Last night we went to the House of Nanking, my all-time favorite place to eat in San Francisco, mostly because it’s cramped and claustrophobic and poorly lit and greasy and grimy and all the things I normally despise in restaurants but, somehow, love to bits about this one. It’s been closed for over a month for “earthquake retrofitting” or some such nonsense, which actually turned out not to mean that they propped up some extra 2x4s between the ceiling and the floor and paid off a safety inspector to keep hush-hush about the job, but that they remodeled the place, moving the kitchen from the center of the room all the way to the back, where you can no longer walk by it on the way to your seat, on the way greeting your can of Diet Coke as it sits there lukewarm in its case just waiting to make its way to your table and then to your belly, much like a lobster in its tank outside establishments where grease and grime are not appreciated.
So yeah, it’s different now, and rather than giving it some time to grow on me and saying something vague and mature like, “I’m not sure how I feel about this yet,” I will be straightforward and direct and make a completely justified and immature snap-judgement and say, “I don’t like the new House of Nan. I do not like it, Sam I Am.” The doorframe still looks like Leatherface accidentally brushed up against it with his chainsaw while chasing a scantily clad teenage girl out into the street, and the chairs were still held together with duct tape, but it wasn’t the same.
And it wasn’t just the appearance that had changed. Suddenly, the food seemed different (all three of us looked at those perfectly harmless and tasty chunks of onion on our mushu pork like they were cockroaches), the service less I’m-annoyed-that-you’re-here-and-that-I-have-to-serve-you-even-though-I’m-a-waitress and more wha?-who?-you’d-like-to-order-some-food? And the owner, Peter Fang, didn’t even try to order for us! The eats were still marvellous (even though the portions looked smaller, although perhaps it was only because the room got bigger), and the Mushu-Pork-Wrapping Lady’s hands still fluttered like little white doves as they wrapped my tortilla for me, and the sesame chicken was still covered in the most delicious gelantinous goo, but as I sat there with the same old people under the same old pink lights reflecting off the same old tile walls, I realized something that I always knew, and that is that sometimes changing one thing, even if it’s for the better, can also change other things that were utterly perfect and wonderful before all the changing started, and that makes me sad.
And even some of the changes that are clear-cut improvements are sad, just because they’re not the same anymore and, you know, you can’t go home again and all that weepy nostalgia stuff. For instance, the restroom. As someone who can go eight hours without going, history has shown that whenever I’m at The House, I find myself needing to go, and that used to mean squeezing between two tables and climbing over a chair to get to the back corner of the room where boxes of shrimp were stacked up and unrefrigerated and starting to make their own gravy, and there I’d find the only bathroom outside of that one hotel in La Spezia, Italy, in which it was entirely possible to get an STD without actually touching any solid surface. Of course, that became part of the charm of the place in a really twisted way, and I treasured it appropriately. Last night, however, I couldn’t bear to visit the restroom because–in addition to having been moved to the opposite side of the restaurant where there were no boxes of stinking exoskeletal sea creatures–the door looked so shiny and new and lickably clean that I almost broke down in tears right there over my refrigerated Diet Coke. And it is on that note that I loudly declare: Change is overrated; give my sincerest regards to Status Quo if you see him around town.
(Side note: When in the North Beach/Chinatown area we park at a garage that labels all the parking spaces with different fortunes, a la the cookies with the little strips of paper inside. Our fortune last night: You should think of trying a different hairstyle.
There’s been some weirdness around our place lately. And when I say weirdness, I mean life-changing, earth-shattering, wake-up-ten-times-during-the-night-feeling-sick, 24-hour-headache-because-the-weirdness-is-just-so-weird weirdness. I’ll spare you the details right now because they’re bound to come out soon enough, but let me just say that a good way to combat colossal weirdness is with even more weirdness, and what that means in our house is that last night around 11, Ethan and I decided that he needed a haircut, and so I cut his hair for him.
I have never cut anyone’s hair ever. We were going to shave down the sides and whack the middle part into a messy mohawk and get some crazy-ass dye and just do something totally out of the ordinary (and if we were the drug-doing type, you can bet this woud have been one hilarious drug-induced bonanza of coiffeur styling), so with the mohawk idea in mind I felt pretty confident in my ability to move an electric razor back and forth while it automatically measured exactly how much hair to cut. But then the mohawk began to sound scary and because we didn’t have the courage one gets from consuming great quanities of alcohol or marajuana, we chickened out and just went for a regular old haircut, which was still rock-n-roll because, remember, I have never ever cut hair before ever.
In order of greatest frequency, things to be heard during the cut were
–”Are you sure you’re not gonna cry if I mess it up?”
–”Watch the ear!”
–”It’ll grow back.”
–”Damn! Who knew I could cut hair?”
We also discussed dramatizing a scene from a conversation Ethan had at work last week about how cool it would be–and how rich you’d get–having a hair salon called “A Little Off the Top,” which would feature–yup, you guessed it!–topless stylists. Needless to say, it didn’t happen and it will never happen, and that is very very weird.
Last Saturday, Ethan, Teddy, and I rung in the first weekend of post-orals summer with the inaugural geocache of the season. (If you’re new to this site, type “geocach” (yes, without the final “e”) into the search function in the sidebar to get an idea of what this is. Or just click the link above.) Our first mission took us to Colma, a small community just south of San Francisco, known for having more dead bodies than live ones (1 million dead to 1,500 live, to be exact). Since we consider roaming cemeteries one of our fondest pastimes (no joke!), we were excited to see what we’d uncover on the hunt for a box full of plastic toys and useless trinkets among the graves. At the very bottom of this entry is the link to the photo album; what follows immediately below is some narration of those pictures.
The first stop on our three-leg cache was at the pet cemetery, where beloved dogs, cats, rabbits, and other furries and featheries (and maybe even a few scalies) have been buried since the mid-forties up through the very day we were there. (We saw a small but solemn funeral party consisting of a man, a woman, and a tupperware container.)
Now, some of you may find this gruesome and morbid and not one bit of fun at all. Sure, it’s sad and kind of depressing and, if you have a heart bigger than a pebble, it’s sure to make your eyes mist over a little, but it’s also a comforting place to spend the afternoon. Even better than the lack of cell phones and traffic lights and street urchins asking for change, it’s also a place where visitors check their hard feelings at the door. Since no one says anything bad about their pets on their tombstones, if you take the time to read the inscriptions, you’ll find yourself surrounded with nothing but loving words and happy memories. I like that. (Plus, it was the only cemetary we saw that was multiethnic and multi-faith. Watch for the photo of the grave with both a cross and a Star of David.)
If, on the other hand, you’re already the type that isn’t squeamish about such things and have yourself a healthy appreciation for the fascinating sights to be discovered among the final resting places of the dead, then let me tell you that the graves of pets are ten times more interesting than the graves of humans. Teddy pointed out the disconnect between going to a cemetery–perhaps the mecca of somber reflection on life and death and the meaning of existence–only to find yourself in hysterics over some of the things you see there. Here’s just a sampling of the names we saw on tombstones, ranging from algae-covered boards nearly rotten through to elaborate tombs with statues and gates and stuffed animals and photos of the pets, happy and drooling as they were in life:
|Ho Hum||Hey You||Hobo|
|Tippy Boy II||Sorry Dong Dong||Moe Tillie, the Pizza Queen|
|Mr. Scott McGregor||Earl Erickson||Ted Robinson|
|Ginger II||Beloved Taffy Martini|
|Sausage of Hong Kong|
How could you not at least crack a smile?
Directly behind the pet cemetery was the Serbian cemetery. When you look through the album, watch for the picture of the gravestones with the double crosses, like a lowercase “t” stacked on top of a capital “T” with a slash on its trunk. Along the same road we found the pets and the Serbs, we also saw cemeteries for Italians, Chinese, Japanese, Jews, and boring old white Anglo-Saxon Protestants.
And of course there were the Catholics in Holy Cross Cemetery (see the two pictures after the one of the Serbian cemetery), which is where the second and third leg of the cache took us. What we found there was cooler than I could have imagined: it was a guy named Joe–you might have heard of him–and I did all but throw myself upon his monument in throes of utter awe and respect and humility. His inscription reads “Grace, Dignity, and Elegance Personified.” We wanted to play around with some of the stuff people had left on his grave, thinking that’s what he’d want us to do, but then we figured that what Joe wanted wasn’t necessarily what the cemetery security guards wanted, so we left everything untouched, although we left touched ourselves.
The third and final stage of this cache came with these instructions: Open the gate, go inside, and pick a flower. Be sure to close the gate behind you so as not to attract attention or let anything out. Um, yikes.
We followed the satellite signals and ended up at the door of the Triguero family tomb. *gulp* Ethan opened the gate and Teddy and I followed, finding ourselves inside a cramped stone box with six dead bodies (four of whom died young within days of each other in 1918). On the altar under the stained glass window was a pot of flowers. Ethan tugged on one of the flowers and they came off in a clump, revealing the contents of the cache and a very large, very undead arachnid in the bottom of the container. We took the loot out into the sunlight, looked through all the crappy stuff there for the taking, and signed the log. The last picture in the album shows me in the foreground looking constipated or something and Ethan in the background reentering the tomb to replace the cache.
Ready for visuals? Click here to open Day of the Dead. (The album will open in a new window. To get back here, just close the album window when finished.)