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A type of sandwich found in New Orleans tradionally served upon French Bread. They were originally served to poor boys for the price of a nickel. There are many types of po-boys, just like there are gumbo. When ordering a po-boy, the person serving you will ask how you want it dressed. That's just their way of asking what you want on it (and a way of spotting tourists).

Man came to the door.
I said, "For whom are you lookin'?"
He says, "Your wife."
I said, "She's busy in the kitchen cookin'."
Po' boy, where've you been?
I already told you. I won't tell you again.

Forget about the guitar intro here which might remind you of a Rod Stewart song. Just listen as Bob Dylan spins you a brand new tale in his sixth decade. This is track 10 from Love and Theft, and I don't think I've cried listening to a song in the middle of the day, stone sober, in a long, long time.

I say, "How much you want for that?"
I go into the store.
Man says, "Three dollars."
"Alright," I say, "will you take four?"
Po' boy, never say die.
Things'll be all right by and by.

I tried my damnedest not to listen to this album. I became disenchanted with my hero somewhere back there. Was it just after John Wesley Harding? I think maybe it was around that time. I assumed that he'd shot his wad and I'd never get those feelings I used to get again. Those long nights tearing apart Desolation Row and Mr. Tambourine Man . . . Those chillbumps from Girl from the North Country and Love Minus Zero / No Limit . . . Those lightened steps of pure 100% joy from I Want You and Queen Jane Approximately.

Working like in a main line,
Workin' like a devil.
The game is the same,
It's just up on another level.
Po' boy, dressed in black.
Police at your back.

But my best friend in Hollywood kept at me about this, and finally made damn sure that I heard this album. I should have listened to him in the first place. I'm such a stubborn bastard. It's just that I couldn't have taken another disappointment from my hero at this point. What with Rolling Stone giving this album the vaunted five star treatment and everyone talking about it. It seemed so appealing, and I've had so many disappointments with that gleam of fulfillment sitting right up there on the tree, all lit up and just out of reach. You go get a step ladder and snatch the shiny thing down, only to find out that all you did was ruin Christmas.

Po' boy in a red hot town,
Out beyond the twinklin' stars.
Ridin' first class trains,
Makin' the rounds;
Tryin' to keep from fallin'
Between the cars.

Here is where the song digs its claws in and doesn't let go until the last whisper of dying six-string guitars and a bowed stand-up bass. Here is where I knew that I'd never have been the same had I not heard this tune.

Othello told Desdemona,
"I'm cold. Cover me with a blanket.
By the way what happened to that poison wine?"
She said, "I gave it to you. You drank it."
Po' boy, layin' 'em straight,
Pickin' up the cherries fallin' off the plate.

What does that mean? "Pickin' up the cherries fallin' off the plate." Why do I get images of Renaissance religious paintings and flashbacks to Tom Waits' imagined life, mixed with Polaroid snapshots of Django Reinhardt sitting by a gypsy camp and talking to George Clooney in full character from O Brother, Where Art Thou? Why do these images flood my brain from the simple line about cherries falling off of a plate? Only Dylan can do that.

Time and love
Is branding me with its claws.
Had to go to Florida;
Dodgin' them Georgia laws.
Po' boy in the hotel called the Palace of Gloom,
Called down to room service, said, "Send up a room."

The little touch of humor there, just before the part that made me cry. Was it that touch of humor that did it? I don't know. I can't tear apart a masterpiece and make it clear why it affected me so. Plus, if you're not actually listening to this song right now, none of this makes any sense. I'm writing this for me. Sorry.

My mother was a daughter
Of a wealthy farmer.
My father was a traveling salesman.
I never met him.
When my mother died,
My uncle took me in to run a funeral parlor.
He did a lot of nice things for me
And I won't forget him.

I guess it's a lie. I'm sure it's just made up. Dylan has always invented who he was. Even as a kid, he would tell these wild stories about where he was from and his family history. I don't think he was unhappy: He's just that kind of guy. He realizes that it's all just a smoky dream, anyway. None of this can be nailed down. That's why he's so happy getting old. I imagine that he can't wait to see what happens next. But when he says, "He did a lot of nice things for me, and I won't forget him," my eyes began to boil over. I suppose that's the most literal line I've ever heard from Bob Dylan, and it's the most literal way to say what he's meant to me all this time.

All I know
Is that I'm thrilled by your kiss.
I don't know
Any more than this.
Po' boy, pickin' up the sticks.
Build your house out of mortar and bricks.

And just so you don't lose the sense of humor in all this, he leaves you with this last verse:

Knockin' on the door,
I said, "Whosit? where you from?"
Man said, "Freddie." I said, "Freddie who?"
He said, "Freddie or not, here I come."
Po boy 'neath the stars that shine;
Washin' them dishes, feedin' them swine.

Freddie or not, Freddie will come. And I can see little Bobby Zimmerman up there, out beyond the twinkling stars, shining forever in that overhead sky: That old story of what happens to true storytellers which John Barth so lovingly tells in Chimera. They become constellations. And little Bobby Zimmerman knows there'll be pigs to slop and dishes to wash, even in Heaven. The game is the same. It'll just be up on another level.

God bless him.

CST approved

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