Café Buffé


a musical comedy



libretto by Charles Bernstein

music by Dean Drummond




Bill Pell – Bass

Meadow Lake – Mezzosoprano

Giles Swan – Baritone

Child Swan – Six-year-old girl, daughter of Giles

Hilda Honey – Soprano






Scene: Inside the Café 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. 

Newband plays "overture."


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:  What's a fax?


Bill:  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



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, liechee nut,

       Guava nut, yohimbe nut, and




            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!



Enter Giles Swan and Child Swan


Giles (to Child):  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


Child:  What's data, Dad?


Bill:  What'll it be, Pop?


Giles:  I'd like to see a menu


Bill:  Ain't no menu


Child:  Do you have french fries?


Bill:  French fries with what?


Child:  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


Child:  What's data, Pop?



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 Glenlivet?

            Up straight

            No chaser


Bill: Right away, sir

        Pardon my intrusion

        Don't mind me


Child:  Are my french fries ready?


Bill:  Hold on a minute



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


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


Child:  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.]


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


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?


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


Child:  I like ice cream

Lots of ice cream

Not ideal pies


Giles: Nobody asked you

          I'm talking to the lady          


Child:  Didn't know I 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 ask again

I'm fifty miles above the earth

Getting further day by day



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


Giles, Child, 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


Child:  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]








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






Short note on music and collaboration: to come


For practical reasons (difficulty of filling the part of “Child”), 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.



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!









Charles Bernstein’s poem “12(2)” from Slope 11-12 appears in The Best American Poetry

2002 (Scribner’s).


Visit Dean Drummond’s site at


Visit Newband’s site at