Gentle surrogates

Pub date January 9, 2007
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap EatsSectionFood & Drink


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. *


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(415) 643-4399

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