The asterisk

Pub date May 29, 2007
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap EatsSectionFood & Drink


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. *


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