Hugs and kisses

Pub date April 13, 2010
WriterL.E. Leone
SectionCheap Eats

CHEAP EATS We left space for The Attack at our table. She wasn’t dead or anything, just at work. Some people are dead. And some are only faking it. Still others of course are in line at Walgreens, or otherwise alive and well and just generally off doing something. So they can’t have breakfast with you at Rico’s Diner, damn!

My mind is boggled and my knees are buckled and rug-burned, but apparently I have a little prettiness left, according to an old-school pimpishly attired dude in a cape and fedora, downtown Oakland.

"You are beautiful ladies," he said to me and Pod, in passing. "You keep that up now!"

You keep that up now. Keep it up. Keep up the beauty.

Pod has a curling-iron burn on one of her cheeks.

When we saw the guy again he smiled even bigger, pumped his fist instead of tipping the fedora, and said pretty much the same things: "Beautiful" and "you keep that up now." I was wearing jeans and a T-shirt, a few flakes of last night’s mascara, and chicken-fried steak flavored lip gloss.

You keep that up now.

Beauty is hard to define. Like wet soap, life, and a live fish, beauty — once defined — is also hard to hold on to. It requires concentration. Sometimes you need a coach. Sometimes you need a lover, and sometimes your lover sucks, strains, and presses the beauty right out of you and then you need coaches and cheerleaders again to get it back.

Thank you, pimpishly attired fedora-tipping and fist-pumping dude. Thank you Pod. Thank you The Attack. And thank you Rico’s, for supplying the chicken-fried steak flavored lip gloss.

And, oh, so many other kinds of hot sauce. It gave Pod and me the idea to have a "hot sauce tasting" instead of a "wine tasting" party. And this gives me the idea to have a "lip gloss tasting" party after that.

Which reminds me of a rainy day in La Rochelle, a beautiful port town on the west coast of France where, as a recent romantic refugee, I participated materially in this January’s humidity levels.

I was with my chicken farming comrade on her one day off, shopping for All Things Brown, when we saw a tall, cute man standing in a crowded square with a small sign saying, in English, "Free Hugs." And he didn’t seem to be collecting money or selling anything. And he didn’t look like he smelled bad. And I have never been more in need of hugs so I walked right up to him and hugged him. If nothing else, this gave my chicken farmer’s daughter, who is 11, something to giggle about for the rest of this year. Plus I got to learn my first French phrase, Lâchez moi, or "Let go of me."

Now I don’t need hugs anymore. I need kisses, and to learn how to say ne lâchez pas de moi, s’il vous plaît in English.

"Mmm," says the dreamy dreamboat of my dreams, "What’s that hot sauce you’re wearing?"

El Yucateca. Extra extra hot. Which goes very good with chicken-fried steak and gravy, by the way. Not that Rico’s needs the boost. It was one of my favorite chicken frieds that I can remember. And the over-easies were good, and the omelet I had the first time I went there was great.

I love this place. It’s simple, delicious, and cheap. They do standard American breakfast stuff, plus burgers (which I haven’t tried yet), and veggie and vegan things (which I never will). And it feels like you’re eating on a train, I think because the kitchen’s in the middle of the room, and you have to place your order at a counter there. Plus all the windows. Although, I have to admit that the corner of 15th and Franklin streets does tend to stay a little still.

One of the most beautiful things I ever saw: my curling-iron burnt pal Pod — who is a dot artist, after all — carefully dispensing drops of I-forget-which hot sauce around the breakfast sandwich on her plate. I don’t know exactly what she was going for, but it was a Goldsworthy worthy masterpiece.

You keep that up, now, Pod.


Mon.–Sat.: 10 a.m.–2:30 p.m.

400 15th St., Oakl.

(510) 444-8424

Cash only