CHEAP EATS I found out on Christmas Day morning that I was a nihilist. Cool. I had always wondered what that meant, and now I didn’t have to wonder anymore and could move on to something else. Nihilists are witchy, weird chicken farmers who love everyone, hate every single thing that anyone believes in, and would much rather lie down in pine needles and watch the way bugs move than fight oppression.
I learned this from a real live anarchist, a kind of political hero of mine, when I tried to express my discomfort with anarchy because it has way too many rules for my liking. It was the sort of conversation that tends to end in only one way: with both parties bonking each other on the head with suitcases generally speaking, of course. In some instances there aren’t any suitcases handy, so they have to use fireplace pokers or cookware.
So I felt astronomically lucky to be walking away from such talk with our just-friendship not to mention my cranium intact. Gastronomically, I was not so lucky. It was lunchtime, but it was Christmas, and I wasn’t raised by wolves, much as I might wish it otherwise, so I couldn’t help knowing that it was Christmas, and what that truly meant: restaurants would be closed.
No one was out on the streets except for homeless people and nihilists. I walked down 16th Street, lost in thought and dazzled by the abundance of available parking spots. The streets seemed surreally wide, and if my little body hadn’t been all tangled and tucked into scarves, sweaters, coats, gloves and hats, I might have sworn I was in Tucson. Instead of … what? Chicago? Cleveland?
It’s a wonder anyone ever recognizes me this time of year I’m such an overdresser. Or maybe that’s how they recognize me. In any case, I turned the corner onto Guerrero, and there were my friends J and J, and they somehow knew me under all my Great Lakeswear and greeted me warmly with big smiles and hugs.
"I’m a nihilist!" I said.
"We’re going to get Chinese food," they said. "Are you hungry?"
Am I hungry? Does the pope poop in the woods? I’m starving. Always. For everything. (Without mayonnaise.) Even if I’ve just eaten a whole ham by myself and am lying on the floor, comatose, I’m hungry. I just don’t know it just then is all. And another thing is that I’ve always wanted to eat Chinese food on Christmas.
"Where are you going?" I said.
"Big Lantern," they said. "It’s open."
I’d just walked past it and hadn’t noticed it was open because I was so lost in thought and clothing and deserty amazement. So I turned right around.
Big Lantern! I already knew it was my new favorite restaurant even before I bit into one of their succulent shrimp dumplings from the dim sum menu and slurped my first spicy slurp of hot and sour soup and made love to my favorite dish of all, on a table of favorite dishes: the ginger and onion lamb. I knew it was my new favorite restaurant because I was eating there. On Christmas Day! With friends.
Earl Butter gets takeout from Big Lantern, and he’d told me it was great. But J and J said you have to eat it there. They’ve gotten it to go, they said, and it sucked. So … you see why I write like this?
I don’t believe in hyperbole any more than, say, critical thinking; but I do find it a fun and friendly alternative to intelligence. And I don’t think I ever said so here, explicitly (or maybe I did), but my New Year’s resolution last year was for every place I ate at to be my new favorite restaurant. I did it!
Be warned though that 2007 is another year. If I don’t say that a place is my new favorite place, that doesn’t mean it isn’t. It just means I was distracted from food and ambiance by the bathroom.
I have learned to love indiscriminately. Now, in order to impress my fellow revolutionaries and hopefully make them love me back and let me lick them, I am going to shake off the pine needles and take an actual political stand: in the bathroom, of course. We choose our battles, and this is the one for me, because more than anything right now I need to pee.
Does your restaurant have safe, comfortable, unisex bathrooms? Big Lantern does! *
Sun.Wed., 11 a.m.-11 p.m.; Thurs.Sat., 11 a.m.midnight
3170 16th St., SF
Takeout and delivery available