a lunch counter and scanned the menu, looking for something, anything. But then I realized a way that I could perhaps salvage this horrid misadventure with a bit of casual grace. My eyes went to the special items, and their pictures, and there it was: the chip butty, second chance edition. Clearly, there were things about this nation and its people that I needed to understand, if I was going to get anywhere in my endeavor. May as well dance with the one that brought me to my knees.

“One chip butty,” I ordered, chest bowed out to feel confident. I dropped an indeterminate amount of colorful British currency onto the counter, and ordered a drink—a large one. And then I retired to an alleyway, my sandwich wrapped in hand, Diet Coke cup cradled in my elbow, condensation dripping down onto the cobblestones as I settled myself, and sat.

Okay, I said to myself. Time to reckon with this thing.

The chip butty is a sandwich a four-year-old could make, enjoyed by millions of Britons daily for some reason. The sandwich contains one technical vegetable, the potato, and one technical fruit, the ketchup. It is godawful unhealthy. It is grease, and grime, and grodyness. The sort of sandwich you could only stomach when well and truly drunk.

And that’s when it hit me. Of course! I scrabbled my way out of the alley and towards the nearest pub, the Long Cock, and I shoved my way through the small crowd in attendance, shouting to all and sundry, “I need to be extremely intoxicated immediately! And then I need a plane ticket out of the country! And do any of you know a man by the name of Gator Colfin?”

The drinks came easily. Some were bought for me, by new friends I met with understanding nods. “I’m on a quest for vengeance,” I told them, quaffing whiskey.

“Against whom?”

I opened my mouth to speak, to unspool the tale of Gator Colfin. But then it occurred to me—I had a much more immediate grudge to take care of, and it was growing colder in my coat pocket with every passing moment.

“Ah!” I shouted, reaching boldly for the Jameson to refill my shot glass on the sly. “It’s this!” I said, holding the wax-paper-wrapped package aloft for all the Long Cock faithful. To my surprise, my exclamation merited attention. The bar quieted, and I unwrapped my sandwich. The thick soft white bread slightly smooshed, it was still warm between my hands.

And so I looked down into the awkward maw, a carbohydrate atom bomb that I was about to deliver unto myself. I’m not as scared of carbs as I used to be—where once I starved myself in a single-minded pursuit of the slimmest possible physique, now I work out, and have depression. But still, this was a gnarly thing to look at. But looks aren’t everything—they’re barely half the battle. So I took a breath, and took a bite.

There was the playful texture—soft bread over crispy potato. It crunches, it flakes. And even before the catsup hits your tongue, it’s a surprisingly juicy sandie. Of course, one tries not to think about what sort of juice this is as the answer is almost definitely going to come back as heart-stopping liquid grease. But one ignores these things in the moment. Everything in moderation. It’s like that weekly cigarette—go ahead, inhale. After all, you’re only having one.

I finished it in four breathless bites, the catsup smeared across my lips and nose in an unappealing manner by the time that I was through with it. I’d inhaled the thing. I’d… loved it.

“In my country,” I stammered, from the floor, ringed by thirty-odd half-drunken Britons who had formed a standing circle around my crouching body, “They would give that sandwich to a homeless person. And feel bad about it.”

There was a general grunting of vague agreement.

“I don’t know what this means.” I looked up, and the Queen of England was on the television, drawing my attention. But then I realized that it was not the queen, but an actress in a commercial, playing the queen—a television ad for a sandwich chain. A television ad for chip butty.

There is so much, I realized then. So much in this world I do not know. So many sandwiches… So many miles left to walk… So many sandwiches… the mysteries of the world.

Photo Credit: Food Network .co.uk

A Journey through the Sandwiches—Manwich

For nine years I did toil over nights on phosphorescent beaches trawling in through sand so lonely never seeing that what comes to greet the world after the moonlight. Was I alone? No, not alone. But no sunshine on a smiling face I ever saw.

On phosphorescent beaches the light below the clear water shines a blue within the blackness, eerie and alien. It’s the algae, it’s the weeds. They call it bioluminescence. It’s alive. Electric blue cords wind around my rubber boots, for nine years, a-glowing. We were here to preserve the ocean at night. We come to keep the lights alive. With our hooks we remove the detritus, the trash and plastic, wilted paper, sharkbitten synthetics, sneakers far from any home.

The job was necessary. The job, mechanically, was easy. The sights were at times beautiful, the sorts of nights that made you realize up til then you’d never truly seen the sky. But everyone I met was angry. Everyone was tired, up and down the beach at our own outposts, a mile or more in between. We worked from dusk to dawn, separated, and for years I grew more quiet til there were days I never spoke at all.

And there were days I found no beauty in the luminescence, glowing blue, and green, and sometimes red. Then I would catch the colors occasionally mingling into breathtaking shades of rare violet, giving me pause amidst the softly lapping waves. There were days I looked out over this limitless expanse, the ocean around my feet with its living ribbons of light, the space above a piercing mist of far off radiant forms, and felt nothing. Other times I knew my privilege. Sometimes I felt I saw it all. I felt everything, at peace.

But sometimes…

Sometimes I cast down my hooks, and set myself adrift at sea, without an oar, drifting until looking back the shore was all but gone. And I would spin in the directions that the wind and waves would take me, toward ports and places I could not possibly know. I accepted fate as random chance. I turned away from everyone. For so long up and down that cobalt beach, I did not love or hold an other, I found contentment only down a bottle or in pills, for pain, in my neck and back from working, pain behind my eyes from sitting still and dreaming, eyes half-lidded thinking of another life I’d like to have so like this but just… better. In the sun, the light, with songs I’ve long forgotten in my heart filling my ears again, letting my mind wander into sleep at night for once, quiet as the sun makes its way around the world and wakes us up again. The sight of it is so beautiful, if I could still understand.

After all these years I no longer see its light as greeting; I see it as goodbye. And though I set myself adrift at sea without an oar intending on nowhere, anywhere but where I left, always I arrived back on the beach beneath the creeping dawn, not so far from home as I had hoped. And I would drag the boat back to my outpost, drawing off my boots and shirt, following my tired feet back to my soothing corner and the mattress where I sleep, on the ground in this small living space, this lean-to of a hostel, built of tin and stone and shared at times by as many as four other men, all austere and spartan, so used to the way of things, each of them stronger than me. And alone or at each other’s sides we’d stoke the fire, heating cans, warming up our bellies and our homes, up and down the cobalt beach, sleeping til the next night, when the sea begins to glow.

Photo Credit: Nicole Schultz (Pro-click to vibe with me)

La La Land is Definitely the Best Picture of 2016

Note here at the top that I’m not calling it my best picture of the year (which is actually this one, coincidentally also starring Emma Stone), but I am predicting its coronation. Actually, more than predicting. The truth is I have divined what future events will be, and this is one of them, one hundred per cent. La La Land has a title that is fun to say to the ticket taker, and it’s also going to win the Oscar for Best Picture and probably then some.

The reason why La La Land is definitely going to take, and maybe even steamroll this awards thing, is because La La Land is another Hollywood-produced chaste love story set within and at the fringes of the film industry about how the movies are gonna save your fucking life, man, if you’ll just believe in ’em. This shit wins all the time lately, and it’s going to win again. There will be two dozen distinct and unrelated think pieces that refer to it independently as “the ray of sunshine that we need in Trump’s America”, all of which will ignore the plot of the movie, which ends on a bummer and in compromise so tortuous you leave the theater feeling regretful and crestfallen as all hell. No one is going to talk about this.

Anyway, this is another movie on movies, and there’s no better way to explicate what I mean by that than by telling you about this scene that happens in it. It’s the date scene, the one where our protagonists, Sebastian and Mia, head out to an old-timey revival theater to see Rebel Without a Cause, but have to stop around the Griffith Observatory segment because the film burns up and disintegrates right on the reel before their eyes*. So what do our heroes do? Well, seeing as how they actually live in La La Land, they head out across the street to the Griffith Observatory, and metaphorically enter the movie for themselves. It’s a little heavy-handed. They tour the empty observatory, then they turn on Laser Floyd in the planetarium, at which point gravity breaks in half, and Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone start hovering up out of the observatory into outer space where they have a CGI meet-cute, traipsing through the cosmos, passing planetary spheres and spinning and shit. It’s one of the dumbest things I’ve ever seen.

So, that’s their date. At this point in the movie, I guess they’re basically in love. The movie isn’t really good at laying down the tracks for this. Sebastian and Mia are a couple in this story due purely to a specific kind of Hollywood magic,  pulled together across rooms and into each other’s arms and soulful conversations by the sheer unstoppable power of the magnetism between movie stars. They don’t love on each other much. They just hang out with each other for like a few minutes at a time, and don’t particularly seem to have any reason to like each other, and they say so. They trade ironic barbs about how much they don’t like each other and insult each other and then tap dance. This is love we see developing.

Throughout all this a lot of talk is had about nostalgia and tradition and their purpose in the modern world, if any. There is hand-wringing in the text over how material like this is going to go over with an audience. There’s at least a couple of scenes like this, but you kind of get it already. If you’re in the audience, you bought the ticket, and you get it already. But okay, you can have a couple of scenes where you explain what the movie’s really about. See if I care—I love that metatextual shit.

Anyway, enough of all that. Let me tell you something. The opening scene of this movie is It, man. It kicks ass. The movie starts off on this outdoor traffic-choked highway song-and-dance number that’s so fun and sweeping and impressive, with so many dancers and backflips and accessories getting involved—I mean, it’s impossible to not smile at what they pull off here. The whole opening dance number might actually be one shot. It’s framed that way at least, and I’m like, no way, there have to be secret cuts here. (Ed. Note: If you’re curious, there are.) Not that it matters. It’s just awesome, dude. It’s such a great opening that it pretty much single-handedly supplies the momentum necessary to keep us here for the remainder of this two-hour movie. Like, you know how to get a rocket into space, you have to expend enormous amounts of energy by detonating gigantic bombs on Earth inside of tubes so that the incredible explosions propel the rocket skyward at a hundred thousand miles an hour, and the reason why that initial explosion needs to be so fucking boomin is because that’s what’s necessary to break the bonds of gravity and get the rocket out to Jupiter? That’s what this scene is—a launch sequence. It’s really a hell of a thing.

So the beginning song also introduces this killer motif by composer Justin Hurwitz, which you get fond of pretty quickly. And this is good, because that motif swings and sways its way all throughout the rest of the film, and it’s fortunately a treat every time. Really, that one motif is the other thing that carries the movie. It’s an instantly likable little earworm, a sweeping little chord progression that evokes exuberance, sunshine, mourning, and resilience in the face of adversity. Everyone identifies with that kind of shit. It makes me personally want to jump up on the whip right now, jump up on a stage, and just dance. Scene dragging? Call the music back. ♩ ♫Bum bum Bum ba ba ba ba bop bop bum bum Bum Ba bum bum bum bop bop Bop bop Bop **♪♬

Anyway, my La La Land review is that it starts by showing you a kickass opening scene, and then asks you “hey, how’d you like to see a whole movie kinda like that?” And it more or less delivers. There’s enough charm and goodwill going on from the jump and the characters are likable enough that you’re not really checking your watch until somewhere around the back half, when Sebastian finds success in a career gig as the keyboardist in John Legend’s utterly terrible laser jazz band, which is wildly (implausibly) successful and tours the country despite the fact that the music they play is the kind of music that no one would ever want to listen to, much less push into the zeitgeist. There’s a whole choreographed scene for one of their terrible songs at one point, and it’s awkward, because the song is actively not good, and it makes the scene not good, and I think it’s on purpose? That scene’s not a great experience. All of this fabulous success is conveyed as the low point of our hero’s journey, by the way. Which, okay, I get it, but still. He started off the movie unemployed, and his nadir is making thousands and thousands of dollars while touring the nation, playing the Tron soundtrack on his Korg keyboard to adoring audiences of screaming white teenagers. It sounds hellish but not really. This is where you start wanting to check your watch a little—but it’s okay, we’re almost done.

So then Sebastian goes back to Los Angeles and over dinner he and Mia decide they don’t love each other anymore, which makes sense, because that’s pretty much the same way they decided they were in love. Did I mention this movie was chaste? It’s basically a film about two good friends who share beds and never fuck, but there’s so many short twirly dresses flying around that you almost don’t notice that no one in this La La Land has ever had any sex. Me, I actually like that, because sex is disgusting and celibacy is ideal, but it’s something you do notice whether you like it or not. Anyway, we’re about an hour-forty in at this point, and I’m riding it out just thinking that this movie desperately has to end on an absolutely kickass musical number if it wants to go out a winner. It does not do this, then it wraps up sadly at around two hours. I don’t think anybody in the theater was ready for it. And that’s La La Land. Half of the songs are great, half aren’t, it’s really pretty, watch it with buds.

Aaaaand that’s that. This is probably one of the best movies I’ve ever seen or whatever—it will be showered with awards in a couple of weeks, and your kids will be performing it on stage for their high school musicals at least once inside of the next ten years. Me? I’m going to be driving around blasting the opening song on my Spotify for a couple of weeks, feeling like the star of my own movie, about my dreams. And that’s going to be a fantastic time. I give this movie two hundred stars on a no-limit scale, and if you aren’t going to watch it, watch the trailer, and change your mind.

Now call the music back. I’m done.

♩ ♫ ♪ Bum bum Bum ba ba ba ba bop bop bum bum Bum Ba bum bum bum bop bop ♪ ♪ (then the horns come in) ♪ Bop bop Bop Bum bum Bum ba ba ba ba bop bop ♪ bum bum ♪ (LOUDER) ♬ BUM ♪ BAH ♪BAH BAH ♪ DAH DAH DAH ♪ dah dah dah DAH DAH ♪♪dah DAH dah dah dah dah DAH dah ♪♬ ♬

 

*I hope you like metaphors, mother fucker.
**The flutes here really get my heart a-flutter
Photo Credit: La La Land

names for the vape store I am opening soon at 111 S 24th St W in Billings, Mt,

the grand opening of which is in a matter of weeks.

Here’s the thing, folks—I’m down to the wire. My whole staff was so excited to get the vape store off the ground that we forgot the best part: naming it.

  • Mamma Jamma Vapor and Accessories
  • Chapel of the Holy Vape
  • Colonel Vapor’s
  • Wacky Electronic Tobacky

Holy shit this post sucks. I can’t think of anything good. What a tired premise for a riff sesh! I thought this was gonna be hilarious.

Uhh

  • Riff Sesh
  • Vape Cod
  • Cunt

Hmmmmm… Perhaps instead I should have premised this post around what to name our e-juice flavors, the flavors of e-juices for the vape. It is possible that it’s funnier to imagine flavors than it is names of places.

  • Dyspepsia
  • Arsenic and Old Ass

Oh fuck. Abandon ship! Abandon this post! Should’ve never left the fucking drafts!!

What the hell else do I have in this drafts folder? I have to salvage this. Here’s one that’s just called “man harpooned while eating bagel”—no text—just the title—wonder what was going on there.

“Ideas for saving the Republic”—no—now’s not the time—so passe—too normie at this point.

“Historically Significant Baseball Bats”—might table that one, actually…

Got an untitled post here… “think of what a melting snowman looks like? That is how I feel all of the time”

Actually, fuck this blog game. It’s time to hang this up like a… like a freakin’ dead possum. I’m gonna really open up that vape store. It’s real and I own it and it’s called Arsenic and Old Ass. The matter is settled! The deal is done. Boys—let’s hit the showers. We’ll try this all again on Monday.

Photo Credit: I don’t fucking know it’s not mine who cares.

What are you doing right now, anyway?: I’m watching The African Queen on my phone and idly shopping on the Chinese internet for a 55-inch flatscreen under $200.

A Journey Through the Sandwiches—Chipped Beef on Toast

Hell; I’d eat that.

Feast your famished eyes on this pile of slop and say “Hail!”, friends, for we have finally on this journey come to encounter, at last, chipped beef on toast.

I hear this is a common military meal, but I don’t know, because I’ve not served. The stories are innumerable, though; one does hear these things. Kathleen Purvis, for instance, posits in her Charlotte Observer column that “most men who came back from military service have stories about being fed creamed beef three times a day, week after week.” Which, okay. That’ll ruin anything for you. But some find its, as she calls it, “gloppy familiarity” to be not a burden, but a boon.

Really, I hear a lot about chipped beef, but the amount of actual stick time I see people having with it remains low. Out in the wild, out in the kitchens. You see my meaning; the civilians are not eating this, I think. None of them I’ve seen except for me, because that’s right, I do eat that. I eat all of these amazing ass sandwiches, friends. I eat them, and I eat them well. They’re the only things that make me happy in the world. Selah.

Chipped beef on toast is a breakfast, lunch, or dinner item, called by some by the name “SOS”, a code word for “Help Me!” and also an acronym for “Shit on a Shingle”. Which, whatever. Clever, but this strikes me as complaining. “Shit”? Chipped beef on toast is good. It’s warm and hearty. It’s a campfire meal, it gets the heat down in your bones, lets you shake off that shivery sleep from last night in a cold pup tent. It’s hearty, it’s creamy, it has crunch and is chewable. You know what isn’t enjoyable to eat in those sorts of environments? Sorghum. Teff. Oatmeal. A delicious salad. Think about the context, friends. Think about cold feet on the kitchen tile on a frigid winter’s morn. Think about that pup tent. This dish has beef, and gravy.

Recipes are myriad and simple and very difficult, in my estimation as a chef of some renown, to screw up. I had one with sausage gravy on wheat toast. It made me feel like a Navy SEAL. The dish is fucking decent. It’s easy to make and I enjoy it. Hell—if our armed forces truly are serving this up for chow at anytime snacktime, then I fully endorse that. Just have an apple on the side, maybe. Shit on a shingle and an apple on the side. With black coffee. Yes… yesssssss

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo Credit: Oanabay04 at English Wikipedia

turn and face our truths

No more secrets. No more lies.

This is part three of my confessions.

I listen to podcasts exclusively to feel like I have good friends in the room with me, and that I in turn am laughing with them, and we’re all having a good time, about myriad subjects. The comedy gets dark and goofy, with many inside jokes. I listen to diverse hangout shows for this reason, eschewing other formats. It’s like ASMR for making you feel like you have friends, and the tingles only activate upon a smile.

Sometimes I like to interject myself into the conversation, talking back into my speaker, and imagine myself in other lives. I like to think about how these people were sitting in a room, different from the one I am in now, producing this moment of fellowship before beaming it to me. I think the oddest things about the entire edifice of it.

I do this, perhaps, most often while in bed, readying to sleep. And then I can imagine that my podcasts are set up in the dark with me like a slumber party. And I giggle. To be clear, I am alone the entire time. I never listen to them with friends. They’re for me, and me alone. Sometimes for the entire day I am silent save for laughter sparked up by my podcast friends. My favorite podcast is called CUM TOWN, which I thoroughly enjoy for all the reasons I just listed. You would like it, or perhaps not. I sure like those cum boys, though, and hell, I’d like to be one if I could. I’m not, I couldn’t, but I can dream.

Other good podcasts: Uhh Yeah Dude, Chapo Trap House, Kill Tony, end of list.

This is my confession. Hence I face judgement from the masses? Or dost thou recognize my sin? Do they do this too? Do you? Who do? I’ll hex you with some witches’ brew if you doo-doo...

YouTube Rabbit Hole: My favorite film of 2016, Spider-Man eats a booger and fucking dies

A Journey Through the Sandwiches—Roujiamo

I’m showing you a black and white photo of a Chinese boy in a fitted tuxedo. The boy is squat, slightly pudgy and unsmiling. This is Zhang. Zhang is a musical prodigy in every intended sense of the term, an utter genius, unmatched in ability by most people alive. Even in the ranks of the child prodigies, the high echelon of savants, he gets his numbers up there.  He was conducting orchestras by age 9. At 11, he was, through an interpreter, speaking in halls around the world that routinely seated ten thousand, delivering outstandingly insightful lectures on masters-level music theory. They say there’s not an instrument in this world, string, brass, woodwind or drum, that he couldn’t create a performance-quality composition for, and it would only take him, like, five minutes. Most of that was just the time it took to write it down.

This all came about through massively criminal child abuse, by the way. It’s well known. His parents are in the government, and they’re complete taskmasters who never taught him the Chinese word for “I’m tired.” By the time he got emancipated, he was twelve years old, performing routinely and making six figures each time. His parents still get a cut of the money, is the messed up thing. They show up to his performances without saying a word, and on the nights they’re there, Zhang plays the most beautiful music you’ve ever heard.

Zhang was fifteen now, and so was I, and years had past since I last saw him. His musical skills had developed astronomically. He was always amazing, but now, watching him, it was enough to give a committed atheist the sort of flutters in the heart and mind that can only ever be described as “a religious ecstasy”. The fuckin’ sounds this kid could make on those keys. Something about his touch, how he made each song or movement sound the way your mother’s voice did as she sang to you a lullaby, made all the more impressive due to that being a formative experience that Zhang most definitely never had.

I made myself leave the concert hall where I’d been looming in the back about two-thirds of the way through his performance. When I saw him, after the show, I wanted to talk to him like a man, not laud him. I needed a minute to shake off how impressive that was. Trust me, he’d appreciate it.

I wasn’t planning on meeting Zhang outside the concert hall—the demands on his attention would fence him in for a little while well before I could get a word in. So I figured instead I would meet him down at our old stomping grounds in the Jing’an District, where I grew up and, for a time and in a sort of way, we grew up together.

It wasn’t called the Jing’an District then, when I was here. It was Zhabei. Poor people lived here, poor people like my family. It was hard. Two fathers, seemingly trading jobs, and me, their adopted daughter, not even particularly wanting to work, preferring, at that most imaginative age of seven, the life of the scoundrel.

Zhang, like I said, had government parents. They lived farther east in Shanghai, in the Haungpu District , closer to his parents’ work, and the brutal schools that helped train Zhang to become the musical superhero that he is today. We met when we were both seven years old, when by coincidence our parents sent us both to the same swim camp for the summer. Neither Zhang nor I had had much interest in it, so we spent our weeks in the verdant country scheming, stealing, getting in trouble, and in our bunks at night we would talk about our lives, share openly those precious childhood thoughts about your feelings in the world and life that adulthood finds you, more often than not, never talking about, whittling them down instead into an impenetrable walnut of secrecy. We bonded over his overbearing parents, and I fretted over the economic hardships on my dads. They were starting to get mad at each other. Zhang and I agreed that they should probably spare their anger for the state, standing together in solidarity against the forces that were pushing them down. Oh, we were naive then. To think that just wanting the world to be a way meant that there must be a way for you, specifically you, to get it done in an afternoon.

Following those days at swim camp, I would remain in Zhabei-now-Jing’an, and my friend would take the bus from Haungpu during his precious spare time so we could meet, and talk, and compliment each others’ big dreams. He was as good a friend to me then as I’ll ever have, and when our friendship was cut short by my fleeing the country—which is an entirely different story, that we simply don’t have time for—I knew that he would be there for me on the occasion of my return.

Anyway. I was back in my stomping grounds in the Jing’an District—funny how fast you get used to these things—waiting at a picnic table between a mechanic’s shop and a street food vendor. One-man operations, both of them, their workplaces made up of patchwork buildings, caulk and sheet metal, calico staging areas for them to ply their trades, hone their craft. The aroma of the slow-cooking pork to the right of me was making me salivate in a most major way, and I ordered a Tsingtao from the man just to have something other than the flavor of anticipation wafting down my sinuses and throat.

“How long until the roujiamo?” I asked the vendor, whose name was Skeeter Li.

“How long til your friend get here?” responded Skeeter. “You know I’ve got a bunch of different pots cooking up something good in here. You say the word. When your boy Zhang gets here, I’ll set you up. You feast.” He plinked the top of another bottle of Tsingtao off and cheersed to me, clinking bottles.

“Been awhile since you’ve been around here,” he said, switching the subject to my homecoming. “You and Zhang haven’t seen each other in some time, I’d imagine.”

I nod in affirmation.

“You think anything’s changed between you two?”

I shrug. I legitimately don’t know. Maybe it’s the jet lag, maybe it’s the Xanax, or actually, maybe it’s the combination of the Xanax and the Tsingtao, slowly potentiating my airborne anti-anxiety medications to the point that they were adopting slightly dissociative, out-of-body properties. Perhaps it was the fifty-one hours without sleep on the series of boats and pond-jumpers that got me here.

“But no,” I say, “To answer your question, it’s really hard to say right now if it’s going to feel the same to talk to him. You know how that happens with friends. You go through fewer experiences together. You start to lose that bond, that time investment that lets you open up to someone, knowing they care about you.”

Skeeter was stirring an assortment of spices into a large black cauldron of lamb stew that looked as though it must have weighed fifteen hundred pounds, at least. His forearms had become huge from years of stirring long spoons the circumference of that thing. But man, if it wasn’t worth it. The smells were only getting better, and I was so excited.

Hell, by the time Zhang finally arrived, my lusty animal mind had gotten itself to the point where his presence felt more like a little bonus to the meal, and not the main event. Not that I treated him this way directly. We embraced, and spun around like girls, so be it. I loved the man. He was my friend, and he was so, so, so good at piano. Like, Jesus Christ I’m not even kidding. He was so good, and did so much good for me with his music, that I’d never fully admit how much I loved the way he played, lest he be then burdened with some sort of sense of responsibility for my well-being.

“Good show,” I told him, glibly.

“Thanks,” he said. His bowtie was undone; pieces of his tuxedo started coming off until he started to look like a relatively dressed-down dude. He even mussed up his hair. And now I really noticed he was taller, a little leaner than he used to be—relative to that old black and white picture, I was regarding one grown-up, sexy man.

“You don’t get people following you?” I ask him, casting my eyes back and forth down the street he just arrived by. “Paparazzos, and all that?”

“Oh, in some places. Really, really, specific places, and only for like an hour each time. But come on, man. Who would recognize me when I’m not on stage, in context? Plus, millions of people live here. I’m impressive at doing one thing. Lots of other people in Shanghai doing exciting work.”

“There you go again,” I say, a smile spreading across my face. “Going in on your futility of accomplishment tip again.” I started a quote he was fond of. “Because it all ends—”

“—in the heat death of the universe,” we finished together. Somewhere in the laughter that followed, I turned to Skeeter and ordered two sandwiches, and more beers.

The roujiamo is a type of sandwich that tastes like your face is getting its ass kicked by a gang of rowdy spices wielding a gatling gun of slow-cooked meat. The shit is absolutely delicious, and if it ever gets to America, it’s going into Taco Bell. They won’t even care about the ethnic lack of accuracy, here. When America gets these, they’re going in the Bell. Look, just trust me.

A roujiamo is a Chinese food item, the name of which translates roughly to “meat sandwich”, which should make all of us Anglicans feel a lot more comfortable about the ground we’re standing on. It consists of slow-cooked meat, most often pork, cooking low and slow for hours in its own juices, and in most cases, in the company of over twenty different distinct spices and seasonings. When ready, the meat is minced or chopped up and served with coriander and sliced peppers in a soft wheat flour flatbread called a “mo”.

Some people say that this concoction is basically the Chinese analogue for the hamburger, but I’ve got some problems with that kind of easy tit-for-tat categorization technique. Point number one: the bread for making roujiamo dates back not to the day they broke ground on the first McDonald’s, but to the fucking Qin Dynasty. That’s a difference of millennia. That’s millennial heritage. I’m not looking the specifics of this up for you, but let’s just put it this way—suck it, Ray Kroc. Get on this pork bun. Fuck it, lay on beef or lamb.

The heat from the clay oven inside Skeeter’s place radiated out over one side of me, not uncomfortably, as Zhang and I sat at our picnic table, catching up, and shooting the shit. I asked about his parents, and he deferred. He asked about my parents, and so did I. We were dealing with some deeper things, things we hadn’t sorted out well enough on our own to bring to a friend while breaking bread with them.

We didn’t talk about piano, we didn’t talk about work, and if we talked about music at all, it was The Offspring. I mean, I don’t know what to tell you, friends. Maybe this story peters out. We didn’t do much after this. What we talked about was funny only to us, and nothing that was said could change the world one bit. It was simply pleasant to see my friend again, after all these years.

Because that’s the way it works, you know. Friendships are lasting things, like family, if you forge them right. And there are family members you don’t see for years, never speak to—but yet you remain connected. Years pass and you chance upon each other again, prepared or unprepared. And no one dwells on the reasons why we’ve been apart—it’s obvious—it’s life. The fact that we’ve separated should not bring us sadness. We should find happiness in those moments of reconnection, when we realize that for all that’s different, nothing important has changed.

I could not stay too long that night in Shanghai. Our meal completed, Zhang offered to hook me up with what he could—first class airfare, a private plane if I’d prefer it. A generous offer, but I demurred. I didn’t want any trace of Zhang where I was headed next. It was for his own good, and when I said so, he understood it. He understood a lot about me, really.

Clapping me on the shoulder as we were preparing to depart, Zhang looked me in the eyes and said, “Anything you ever need, you call.”

And we both nodded, knowing it was true both ways. As I began my journey out of the city, and subsequently Mainland China, the essence of the roujiamo went with me, warming my stomach, its spices still stinging the corners of my tongue. just like Zhang’s words of kindness blanketed my heart, making me feel more of a person, for having once had the good fortune to meet such a true and lifelong friend as he.

Photo Credit: Delish Home Cook