Tamale soup

Pub date June 19, 2007
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap EatsSectionFood & Drink

› le_chicken_farmer@yahoo.com

CHEAP EATS Some week for the chicken farmer. Starts out in the city, my hand in a late-night pot of boiling water, fussing with unthawable frozen tamales, and ends in moonlight in the woods, digging a very sober hole for a very dead chicken.

Foxes have found me.

In other news, there’s a spot on the back of humans, below the neck, below the first few vertebrae, between shoulder blades, the soft, special niceness of which will haunt me now for the rest of my life. I woke up one week ago with my nose there, and I nuzzled and kissed and breathed in the catastrophic smell of someone else for a change. It was way too early to even wonder where I was.

I was in a strange bed, with an even stranger stranger, whose waking words were, "Don’t write about the tamales."

Still in that same sweet spot, I had no intention of ever leaving, let alone writing about tamales. I smiled and spoke into it. I said, "Okay." I was thinking that there would be more meals together, more sober ones, with every chance in the world for redemption and reduction sauces. No need to dwell on drunken, emergency snack-food soup.

Oof. This is going to make a weird country song. My new best friend is the bottle. But it ain’t me doing the drinking. It’s everyone else in the world, and it will be interesting to see how many times out of 10 they already have a girlfriend. They’re in love. Why one would want to drink enough to forget that spectacular fact, even for one night, both baffles and thrills me. And that’s why you will find me now in bars.

In search of temporary sweet spots between shoulder blades.

Neither forgetter nor forgettee, I’ll be the designated driver. You’ll invite me in. Whether you have a long-distance lover or nothing but dead and doomed chickens to occupy your mind, a body gets tired of sleeping alone. I know that, and I know things happen in bars that have absolutely no relevance in the world outside bars. No problem.

If it hurts a little, so does life. A lot! Like one minute you’ve got your eyes closed and headphones on and telephone ringer off, and you’re recording your heart out into a microphone, imagining a small cult following, and the next minute, click track marching in place behind you, you’re chasing a fox through blackberry bramble, tripping over tree trash.

It did let go of the chicken, and my farmerly diligence was rewarded by getting to lie in the dirt and watch my penultimate hen die a slow, useless death. This took days. I’m hungry and scratched, and I need a bath.

In retrospect, I should have Dr. K’d her immediately. But retrospect is easy. She wasn’t bleeding and didn’t look broken. She didn’t seem to be in pain, but it’s hard to tell with chickens — unlike chicken farmers, who put it in the newspaper.

My new favorite chicken, by virtue of being the last one standing, was my least favorite only yesterday. It’s the egg eater. Chickens are intensely social animals. They go around together, they have their pecking order, and at night they line up on the roost, all tight and snuggly, for warmth. Or, for all we know, for love, comfort, reassurance …

Teeth hurt. Thorns hurt. Biting into a dumpling full of scalding pork juice hurts. I didn’t do this, by the way. I’m a patient and paid professional Shanghai dumpling eater. It happened to a personal friend of mine, in Millbrae. She grew up there and still knows where to go.

The Shanghai Dumpling Shop, for example, rocks — even the things we got that weren’t dumplings, and weren’t pork buns, and weren’t "lion head" meatballs. I’m thinking of the "bean curd sheets" with spinach. It was like fettuccini, and it was miraculously, meatlessly delicious.

Wednesday we went. Lunch time, and it was like an oasis, a rest stop, a catchy chorus or bridge. We all need little islands of sanity (or, in other words, rivulets of warm pork juice on the tongue) in the middle of our crazy work weeks full of chasing foxes, being foxy, and digging deep holes in the moon.

I have one last, live chicken to be with, and I’m going back outside now to be with her. Sorry I wrote about the tamales. *


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455 Broadway, Millbrae

(650) 697-0682



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