The Legend of Barbecue Joe
Gather round and Ill tell you of Barbecue Joe, a friend to the hungry, a man without foe. When Barbecue Joe was a young man with a big van, he left his small home in the middle of the country for an even smaller one at the edge of it. Neither manic nor depressed, Barbecue Joe drove west across the moist asphalt prairies and Great Plains, three days and two nights through the misty mountains and pine forests until at last he reached the shore of the sea.
There, not far from Santa Cruz, Joe found a place called Watsonville, where just the right amount of people lived. Joe decided hed join them. He sold his van, rented a bungalow and got a job in a local cannery.
Joe was surprised to find no cans in the cannery. It was in fact a frozen-vegetable packery, where dismembered plants were converted to rectangular blocks of vegetable-flavored ice. But everyone in town called it a cannery just the same, so Joe called it a cannery, too.
He made new friends easily and, when the sun shined on a Saturday, invited them over for barbecues, just as hed done for hundreds of consecutive weeks with his old friends in the Heartland. Joe didnt always feel like having company, but he couldnt help it: He was Barbecue Joe. Hed buy a special part of a cow carcass, marinate it, season it, sear it and grill it. It was Joes pungent, garlicky tri-tip marinade -- an intuitively measured and precisely monitored meatbath of roasted sesame oil, ginger, scallions and maple syrup -- that had earned Joe his nickname, back when he was 16 years old.
Everyone agreed that Barbecue Joes tri-tip was the best ever, and there was always plenty to go around. When the sun went down, everyone helped clean up, hosed the cow blood off the cement and threw the bones in the trash. Tri-tip is a very special cut of cow, Joed tell everyone. Theres only two per carcass.
After the guests left, Barbecue Joe would brew up a big, thick pot of coffee, open up his notebook and invent things. This was part of the same barbecue-compulsion hed had for as long as he could remember. In fact, Barbecue Joe was pretty confident that his true calling was as Invention Joe, but that the barbecues were necessary as transitional rituals, something to put him in the right frame of mind to invent.
It didnt much matter. Barbecue Joe liked being Barbecue Joe just fine, as long as after each barbecue he could sit down with his notebook and invent things.
One Saturday evening, not yet halfway through the coffee, Joe invented something good: a new technology that would simultaneously repair the ozone layer, end war forever and render religion- and petroleum-based civilizations obsolete. Joe liked his latest invention, but he didnt dare tell anyone about it without first getting it patented. It took two years for Joe to save up enough money to pay for a patent attorney to file the paperwork, and it was another three years before the patent office sent out his letter of approval.
Now Joe was a real inventor. He told everyone about his invention, and everyone was impressed. More and more people began coming over for Joes Saturday-afternoon barbecued tri-tip. Friends of friends of friends -- people Joe didnt know -- began spending time on his patio and in his living room. One such afternoon, one friends friends friend told Joe that he was pretty sure that people at the big company where he worked would manufacture Joes invention, and gave Joe a phone number.
Monday morning, Joe took a break from rectangularizing vegetables and called the number. He set up an appointment to meet someone important at the big company in Los Angeles on Friday. The big company even sent a private jet to pick Joe up, a limousine to drive him to the companys corporate headquarters and a beautiful young woman to bring him cup after cup of very good, strong coffee as he sat in an enormous office with one of the companys vice presidents.
But the meeting didnt go as well as Joe had hoped. Its a good idea, said the executive, but its not the right time to market it, and maybe in a few years and thanks so much for coming and lets talk again.
Disappointed, Joe sat in silence in the jet on the way home. But the next day was bright and sunny, and by midafternoon he was surrounded by friends, serving up exquisite slices of tri-tip. By the time the blood was hosed off the patio, Joe had shrugged off the meeting and settled down with his coffee and notebook to invent something else.
nine months later, on a Friday afternoon, Barbecue Joe was at work, reading the local papers Technology section in the break room when he noticed a picture of the man hed met with in Los Angeles. The article surrounding the picture was about how the big company had patented a petroleum-based invention that would make the company shareholders a lot of money. As Joe read on, he realized that this new product would also render Joes invention worthless.
That made Barbecue Joe mad. He called and left a message for the attorney whod helped him out with the patent and invited him to help sue the big corporation. Early the following morning, while Joe was crushing fresh ginger and garlic, the attorney returned his call, said he might be interested in representing Joe and gave Joe a quote ballpark figure unquote of how much it would cost to set such a lawsuit in motion. Joe wrote down the estimate, thanked the attorney, hung up, quickly finished his marinade, immersed his tri-tip in it and placed it on a shelf in the refrigerator. He made a special pot of coffee and sat down at the table with his notebook and calculator. After just 10 minutes, hed figured out a plan of action: If he could convince his boss at the factory to double his work load to 100 hours a week, he could save up enough money to sue the big company in just under 6,019 years.
The doorbell rang. The first batch of guests. Some new people.
Tri-tip is a very special cut of cow, said Barbecue Joe, welcoming them inside. Theres only two per carcass.
Barbecue Joe and His Hot Dogs (www.redhotjazz.comhotdogs.html). Listen to RealAudio files of Wingy Malone (a.k.a. Barbecue Joe) and his band. Note, especially, Tar Paper Stomp, the primary riff of which Glen Miller, uh, borrowed and pasted into his biggest hit, In the Mood.
Get the This Week's Top Stories Newsletter
Every week we collect the latest news, music and arts stories — along with film and food reviews and the best things to do this week — so that you'll never miss LA Weekly's biggest stories.