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.
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?
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 blocklong line waiting to get in.
And just kept driving. *
PAPALOTE MEXICAN GRILL
Mon.Sat., 11 a.m.10 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.9 p.m.
3409 24th St., SF
Credit cards not accepted