Cheese Sandwiches

Monday, October 14
Brooklyn, NY

It’s been 41 days and 32 shows, in so many cities.

(I’ve Been Everywhere Video by Hank Snow)

There are big swoops: Lio is aging. He is tall and nimble and merciless. Everything is a bulldozer – the bright yellow ceramic lemon squeezer on John’s kitchen shelf; a small empty shoebox beep-beeping backward through a pile of rock; his bare hands in the gravel outside of a deli in New Jersey. There, an old man espouses rampant feelings toward both presidents and food. The old man is lecturing the Indian manager of the store about “American history” as I walk through the door. “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492!” he was shouting. “I’m not kidding, I’m serious! Did you know the names of the three ships he sailed?” Chad, who is traveling with us, tells him the names of the ships, because, yeah, everyone knows the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. And weren’t there more ships? Ships that didn’t make it? And wasn’t Columbus trying to prove something to the Queen? And who cares, anyway? It’s an algorithm for a steady stream of disasters and misfires, and we’re in the center while trying to do things we care about in an utmost fashion.

“I’m telling him this,” the old man says to Chad after hearing the ships identified. He gestures in the rudest possible way, with his hand digging into his pants pocket, his elbow sticking out all wobbly, toward the man behind the deli counter. “He’s from India. Not America. But he’s from a true democracy. Not like we have hear, with this _______ character we have in office. This is a tyranny!” So this is my baseline of this guy. Who has the energy to validate this? I don’t. This dude doesn’t give a S what I think. Lately I feel like my energy is this small and sacred thing, boundless but necessitating good use. And I don’t want my parrot two-year-old son to hear me talk smack to a stranger.

That’s what I think about lately, on these long drives, sometimes – is is it better to engage or to ignore? And it’s not clear. The engagement is tough because you give your whole self, and then your whole self is susceptible. But it feels crappy to ignore things, to pretend they don’t exist, to think they’ll go away if I just don’t feed into them. I don’t know if that’s true, either. All of life seems a tepid balance.

I order a cheese sandwich for Lio, and the old man says, “Hey, you? Is that a cheese sandwich for your son? Listen, do you want to hear a story about a cheese sandwich?” After 41 days and 32 shows, I just pretend I didn’t hear him and turn my back in an effortless and concentrated denial of his mood. Lio and I go to explore the OTC medicine counter and then make a break for it outside in the sunshine, on a near perfect Fall day, the second of two perfect fall days in a row amid a short series of heat waves and cold snaps. No, I do not want to hear a story about a fucking cheese sandwich. My story is right here, in my arms, 3′ 3″ tall and 33 pounds.

Well, Hawk got the story about the cheese sandwich when he went in to grab our food. The story was this: “My granddaughter came to visit me, and we went to the Cracker Barrel, and do you know what she ordered? A cheese sandwich!” Scoff. “Now, I just don’t understand how you can go someplace and order a cheese, sandwich.”

I think he was losing his marbles, and needed a reassurance from the world that what he is thinking is true and real. But I also didn’t feel like I could give him that. Should I have gently taken his hand, asked for his address, and escorted him home to unwind his excitability with tea and a warm compress? Part of me thinks so. Well, we’ve been using cheese sandwich quotes all day now.

And there are these bigger swoops: there are the people we meet, many of whom know each other, who were introduced to us by others, who know still more of the people we know and love. Facebook tells me how many friends we have in common, and I’m startled. I played a show at a Prague club in 2009 while visiting my pal Izzy on tour in the Czech Republic. And then in Omaha, now, years later, a girl who used to work at that same club in Prague is working the door for a show at the Barley Street. Of course she knows Izzy, a girl I met when I was 16 in California at a sort of summer camp for future lawyers. Of course she’s here now, smiling and nodding from partway around the world. These are the big swoops.

There are smaller, mini swoops. Each night contains within it new friends, old friends, friends who know friends, several works of art, and your own performance. There are the places you stay, bombarded by our pasts and presents and futures. We shack up with friends we haven’t seen in years, with friends we see all the time, with friends of friends, and friends of friends of friends. We stay with the Olympic gold medal winning mother of our international digital distributer. In Ohio, we stay with a country man whose father was the Reverend at a church attended, as a child, by a man who has come to a couple of our shows in Virginia. Friends who used to live in towns send their old pals out, and friends who never lived in those towns at all – Cincinnati, Baltimore – live there now, suddenly, in the weird puzzle pieces of life, and we reconnect in lands foreign to our friendship. We play with bands of friends we’ve had for years, friends in new bands with other old friends, friends in old bands with new friends, bands of friends of friends and people who used to play together and people who still play together, just not that night.


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