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Cheap Eats

Tamale soup


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Some week for the chicken farmer. Starts out in the city, my hand in a late-night pot of boiling water, fussing with unthawable frozen tamales, and ends in moonlight in the woods, digging a very sober hole for a very dead chicken.

Foxes have found me.

In other news, there’s a spot on the back of humans, below the neck, below the first few vertebrae, between shoulder blades, the soft, special niceness of which will haunt me now for the rest of my life. I woke up one week ago with my nose there, and I nuzzled and kissed and breathed in the catastrophic smell of someone else for a change. It was way too early to even wonder where I was.

I was in a strange bed, with an even stranger stranger, whose waking words were, "Don’t write about the tamales."

Still in that same sweet spot, I had no intention of ever leaving, let alone writing about tamales. I smiled and spoke into it. I said, "Okay." I was thinking that there would be more meals together, more sober ones, with every chance in the world for redemption and reduction sauces. No need to dwell on drunken, emergency snack-food soup.

Oof. This is going to make a weird country song. My new best friend is the bottle. But it ain’t me doing the drinking. It’s everyone else in the world, and it will be interesting to see how many times out of 10 they already have a girlfriend. They’re in love. Why one would want to drink enough to forget that spectacular fact, even for one night, both baffles and thrills me. And that’s why you will find me now in bars.

In search of temporary sweet spots between shoulder blades.

Neither forgetter nor forgettee, I’ll be the designated driver. You’ll invite me in. Whether you have a long-distance lover or nothing but dead and doomed chickens to occupy your mind, a body gets tired of sleeping alone. I know that, and I know things happen in bars that have absolutely no relevance in the world outside bars. No problem.

If it hurts a little, so does life. A lot! Like one minute you’ve got your eyes closed and headphones on and telephone ringer off, and you’re recording your heart out into a microphone, imagining a small cult following, and the next minute, click track marching in place behind you, you’re chasing a fox through blackberry bramble, tripping over tree trash.

It did let go of the chicken, and my farmerly diligence was rewarded by getting to lie in the dirt and watch my penultimate hen die a slow, useless death. This took days. I’m hungry and scratched, and I need a bath.

In retrospect, I should have Dr. K’d her immediately. But retrospect is easy. She wasn’t bleeding and didn’t look broken. She didn’t seem to be in pain, but it’s hard to tell with chickens — unlike chicken farmers, who put it in the newspaper.

My new favorite chicken, by virtue of being the last one standing, was my least favorite only yesterday. It’s the egg eater. Chickens are intensely social animals. They go around together, they have their pecking order, and at night they line up on the roost, all tight and snuggly, for warmth. Or, for all we know, for love, comfort, reassurance …

Teeth hurt. Thorns hurt. Biting into a dumpling full of scalding pork juice hurts. I didn’t do this, by the way. I’m a patient and paid professional Shanghai dumpling eater. It happened to a personal friend of mine, in Millbrae. She grew up there and still knows where to go.

The Shanghai Dumpling Shop, for example, rocks — even the things we got that weren’t dumplings, and weren’t pork buns, and weren’t "lion head" meatballs. I’m thinking of the "bean curd sheets" with spinach. It was like fettuccini, and it was miraculously, meatlessly delicious.

Wednesday we went. Lunch time, and it was like an oasis, a rest stop, a catchy chorus or bridge. We all need little islands of sanity (or, in other words, rivulets of warm pork juice on the tongue) in the middle of our crazy work weeks full of chasing foxes, being foxy, and digging deep holes in the moon.

I have one last, live chicken to be with, and I’m going back outside now to be with her. Sorry I wrote about the tamales. *


Mon.–Fri., 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 5 p.m.–9 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 11 a.m.–3 p.m. and 4:30 p.m.–9 p.m.

455 Broadway, Millbrae

(650) 697-0682



Wheelchair accessible

Like breathing


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Oh, I gave up on Internet dating a long time ago. Like: March? Then, on June 1, this:

My response to his personal ad left him breathless, he said, because blah blah blah. (I’m paraphrasing.) But he definitely said "breathless." I know because I peed my pants when I read it. To leave someone breathless … that’s big. That’s every girl’s dream, or, at the very least, every transgender chicken farmer’s dream.

Touched (and wet and uncomfortable and stinky), I scoured my "Sent" folder for the response in question. It was dated March 19.

To leave someone breathless is huge. To leave them breathless for 71 days … that’s downright life threatening. I resisted the urge to write back and say: Breathe!!!! Immediately!!!! Where do you live?! What do you need?! I’ll be right there! Please stay alive!! I love you! Sincerely, Chicken Farmer.

My new strategy is to play it cool. For example, instead of asking guys out, I look at them. Instead of telling them I love them, if they do ask me out, I go, "… OK …" With as many dots as possible, and without even one single exclamation mark.

But they don’t, of course, ask me out. Generally speaking. I swear, ever since I unleashed myself on the straight male world, the marriage rate has risen. The divorce rate has declined. Traditional family values thrive. Statistics show this.

Or at any rate, I have eyes. I mean, I walk down the street, exuding sexuality and chicken shit, and people fucking cling to their partners. Previously blasé dates compose and perform extemporaneous sonnets, hands on hearts, in the middle of the burrito line. Noncommittal rocker boys drop down on stage-dive-scarred knees and propose marriage. Even gays and lesbians want in on it. Polyamory, until very recently all the rage, is out the window.

These two, moments ago, were throwing things through windows, packing bags. Then, out of the corners of half-closed and tearful eyes, they see me down below on the sidewalk, looking blurry but available, and they fall into each other’s arms and make passionate love for the first time in seven years.

Sometimes they don’t even have to see me. They sense me out there somewhere, looking for dates, and reconsider the harsh words on the tips of their tongues, or the crass act.

This is great! Without lifting a finger or so much as my skirt, I have inspired reconsideration, forgiveness, conciliation, peace, love, and, you know, compassion and shit. You think I’m on drugs, or drunk, or crazy, but tally it up and you’ll see: I’ve done more to promote peace and quiet and interpersonal harmony than Jesus and Doctor Phil put together.

Of course, I suppose if you factor in the Crusades, modern-day old-fashioned Christian violence, rapist priests, and, well, Dr. Phil … then everyone else in the world, even Mike Tyson, deserves some sort of peace prize too. So once again I have come crashing and clanging to the bottom of the page without actually saying a goddamn thing.

Except I think what I was driving at, before the train wreck, was that I didn’t e-mail back and profess anything or in any way return this guy’s breathlessness. The institution of marriage and the notion of traditional family values need me right now. I wrote back and said, in effect, "OK."

P.S. Who are you?

Because I didn’t have a clue. And still don’t, since he still hasn’t re-responded. I can wait. I’m patient, realistic, and good at math. On August 9 I give up. In the meantime: slow, deep breaths, and business as usual.

Speaking of which, my new favorite restaurant? Hide-a-Way Cafe. On Telegraph. Nice patio. Real nice patio. Go on a pretty day. East Bay Matt, who is now of course East Coast Matt, damn him, took me there. And I say took, even though I drove, because he paid, bless him.

Matt’s a genuine, PhD’d perfesser now, and that means that, yes, I love to sit for hours in a place with him and talk about sociological … things, and music scenes and communication and pedagogy. But also it means, when he offers to treat, I let him. I not only let him, I order a steak with my eggs.

It was only $8.50, same as an omelet! And it wasn’t a huge slab of meat, but it was good and juicy and tasty. And the taters were great, home fried with peppers and onions and, yeah: new favorite restaurant. *


6430 Telegraph, Oakl.

Tues.–Fri., 7:30 a.m.–3 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., 7:15 a.m.–3 p.m.

Cash only

No alcohol

Wheelchair accessible

Bras and barbecue


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Mountain Sam has many last names; I don’t think I’ve ever seen the same one twice. My personal favorite, because it’s the only one I can remember right now, is Two Bears.

I met Mountain Sam and his wife, Mountain Veronica, at an open mic in the Castro called Retool and Grind. I sang about Sonoma County and being a chicken farmer. I sang the one that gives directions to my shack, and they came up to me after and said, "We’re neighbors!"

First I thought they meant they lived close to each other. "Good. That’s great," I said, packing up my drum. Then it hit me.

"Windsor," Veronica said.

I’m not used to having neighbors. Mountain Sam offered to help me carry my drum to the truck, and by the time we got there we were all best friends. It’s a half hour drive to Windsor from Occidental, but the roads are winding and wonderful. You see deer, foxes, wild turkey…. Sometimes they’re even alive.

One of the first things me and Mountain Sam talked about was eating roadkill. He comes from Oklahoma and is part Indian. He reminds me of my uncles, who live in Ohio and aren’t any Indian at all, but do hunt deer, of course. I love venison. For a while I started taking the curves a little faster at night, but then I realized that, given the size of my pickup truck, it was just as likely the deer would have me for dinner. Which would be a really ridiculous way to go, deer being vegetarians.

Veronica is from Arizona. She’s beautiful, calls me honey, thinks she can eat more than me, and can. Her favorite food is KFC.

I can’t tell you how happy I am to have friends in my own county. Their doctor is in Occidental. We meet at the Union Hotel for a beer. I need a chicken-sitter. Sam accidentally defrosts too much sausage. They have a hot tub. Cable TV. Netflix. Bags and bags of frozen hot wings in the freezer.

In the city: I introduce them to carne asada burritos at Cancun and cool free music at the Rite Spot. We sit on the grass in Dolores Park.

While I was away, Sam built me a catapult. Veronica wants to go shopping with me.

This is what I mean by question marks in thought balloons: you wake up on Memorial Day morning, and it’s a beautiful, warm day outside. Everyone in the world, not just the chicken farmer, is thinking: barbecue.

Even the chickens are excited. They come running now as soon as they smell smoke, because they know what it means: the other white meat, pork. Their favorite food in the world. Mine too. We sit there on the log together and smell it happening.

You know me. I barbecue in the snow and the rain, early morning, late night, any day of the week. The last thing in the world I would expect to be doing on a sunny Memorial Day is not barbecuing.

However, Veronica had the day off from work, and Sam was in Virginia, and that was how I, the chicken farmer, wound up spending the meat of a barbecue holiday at the Windsor Wal-Mart.

The good news is I scored two cheap bras and some brake fluid!

Veronica got a dress, some pants and a shirt, a pair of shoes…. "Honey, is there anything else you need?" she said, while we were wandering (I hoped) toward the checkout.

I looked at the things in my hands. Bras, brake fluid … "Nope. I’m all set," I said.

"Come on, honey, I want to buy you something," she said.

"Charcoal?" I suggested.

"No, honey," she said. "An outfit." She led me back into the clothes section. Which is like leading a horse to a parking garage or "a skeleton walks into a bar."

"Do you guys have a grill?" I asked, wildly and desperately scanning the racks of Nobo and White Stag for something, anything, that I would be caught dead in.

"Honey, we’re going to Subway!" Veronica said.

Mountain Sam says something like I do about waking up wondering who he is any given day. It was five in the afternoon.

"Subway?" I asked.

"I’m hungry, honey!" Veronica said. "I already took a chicken out this morning," she said, "but we’re sure going to need something to tide us over while it’s on the spit, ain’t we?"

It was like waking up in your own bed. My eyes stopped darting. I let her pick me out an outfit, and some day soon I will wear it proudly. *



The asterisk


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Sockywonk fell down backward on the street. It was the story of her life, she told me, while I shouldered her to my pickup truck, trucked her home, and tucked her in. She was smiling, laughing. Dropped on her head as a baby, she said, and 40 years later … still falling down all over the place.

The next few days were hard. With surgery and chemo behind her, she now faced a bigger, blurrier challenge: the rest of her sinking-in, falling-down life. And the uncertainty was killing her.

She cried on my shoulder. This felt nice. I felt so honored and connected and scared too that I don’t know if I properly there-thered her. We’re all in basically the same boat. I cried and clung and felt finally human.

In case you haven’t felt that feeling, it feels kind of like being alive, only with an asterisk. Soul, spirit, and self-consciousness be damned, in my boat the asterisk has nothing to do with metaphysics and everything to do with sharks. Not our awareness of them drawing incessant underwater circles around us. All animals have that. But we’re the only ones who make whole fucking movies about it.

The asterisk is Jaws. Yep, like it or not, we have Richard Dreyfuss. And popcorn and popcorn and popcorn.

I’ve been watching and watching this documentary about sharks. I got it out of the library and renewed it once. So I thought I knew what Socky was talking about. What I didn’t get was why oh why, in the meantime, she kept forgetting to eat. Three days, she said.

I unburied myself from her shoulder and her from mine and looked her in the eye. Nice as arms and necks and eyelashes are, there comes a time when empathy and hugs no longer quite cut it. I call that Pancake Time.

Three days is too many days.

"Socky, sweetie, you don’t need to worry about the rest of your life," I said, thumbing from her face another couple tears and blinking back my own. "What you need is breakfast."

She smiled a little and nodded even less and said weakly, "I am hungry."

"Let’s go," I said, getting up and tugging on her hand.

Where? Toast.

What?! No, not Toast, you say. It’s overpriced! It’s so so so so yuppie, even for Noe Valley. It pisses on the grave of the late great and relatively down-to-earth Hungry Joe. Two bucks for a cup of coffee! No! Not you, not Cheap Eats, not poor Sockywonk.

You say all of the above, and I shake your shoulder and say, Wake up. You’re having a nightmare. Things change, and I have no choice now but to accept that and say it and say it and show it. I don’t know about you, but I blink alive every morning with nothing but question marks in my thought balloon. Time ticks. For now. That’s all I know, and all I ever will, probably, know, from breakfast to shark food. Time does tick, and the implications seem to include both tooth decay and gentrification.

Besides which, their hash browns are amazing. Do you know how hard that is, for hash browns to amaze? Well, they’re perfectly crusty on the outside and perfectly creamy underneath. Toast! My new favorite restaurant. Not that I’ll ever eat there again, but we did thoroughly enjoy our blueberry pancakes and Mediterranean scramble and hardly cried at all during the whole meal.

And speaking of crusty and creamy, I can’t remember if I told Sockywonk this over breakfast, but in case not, I’ll tell her now that my favorite predatee in the shark documentary reminded me of her. And it wasn’t an octopus but an old slow-ass sea turtle, which, after a not-very-fair chase, didn’t quite exactly give up so much as it turned around and started chasing its chaser, surprising the hell out of it and me and the film crew.

It had slowly enticed the shark into shallow and shallower waters, positioning itself for a last little meal, at least, of its own. What guts does it take to swim toward your predator! Albeit at an angle. The turtle broadsided the shark and took a taste out of its gill.

The shark wigged, of course, and retreated to deeper waters, to find a cheaper restaurant. And the turtle, suddenly faced with the rest of its life, bopped around a bit, in no particular hurry, on the beach. *


Mon.–Sat., 7 a.m.–9 p.m.

1748 Church, SF

(415) 282-4328

Takeout available

Beer and wine


Wheelchair accessible

On death and dining


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS When he talks, his whole face participates, but especially his forehead, which snakes into road maps of thought, and I get lost. When he listens, he listens. This guy went to medical school, completed his residency, and then went, Naw, I reckon I’d rather work in publishing. And for this my new friend Maze is a kind of a hero to me.

A hero and a proofreader.

Phenomenon’s new favorite restaurant is Phnom Penh, a friendly little Cambodian wonderland on the edge of Oakland’s Chinatown. Phenomenon swears by the barbecued chicken, but I ate with the Maze.

And I don’t remember where we were going after, but I guarantee you we were late. I’ve always been a slow eater. Now I’m that plus a chatterbox.

Maze asks about chickens. You almost have to, to be polite. (And then, an hour later, you start to wonder if politeness is perhaps overrated.) I talk about chickens as pets, chickens as dinner, chickens as funny little philosophers, escape artists, workhorses, lessons in vulnerability, art….

I describe in detail how beautiful it looks inside a hen when you butcher her: the bright colors; the next day’s egg, a culinary prize, fully formed; then maybe a soft-shell one; then a full-size yolk; and a winding, twisty twirl of progressively smaller bright yellow globes circling back to the fictional future — which, it turns out, is a clustered galaxy of distinctly astounding yellow dots. I cried the first time I saw it because I didn’t have a camera.

"So in med school when you were dissecting human cadavers and shit," I said, "did it change the way you felt about death?"

The Maze’s brow did what it does when he fixes to speak. He worries about words and sentences them with care. That’s why I really like talking with this guy. "No," he said, finally, thoughtfully. It made him more concretely aware of the fact of mortality and perhaps a little leery of old age — but he was already those things.

He speaks of the smell of formaldehyde, the auxiliary presence of a "prosected" cadaver (in case you can’t find some parts or accidentally mash them or something), and the necessity for keeping things moist, lest "everything starts to look like jerky." And while he is speaking (of these things) … I eat.

Squid salad. Duck curry. Shrimp soup. White rice. Everything was great! Everything was moist! Nothing was missing or mashed or jerkied. Although … never mind.

The squid salad, the squid … There weren’t any tentacles, and that’s my favorite part. The lip ticklers. And the parts that there were seemed almost too nice, too white, and not quite as slimy or chewy or fishy as I like. Which most people would probably see as a plus, I know.

The duck curry had potatoes and string beans and was very mild, maybe coconut milky. And the duck pieces were big and tender and juicy. Delicious!

But the soup had more zing. It was a little bit like canh chua, that Vietnamese hot-and-sour stuff I love, with pineapple and tomatoes. And the shrimp and the zing, but the similarities stop there. This was a different zing, more lemony, more … I don’t know, Cambodian.

Well, I like jerky. I don’t know about cadaver jerky. But beef jerky, turkey jerky, elk jerky. All of these things I have had and enjoyed immensely. Especially on road trips.

But how did I get here? And, more importantly, are we there yet?

No. We are still at Phnom Penh, talking, eating, and being late. There’s a scene of a city or town. I don’t know how to describe this. There must be a word. There is wainscoting, and then above that a kind of continuous strip of low buildings and cool trees and walkways. Not painted or pictured, but protruding, in 3-D or kind of 2 1/2–D. Relief?

All one color. Gold?

And I don’t necessarily recommend this, but if you stood in the middle of the restaurant, spinning around like a ballerina, and were four feet tall with your eyes open, it would be a lot like traveling, looking out the window of a fast car.

Until you fell down and dreamed scrambled eggs with cheese.

"Have nice days," the door of the restaurant says. I’m trying. *


Mon.–Thurs., 11 a.m.–9:15 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–9:45 p.m.

251 Eighth St., Oakl.

(510) 893-3825

Takeout available




Wheelchair accessible

Tattoo you


CHEAP EATS She had tattooed knuckles. One hand said PORK and the other said CHOP. I expressed my adoration, and she said, "You should see the other ones."

"Should I?" I asked.

She has a girlfriend in Canada. This was not a date but a business meeting.

Business = new favorite Vietnamese restaurant. Pho Clement, between, I think, Third and Fourth avenues on Clement Street. One hundred and seventy things on the menu, not counting appetizers and sandwiches.

Over two bowls of soup big enough to paddle two small canoes in, I said to my new friend Pork Chop, "What else ya got?"

"Bacon," she said. I think she said it was on her stomach, but I kind of passed out at that point, and when I came to we were making whole different sentences.

Something about Michigan. Turns out, thanks to Pork Chop’s encouragement, I am going to go there this summer for that wimmin’s music festival. Pork Chop works in the kitchen and has been attending the festival for six or seven years. Says it has changed her life.

I’m sure it will change mine too. For one thing, I won’t be as pretty as I am now, what with black eyes, broken teeth, and every manner of structural damage.

Oy, the things we do for a story, eh, fellow hard news reporters and investigative journalists? I tell you. I for one am not a fan of pain or mosquito bites. Yet there I will be, in Michigan in August, getting my ass kicked by both bugs and backward-thinking lesbian feminist separatists. Ah, but someone’s gotta go see what these girls are having for dinner, and there’s no question I’m the tranny for the job.

Oh: I say backward-thinking because their definition of wimmins is stuck all the way back on what Mr. Doctor had to say about it, overriding all present tense appearances to the contrary. Because everyone knows that the last-century medical profession, or in other words, "the Man," interprets reality more accurately and certainly more definitively than we do, its living and kicking and messy subjects, prone as we are to the pesky revisionism of tick tick time, the great editor.

To review: trans men welcome, beards and testosterone and homemade wieners and all; trans women, no, nope, not welcome, sorry.

But now I have a friend on the inside. In the kitchen. With tattoos! And I don’t know why I love soup so much, but with all due respect to pork, if I could have tattoos on my knuckles I think they would say SOUP and SOUP. Big bowl of steamy, sopping noodles on my belly … but it’s always only a dream because as much as I love tattoos, and seeing them on other people and thinking about them on me, and soup, I can’t take the pain, personally, like I said.

So … "Do you regret any of them? Your tattoos?" I asked.

Her bowl of pho was way bigger than my hot and sour shrimp soup, yet she was almost finished and I was just getting started. I’m a slow eater.

She thought about it. "No," she said, finally, tentatively. Then: "Maybe ‘pork pies’ instead of ‘pork chop.’"

But that’s editorial. That ain’t regret.

Pork butt, pork buns, pork soup, pork meat, pork beef, more pork, I thought, savoring my pineapples, tomatoes, and celery. Sometimes with shrimp and sometimes with catfish, I’ve been ordering canh chua for as long as I’ve been eating in Vietnamese restaurants, and it hadn’t occurred to me until now to ask for noodles too.

The waitressperson had seemed delighted by this suggestion, and I was certainly delighted by the outcome. Only it came out in two separate bowls, and one reason I was so far behind was because it took me 10 minutes to decide whether to add the noodles to the soup, or the soup to the noodles.

Anyway, it was great, and nobody was in no hurries. And I left when I left with a sloshy stomach that worked weirdly well on the soccer field. At least at first. I scored a goal early, then kind of went to sleep in the grass and dreamed about doughnuts. *


Daily, 10 a.m.–10 p.m.

239 Clement, SF

(415) 379-9008

Takeout available

Beer and wine


Wheelchair accessible



› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS The closest chicken fried steak to my shack is at the Route 1 Diner in Valley Ford. You probably know it, if you’ve ever been to Bodega Bay. And if not, what the fuck? The Sonoma coast has the prettiest beaches in the world. Surfers don’t like it because they get eaten by sharks, but, other than that …

Anyway, I’m not a beach reviewer.

Two chickens, like I said. That’s all the chickens I have left is two chickens. One lays eggs, and the other one eats them. Or: tough times for a chicken farmer. Oldest trick in the book is to suck the egg out of an egg, then fill it up with Tabasco sauce and put it back in the nest.

But I treat my chickens with a little more respect, I like to think, than most backyard farmers. Instead of Tabasco sauce, I’m whipping up a little roux — butter and flour — then adding onions, fresh jalapeños, tomatoes, and hot sausage. Season to taste, and this way if the oldest trick in the book doesn’t trick her out of the nasty habit, she’ll practically already be jambalaya.

One way or another, I’ll be eating lunch again in no time, by my calculations. But right now I’m still eating breakfast because it’s only 10:30. And I’m all-the-way out of money, so I have to put it on the card, but there’s a $10 minimum, so I have to have coffee too, even though I’m already overcaffeinated, and therefore I can’t stop writing on napkins.

Guess what. Now that I ain’t getting any at home, I can order eggs in restaurants again! Chicken fried steak and eggs ($8.75). Route 1 Diner, Valley Ford, on the way to Bodega Bay — for you. For me, it’s on the way to the city and back.

The eggs are not as fresh or as free-rangy as I’m accustomed to, but the chicken fried is great. Big, thick slab of cubed steak in a nice, crispy breading, draped over a mound of hash browns and just drowned in gravy.

Speaking of which (gravy), Satchel Paige the pitcher was here with his little Thai fambly, and his big American fambly threw a little picnic party for him recently. In Sacramento! So even though I didn’t get to ground out weakly to second against him, or eat no all-you-can-eat sushi with him, or laugh at his little tiny daughter for almost choking to death on cantaloupe instead of chicken bones, I did get to see my old big old friend, and hug him and stuff. And talk about how good the chicken wings were, just like in the good old days.

Except this time I was in Sacramento, which can be very disorienting. Warmth. Mosquitoes. Fireworks. A keg. And when I got back to the Bay Area, you’re not going to believe this, but I swear to you there was a small, compact car on fire at the MacArthur Maze, on the ramp from West 80 to South 880. Couple fire trucks, police, flares, one lane open, and traffic slowed some but not too bad because it was one in the morning, or at any rate after midnight.

Went to sleep in West Oakland, and by the time I woke up, in West Oakland, the media had blown the whole thing entirely out of proportion. Other people had to have seen this. Right? I swear, it was an old Pinto, slapped on the ass, or something. No big deal, a little campfire fire, they were roasting hot dogs and marshmallows.

And by four in the morning it wasn’t a Pinto anymore, it was an oil tanker, spun out and exploded. And the freeway had melted and collapsed and the MacArthur Maze as we know it was no more, snarling traffic all day, affecting the travel plans of generations to come and just generally ruining everything.

You’da thunk I’d have heard something like that right outside my window. Big rig goes boom, couple football fields of freeway crashing down, sirens, states of emergency, and so on. Yeah, right.

My point being: damn, those were some damn good chicken wings! Eh, Satch? To knock me out that hard. I must of ate about a bucket of them myself. And if I knew the name of the Sacto deli that battered and fried and buttered and hot-sauced them, I’d review it.

But I don’t, so … *


Mon. and Wed., 6:30 a.m.–7 p.m.; Thurs.–Sat., 6:30 a.m.–7 p.m.; Sun., 6:30 a.m.–5 p.m.

14450 Route 1, Valley Ford

(707) 876-9600

Takeout available

No alcohol


Wheelchair accessible



CHEAP EATS There’s only one thing in my refrigerator, and nothing at all in the nest. It’s come to this, then: two chickens left, and one of them has developed a taste for eggs.

Two weeks ago today when I flapped my wings (venison lasagna + Ativan = liftoff, plus or minus an airplane ticket), I never felt more like I needed a vacation from my life. And yesterday evening, upon touching down again at SFO, I burst into tears, grateful to be not only alive on Earth, but alive in my exact life. And dying to see Sockywonk and Weirdo the Cat and my newest and littlest love, Z.Z. de la Cooter.

Z.Z. being 15 years and 11 months away from a driver’s license, and Weirdo the Cat being a cat, Sockywonk was the one who I called, from a pay phone, as soon as I stepped off the plane.

"I’ll be right there," she said.

I got my luggage and went outside into California and waited, blinking, my mascara smeared and swirly. My neighbor from the plane walked past – an older-man businessmanperson who had stared at spreadsheets on his laptop next to me as intently as I’d been staring at pictures of little Z.Z. on mine, trying to beat back the panic with incessant cuteness.

We hadn’t exchanged more than four words on the plane – "excuse me" and "thank you" – but now he gave me a warm, almost intimate smile. I smiled back. For all I know, he has a fear of flying too.

The Wonk was in a bit of a postsurgical state still, it turned out, and I was more on drugs than she was. Plus starving. So she could hardly even talk, she was so busy being such a good driver, and it was all I could do to sit up straight, with my hand in her head of half-inch hair growth, and sort of slobber.

What I’m getting at is that last night, at any rate, the two dogs in the backseat would have been more qualified than either of us to choose a restaurant.

Me and Sockywonk, it so happens, are two of the last four people on the planet without cell phones, or else we might have maybe thought to call someone for help. It’s easy enough to think that now, fed, slept, and caffeinated. But yesterday . . .

And anyway my brother Phenomenon, my own go-to one-phone-call bastion of all-around competency, was unreachably out of the country.

Innit funny, though, how notorious goofs like me and Socky tend to have siblings whose specialty it is to take care of bidness? Just fucking get the job done? For lack of any better ideas, the Wonk drove us to her house and parked. When we went inside, I kid you not, at 8, 8:30 in the evening, her visiting sis from Florida, Sisterwonk, was under the sink in the kitchen, hammering. On her visit so far she’d already tiled the kitchen floor, which had looked more like a garage than an apartment, as I recall, rigged a new light over the dining room table, and painted the walls a cheerful yellow.

I knew immediately that, dinnerwise, we were in good hands. Sure enough: "Why don’t you get a burrito?" she suggested, without even scratching her head.

You’d have thought that we’d have thought of that, being the San Franciscans.

"Mexicana’s good," Sisterwonk said, anticipating my next question.

I looked at Socky, who had already found parking, and she nodded. "It’s right around the corner," she said. Less than two blocks. As easy a walk as two junkied goofs have ever had to walk. And just like that I had a new favorite taqueria.

Mexicana! Who knew? They steam their tortillas, but the chips are good, and the salsa’s good, and I can vouch for the spicy chipotle chicken burrito, about a third of which is the one thing in my refrigerator right now.

Probably I could have knocked it off last night. But I think instinctively I knew, deep down below the Ativan, how sad it would be to come home to an empty refrigerator.

For lunch I’m going to make me one big pan-spun homemade flour tortilla, and I’m going to chop up and reheat last night’s burrito, wrapper and all. As far as I know, it will be the world’s first ever burrito butt burrito. And I can’t tell you how happy I am about that. *


Daily: 11 a.m.-10 p.m.

3917 24th St., SF

(415) 648-0477

Takeout available



Wheelchair accessible

Sympathy for the (she) devil


> le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS They don’t have kickoffs. They just start the game. It was the Lexington Club Bruisers vs. the Diablas, and we were the only two people in the stands. Again. Me and Twinkle Wonderkid.

Crocker Amazon. The weather: football weather, foggy and freezing … I had every intention in the world of rooting for the Bruisers. I don’t know, the Lexington Club just kind of feels like the home team to me. Plus I like the pink shirts.

However, there was a lot more pink on the field than there was blue. First I thought all the Diablas were lost in the fog. Then the Kid helped me count, and it was eight to five. And the mismatch was not only on the field; the Lexington Club had a separate offense and defense, a few extra subs, and two cheerleaders.

So the five Diablas on the field were going to have to play both sides of the ball, every play, whole game, and cheer for themselves too. They didn’t look very cheerful. They looked defeated, shoulders slumped and faces blank as blankets. They seemed sleepy and soft, as if the fog were on the inside too.

"Oh no," I said.

Twinkle stated the obvious. "We can’t exactly not root for the underdog," she said. Then: "Can we?" She’s not as experienced a football fan as I am.

"Oh no," I said. "Oh no no no no no." I wasn’t thinking about rooting for anyone anymore. My cleats were in my pickup truck. My truck was in the parking lot. The parking lot was just on the other side of the playing field…. I come from Ohio. Rooting be damned, I wanted to play for the Diablas.

I stood up, sat back down, stood up, and then, like a good Sunday morning Catholic, knelt. The thing was that, technically speaking, I was on a date. Twinkle Wonderkid and me are positively hooked on girl football. It’s our thing. Sunday mornings, Crocker Amazon. We pick up some chicken adobo or a mess o’ meat meat meat at Turo-Turo or the South Pacific Island Restaurant, and we tailgate in the Crocker Amazon parking lot, or picnic on a blanket in the grass, and then cross the field to watch the games from the bleachers. If I got to play, Twinkle’d be sitting in the stands all alonesome, and what kind of a date is that?

"Go ahead," she said, being pretty saintly for an ex-sailor and a cowboy girl. "Are you kidding me? I’d love to watch you play football."

I decided not to say, "Really?" – not even once – for fear she would change her mind. I also decided to wait a while, until the Diablas were getting crushed. Outnumbered eight-to-five on the field, and at least eight-to-none on the sidelines … it didn’t take long. They play 20-minute halves, and our girls were down to the Bruisers 19-0 by halftime.

"Wish me luck," I said, kissing Twinkle on the cheek, and I crossed the field in my shit-kicker buckle shoes and swirly skirt to ask, for the first time since I was seven, if I could play.

I asked the Diablas, the Bruisers, the refs, and the league commissioner. They all said the same thing: I couldn’t play. I could play. I mean, I couldn’t not play because I was trans, but because it was too late to get on the roster, halftime of Game Four being on the wrong side of the sign-up deadline, apparently. Well! …

I wished the Diablas the best of luck, told them we were on their side, hang in there, they were my new favorite football team, could I play for them next season, here’s my phone number, gimme a call, next season we can be outnumbered eight-to-six, etc., and I clomped back across the middle of the field, trying not to feel like a halftime show.

Lucky me! If they would have let me play, I wouldn’t have gotten to watch the greatest, most inspired, most inspiring comeback in the history of sports. Remember: I watched Joe Montana work. And Steve Young. Hell, I remember John Brodie to Gene Washington, a playoff game against the Redskins. And I’ve never seen anything like this.

By the closing whistle, me and the Kid were all screamed out and piss-pantsed, the score was tied 19-19, and I was madly in love with five of the badassest ballplayers I’d ever seen play ball.

Turo-Turo’s a fine, fine restaurant, but I like South Pacific Island even better, so … *


Tues.-Sat., 8 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 8 a.m.-6 p.m.

2803 Geneva, Daly City

(415) 467-1870

Takeout available

No alcohol


Wheelchair accessible

Making it


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS The Craigslist ad said "blood-soaked carnivore." And I wish I could remember the rest of it, because it was unusual and well written, but all I needed to know, really, was "blood-soaked carnivore."

By the letter, it wasn’t even what I was looking for; it wasn’t M or FTM or F (w/a SOD)…. It was BSC. Blood-soaked carnivore.

That’s my favorite kind of carnivore!

Talk about a hook with my lip written all over it…. It’s almost not even fair. It’s almost cheating. It’s like deer hunting with land mines, or something. I didn’t need to see no pictures or nothing. I was stacked steaks in white paper, brown tape; and I wrote back immediately and was all, like, "WheRE do you wAnt to EAt?!?!"

She mentioned some places, and we ate at all of them. We ate bacon burgers, chili burgers, barbecue, and Filipino food. Her name is Twinkle Wonderkid, and she lives in Cowgirl City, which looks a lot like the Tenderloin to me. And I know that’s a foofy-sounding name, Twinkle Wonderkid, but this BSC used to be in the Navy and the Merchant Marines, and I think she used to be a cow puncher too.

What else she used to be was a dude. The one thing I said I wouldn’t do!

Well …

Three words: Blood. Soaked. Carnivore. And you can ask her yourself if I ain’t the cuddliest, snuggliest, heat-producingest little campfire she ever poked.

So: thus endeth my 2 1/2-year drought, the longest length of itlessness I’ve had to endure (in case anyone was wondering) since the 19 years it took me to lose my male virginity.

Speaking of which, it’s kind of ironic, probably, that I got axed to the prom for the first time ever on the same day I got made into meat. It wasn’t a pimply, awkward high school boy who asked me, either. It was an all-growed-up and entirely cool chickenscaping client of mine named Aunt Stink. We were having kind of a business meeting. In exchange for dinner, I was going to help her conceptualize her budding Pacifica backyard chicken farm.

So that was what we talked about, chicken farming this and chicken farming that, over a vegetarian burrito for her and a big huge bowl of fishy soup for me.

Then she invited me to the prom. (I love my life!) Well, it wasn’t like that exactly. I mean, she did invite me to a party, and it was a prom-themed thing, but she already had herself a partner. And I didn’t know if I wanted to third-wheel it with them or go alone or go at all. Or … I mean, the thing was that I didn’t have anything to wear. I’ll be damned if I’m going to finally go to the prom, in my 40s, and not wear a prom dress.

And I don’t even know what that is, so … maybe in my 50s.

But this soup! The name of the place is El Toro Loco, or crazy fuckin’ bullshit, and it’s my new favorite restaurant. Best place to eat in Pacifica, anyway, according to two different people and now me. The sopa siete mares, or seven-horse soup, is just fish fish fish, mostly tentacles, which I love love love.

And I’m in my element, right, advising Aunt Stink on all the philosophical intricacies of chicken farming, like hawks and raccoons and shit, with calamari tentacles dangling out of the corners of my mouth most of the time, when all of a sudden it occurs to me that I’m famous. In my own small, farmerly way.

People contact me when they want to know about chickens. They see me in a bar and go, "Chicken Farmer!" And in one case, recently, I was paid $25 and two free drinks to stand up in front of a couple hundred people and talk about chickens. People want to eat with me, on them, and if that ain’t making it …

Well, it’s not the kind of making it I been looking for. And that’s why as soon as I got back to the city I started calling everyone I know and asking, "You got a prom dress I could borrow?"

First one to actually pick up the phone was the Wonderkid, and she’d just lost her job and had cried herself to sleep. Didn’t feel like going out, but if I wanted to come over and watch a movie …

She had popcorn, she said, and a bottle of wine.

I got the movie. I got the flowers. *


Tues.–Sat., 12–8 p.m.; Sun., 10:30 a.m.–5 p.m.

1624 Francisco Blvd., Pacifica

(650) 355-5548

Takeout available

Beer and wine


Wheelchair accessible


Love’s labours


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I’m a fickle fucking farmer, I know that. So … sorry, Doc, I’ve got a new favorite person. Her name is Zidane de la Cooter, and even though she only weighs 6 pounds, 13 ounces, she just about broke Crawdad’s back trying to bonk her way into this sad and blurry world.

I got to be there for part of it. Not that I was invited exactly, but that’s where my press pass comes in handy. I was brushing aside doctors, nurses, midwives, midfielders, and middle linebackers, flashing my credentials and saying, "Excuse me, excuse me, sorry I’m late, damn the traffic. OK, push. I’m here," I said, looking at the wristwatch I don’t wear. "Let the baby begin."

Just kidding. Really, they said, way back at the front desk, "Press pass?"

And: "Chicken farmer?"

There were two of them. And as much fun as I generally have fielding goofy little questions like these, just this once I didn’t have time for philosophy. I went straight for my trump card: "Listen," I said, "those unmuffled screams and cries and curses … that’s my ex-wife we’re waltzing to out here. And if you don’t think she needs me in there right now, then clearly neither one of you has ever been divorced." I paused for effect, then added, "Which, frankly, strikes me as statistically unlikely."

Blink. Blink … Bingo! Tears, hugs, apologies, phone numbers, passionate three-way sex, earthquakes, floods, the sound of birdies tweeting, and — blink — I was in the room. There was my brother Phenomenon and Deevee and Trotwood. There was some woman I didn’t know. A guy with a camera … scooped again by the daily news, damn it.

And there was Crawguy de la Peter, proud father-to-be, at the place of honor, right in Crawdad’s ear, saying all the right things. I tapped him on the shoulder. "OK, Dad, great job," I said. "You can go to the bar now. I’m here."

Aaaaaaaaahhhh!!! How the hell did I write myself into an episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm — which I only saw once and didn’t even like? I’m trying to be funny here, and this is a serious Cheap Eats moment. This is huge! It’s Crawdad de la Cooter’s baby. This is no time to try to be funny. I must succeed. Now more than ever, my sanity depends on my being able to find the joke.

When in doubt, I always say … surrender. Immediately. Give up. Fall back on the truth, even if it ain’t funny. The truth is I’m not an idiot. I’m a chicken farmer, and this was one of the most joyous and difficult days of my life for a variety of reasons.

I was wanted, and I wanted to be there. There’s probably nobody in the world whose happiness I care about more than that of my ex-wife and beloved friend Crawdad. And there’s probably nobody in the world whose pain I feel more feelingly. The truth is that I am not strong or competent. After a couple hours of her pain and agony, I needed an epidural myself. So I went and got me one: a burrito.

Early evening. Walnut Creek, of all the unfamiliar planets in my solar system …

When I jittered out, all twisted and wrung and traumatized, the attending professionals were just starting to look at each other with question-marked eyeballs, and I was either hearing or imagining words such as suction, vacuum, surgery, toothpaste, and maybe corkscrew.

When I returned, rubbing my own pregnant belly and breathing more or less normally for the first time all day, Zidane "Z.Z." de la Cooter existed. Crawdad was all stapled up and very much on drugs. My assumption is that Phenomenon performed the operation, but I could be wrong.

The important thing was that everyone was OK now and that, through some miracle of lucky timing, I got to be in the recovery room when they brought Crawdad’s new little soccer star to her, all measured and crusty and shit, just squirming and kicking with wonder. Cutest thing you ever saw. And there ain’t a dry eye in my house every time I think of the look on Crawdad’s face when, finally, they set her baby against her skin.

The daily newsman was gone now so, appropriately, I got to hold Crawguy’s movie camera for what will likely remain the most profoundly beautiful sight I’ve ever seen: little Z.Z. finding out for her first time ever what was for dinner. I can’t speak for her. For me: carne asada. (Old friend!) Thanks to which, like a drunk on drink, my hand did not shake. *


Daily, 9 a.m.–9 p.m.

1359 Locust, Walnut Creek

(925) 932-8987

Takeout available




Wheelchair accessible


Wing clippings


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS My new favorite person is this guy Doc who I play baseball with. He’s not a medical doctor. He knows about chicken wings. We weren’t even on the same team, and he said between innings, "Have you ever been to San Tung?"

"Never heard of it," I said.

"Best chicken wings," he said.


"Irving," he said. "Between 11th and 12th."

We were in the Golden Gate Park, Big Rec. That put chicken wings pretty much almost exactly on my way home to Sonoma County, give or take a block.

It was a good game, my favorite kind, a pitcher’s duel, nothin’-nothin’ (nothin’-nothin’-nothin’-nothin’) … but I’m not a nihilist or a sports writer. Wait a minute, am I a nihilist? I can’t keep things straight anymore, damn it. Hold on. [Sounds of papers rustling, drawers opening and closing, coffee spilling.] Where’s my identity?

Chicken farmer!!! People have been writing to me and saying, Chicken Farmer, what about Houdini? Houdini being my famously wayward escape-artist chicken, and "what about" being that I was going to eat her, I said, if I couldn’t figure out how she was doing it — "it" being finding her way into the neighbors’ flower bed and being generally disrespectful to the colors, smells, and natural beauty of it.

"It" being said flower bed.

Damn, I really do need to learn to write. No I don’t. I need to learn to chicken farm because, no, I never did discover her escape route. This, in spite of 24-hour surveillance cameras, stakeouts, and the clandestine cooperation of two "plants" on the inside.

Houdini’s a genius. Nevertheless, I didn’t eat her, not yet. Thanks for asking. She was saved by my chicken farmerly surrealism. I’m not a genius, but I do know how to deflect criticism by not making any sense whatsoever. I bought the neighbors an amelioratory bag of wild bird seed, some oranges, and a package of pretty stickers, and informed them in a letter that I was transsexual and should thenceforth be referred to as Ms. Chicken Farmer, if they please.

Essentially, this was a stalling tactic, designed to buy me and Houdini another week, at least, while my neighbors wobbled and just generally lost sleep.

Not long into that week, when Houdini was next found by me to be luxuriating among the forbidden flowers, I held her down and clipped her wing. It was a desperate measure but not necessarily cruel. Chickens are flightless birds to begin with. What do they need wings for?

Well, balance. It’s more like a haircut than surgery, see? You’re only clipping the feathers, and only on one wing, so that afterward they feel all asymmetrical and artsy and don’t crave flowers anymore. Theoretically.

It’s working, but it’s also only a matter of time, I know. Feathers molt and grow. And smart animals, with the possible exception of me, only get smarter.

So I’m packing up the pickup truck, all dolled up for a gig, when my neighbor comes strolling over with his hands in his pockets … thanks for the seeds, you shouldn’t have, and congratulations.

"I don’t know," he said, checking himself. "What do you say to a trans person? Is that what you say?"

"Congratulations is nice," I said, loading up my steel drum and stand. I like my neighbor Dave. We get along, chickens in flower beds notwithstanding.

"So what do your groupies think about this?" he said. He knows I’m in a band but not what kind, apparently.

I smiled. "Dave," I said, "my groupies are 80-year-old shut-ins with bad eyes and Alzheimer’s. Not that they could ever quite tell if I was a boy or girl, but …"

"Well, congratulations," he said. "You’ve got the hair for it, anyway."

And he went back to his flower bed, and I went to my gig, and Houdini gazed into the chicken coop mirror and felt progressive.

Every time I have to clip a chicken’s wing, I can’t help fantasizing that some day, if there is a god, we will have genetically modified chickens that regenerate missing parts. So that chicken farmers can clip off more than just the feathers. We will harvest chicken wings like asparagus and eat like kings or college students.

But there’s not a god, of course, and that’s where San Tung comes in handy. Doc was right. *


Mon.–Tues. and Thurs.–Sun., 11 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

1031 Irving, SF

(415) 242-0828

Takeout available




Wheelchair accessible


Taking the heat


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Sockywonk lost her mouth on account of the chemo. We were sitting around wondering about lunch, which is one of my three favorite things to wonder about, and she said (and I quote): "I wonder if I have my mouth back."

I looked up from my prayer book, or food journal, and asked, "Excuse me?"

"I wonder if I can handle the salsa at Papalote," she said. She’s been off the sauce for a couple months and off chemo now for maybe one month. Her head’s starting to get fuzzy, but she hadn’t yet tested her capacity for spicy hot — which used to be considerable. For a while even black pepper was fucking with her, mouthwise.

Weird, huh?

Well, a lot of things are weird. Golf … and I’ll never understand why San Francisco lets churchgoers park in the middle of the street on Sundays. Excuse me? Separation of church and state?

My bright orange skirt was perfectly color-coordinated with my flower-print shirt, which screamed every color of the rainbow and then some. It was sunny and warm and lunchtime in Noe Valley. Sockywonk looked about as badass and beautiful as ever, with her old-man-style Florida-style straw hat, bald head, blue jeans, watch chain …

"That’s a man," some guy said to some other guys sitting at a sidewalk table on 24th Street. Not only did he not try to conceal his voice, he seemed to say it louder than normal. Sockywonk pretended not to hear, poor thing, but she had to, unless chemo took her ears too.

Now, I was never one for chivalry, not even as a dude, but it occurs to me retrospectively that this was perfect weather for new leaves. Spring!

I’m so lucky to have this wavy-world restaurant column in which to do everything over again. Instead of just keeping walking, I grabbed on to my dear girlfriend’s elbow, turned her to face the speaker, and corrected him: "She’s not a man," I said. "Look. Tits!"

And there isn’t a shade of a dot of a doubt in my mangled mind that the Wonk would have lifted her shirt — had this actually happened — and showed them. And his friends would have hooted and high-fived us, and the guy would have felt like an idiot, and Socky’s dog, Barkywonk, would have sniffed his pant leg and pissed on it, assuring him that he was, in fact, an idiot.

You don’t make fun of sick people, everybody knows. And, for the record, Sockywonk has long, pretty, and very girly hair when she doesn’t have cancer.

The question was, did she have her mouth back?

She did!

The test was that zip-zooey orange salsa they have at Papalote, made with roasted tomatoes and pumpkin seeds. It’s ridiculously good, and nice and spicy, and Papalote is my new favorite taquería on the strength of this salsa alone. But everything else was great too.

The chips were fresh, warm, free …

We got a fish taco and a shrimp taco that time, and then a couple days later, when we had to go back on account of bad days, we got a Soyrizo burrito and a carne asada burrito. I’ll let you guess who ordered which.

Chorizo is probably my least favorite kind of sausage in this wide world of wonderful sausages. Soyrizo … well, Sockywonk swears by it, that’s all I’ll say.

And they don’t have carnitas, which is strange and tragic, but the carne asada was great, and the tortilla was griddled, not steamed. And the salsa is addictive. You can buy a jar of it for six bucks, I think, and five bucks the next time if you bring back the jar. Sockywonk used to do this before chemo took her mouth. Even though she lives a short walk from 24th and Valencia. Because you never know when you’re going to wake up in the middle of the night needing a little heat.

Speaking of which, we both had unreasonable plans of getting lucky later, since it was St. Patrick’s Day and all the boys in the world and a lot of lesbians would be drunk. She went to a show; I went to Oakland. I was supposed to meet some friends at opening night of the new lesbian bar Velvet. Oakland’s first? That’s what my friends said. I didn’t believe it, until I saw the two block–long line waiting to get in.

And just kept driving. *


Mon.–Sat., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.

3409 24th St., SF

(415) 970-8815

Takeout available


Credit cards not accepted


Wheelchair accessible


Such a woman


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Cousin Raym is a doctor and works at Kent State. He gets to come to San Francisco for conferences, and I get to take him around for sushi, and clam chowder in a sourdough bowl, and all the things he loves that you can’t get in Ohio. Good sushi, I mean. This has happened two years in a row, and that means he has seen me more than anyone else in my family who doesn’t live here.

Raym is 50 years old and still plays tackle football. We tried his hand — or feet — at soccer, and he didn’t get a lot done but did have fun. Most of the time he looked like he was looking for someone to block or thinking about a blitz. Then we went and had sushi. Like me, Raym is a kind of a chatterbox. He has an especially expressive face: open and curious. The people he works with in Ohio say he’s "such a woman," and my cousin takes it as a compliment and goes and plays tackle football.

So he’s my hero, and his teenage daughter Megan, his oldest, is probably the person in the family I most take after, we decided. Even though I’m almost 30 years older than her. I say "we decided," but technically I already knew, ever since I saw a picture of me that made me go, "Holy crap, I look like Megan! How’d that happen?"

I was excited to show this picture to Raym, and I can do that now because I finally entered the modern era and bought me a brand new portable typewriter. So we’re sitting upstairs at the Boudin Bakery on Market Street during one of his lunch breaks, and instead of clacking out this restaurant review — ding, return — like in the good old days, I slide my sleek MacBook out of its bubble-wrap sheath and show him the picture. Yep, he says. Megan. And that’s how we decided. But he also thinks I look like my sisters, which of course I do, lucky me.

I say I take after Megan (lucky me) because in addition to the slight physical resemblance, she hates mayonnaise, loves sushi, and plays fast-pitch. Whereas I don’t know that any of my sisters have ever even tried sushi. Sushi sushi, I mean. The kind that features, you know, raw fish.

But Boudin’s is bustling, and our clam chowders are a long way off still, so I get to show my cousin some pictures of Sockywonk too: us hugging outside Just for You, me holding an egg next to her bald head. Here we are with our identical ugly monster teddy bears. I didn’t show him the boob shots she took earlier that morning while I was trying on clothes at her house.

My new portable typewriter has a built-in camera, conducive to these kinds of shenanigans. My online dating career is about to take off. But it’s not what you think: I’m not going to learn PhotoShop and cut and paste all my girlfriends’ breasts onto my body. No. In fact, instead of using pictures of me, which just ain’t working, I’m going to show those boys What’s for Dinner. Like the other night, I made a fresh tomato sauce with homemade sausage over penne, and I held the steaming plate in front of my fancy new typewriter, click.

A picture fit for a cookbook! And in the background, in the dark, you can just barely kind of see a shadowy corner, maybe, of an apron-sporting chicken farmer. Went on Craigslist, got a date.

Yeah, right. Anyway, our clam chowder bread bowls came and were everything that clam chowder bread bowls are supposed to be: lunch!

I wish I could have showed Sockywonk to my cousin in person. He’s a doctor. He knows cancer professionally, and, actually, personally. I remember catching a touchdown pass on a slant pattern. The quarterback was almost nonexistently skinny, and bald, with a little lump under his shirt: a morphine pump.

But I wondered if Raym had ever seen someone take cancer for as wild a ride as Sockywonk is taking it.

"Calls herself ‘the happiest cancer patient ever,’" I said. "She’s all excited about the tattoo she’s going to get over her mastectomy scars. Something monsterish, with long tentacles."

"Really?" he asked.

"It’s inspiring," I said.

He seemed inspired too, and in a sea of downtown lunch-breakers and tourists, we ate our little soups. *


Mon.–Fri.: 6:30 a.m.–7 p.m.

619 Market, SF

(415) 281-8200

Takeout available




Wheelchair accessible


Of blood and blintzes


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS The hawks are looking hungry. My chickens are scared. Me too. We spend a lot of time in the bushes, plucking and preening and trying to act casual. And while they’re scratching for bugs, I’m collecting dandelion greens for my salad. The price of lettuce has literally brought me to my knees.

You’re thinking: Lettuce? The price of lettuce?

Yeah, well, maybe you don’t know how much salad I eat. (A: a lot.) My favorite statistic says that when they have unlimited access to grass, chickens will eat it more than anything. Up to two-thirds of their diet will be green. That’s why true free-range eggs glow the way they do, the yolks. And true free-range chicken farmers glow too, in case you haven’t noticed.

Because probably two-thirds of what I eat are greens. And the other third, instead of bugs and spiders and stuff that chickens eat, is chickens; and chicken-fried steak; and big, bloody, rare burgers; and, of course, eggs.

All of which has nothing to do with what I’m doing in the bushes, let alone my new favorite restaurants. I’m on a secret surveillance mission. The mission: to find out how my escape-artist chicken, Houdini II, is finding her way out of the chicken yard and into the neighbor’s flower bed.

The method: to learn to think like a chicken, eat like a chicken, fear like a chicken, crave neighbors’ flower beds like a chicken, escape like a chicken, and, failing all that, to cut a chicken’s head off and make gumbo out of her.

My chicken-farmerly reputation hangs in the balance, like, like, like … like a foot-tied headless chicken draining into a bucket. Also at stake: the copaceticness of my relationship with certain flower bed–having neighbors.

But all this talk of blood and gore and ruffled feathers is reminding me of my weekend last weekend, when I got to go to my ex-wife Crawdad’s baby shower and hug my ex-mother-in-law, Crawma, for the first time in my new format.

She didn’t recognize me, I don’t think.

"Crawdad," I said, "introduce me to your mom."

Then she recognized me but did seem a little weirded out, and who could blame her? It was a baby shower! What could be weirder? Everything was nice and pretty and cute, and afterward I needed to go to the roller derby.

I have a new favorite sport!

The Richmond Wrecking Belles beat the crap out of the SF Shevil Dead, and I ate a hot dog. But you’re probably more interested in Saul’s Delicatessen, huh?

Saul’s is Berkeley’s way of saying "hey" to New York. And just like Zachary’s does Chicago pizza better than Chicago (you ask me), I believe Saul’s would out-apple the Apple in belly-to-belly competition. But what do I know? I’m just a chicken farmer.

Well, sure, because of local-grown organic produce and Neiman Marcus designer meats, Saul’s might boast. But I like it better than New York for my usual reason: it’s closer. By a lot. And they have everything Jewish and wonderful, like potato latkes, blintzes, matzo ball soup, and so on. And bagels.

I got salami and eggs, and it was great. I mean, the eggs were just eggs, because we didn’t make them, me and my girls, but the salami was good and plentiful, and the latke, which you can get instead of hash browns for a buck-fifty extra … it’s worth it.

I love latkes. They’re those potato and onion pancakes, you know, served with applesauce and sour cream. I love that they were used, according to Jewish legend, to put some Assyrian meanie to sleep and then chop off his head.

And I love Saul’s. It’s a cheerful, comfortable place to hang out. I sat there with my new friend Thingpart, the famous five-minute cartoonist, and we blah blah blah blah blah’d like two old hens for way more than five minutes. We must have sat there for over two hours, I’m thinking, because what we ate was breakfast, and it was lunchtime by the time I left. And between this, the beautiful day that day, a great soccer match, a baby shower, and the Bay Area Derby Girls, I was one happy happy farmer.

Last weekend. But now it’s the work week, and, if you’ll excuse me, I have to whip up a potato latke, so to speak, for one of my girls. Here, Houdini! *


Mon.–Thurs. and Sun., 8 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 8 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

1475 Shattuck, Berk.

(510) 848-3354

Takeout available

Beer, wine, and cocktails



Wheelchair accessible


Getting lucky


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS The word she uses is "flexitarian." I seldom run retractions. Not that I never get anything wrong; on the contrary, my impressions of reality are so impressionistic, it would be a stretch to say that I ever exactly get anything right.

This can cause problems.

Give you an example: I want to know what time Penny’s opens for lunch. I look it up. Cheap Eats, Penny’s Caribbean Café, says right there: 11:30 a.m. So I write to Lisa Bitch Magazine, and I say, "Dear Ms. Magazine, Hi! How are you? 11:30 a.m."

She writes back and says stop calling her Ms. Magazine.

And: No. Noon, she says. Flexitarians always have weird rules about eating meat, like only free-range, organic, or only at home, or only in restaurants, or, in Lisa’s case, once every six months, and never before noon. If it’s goat.

I’m assuming she makes early-morning exceptions for bacon. Actually, my assumption is that all vegetarians make exceptions for bacon, all the time. Because how can you not eat bacon? It’s bacon!

(Have I dazzled you yet with my simplemindedness?)

Cut to 12 o’clock. Noon. I’m standing outside Penny’s Caribbean Café, waiting for my new friend Lisa. And for Penny, because I’ll be damned if she’s open. Which goes to show: you can’t always believe what you read in the paper — even if you wrote it.

Sign in the window says CLOSED. No lights. And still I’ve got my nose to the glass, both hands visoring my eyes, like, Come on, come on, Penny. I know you’re in there. Come on.

I love Penny. I LOVE Penny and not just because of her curry goat roti, either. There’s the jerk chicken and pelau and … I don’t know, we just seem to live in very similar worlds. Where Einstein is taken perhaps a tad too literally and time is extra relative. And space …

Nebulous is one of my favorite words.

So hey, here comes Lisa, responsible journalist, on her lunch break. She has exactly this much time, and she’s hungry, and she has agreed to eat her biannual meat with me. Me!

Today! I’m beside myself with honor and anticipation, watching vegetarians eat meat being one of my all-time favorite pastimes, right up there with pitching washers and spitting watermelon seeds.

And I’ve been talking up the curry goat. But Penny is showing no signs of peering around any counters or refrigerators anytime soon, so I give up on the window, pack Lisa into my pickup truck, and whiz us to West Oakland, to the Island Café.

Even though it’s regular business hours for them too, by the book, and even though it smells like meat heaven on the sidewalk outside the place … closed. Cooking, you could smell, but closed. Sign on the door says they’re catering a musical event that afternoon in Santa Cruz, sorry!

Aaaaargh! Whisk us back to Berkeley, the clock ticking on Ms. Magazine’s lunch break. And I’m thinking, damn my luck, she’s going to cave and call falafel.

Know what she says? She says, "Stop calling me Ms. Magazine." And she says this, she says, "Flint’s?"


Flint’s? Not to put too pointy of a point on this, but you would think that if Flint’s — everybody’s favorite Bay Area barbecue (not to mention mine) — was back in bidness, Cheap Eats would know about it before Bitch Magazine. Which is one reason why I try not to think too much these days. Because you never know.

So I point us toward Flint’s, thinking, yeah, right, Flint’s, right, sure, like Flint’s is going to be open, way things are going for us, right….

It is! It’s open, and the rest of the day is like a dream. Lisa gets her meat fix, I get to be there for it, get to see Bitch Magazine with barbecue sauce all over her face, just like she got to see Cheap Eats with beans in her hair.

Flint’s is as good as ever. My new favorite (and old favorite) barbecue. New management. No tables. We sat on the slat-style benches in the corner of the place, paper bags spread out on our laps, and went to work. Well, I went to work. They only had beef ribs. Then, after us, they didn’t even have those and started turning people away.

So, after all that running around and frustration and, you know, goatlessness in general … in the end we got to feel lucky. *


Mon.–Thurs. and Sun., 11 a.m.–9 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 11 a.m.–10 p.m.

6609 Shattuck, Berk.

(510) 595-5323

Credit cards not accepted

No alcohol

Takeout available

Wheelchair accessible


The power of meat


By L.E. Leone

› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I’m not really going to no wimmin’s music festival in Michigan this summer, don’t worry. It costs money — are you kidding me? And I’m not camping out at no Camp Trans, either, to protest. I already gave up on political actions, restroom-related or otherwise.

Y’all can have your fucked-up ismicistic world.

I have chickens. I have fire and wheels and weird words that nobody knows but me. Ismicistic means everyone’s got to be a somethingist and embrace somethingism. Not the chicken farmer, not no more. I embrace nothing. I lay down my arms, my sword, my pen, my heart. So that means I give up on romantic embracement too.

Hey, maybe the only time anything really really buttery ever happens is after you’ve already surrendered to the bread: the plain old dry, crusty facts of your actual life, exactly what you actually have (e.g. chickens, chicken shit).

I really am going to Michigan, though. In August. I’m going to karate chop my chickens, pack up my pickup, and pitch my little one-farmer tent right smack in the war zone between the wimmin-born-wimmins and the boy-born-girlies, and I’m gonna eat nothing but raw red meat for a week, and lie around in the dirt, naked. Then when all the mosquitoes that bite me start biting everyone else on their vegetarian asses, they’ll all be infected by a meaty, greasy, good-natured carnivorousness, and the world will have been saved without anyone even realizing it.

My Michigan-born-wimminfriend Kizzer deserves a Nobel Warmth prize for teaching me to go to bed with hot water bottles, in lieu of lovers. I giggle and smile and think of her warmly every night as I crawl in under the covers and play footsy with Mr. Hotbelly. Talk about personal growth … I used to sleep with my socks on!

So Kizzer calls me at my brother’s house on a recent Sunday, says she’s been walking around Berkeley all day, smelling meat.

"Let’s be more specific," I said, searching for my pen, which I’d just laid down. Somewhere. "Barbecued? Braised? Broiled? Barbecued? What? Talk to me."

"Grilled," she says, after honestly thinking about it.

"OK, that’s kind of like barbecue. Let me make a few calls, borrow someone’s laptop, see what I can come up with."

K.C., Everett and Jones … been there, done them. There’s another one now called T-Rex, but it looks like high-brow barbecue, which is an oxymoron. And as much as I love oxen and morons, Kizzer and me had just accidentally dropped 40 bucks apiece at some Italian restaurant in the Mission the night before. We were both still reeling and a little nauseous over that.

So I called up Wayway, my go-to Berkeley eats consultant, and said, "Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap. Cheap."

"Chicken farmer?" he said. "Is this you?"

It was!

Taiwan Restaurant, he said. Next door to McDonald’s on University. He said it was his favorite place for cheap Chinese food. Ever. Anywhere. And Chinese food ain’t barbecue, I’ll be the first to admit, but when Wayway described the pork noodle soup with mustard greens, it sounded like soul food to my ears. I told you I have this thing for soup right now. In fact, I’d almost rather eat soup than meat — so long as the soup has meat in it, you understand.

I had to talk Kizzer into this. "It’s Chinese New Year!" I said. "It’s the Year of the Pork!"

She bit, and I slurped and slobbered and spilt my tea, I was so excited over the heap of noodles and greens and pork swirling majestically out of the broth like Alcatraz or other islandy, mountainous tourist attractions. With noodles and greens and pork all over them.

Get this: $4.50! For a meal-size bowl of soup. Six-fifty for a huge plate of beef and snow peas, and the meat was tender and the peas were snappy. And the pot stickers took 20 minutes to make and were so juicy and meaty and flavorous that you could almost believe in Santa Claus all over again.

Fifteen dollars stuffed us solid, and me again for lunch the next day. So … do I have a new favorite restaurant?

I do! *


Mon.–Thurs., 11:30 a.m.–11:30 p.m.; Fri., 11:30 a.m.–12:30 a.m.; Sat., 10:30 a.m.–12:30 a.m.; Sun., 10:30 a.m.–11:30 p.m.

2071 University, Berk.

(510) 845-1456

Takeout available




Wheelchair accessible


Me and my bitches


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I have long, pretty, curly hair, and there’s always food in it — and often branches and leaves and stuff — because I’m a chicken farmer. I spend my days crawling around in the bushes, looking for eggs.

At the famous Womyn’s Music Festival in Michigan, trans women (MTFs, women who were It’s-a-Boyed at birth) are not welcome. I knew that. What I didn’t know, until Bitch magazine told me, is that trans men (FTMs, men who were It’s-a-Girled at birth) are welcome. To explain their quirky exclusionism, the festival heads have invented a new category of people called womyn-born-womyn.

Well, dang, that ain’t me either….

It’s almost enough sometimes to make a chicken farmer feel a little lonely. In the world. In the woods, I am on top of the world, and I’m working on a new song that says so. It’s called "A Thousand Feet above You." Which is what I am, in a purely topographical sense, assuming you live at sea level.

I’m going to put on my own music festival for chicken farmers–born–chicken farmers. I’m going to play my great new song to an audience of none. And it’s going to be sad and weird and safe and healing and … safe … and …

I’m so confused!

But then the food comes, and everything makes sense again. The cheese on Lisa’s enchiladas is moving! It’s so hot it bubbles up. And my own plate of beef and beans and rice is so big and so heavy-looking that I could cry. It’s hot too. Sizzling. You can hear it. In the kitchen, instead of an oven, they have secret access to the center of the earth, and the food is not cooked so much as volcanoed.

Our meals seem to be trying to say something to us. I bend my ear to my plate and do, indeed, learn something that goes universes beyond anything else I’ve ever learned. It’s like a dream, untranslatably wise. Ever the poet, I lift my head, look Lisa in the eye, and begin to search for words. Exact words with precise meanings … even as the understanding itself is retreating irretrievably into a steamy, dreamy sort of nebulousness.

"You have beans in your hair," Lisa says.

It’s gone. Gone. But I have to grab onto something, or I might disappear too. "That’s it! Never try and listen to your food," I say, or pronounce. In italics. Out in the air like that it seems somehow small, incomplete. "If you have long hair," I add, wiping mine off with humility and grace and a napkin.

Don’t worry, dear reader, this isn’t a date. (Or, if it were, it ain’t no more, Ms. Beanhead.) It’s more like a journalistic summit: Bitch magazine vs. Cheap Eats. Except right off the bat you can tell that, refried ends notwithstanding, we’re on the same exact side!

How can this be? Bitch is a smart, cool, feministic take on pop culture. Beyond my decided preference for root beer, I don’t even know what pop culture means. No TV. I don’t listen to the radio. Most of the records I like are at least 60 years old. And I don’t subscribe to any newspapers or magazines or spend a lot of time online. I can’t remember the last movie I went to or rented. And I can’t afford the opera or ballet or real restaurants. (And by real, of course, I mean unreal.)

In short: I’m a chicken farmer. When I’m not having lunch with my new friend Lisa at my new favorite restaurant, Mexicali Rose, in Oakland, I’m crawling around on my hands and knees in mud and chicken shit, looking for eggs. I have branches and leaves — and now refried beans — in my hair.

What’s more, I’m trans, and that translates to misogyny, according to some feminists. Believe it or not, I’ve heard this. And like everything else I’ve heard, there’s a part of me that is willing to believe it.

Fortunately, there are 40 trillion other parts of me. And 40 trillion other voices. And when Bitch and Cheap Eats put our little blabbers together last week and clicked forks — and mind you, I was born with "male privilege" and a little tiny wee-wee, and Lisa is practically a vegetarian, for crying out loud — I swear it was like we were long-lost sisters.

Is there a word for this? Inclusion? Openness? Warmth?

So, OK … August. Who wants to go to Michigan with me? *


Daily, 10 a.m.–1 a.m.

701 Clay, Oakl.

(510) 451-2450

Takeout available

Full bar



Wheelchair accessible


Practical aggression


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS The reason I keep a dream journal is not because I think my dreams mean anything. It’s because where else do you get to write a sentence like He’s always so brittle when he comes back to life and not even blink?

Cheap Eats!!!

This week’s dreamy food-for-all begins on the baseball field. Big Rec, Golden Gate Park. A beautiful summery day for July or August. For early February, it was surreal. I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt.

On TV, Super Sunday countdown; and by way of a more appropriate pregame show, six dudes were playing touch football in deep left field, creating for us a sort of nebulous, moving home run fence. The center-field fence was a soccer match, and in right field it was ultimate Frisbee.

Some of the guys I play ball with don’t even know I’m a girl. They think I’m just cool or weird. Which I am and am, of course, so I let it ride. Bob ribbed me because my earrings didn’t match my socks, or they did — I forget which. Letting it ride, I lined a double over third. I like being on base mainly because I get to chat with the other team’s players. Weather, restaurants … you know, music.

"Yeah, I have to leave early today," I said to their shortstop, Dave, taking my lead. Then I got all embarrassed because I thought he’d think I was leaving early to watch the Super Bowl. So I clarified: "Book club."

I felt certain he’d have wanted to know what book we were reading, but the batter got a hit, and I had to run. Housekeeping, by Marilynne Robinson, Dave. That’s what I was discussing with my girlfriends over tea and cake while elsewhere in the world Tony was drinking beer and Carlos was winning $500.

The water was the exact same shade of blue as the sky, creating the effect of horizonlessness, according to Robinson. The metaphorical significance of which, according to Kirsten, was a blurring of the line between life and death. It made so much sense. I almost jumped up, pumped my fist, and spilled my tea, but I didn’t. They’re alive, and they’re not alive!

Almost exactly in sync with the winding down of tea and cake and literature, a loud cheer wafted through the open window from an apartment building across the street, signifying, I guessed, the end of the game.

Remember when I was practically a sportswriter? At dinner at Chilli Cha Cha on Haight and Fillmore (Thai Noodle and Food Café is the subtitle), I sat with my back to the TV so that Kirsten’s boyfriend, Peter, who had also missed the game, could watch highlights.

We split a spicy grilled beef salad (Peter and me), and Kirsten poured a whole order of rice into her coconut milk soup, creating a pasty, tasty mess. My favorite thing in the world right now is duck noodle soup, and I turn to it often. My new favorite "food café" floats some spinach in it, and I love them for that. The deep, dark broth, the comfort of noodles, and the ridiculous juiciness of duck, that lovely layer of fat between the skin and the meat … that’s where I want to live.

The night before, in a bar, I’d almost got in a fight, I was saying. A drunk guy kept pinging my steel pan with his fingers. I had to grab his wrist and hold it and I didn’t know what was going to happen. But I felt ready and willing. I would have punched and kicked and clawed in defense of my baby.

Which was weird, I was saying, because before I switched fuels, I was a mess in this situation. On T, I would shake, shut down, and lose the ability to speak or swallow, let alone fight. It didn’t make sense.

"Testosterone affects aggression," Peter said, looking down from football highlights. "Defense is something else entirely." He looked back up.

Wow. He was right. Outside of television sets, football stadiums, and certain select craniums, Peter was absolutely right, and I was going to have to vote for Hillary.

But why do I keep dreaming about Dom, my best friend, teammate, bandmate, and comrade, who died almost 20 years ago? Our dreams are peopled by pieces of ourselves supposedly. And he’s always so brittle when he comes back to life. *


Daily, 11 a.m.–11 p.m.

495 Haight, SF

(415) 552-2960

Takeout and delivery available

No alcohol



Wheelchair accessible




› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Earl Butter said it was the dumbest thing he’d ever heard, and that was when I knew I was back. I wish I could remember what I’d said, to mark the spot, something about … something, I feel certain.

We were sitting around a couple of square tables in the back room at Mollie’s truck stop, former home of the 12-egg omelet and current home of the only chicken-fried steak omelet that I know of. It was me, Butter, Phenomenon, the House, and the Horn Section.

Late morning, Klamath Falls, Ore.

We were fueling up for an afternoon show at a nursing home where, weeks earlier, the director was shot and killed by an angry crazy person who probably had religious beliefs and almost certainly political ones. But we didn’t know this yet, over eggs.

Someone tried to tell me once that I was wise and witchy, and I made the mistake of actually believing them. For a while. This is one of the most idiotic mistakes you can make in life, right up there with holding your hand in the fire.

So I went around for maybe a month or two thinking I knew some things, and then the skin between my fingers started to blister and smoke, and I accidentally showed my true colors. I screamed.

My true color is red. My favorite colors are green and blue, and I wear a lot of brown, but my true color, apparently, is red. It expresses itself in millions of little tiny flags sticking out of my skin on millions of little tiny flagpoles, waving in the wind.

And I wonder why people don’t want to date me!

I’m like head cheese. You know that someone, somewhere, considers cute little fiery white chicken farmers of ambiguous gender and unambiguous stupidity a wonderful delicacy or a rare treat. Meanwhile, everyone else in the world, myself included, would rather be eating chicken-fried steak. Hash browns. Biscuits.

Or Thai food.

I decided to sit out our afternoon show in order to check my e-mail. And I borrowed my brother’s laptop and found a Thai restaurant with free wireless Internet. So while my comrades clippity-clopped a crew of traumatized Oregonian elders into working it out on the dance floor, I was eating plah goong with highly suspicious shrimp and wilted iceberg lettuce, checking my e-mail.

Nothing. I put the laptop away and wished with all my idiotic might that small-town Oregon would turn into San Francisco, at least long enough for me to finish lunch. Say at Little Thai on Polk and Broadway, where the prawn salad with mango is to die for, not to die of. And the yellow curry chicken, leftover, forgotten on the floor of your pickup truck and then eaten cold the next day ($7.95) will taste 10 times better than anything this kitchen can come up with.

My new favorite restaurant! Little Thai, I mean. Not this one. And so long as I’m sitting here dreaming and old people somewhere in the world are dancing, let me have a carpenter my age named Joe to talk to. Or let me be standing on Broadway in the dark in the cold, watching his lit, balding, bowed head in Little Thai’s warm, steamy window, reading a newspaper. I don’t care who that guy is, I think, waiting for the light to change. I’m going to cross this street and give him these eggs.

At a country dance that night one town down, at the community center, Earl Butter discovered brandy. I wasn’t drinking, but I couldn’t lay off of the chicken wings. By the middle of our third set, Earl was too brilliant to play the drums by himself, and I was too fried to play the pan.

So I sat splayed on the floor next to his neglected kick drum, and I took off one of my boots, held it by the toes, and tried to give the dancers a downbeat to land on in between his ups.

"Stop it!" he said. "Stop it! Stop it!" he kept saying, but I liked being on the floor and felt useful.

After, I went outside across the parking lot in front of our van and peed in the weeds. There was a field, and there were railroad tracks. It was a clear, icy country night, the stars almost tickling. A train came, shattering everything, and for the gazillionth time in my little life, I closed my eyes and wondered where in the world I was. *


Lunch: Tues.–Sat., 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m. Dinner: Mon.–Thurs. and Sun., 4–10 p.m.; Fri.–Sat., 4–10:30 p.m.

2065 Polk, SF

(415) 771-5544

Takeout and delivery available




Wheelchair accessible


Missed connections


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS My new favorite songwriter is my old friend NFC, which BTW stands for "new friend Catherine," not National Football Conference. Of course, I sometimes call her Ms. Conference or National or Nat just to confuse matters. And to confuse matters further, I’m rooting for her in the Super Bowl.

So while these people are going, "Go, Colts!" and those ones are going, "Yay, Bears!" I’ll be sandwiched between them on the sofa, with my fingers crossed and my knees all a-rattle, going, Catherine, Catherine, Catherine, come on, Catherine!

Probably under my breath — in case anyone still wants to invite me to their Super Bowl party.

Confession: I’ve been neglecting my old friends in order to meet new people. And the more new people I meet, the more I love my old friends. I can’t decide whether this makes me a people person or a misanthrope, so let’s just stick with chicken farmer for now.

NFC, my new favorite songwriter, only has three songs. For as long as I’ve known her, she has had the same three songs, and we sit in her heater room with coffee and guitars and a cat named Juicy Toots, rewriting and rewriting them. She rewrites. I close my eyes and concentrate on having an opinion. This one used to be a folk song. Now it’s the blues. That one has a slightly different melody. The other has a new, improved bridge, retrofitted to withstand earthquakes and open mic jitters.

By the time she dies, NFC will have either the three most exquisitely perfect musical compositions ever written or a very bad headache. My money, as usual, is on both. But that’s not what I wanted to tease her about.

I wanted to tease her about a certain evening we spent together recently. It was the coldest Thursday on record. Ever. Anywhere. Many of my dearest, warmest, longstandingest loved ones were gathering out at Gaspare’s to break pizza in honor of our prodigal pal One-Cents. I chose instead to accompany NFC to a house concert in Oakland. Where I wouldn’t know anyone.

Which is how I like it, my top priority in life these days being my unreasonable, hopeless, quixotic quest for romance, the kind with nudity in it. And that just ain’t going to happen between me and my friends, I’m afeard. (And they’re relieved.)

So: new people, I’m thinking. Girls! Boys! Boths! Couples with a sense of adventure! Single people with a sense of humor! Sensitive artists with a sense of worthlessness! House concert! Yay!!!

Come to find over preshow dinner at Manzanita that our hostess, NFC’s friend, is 80 and that everyone else at the party will be senior citizens, except us.

"Oh," I said. I love old people. "What about the bands?" I asked.

"Only one. My friend’s son," NFC said. "He’s visiting from Nashville."

Mind you, this news is broken to me at Manzanita, which is an organic vegan macrobiotic joint, two big cities and a cold, cold bay away from Gaspare’s, where all my other friends in the world are just then deciding what all to put on all their extralarge pizzas. Sausage, I’m thinking.


"Yum. Aren’t these whole grains and unseasoned greens delicious?" my new favorite songwriter asks, sprinkling a shaker of almost tasteless toasted brown things all over her plate, in lieu of salt and pepper.

I’m thinking: olives, pepperoni. Salad with salad dressing on it. "Yes! Delicious!" I say. And I really do clean my plate and enjoy it. And feel pretty good, kind of.

I love my friend NFC, and I love old folks and country music. But it turns out Ms. Conference had the wrong night. The house concert wasn’t until Saturday. I probably could have gotten across town, over the bridge, and across town again to the Richmond in time for a glass of wine and some crust, except that NFC’s friend invited us in anyway, bless her heart, and her son, bless his, played a whole set of his new country originals, by way of rehearsal.

We sat on the couch with cookies and water and watched and listened with big, big smiles on our faces, and I wouldn’t trade this cracked, cold Thursday for any Thursday in the world. *


Lunch: daily, 11:30 a.m.–2:30 p.m. Dinner: daily, 5:30–9 p.m.

4001 Linden, Oakl.

(510) 985-8386.

Takeout and catering available

No alcohol



Wheelchair accessible


Ways we were


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS I was sitting at the bar drinking whiskey with Hobosack, talking about art and writing and waiting for the band to go on so that we could move our heads and close our eyes and rattle on the inside. It’s like being back in grad school, I thought, and this was a warm thing to think on a cold, cold night, until I realized that … why the hell would I want to be back in grad school?

Actually, I can think of some answers to that question: namely, Dash would still be alive, and the Bomb. I wouldn’t be scared. Angelina’s sausage calzone and pasta fagioli at Tony’s … It’s warmer on the East Coast than the West one right now — but then, of course, it wouldn’t be now if I were back in school; it would be then. And snow would be piling up on top of my trailer, the roof sagging and starting to drip.

Nostalgia is a funny thing, innit? Why would we want the way things were? Even if times were great, they are history, and history sucks. Because it’s gone.

Whereas the here and now is here, and now, and still has everything, including sensation, whiskey, a strong backbeat, new friends, old memories, Thai food, and — begrudgingly I admit it — candy.

They said on the radio recently that looking at photographs releases more happiness chemicals in the human brain than chocolate or a stiff drink or other stiff … stuff, or drugs or even hugs — although this starts to seem improbable, so maybe I’m malremembering.

Anyway, I was out in my storage shed looking for something else when I accidentally came across two pictures of Yatee-Yatee-Bing-Eh-Eh-Eh, and then some ones of Crawdad de la Cooter, Feather River. Happiness chemicals were nowhere to be found in my human brain. In fact, these images brought me to my knees, and my storage shed floor, so you know, is concrete and cold and covered in rat shit. My tears were not tears of joy.

There were in the same box so many pictures of the Bomb, from baby to buddy, that I could have put them in order, if I were an orderly person, and made a flip movie of his life and a big bowl of popcorn to go with it.

Not a happy ending.

Hobosack is a man who cries, and this is in fact how we became friends, even though he doesn’t eat meat and actually prefers dessert to main courses.

We were downtown, trying to find a Vietnamese restaurant I keep thinking about and can never quite locate, when suddenly there was Banana House, and then: parking.

"You like Thai?" I asked, blinkering the open spot.

"Bananas are two of my three favorite foods," Hobosack said.

I was charmed and alarmed by this information. Hobosack elaborated: banana Laffy Taffy is his first favorite food, actual bananas his third. That his top 10 list also included coffee, beer, and cake cracked me up and made my teeth start to hurt.

"Are you sure you want to have dinner?" I asked.

He did! I agreed to yum hed, which is a mixed mushroom salad, for the sake of the lettuce and the spicy lime dressing ($6.95). By accident, I even liked one of the three or four kinds of mushrooms, and it happened to be the one Hobosack didn’t like, lucky us. It was clear and looked like something you’d see while snorkeling. Anyone?

There was mango curry, a red coconut-milk concoction with basil and peppers ($7.95), and chicken satay ($7.95) so that I could cut some meat up into everything else. It was dry and bland, but it was meat.

And the bathroom was gravy — unisexual — but so cold that I couldn’t stop clacking until we went back to Sack’s for some hot tea. Then to El Rio, where the heat was on and overhead ceiling vents poured artificial warmth down the outsides of us while we poured whiskey into the insides.

And nobody got hurt or lost time or even cried. Although, as nice a night as it was, somehow we’d neglected to have any bananas. And of course they were on the menu — for dessert! Fried, with ice cream or honey, which sounds good even to me. *


Mon.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.; Sat.–Sun., noon–9 p.m.

321 Kearny, SF

(415) 981-9399

Takeout available

No alcohol



Wheelchair accessible


Make a wish


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Sockywonk came back from Florida completely bald and we sat in the waiting room at the Kaiser lab, looking at pictures. In fluorescent lights, in the hospital hum, in the stony glare of disease … here was Florida, her Florida friends, her Florida sister, sunshine and tank tops, big smiles, water. Here was Sockywonk sitting in the haircut chair clowning for the camera, yanking fistfuls of hair right out of her scalp, waiting for the shave.

The last two things she did with her hair, when she had it, and knew she only had it for a couple more weeks, was she cut it into a Mohawk and then bleached it blond. Nowadays she wears a Davy Crockett hat with a tail, some kind of animal, and you know that I love her for this.

She took the hat off and showed me. There were lingering patches of black stubble, random and Rorschach. I put my hand there. It was warm and bristly.

I made a wish.

Once when I used to shave my head and people, including me, always wanted to touch it, I told a coworker while she was rubbing my snow dome that she could make a wish and she did and got pregnant. This was 20 years ago, more or less, in another time zone, and I can’t remember the mother’s or the father’s name, but I imagine the child of that wish, now more or less an adult, tracking me down and appearing at my door one day with a basket of fruit or a cheese tray.


It had been cloudy and drizzly but mild all morning, and when we came out of Kaiser it was brilliantly sunny and freezing. "What do you really really want to eat?" I said. "More than anything in the world right now, for lunch."

"Soup," said Sockywonk. "Japanese."

It’s not like her to be decisive and I was thrilled. Soup, in particular Japanese style, is one of my favorite things in the world. On our way to my car she stepped in one of my least favorite things. I found an old copy of the Guardian in the back of the truck, opened it to Cheap Eats, and laid it out on the passenger floor.

In Japantown Center, sucking down edamame outside of Suzu because there weren’t any open tables inside, we looked at more pictures while waiting for our noodles. One of Sockywonk’s Florida girlfriends is pushing 60, and looks like she’s 35. There’s a big house, a deck, a river. Sockywonk says something about maybe moving back there.

"Would you do it?"

She doesn’t know. She’s been living in a rent-controlled apartment here for 15, 20 years. Has a lot of cool and beautiful San Francisco friends too. Some of whom, if not all of whom, are bigger than her and will chain her to a parking meter, if that’s what it comes to.

Here was a picture of Sockywonk flashing her boobs.

And here was our soup, finally, and oh-sweet-Jesus I have a new favorite restaurant! Not only do they have karaage ramen, which is fried chicken noodle soup, and not only are the noodles homemade and perfect, but the fried chicken comes in a separate bowl on the side so that, for slow eaters like me, you don’t wind up eating sog-monster mush.

I chopsticked a crispy chunk of chicken, dipped and dunked it into the dark, salty broth, and came up with an unexpected spot of ginger hanging on somewhere, a stowaway. Biting into it was like sex, if I remember correctly. Sex, not soup; the soup I remember perfectly, almost tearfully. The most succulent, deliciousest thing you can even imagine.

Fried chicken soup. Sockywonk had a combination plate, tempura over rice, and udon soup. Oh, and we also had shrimp dumplings and they were pretty good too. But how can someone who’s 60 look 35?

Chemo conks you on the head and makes you move a little slow.

Fried chicken does the same thing to me, so I had no trouble keeping step with Sockywonk on our way up the stairs to the restrooms, which of course are gender specific: one for this kind, one for that. But in this case I didn’t mind, ’cause we got to pee in harmony and wash our hands in harmony and look together into the mirror, thinking about Florida. *


Lunch: Mon. and Wed.–Fri., 11:30 a.m.–3 p.m.

Dinner: Mon. and Wed.–Fri., 5–10 p.m.; Sat., 11:30 a.m.–10 p.m.; Sun., 11:30 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

1581 Webster, SF

(415) 346-5083

Takeout available

Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible


Gentle surrogates


› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Right now I only have three chickens and a song stuck in my head. "All Her Favorite Fruit," by Camper Van Beethoven. Often I dream I have many, many more chickens than three. They come out of the woods and are colorful, quirky, and wild, but for whatever reason they choose to be my chickens. In my dreams they are welcome both by me and the three real chickens I have. Always they are welcome and weird, these dreamy messengers. I never do figure out what exactly their message is, but my sense is that there is something off about them, like they lay square eggs, are made out of smoke, or cock-a-doodle-don’t.

Whatever the flavor of their surreality, I am charmed and afraid, and invariably (so far) I wake up to exactly how many chickens I have. Which has never been more than nine, at my chicken farmerliest, and is now, as I said, three.

I’m not complaining. Even just one chicken could be a tremendous source of comfort and amusement to me, and if I didn’t have any, which might happen when I move back to the city (I am looking), then I would spend more time than ever with chicken soup, chicken vindaloo, chicken chow mein, fried chicken, barbecued chicken, and so on.

And you would be a little better informed about Bay Area restaurants, I guess … so there’s that.

Right now, however, it’s a warm morning for January, and I’m sitting outside on a log. I’ve been awake for a long time, long enough to feel like I’ve entered another time zone that no one else has ever been in. I’m not tired. I’m drinking black coffee and feeding brown rice to my three exact, awake, real live chickens. I’m feeding them brown rice, chow fun noodles with black beans, red peppers, and cabbage ($6) and spicy green beans without chicken ($8.50).

Last night on my why-why-why way home to the woods I made a wrong turn at Nan King Road in the Sunset. Not that it’s not a great restaurant, and not that it doesn’t have a unisex bathroom, but you know what? I don’t feel like talking about bathrooms or food, and if I did feel like talking about food, I would much rather be talking about bacon, as surely as my three chickens would rather be eating bacon. Rather than brown rice and chow fun noodles.

Bacon is every sensible animal’s favorite food, and the Ebb Tide Cafe, where I’d made a right turn on the morning before, has a unisex bathroom and a bacon platter, which is just that, a platter of bacon, bacon, bacon, just bacon.

And my chickens are looking at me, going, So why are we eating brown rice and chow fun noodles? Tell us again.

I will tell you again and again and again.

My mom and grandma live in the house I grew up in, snow belt Ohio, without electricity or running water. They shit into a bucket. Last time I talked to her on the phone, my mom said, "Don’t put me in your column."

How can I not? This is the stuff I am made of, and anyway she doesn’t read my column. My dad does. He’s a good Catholic and goes to church in Ohio, which I am also made of, and he prays for me and probably all of us. Which is great.

In the woods sometimes when the wind blows real hard at night and the redwood trees creak and crackle outside my window, I fear for my life. I hear every little thing, see absolutely nothing, and wonder how strong this old shack’s walls are.

Weirdo the Cat sleeps under the covers, curled up to my belly. I’m outside now in the dirt, watching my chickens have Chinese. But earlier this morning, like at five, I was in bed on my back with my hands behind my head. Weirdo came up for air, sniffed my lips, rested her little black head on my arm, and sighed and went back to sleep.


I laid there, human, for hours, my brain racing like space probes through the void, trying to find intelligent life inside my strange body — or grace or hope or something, my open eyes watching the air around me change ever so slowly from black to gray to pink to clear.

The chickens that I have were starting to fuss, wanting out. It was time, but no way was I getting up yet, not with this cat on my arm like that, snoring pretty much exactly like a man. *


Daily, 7:00 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

1500 S. Van Ness, SF

(415) 643-4399

Takeout available

No alcohol

Credit cards not accepted


Wheelchair accessible