Pho la love

Pub date September 15, 2009
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap EatsSectionFood & Drink

CHEAP EATS Don’t worry, I sat down at the conference table in my office in Oakland with Earl Butter, a big bottle of gin, a small bottle of grapefruit soda, a bowl of ice, and two small glasses, and we talked until almost midnight. It’s taken care of. We’re all going to be okay. Even you.

He’d brought a couple bones over from Looney’s Barbecue, around the corner, but I’d already bloated myself on takeout pho from Kang Nam, around the other corner. While we were talking, a mosquito came in through one of the many open windows in my hot hot upstairs apartment, and established itself in the bedroom. Weirdo the Cat blinked.

Earl Butter is a peach. Technically, this isn’t true, but in some respects it’s the perfect way to describe him. He’s soft and furry and sweet, and there’s a little stem sticking out of the top of his head.

He grows on trees, for another example.

One of my favorite things about pho (pronounced pha) is that it’s pronounced pha (but spelled pho). Those crazy Vietnameses! The good thing about getting pho to go (pronounced pha to ga) is that — if all goes well — you will find they have packaged the "rare beef" separately. So it’s raw beef, sliced really very thin, and it cooks in the broth when you put the two together. That’s the idea. But you can always let the broth sit in your bowl, and go to the bathroom, and make a couple phone calls, and check your e-mail, and lecture your cat, and clear off your desk, maybe put a load of laundry in, and then add the beef to the broth. That way it won’t cook so much as warm up a little, and that’s how I like it. Jalapeños, bean sprouts, fresh basil and cilantro …

We go back a long way, me and all those things, but especially Earl Butter. It’s one of those friendships that, in spite of everything — remote control ownership disputes, abandonment issues, actual abandonment, bad advice given (and taken), pork-related deception, petty jealousy, petty thievery of hats, grand theft of an automobile, grand jealousy, strange smells in the bathroom, botched interventions, band blowups, automotive breakdowns, nervous ones, and, you know, everything, tube socks … you get the sense that nothing can stop you, no one can beat you. You go back a long way and you’re going to go forward an even longer way.

Being which as it may, the fucker brings me two cold bones, one spoon’s worth of black-eyed peas, onion rings (and I don’t like onion rings), and a half of a crab-cake with mayonnaise in it. True, I had already eaten, but did he know this?

No. He did not. Wait, maybe he did. I’m trying to remember our phone conversation while I was waiting for my broth to cool off.

Anyway, this isn’t about Earl Butter, or me, or barbecue, or pho, or even my love, Romeo (pronounced Romea), who will be here in five, four, three days. Watch out, everybody. You are about to be absolutely grossed out. If scenes of romantical bliss make you barf, close your eyes, OK? I’ll tell you when to open them.

Really the person I really meant for this one to be about was the mosquito. But you know what? I’m in love, and feeling intoxicated and insane. I’ll let you imagine the cartoonish battle of wits that went down in the bedroom. All. Night. That. Night. And the bloody mess I left on the bathroom door the next morning, when, Popeye-armed and pissed off, I finally found him, or her.

Call me crazy, but I’m going to leave you with a few words about Kang Nam: it’s a both is and isn’t kind of place. Nice track lighting and big, ugly overhead fluorescents. Nice art on the wall and taped-on paper flyers for specials. Of the two waitresspersonpeople I encountered, one was calm, the other running around like a waitressperson with her head still on.

I didn’t see what the hurry was.

I did like my soup. A lot.


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L.E. Leone’s new book is Big Bend (Sparkle Street Books), a collection of short fiction.