Charles Bernstein

Café Buffé

a musical comedy

libretto by Charles Bernstein
music by Dean Drummond

1. Overture
2. Whaddya think of that?
3. Don’t Pull the Plug
4. No Time Like the Present
5. Goddamn Hard Drive
6. My Data’s Gone
7. The Beach
8. It Must Be Time
9. Synchronicity
10. Cheesecake
11. Didn’t Know You Needed Asking
12. I’m Twice as High as You
13. Are You Listening?
14. Thanks for the Water

Bill Pell – Bass
Meadow Lake – Mezzosoprano
Giles Swan – Baritone
Sylvia Swan – Sixteen-year-old daughter of Giles, Soprano
Hilda Honey – Soprano

Scene: Inside the Cafe Buffé, late twentieth century.  Newband is playing a tune while Bill Pell, waiter, is quietly talking to Meadow Lake, who's sipping a cold drink at a table centerstage.  

1. Newband plays "overture."

2. Whaddya Think of That

Bill: Whaddya think of that?

Meadow:  That what?

Bill:  That band

Meadow:  What band?

Bill: The band

Meadow:  Which band?

Bill: This band

Meadow: Band of what?

Bill:  Whaddya think of the band?

Meadow:  Your band?

Bill:  No not my band

Meadow:  Swell band!

Bill:  Yeah, swell band

Meadow: Sort of swing band

Bill:  Really-sings band!

Meadow:  Hey guys!

Band (together):  Got some water?
             We sure want some ice-cold water!

Bill: Sure guys here's the water!  [serves water to band]

Band (together):  Thanks for the water
All this water
Great water!

Bill:  Sure guys anytime

Band (together):  We always like to drink fresh water

Bill:  Sure guys anytime: fresh clear water
       (to Meadow)  Nothing like water
                             What do you want to eat?

Meadow:  How's the tofu?

Bill:  Not so good today
       I'd suggest frogs legs

Meadow:  Nothing wrong with my legs

Bill:  No, frogs legs with tripe
       That's our specialty tonight
       What you into?

Meadow:  I like sprouts

Bill:  What kind of sprouts?

Meadow:  Brussel sprouts

Bill:  Don't believe it

Meadow:  Alfalfa sprouts

Bill:  That I can buy

Meadow:  Have you got sprouts with mushrooms?

Bill:  Much too healthy for me

Meadow:  Then how about
         Sprouts with tripe

Bill:  Tripe's all right
       Sprout's with tripe it'll be

Meadow:  What's your story?

Bill:  Got no story

Meadow;  Whaddya do?

Bill:  Serve you

Meadow:  Besides that?

Bill:  Wait for facts

Meadow: Not so fast

Bill: Just the facts

Meadow: Fax or facts?

Bill: Just facts.
        But I get tired.

Meadow:  Doing what?

Bill:  Just being me

Meadow:  Who are you?

Bill:  I'm a waiter
       Waiting for the day to end

3. Don’t Pull the Plug

I never knew the day to end
            You know I never knew any day to end
Just pulls out its plug
Or somehow unplugs itself

Don't pull the plug
I'm coming home
Don't pull the plug
            I'm almost there
            Don't pull the plug
            Been much too long
I feel like floating
But I pant instead

Sometimes I feel
            I'm almost lost
Sometimes I feel
            I'm almost found
            Sometimes I feel
            So pushed around

I see her in my mirror
            I hold her in my dreams
            But dreams are dreams
            And dreams get done

– ­What will you have to drink?

Meadow:  Sarsaparilla tea
         Would be just great for me
         Nothing's so fine
         As the taste of sarsaparilla wine

Bill:  We're out of sarsaparilla today
       But we've got coconut, leeche nut,
       Guava nut, yohimbe nut, and

4. No Time Like the Present

            There's no time like the present
            And the present's already gone
            No time like the present
            And the present it's already gone
            Got to get some reality
Or else I'll lose what's left of my mind

            Now I had three rings for my fingers
            Three rings to hold my place
            I had three rings for each finger
            Three rings to tell my tale
            Now all I got left
Is the skin around my bones

            I fell asleep last night
            Thinking I'd never wake again
            Fell asleep last week
            Knowing it was near the end
            I just keep getting up

            Thinking I'm someone else than I am


Bill (to band): Whaddya think of that guys?

Band:  Quite a story

Bill:  Helluva story

Band leader:  Where are our drinks?

Bill: What drinks?

Band:  Chilly water
       Chilly water
       We really want some
       Ice cold chilly water

Bill:  Be right back with the drinks, guys!

5. Goddamn Hard Drive

Enter Giles Swan and Sylvia Swan

Giles (to Sylvia):  Goddamn hard drive
Can't believe it
Jesus fucking hard drive
Crash, crashed
Total data loss
Goddamn hard drive
Can't believe it
Jesus fucking hard drive
Crash, crashed
Total data loss
Total data loss
Total data loss

Sylvia:  What data, Dad?

Bill:  What'll it be, Pop?

Giles:  I'd like to see a menu

Bill:  Ain't no menu

Sylvia:  Do you have French fries?

Bill:  French fries with what?

Sylvia:  French fries with rice

Bill:  And what's for Pops?

Giles:  I just lost my hard drive
           I can't eat

Bill:  Have you considered adoption?

Giles:  No, she's mine

Bill:  But if your hard drive's gone

Giles:  And all my data too

Sylvia:  What data, Pop?

6. My Data’s Gone

My data's gone
But my tears are here to stay
My data's wiped
But my fears won't even stray
Got a 380 processor
Gonna blow these cares away

A friend of mine
Bought a $40,000 mill
Friend of mine
Bought a $40,000 mill
He could sure crunch numbers
But crunched himself instead

Sometimes I feel
I'm inputting at some cosmic keyboard
Sometimes I feel
Just like I'm inputting at some cosmic keyboard
Don't know what I'm typing
But that I know for sure

The sky she changes colors
But my computer screen is blank
Sky it changes colors
But my TV screen's gone blank
I stare into the void
And don't know who to thank

Bill:  That's deep,
      (to band) Whaddya think guys?

Band:  More water
       Fresh cool water
       We want something to drink

Meadow:  Boy that's a story
         Kind of story
         Makes me sorry
         I don't drink

Giles:  I drink – make mine scotch
           Unblended scotch
           Got Glenlivit?
            Up straight
            No chaser

Bill: Right away, sir
        Pardon my intrusion
        Don't mind me

Sylvia:  Are my French fries ready?

Bill:  Hold on a minute

7. Let’s Go to the Beach

Let's split
This place is burning me up
Why do we always go to these flea bags?
I never liked this weird stuff
Calls itself a band
I told Jimmy I'd meet him
Jimmy, Joe, Jack – we're gonna catch
You know
Benzene Rust
You know, at Limbo Lounge
How about a drink for me, Dad
I had a couple of Rum Vodkas last week
At, you know, you know
Club Lumbago
After that theory class, boy
That professor makes watching paint dry
Seem exciting
Hey, Pop – Hey, Man!
You listening? 
Snap out of it!
How about that trip to Tampa?
Let's hit Tampa, man
Whaddya say, Daddy-O
Let's go to the beach!

Giles:  I never said beach
Who ever mentioned the beach
I'm too upset for the beach

Meadow:  Tough day, Dude
Time to relax
Listen to the band

Giles:  What band?

Meadow:  This band

Giles:  Your band?

Meadow:  No not my band
The band

Sylvia:  The band, man, the band

Giles:  Do they play kids' parties?
I need a band for my little kid's party

Meadow (to band):  Do you play parties?

Band leader:  What kind of parties?

Meadow:  Children's parties?

Band leader:  We take cash

Band (together):  No credit

Giles:  No problem
How about Saturday

Band leader:  Okay then no problem
Where are our drinks!

Band (together):  Ice water
                  Ice water
                  We really want some
                  Ice cold chilly water
                  Ice cold chilly water

[Band plays instrumental number.]

8. It Must Be Time

Enter Hilda Honey, who appears magically out of the blue.  She sings after instrumental.

It must be time
But I don't know where I am
It must be time
Yet I don't know where I am
Man said come into this place
But I haven't a clue
Not a name or a face

The world swirls around me
It's a mystery I'm here at all
The world swirls around me
It's a mystery I'm standing here at all
Got a telegram from eternity
Said it was time for me to call

From moment to moment
I just stumble and fall
From moment to moment
Find I just stumble and fall
Turned off the percolator
Turned in my chain and ball

Everything's tumbling about me
It looks like it's all turned to ash
Everybody's grumbling about me
Burying their heads in the sand
My friends ignore me
They give me a cross and some nails

Now if I stopped complaining
What would I do instead 
Now if I stopped screeching
What would I do instead
I'd give you a taste of my tuning
And throw you out of your head

Meadow:  I feel just like you
                Though you know
                We've never met
                But what you say sings to me
                Even though it seems to make no sense

9. Synchronicity

Hilda & Meadow (together):
Sometimes that happens
A chord is struck
The birds are blue
Lock is broke
They say it's synchronicity
Still I can't pay the rent
They say throw the towels away
How deep is deeper than bent?

(alternating lines)
A chord is struck
The birds are blue
They say it's synchronicity
How deep is deeper than bent?

They say its synchronicity
But I still can't pay the rent

Bill:     Don't like to intrude
But that's a long face
            What brings you here
            Is it our great pace?
What do you want to drink?

10. Cheesecake

Hilda:  Cheesecake, have you some cheesecake
            All I really want is
            Some cheesecake

Bill:     We don't serve cheesecake
Only the best cheesecake in the world
            Special cheesecake
            Unique cheese pie
             – Not just "some" cheesy pie

Some serve cheesecake
Some serve pie
There's nothing wrong with
Persimmons and rye

Give me an apple
I really need a pear
Give me a potato
I'm tired of prayer

Avocado for breakfast
Chevre for tea
My best friend's gone away
Let's have cheesecake to drink!

So don't say "some" cheesecake
Always say ideal cheese pie
Unique cheesecake
It never lies

That's for me
I've always wanted
Perfect cheesecake
The best cheesecake
Money can buy
At last I'll have
Perfect cheesecake
Ideal cheese-oriented pie!

Bill: Coming right up

Giles:  Couldn't help overhearing
            That you like ideal pies

Hilda:  My ideal is a pie, sure

Sylvia:  I like ice cream
Lots of ice cream
Not ideal pies

Giles: Nobody asked you
          I'm talking to the lady      

Sylvia:  Didn't know I needed asking

11. Didn’t Know You Needed Asking

Didn't know you needed asking
But you never do
Things pile up
Nothing's through
Suddenly it's time to go
Kitchen's missing
Pump's untied
Sailboat keeps parting
Cannot find the tide
No, you never do
No, you never do
Once I asked
Was told no way
Never asked again
I'm fifty miles above the earth
Getting further day by day

12. I’m Twice as High as You

I'm twice as high as you
But I've got both feet on the floor
Twice as high as you
With both feet on the floor
My left foot slips away at night
My right foot's on the shore

Slowly, much too slowly
I've learned it's fun to fall

Hilda & Meadow: Slowly, much too slowly
      I've learned it's fun to fall

Bill:  Got a chicken salad sandwich
         For anyone who hears this call

Giles:  No chicken salad for me
            I want ham and eggs

Bill:  We don't have any today
         Just bouillabaisse

Giles:  If that bouillabaisse is hot
            I might just try a taste

Giles & Bill:  Hot hot hot soup
                      Steaming hot piping
                      Soup suits me very well
                      Chicken noodle, cream and gumbo

13. Are You Listening?

Giles, Sylvia, Bill, Hilda, & Meadow simultaneously or alternating overlay, repeating:

Giles:     Cushion of shocks
               Bumps, knocks, slides
               Oscillating cascades
               Gaps, fissures, bolts
               Torrent of blades
               Pierces, pummels, splints

Sylvia:  Let's hit the waves
Get out of here
            Hey, Pop – Hey Dad
            Snap out of it!
            Are you listening?

Bill: Nothing like the taste of salsa and elk
        Try some pimento peppered with felt
       When I was a baby I ate mule
       Now I prefer large helpings of glue

Meadow: This time is my third time round
                Once as tailor
                Once as teller
                Once tailor once teller
                Once sailor once
                Salt cellar

Hilda:   My pie is ideal pie
             Ideal pie for me
             Give me cheesecake
             Good old cheese pie
             Until I die
              Until I die

      [disappears magically]

14. Thanks for the Water

Band leader: 

[1.] Thanks for the company
      [to rest of band]: Thanks for the music
      Thanks for being here tonight

[2.] And remember:
      We're available
      At the right price
      At the right time
      No credit

[3.] Thanks for listening
      Thanks for coming
      And thanks for the water

Band: Ice ice ice ice
          Ice cold water
          Chilly water
          Chilly water





For practical reasons (difficulty of filling the part of six-year old “Child Swan,”), an alternative version for soprano was written for Child’s “Let’s go to the beach” aria, with Child replaced by Sylvia, 17 -year old daughter of Giles. This is the original version:

7. The Beach

I’m hungry
I want my fries
I’m getting ready to go
Let’s go to the beach today
I like the beach, don’t you Daddy?
Can I order an ice scream Sunday can I order a hamburger can I
order a hotdog?
You can get some things too, okay, Dad?
Hey, Dad, I didn’t mean that
I don’t like shrimp
Can I order a milkshake too, Dad?
But please not the shrimp this time
Oh Daddy I just remembered I just wanted to go home to fix
            my Barbies
Oh Daddy I was kidding I want to go to beach today
OK let’s get on our bathing suits
We’re going to the beach today

* * *

Listen to a sound file of a 2009, concert performance of the opera on PennSound: