White out

Nets of unexpected kindness -- and a meatloaf sandwich at Valencia Pizza and Pasta
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CHEAP EATS Dear Earl Butter,

Not you, but people say, "You will be stronger." I wonder how, when I am in a million pieces. Of course I know I will come together, but what if the forearm is on top of the elbow and the upper arm below? What if my fingers are in the wrong order? How can this make me stronger?

I thought I would ask you, because don't you have some experience with cubism?

Right now I'm on a train crossing the border between Germany and France, sitting backward. I'd puke, but I'm too tired, and completely empty. I haven't slept in days. I haven't eaten. Last night I looked at a bowl of onion soup, which was a start.

If I still weigh anything by the time I get to La Rochelle, then survival is almost guaranteed, since the French are certain to feed me.

It was beautiful. When word got out that a sister was down in Europe, this net of unexpected kindness opened up under me. Christ, I love my extended family. I mean, don't get me wrong: I hate life, but you gotta love the people in it, don't you? Some of them. Thanks to my brother Jean-Gene the Frenchman and Andi Lu Who, my French sister, my road-to-recovery stretches from roughly Bordeaux to Rome. I knew I had cugini over here, and old best friends of brothers, their exes and exes' sisters, in-laws of in-laws and such ... What I didn't know is that they would circle up with their arms stretched out and interlocked to catch a farmerly kook they'd met only once, or twice. And years ago.

I need this. I need friendly, familiar faces and hours and hours of ping-pong. Can you believe that I have been through what I've been through without the consolation of so much as one bowl of duck soup?

Ah, but the grass is greener in France. The countryside is beautiful. Germany was beautiful too, from the train, but it was a black-and-white kind of beauty. All branches and snow. I wish I could white out what happened to me there.

Well, I take comfort in the fact that I lasted a couple weeks longer in Germany than my mom did in St. Paul, where she moved recently to more easily stalk her own great love, Garrison Keillor.

But she got off easy. I'm pretty sure Garrison Keillor never kissed my mom's ring finger after making love to her, for example. I don't think he called her his wife about a million times, or soul mate, or the love of his life. In fact, I'm not sure he knew she existed.

Wait, that's right — he signed a book for her.

If only I'd gotten an autograph and left it at that. It's dizzying, like death or sitting backward on the train. If I can stay vertical, Earl, I will eventually fly from Italy to Ohio to the Caribbean, to help wash windows and paint a hurricane-damaged house my other brother built there. Then I should be warm enough to come crawling back and curl up in your closet. Start cleaning.

Dear Dani,

That is great. There is nothing I look forward to more than a lunch date with Joel. At Valencia Pizza and Pasta, here are some of the things I have eaten with him: lemon chicken sandwich ($6.25), chicken-bacon-red pesto sandwich ($6.95). I've seen Joel eat breakfast there with corned beef hash and also a roasted chicken plate that was so big it almost stopped him cold. Today he got the pollani picata, which, I think means chicken breast with lemon and capers. What a beautifully full plate!

I got the meatloaf sandwich. A meatloaf sandwich of ridiculous pomposity ($6.25). Honestly, for a moment, I thought they had put the slices in sideways just to thwart me. There was no way to include the lettuce, tomatoes and pickles. You just have to treat them as sides. It was so juicy. I tricked Joel into looking out the window before I attempted a bite. I did not want him to see my jaw unhinge. Listen, this really is my new favorite restaurant. We walked out, as we always do, full, and happy, and friends. — E.B.

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