The Man Who Came to Dinner

Will Durst

Sometimes, one of the more challenging aspects of being The Man Who Came to Dinner is actually getting yourself in -- to dinner.

Believe it or not, not every local celebrity is anxious to have yours truly belly up to his or her breakfast nook. Politicians in particular -- like young Supervisor Newsom, and our own write-in wonder boy Tom Ammiano (that's an upcoming installment) -- are especially cautious about revealing the whereabouts of their dining rooms. After all, no one needs the Biotic Bakers making a home delivery.

Apparently, however, this executive privilege also extends to political comedians. That's why Will Durst, San Francisco's second most famous resident stand-up, diverted our dining engagement to one of his favorite local dives. (On that same note, Mr. Williams has yet to invite me over to his place for his renowned Harris' "taxi-out.")

Durst has developed a reputation as a sort of archetypal everyman, making the Bullshead restaurant (conveniently located between the West Portal BART station on one side and the Philosopher's Club bar on the other) as good a setting as any for our meal. I saw Will and his wife sauntering up the street as I gazed through Bullshead's window, drooling at the array of steaks being grilled on the other side.

Yummy.

Hands were shaken: "I'm Will. This is my wife Debbie. And this is Barry Levine."

"OK. Whatever," said Debbie. "He just walks up to people on the streets and starts talking to them. It's part of the fun."

Will was indeed the everyman, dressed in jeans, a button-down shirt, and a vest. Debbie, by contrast, was wearing a wide array of colors, including a tie-dyed Giants shirt, overalls adorned with a big Artist Formerly Known as Prince symbol pin (among others), and funky red sneakers.

We headed through the Bullshead's doors to find two small rooms of mismatched tables and chairs and one large refrigerated meat case displaying all the available cuts of beef.

"This is one of our favorite places to eat," Debbie explained. "Any place you can see meat has got to be good." We sat down at a large round table right in front of the meat display, and I decided to push the privacy issue just a little. "You live nearby, I take it?"

"We're Sunset people," declared Will. "I've been here 20 years. She's been here forever."

"I was born here," Debbie confirmed.

"Her head was the same size," said Will.

"Shut up," smiled Debbie.

"Are you a meat eater?" Will asked me.

"Indeed."

"Excellent," said Debbie. "You know, a lot of people just are not meat people anymore."

Sad, but true.

The waitress stopped by to take our orders. Debbie went with her usual, a cheeseburger. Will ordered the ground sirloin steak, "with lots of the sautéed mushrooms and onions." Debbie kindly advised me on my selec- tion. "The burgers are excellent," she said. "Everything is good. I've always had beef. You know, you don't come to a beef place where there's meat in the window and order chicken."

"Uh, I'll take a bacon cheeseburger too," I decided. "Cheddar. Medium rare."

"Which size?" asked the waitress.

"You want the big one or the small?" Debbie asked. "They come in two different sizes."

Very carefully, and slowly, I decided on ... "the smaller one."

"The third a pound?" asked Will, somewhat leading the witness, "or the half a pound?"

Sensing a critical opportunity here I slowly revised my choice to ... "the larger one."

"Ah, the half-pound," grinned Debbie, settling back in her chair.

"And a bottle of Budweiser, please."

So the key, I discovered, to winning over the Dursts is: more meat.

"Pookie had a very busy day," said Debbie turning to Will.

"Yes," he agreed. "I think the whole creative slate has been wiped clean."

"You can tell it's been a busy day," she explained, "because his hair sticks up."

In addition to his regular stand-up schedule (including a run this week at Cobb's), his PBS Livelyhood show, and his frequent contributions to various national magazines, Will has also been getting his fingers into multimedia development. His busy day included project meetings with a CD-ROM company. "It's one of those things where they hook all the wires up to you," he explained, "so when you move around, the character moves around. I want to do my commentary and have them create a virtual Will."

"Creeeepy," said Debbie.

With that, Will excused himself and headed for the salad bar, a benefit of his bunless burger. I asked Debbie how she and Will got together.

"Gosh, over 20 years ago," she answered. "We met at an open mike. At the Punch Line, downtown. I was in an improv group at the time and we were hosting the show. He was just one of the comics, and I thought he was very interesting because he didn't do puppy or doggy material, or, you know, 'What I hate about flying.' He was kind of into politics, and thinking, and I thought, 'Wow. He must read.'"

Our appetizer -- a large plate of fat, crispy onion rings -- arrived as Debbie finished the story. "So we decided to elope. We had a benefit for ourselves, at the Punch Line, 'cause that's where we met. Took the money and went to Vegas."

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