Hello, yes? I’m looking for a Mr. Box? Hear he also goes by the name “Jack.” Tell him it’s Tom. Tom Waits. Yes, I know. Some call me a saint, others call me a sinner. Truth is I’m just another hangdog troubadour dressed like a steampunk gravedigger, barking lunch orders at an electronic drive-thru window with a voice like a broken stained-glass window.
Yessir, forty long years of bourbon and heartbreak writ large on every inch of tongue and tonsil and throat muscle. I’m no preacher, no poet. Just another snake-oil salesman going door to door, dragging a battered steamer trunk full of bad apothecary and badder dreams. I’m hungry for rest and redemption. I’m hungry for the chicken pita meal with curly fries and a Diet Dr. Pepper.
So here I am. Sitting outside the restaurant atop a rickety old penny-farthing, talking to a CB radio surrounded by neon photos of burgers, burritos and jalapeno poppers. And still. All this old bag of bones wants is some chicken, some fries what curl, and a paper cup full Diet Dr. Pepper—no ice.
That reminds me. I knew a Dr. Pepper once. Not the soda pop one. One I knew was an ether-addicted dental surgeon who liked to rob graves to collect the ivory-white mandibles of the recently deceased. He moonlighted as a tugboat captain out of Old New Orleans and had a tattoo bite-mark on his stomach for every broken heart left behind in every port from Hong Kong to Thunder Bay, Ontario.
Poor bastard met his end in a Kansas City saloon, done in by poisoned highball—gin and tonic, spiked with arsenic, courtesy of a jilted lover. Never did get the cavities in my molars fixed after he died. Causes me pain to this day. So please, Mr. Box. No ice.
And I’ll admit. I’m don’t know about this whole “drive-thru” business. I’m no Buck Rogers. I’m just a simple, millionaire recording artist clutching a two-string banjo and shoebox full of blood-soaked love letters from the Civil War. I’ve been starvin’ in the belly of a whale, so to speak. And last I heard, best way to get food ‘round here was to write your order in soot on top of a heart-shaped trashcan lid, pack it in sawdust and shredded racing forms, and mail the whole damn mess to an abandoned graveyard in Nova Scotia.
Eight weeks later, a one-legged midget with a glass eye would pull up outside your flophouse in an old Model T and give you a velvet hatbox wrapped in butcher paper. Inside there’d be saltwater taffy, a jar of gherkins, penny candy, a pack of Lucky Strike cigarettes, a can of sardines, and an Alfred E. Neuman Pez dispenser. It was a very involved, inefficient way to get a meal.
I suppose that the system you got set up here is better. Talk to the box, get a hot meal. Simple enough. The neighbors may have their suspicions, but I’m not one to complain. I’m just an uncomplicated, broken-down old Grammy-winner and journeyman Hollywood character actor whose songs have been covered by everyone from Rod Stewart to the Ramones. I don’t know nuthin’ about nuthin’ except filtering two hundred years of indigenous American folk music through a prism of highly literate, postmodern bohemia coupled with a visual aesthetic rooted in 1920s German Expressionist cinema and Kammerspiel theater.
Also, curly fries are weird. There’s something occult about them, like Satan’s twisted spine. But the world’s got plenty of room for all the mad orphans—gypsies, tramps, drag queens, poets, prostitutes, criminals, madmen, and prophets. We’re all circus freaks. We’re all bearded ladies and mustachioed strongmen in leopard-print leotards. We’re all crooked French fries in way or another.
All those businessmen in brand-new Cadillacs are just fooling themselves. They drive home from wax office buildings to wax houses in wax suburbs, make wax love to their wax wives, cry wax tears, and read wax scripture out of wax bibles. They dream wax dreams and think wax things. But as soon as they get too close to that deep fryer you got in there, they start to melt.
Sorry, what was I talking about? My brain seems to have jumped a boxcar to oblivion. That happens sometimes when you’ve been gobbling peyote buttons and screaming about dwarves and calliopes for forty years. Sometimes it’s all you can do to stagger down to the wharf, put on an undersized devil costume, and ride a tricycle around in circles until you start puking blood.
How much? Seven dollars and thirty-eight cents? Lemme check my boot… yep, I got that. Where’s the best spot to chow down? By the gaslight at the corner 9th and Hennepin, or underneath the old stone bridge in the tannery district? I’m good either way. I’m just a simple, unassuming boy from Pomona. No need to be intimidated by my many artistic accomplishments or general aura of whimsical grotesquire. Any place where I can lay out my pewter serving set and play the glass harmonica while I eat will be fine, just fine.
What’s that? You’re out of chicken pitas? How does the Sunset Boulevard Jack in the Box run out of one of their main menu items at three o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon? Fuck it. I’ll just go next door to the Taco Bell. Have the werewolf with the harmonium play me off. Goddamn it, I’m hungry.