DOJ Audit: One Meatball

"You gets no bread with your one meatball."

In Department of Justice news:

An internal Justice audit, released Friday, showed the department spent nearly $7 million to plan, host or send employees to 10 conferences over the last two years. This included paying $4 per meatball at one lavish dinner and spreading an average of $25 worth of snacks around to each participant at a movie-themed party.

This song has been around at least since the depression. Bing Crosby, the Andrews Sisters and Josh White sang it during WWII. I really like the versions by Baby Jane Dexter and Ann Rabson, but I couldn't find videos of them. Here's the lyrics:

A little man walked up and down,
He found an eating place in town,
He read the menu through and through,
To see what fifteen cents could do.

One meatball, one meatball,
He could afford but one meatball.

He told the waiter near at hand,
The simple dinner he had planned.
The guests were startled, one and all,
To hear that waiter loudly call, "What,

"One meatball, one meatball?
Hey, this here gent wants one meatball."

The little man felt ill at ease,
Said, "Some bread, sir, if you please."
The waiter hollered down the hall,
"You gets no bread with one meatball.

"One meatball, one meatball,
Well, you gets no bread with one meatball."

The little man felt very bad,
One meatball was all he had,
And in his dreams he hears that call,
"You gets no bread with one meatball.

"One meatball, one meatball,
Well, you gets no bread with one meatball."

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    thanks for the song words (none / 0) (#1)
    by cfk on Sat Sep 15, 2007 at 09:17:42 PM EST
    When I was three and I didn't know the words to the hymn in a small church...I stood on my seat and sang loudly, "One meatball was all he had!" over and over again until my parents managed to hush me up.

    So nostalgia hit me about what was on the radio in 1947 and makes me smile.  It is also a sad song of course, but as a child I didn't know that.

    My Father Sang it as "One Fishball" (none / 0) (#2)
    by Paul J on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 12:35:20 AM EST
    I gather there was a Josh White folk hit with "One Meatball," but I was serenaded as a child with a fishy version.  Ironically, the song came to mind tonight for the first time in years and I commented on it to companions in the aftermath of a spaghetti dinner.  A little on-line research hints that the fish version may have preceded the meat, possibly originating in New England, where fishballs were probably comfort food at one time.

    I have only been able to retrieve a few bits so far.  As I recall, it was lyrically pretty plain, with most if not all verses consisting of two lines repeated, starting with:

    There was a man who came around
    To see what there was to be found (2x)

    He came upon a stylish place
    And entered in with modest grace (2x)

    He looked the menu through and through
    To see what fifteen cents would do (2x)

    The only thing 'twould do at all
    Was only one, just one, fishball (2x)

    Middle section bears considerable resemblance to yours, with waiter bellowing down the hall, repeatedly shaming the man.  Fishball has a grimmer ending than yours, however:

    The poor old man he went outside
    And shot himself and slowly died (2x)

    You are correct (none / 0) (#3)
    by Jeralyn on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 01:02:03 AM EST
    I did the same research earlier and found the "one fishball" song connection. The fishball song originated in the late 1800's. Some tie it to the aftermath of the civil war, and it was showcased in a play in 1895 or thereabouts.  The words are strikingly similar, although not quite the same.

    I first learned about "one meatball" about ten years ago during a criminal defense lawyers' dinner when one of the New York lawyers went on and on about it, including the lengths he went to to track down Baby Jane Dexter because he was so blown away by her version. He even sang the song. This lawyer is a great story teller and he packed so much emotion into his story and singing, I felt like I was watching a movie from the depression. I never forgot it. About a month ago, something reminded me of it and I started searching for a version to download to my iPod. Ann Rabson's was the only one available, but I learned a lot from Google about the song and Baby Jane Dexter.

    Re: story telling. This lawyer really has the gift. At another meeting, in Lake Tahoe years earlier, he told me a story about Ethel Rosenberg (of Ethel and Julius) walking her child in a baby carriage. She was a very uncomfortable new mother.  It was so vivid, it was like I was there and I never can hear her name now without thinking of her pushing the baby carriage as he described.  I asked him how he knew all these minute details, and he said he read them in a book. I wish I had those story-telling skills.


    Tell Me a Story (none / 0) (#4)
    by Paul J on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 01:36:22 AM EST
    Given the odd coincidence of that obscure folk number fighting its' way to the surface of my cerebrum and then only a couple hours later coming upon your post, more and more of the version I heard early on is coming back.  I had the tune from the start, and some of the words, but probably have most of them now.

    I too came upon some of the play - or opera? - connection to that late 19th C business but have not had a chance to explore.

    My father, a complete technophobe, will be amused and beaming to hear this.

    I too wish I had the storytelling gift.  My maternal grandfather, a professor of entomology at the University of Missouri, was terrific at it.  I have crossed paths with several others over the years with the raconteur gift - sometimes stories, sometimes jokes.  One who comes to mind was the fellow who - like me - worked for an engineering firm yet had previously, or so he claimed, made a living at writing jokes, including selling some to Phyllis Diller.  His joke-telling prowess certainly supported his claims.

    Any chance of you finding a way to document some of the tales of your gifted lawyer-acquaintance?  I sure wish I had done that with Grandpa.

    For some it is probably possible to train and practice so as to become adept at this sort of thing.  Doubtless not all, though, and it would have to be a commitment, likely at the cost of other life-interests.  It is regrettable that traditional oral pass-ons, whether storytelling, singing of folk-style songs, or other, is a rarity these days.  It saddens me that my children never got the experience that I did of learning scores of tunes from bygone eras from a parent's voice.  They have my love of music, but not that more-intimate and transcendant experience, nor from what I can tell, much interest in pre-50's music of any sort.  Nor can they break into "Cockles and Mussels," "Red River Valley," or "Green Grow the Rushes Oh" at will.  They might be able to piece together parts of "El Paso" though - one of the few pre-60's numbers they have heard from me.

    Perhaps we must just thank the stars for the gifts we have without having to grub for them.

    my dad used to sing when he was shaving (none / 0) (#6)
    by cfk on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 01:53:03 AM EST
    He sang Oh, Susannah, My Darling Clementine, The Bear Went Over the Mountain, Old Black Joe, She'll Be Coming Around the Mountain, etc.

    My kids might remember me singing This Land Is Your Land, This Land Is My Land.  Their father sings with the guitar or banjo often and mostly folksongs or songs like Me and Bobby McGee.

    With my grandbabies we are still at Mary Had a Little Lamb and Old MacDonald.  

    You are right that we need the storytellers!!!


    speaking of what 15 cents would do (none / 0) (#5)
    by cfk on Sun Sep 16, 2007 at 01:42:19 AM EST
    In 1965, a friend and I dined in a small town drug store.  We each had a hotdog and pop.  The price for both of us with tax was 52 cents...sigh.

    Of course, it was a lot harder to come up with 52 cents at the time.  It was equal to a half hour of work at a lot of college type jobs.