No way of knowing

Pub date May 16, 2006
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap EatsSectionFood & Drink


CHEAP EATS I was sick. I couldn’t get out of bed, and I couldn’t sleep either. If I tried to talk on the phone, I sounded like Don Corleone smoking helium. People didn’t know who I was, and after a while I didn’t know who I was either.

Weirdo the Cat remained Weirdo the Cat and tried her best to keep me oriented.

Weeks in the woods are not very conversational for me, anyway. I express myself, cry out to the universe, assert my existence, and endear myself to my neighbors by tapping on steel with an eight-pound sledge hammer. When that gets old, I clack plastic and make a little poem or Cheap Eats happen. Sometimes I talk to myself. Sometimes I laugh out loud, which weirds out Weirdo and makes me feel crazy which, in turn, helps me to know that I’m not.

Now I had no way to know. I couldn’t hammer, clack, or blabber, and nothing was funny. I’m not a sickness reviewer, but laryngitis I find to be every bit as discombobuutf8g, almost, as an inner ear infection. Pretty much, more or less.

Well, I’d asked for it. I hadn’t been sick, really, in two years. Which was long enough to notice, and so I noticed and then started to talk about it.

"I haven’t been sick in two years!" I said. Out loud. To people.

Bad medicine. This is not a matter of juju; it’s mental and physical and automatic: You start bragging, you let your guard down. Bam! No voice, no sleep, no energy, no soup, no NyQuil, no more Jane Austen novels to read, no one to go to the library for you, and nothing to watch on video except The Deer Hunter.

Ever watch The Deer Hunter? Bad medicine. Good movie, bad bad medicine. Now even if I could’ve slept I couldn’t have slept. Me!

But enough about me. Eventually you just get tired of being sick, and you realize that lying around in bed isn’t going to get you better, so you kiss Weirdo the Cat on the lips, drag yourself out to your pickup truck, drive down to Balboa Park, tie on your spikes, strike out twice, ground weakly to second, ground even weaklier to third, take a shower, and go look for a bowl of duck noodle soup.

There you have it. All better. New favorite Vietnamese restaurant: Pho Ha Tien, just down the road, toward the Sunset, on Ocean. Duck noodle soup ($4.95/$5.95). Jalapeños, hot sauce, that other kind of hot sauce, and . . . you can talk again, if you’re me.

"Blah blah blah, blah blah," I said. "Blah blah blah."

There was even someone there to hear me. Yay! My cousin the Choo-Choo Train and his boyfriend, Ding-a-Ling-a-Ling, meaning I can also tell you these things: goi cuon chay ($4.50). Bun bi thit nuong ($6.50). And com ca nuong sa ($6.75).

Got that? That’s cold vegetable spring rolls, which were good, shredded pork and barbecued pork over vermicelli, which was good, and a charbroiled sole filet, over rice, which was also good. Allegedly. I didn’t get any. Choo-Choo eats so fast his plate was clean by the time I’d finished applying all the proper hot sauces, cilantro leaves, bean sprouts, jalapeños, and other medicinal touches to my soup.

And letting Ding-a-Ling-a-Ling taste some before I infected it, which favor he kindly and gentlemanlikely returned by chopsticking some of his pork and pork onto a little plate for my particular pig-partaking pleasure.

"Thank you, sir," I said.

"Thank you, Chicken Farmer," said he.

Meanwhile, the loco locomotive is licking his plate, wondering what’s for dessert.

Anyway, the soup was good, but not as good as my old favorite duck soup because the noodles were overdone, one, and, two, it had too much slimy bamboo in it that could have been ducks. And the ducks that there was didn’t have skin, just bones. A lot of bones. You have to eat with your hands and leave a big pile somewhere on the table.

Other atmospheric touches: general quaintness, funny little 3-D paintings, TV, and my personal favorite: side-by-side, the requisite Buddha shrine and a gratuitous wooden plaque of Mickey and Minnie Mouse saying, Welcome.

You know what I say to that, Mickey, Minnie, now that I have my voice back? I say, "One shot." SFBG

Pho Ha Tien

Wed.–Mon., 10 a.m.–9:30 p.m.

1900 Ocean, SF

(415) 337-2168

Takeout available

Beer and wine



Wheelchair accessible