Keep Your Hands Off My Chili Supply

Originally published inĀ Seattle Weekly

A touring indie-rock band crashed at my place last night and it was a sobering reminder of some of the less wonderful and glamorous aspects of being a musician in a world of musicians. My band and I have crashed on many a generous person’s floor, and scarfed the last Top Ramen of many an angry roommate over the years, so now that I have a place of my own I feel a karmic debt to the rock-n-roll universe that will be years in the repaying. Unfortunately, as is the way with all things, when it comes to my new house the last thing I want is to have a bunch of stupid bands stinking up the place. I feel like Eddie Murphy in Trading Places, “Who has been putting out their Kools on my floor? Have you people ever heard of coasters?”

I live in the south end of town, down where Tukwila meets Renton and Skyway, and unlike the neighborhoods closer to town there are absolutely no late-night grocery or food options in my vicinity. When I first left Capitol Hill for the sunny Rainier Valley I made several after-midnight trips to the local grocery before I figured out that it wasn’t just closed for routine maintenance, it was simply closed after midnight. I actually went up and pounded indignantly on the glass at one point, thinking that the employees had locked the doors in order to make hanky-panky on the Charmin pallets in the store room, and it was only after I registered the looks of alarm on the stock boys’ faces that I realized I could be mistaken for a deranged person. Living on Capitol Hill for so many years I assumed that everyone shopped for chicken Cordon Bleu at four in the morning, and that every grocery store was full of tweaking ravers in blue fur chaps sucking on LED pacifiers. Not so.

But there is one spectacular late-night diner in the south end of town that is not only one of the only places left in Seattle to get weird pink sausage links and blueberry pancakes in the dead of night, it’s also a bona fide time-capsule of old Seattle awesomeness that somehow has escaped the relentless over-precious hipster/ironic kitsch-worship that passes for Generation X/Y culture around here. (Who am I kidding? Kitsch is the only culture Generation X ever had. Besides, I’m writing to you from underneath a pile of Hummel figurines and Keane paintings that are just too cute, so who am I to talk?)

Anyway, I’m referring to Randy’s Diner on Marginal Way down at the south end of Boeing Field. Situated in an old Denny’s (or perhaps Sambo’s) building, Randy’s caters to the diverse mix of aerospace engineers, truckers, cops and Duwamish River weirdoes that transit through Seattle’s southern fringes. Unlike most late-night diners, Randy’s keeps the lights down low. So low in fact that most people would drive by thinking it was closed or even abandoned. The mostly unlighted “Randy’s” sign is either inexplicably or intentionally broken so that it reads “Ranay’s” which is what I prefer to call it. I like to imagine that the hostess is named Renee and that they leave the sign that way on purpose. The best part of “Ranay’s” is the incredible collection of model airplanes hanging from the ceiling, surely bequeathed from the hundreds of Boeing nerdoids who pack the place for lunch. I’m not too concerned with outing “Ranay’s” because it’s just a little too far and, frankly, a little too disturbing, to be overrun with Ballard hipsters, but now that all the good Denny’s are closed (excepting the nightmarish one on 4th Ave S.), and Sunset Bowl is gone, I wouldn’t be surprised to find it picking up. If I see any blue fur chaps in there I’m going to start swinging a nine iron.

All this by way of saying that, after I offered my new house as a crash pad for this touring indie-rock band, I made it clear that if they were in any way hungry for food after the show they should either go to a store while we were still in town or we should stop at a restaurant. And the possible restaurant options, already shamefully low (Shame! Shame! Seattle) dropped precipitously once we were in Sodo. I mentioned this fact to each band member in turn, and their responses varied from a shrugged “I could eat”, to a blank and uncomprehending stare like one you might get from a rabbit you were subjecting to electric shocks. It goes without saying that being a musician involves acquiring a certain set of emotional and mechanical skills that are often exclusive of, or incompatible with, the ability to interact normally with other people, but I am newly amazed every time I meet another musician who can’t answer a simple question or express a personal preference. I too am a touring musician, and I know the tunnel-vision that comes from being on the road, where every new person you meet starts to resemble Janis from the Muppets saying, “Habba da dabba de doo, man”.

And I know the “group-think” that bands fall into, where you ask the piano player if he likes Mexican food and he turns to the bass player and says “He wants to know if we like Mexican food. Whaddoo I say?” But I was taking all these factors into account, speaking slowly in simple sentences, repeating my question three or four times, and refraining from any sudden movements. The band could not reach a consensus on whether they were individually hungry. I extolled the virtues of “Ranay’s” and made a final endorsement of it even as we were driving past, but the suggestion was greeted with two whimpers, a look of confusion, and an exhalation of breath. OK, done.

But as SOON as we walk in the door of my place, two and a half minutes later, the rabble starts: “Can we order a pizza?” “Is it OK if I open these chips?” “Can I make some pasta?” The enterprising band-leader, a well-known singer, opens my pantry, discovers my canned-chili depository, and says to the room, “Who wants chili?” Four hands shoot up. Back in Alaska where I grew up a man’s stash of canned chili is somewhat akin to a normal American’s savings account. I’ve known fellows who, when asked if they had given any thought to their retirement plans, pointed with confidence to a stockpile of canned chili. Even the most domesticated “foodie” bachelor who wears mohair sweaters and makes lamb with mustard/mint/tarragon sauce has, I bet you, some canned chili stashed for emergencies. And now this singer, this friend of mine, was prepared to dole out five cans of my chili to his band like a mother bird plopping worms in their mouths? I bet he was! Why not just start taking the pictures down off my walls?

When I tried to explain that, although I admired how resourceful they were at finding food in my pantry I did not intend to dip into my vintage chili collection at this late hour, I was greeted with the kind of sullen pouting you would expect from a black lab if you pulled him away from a dead squirrel (which, on a strictly ingredients-based basis, probably wasn’t much of a metaphorical stretch). If you could harness that “foraging band” energy you could use it as a paint-stripper. I eventually compromised and let them make some garlic pasta, on the rationale that “I had a lot of noodles”, but I couldn’t believe it all the same. In the future I’d like to keep offering my place to musicians but from now on I’ll just stop at “Ranay’s” on the way home without consulting the band. It’ll be a good cultural exchange for them, and it will protect my noodle stockpile as well.