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The Road to a Carne Asada Quesadilla

It’s 2:30 in the morning and I’m in the back of a hired car with a greasy carne asada quesadilla in my lap. I’m firing questions at my driver like I’m Charlie fucking Rose. The subject, of course, is the Egyptian American experience. My driver looks back at me through his rear view and questions my credentials. “Are you kidding me, man?” I say. “I’m legit. Look at these eyebrows! Look at this beard!”

“My sister pays to make her eyebrows look like yours, and yours look better.”

Because I can take a compliment I say, “Shukran.”

“I can say ‘thank you’ in Chinese – does that make me Chinese?”

“Maybe. But I thought you said you were Egyptian.”

“What?”

“Never mind the Chinese — what about this beard?! I mean, I grow beards the way other people grow…” But I’ve lost my train of thought. I can’t think of anything that grows quickly except for weeds and people don’t intentionally grow weeds. Also, my goal is hyperbole and I’m not sure weeds grow that much faster than my beard. I should spend more time at Home Depot and learn about plants. And horticulture. And other stuff.

“We’re here,” he says.

Yes, but how did I get here?

I’m at the Tacos Arizas truck and I’m speaking Spanish, because, well, I can still taste it on my lips now – I’ve been drinking tequila. And the speed at which I’m speaking leads me to believe I’ve had quite a lot. Like enough to put a teenager in the hospital. Even though I’m speaking Spanish, the tequila is doing all the work. Of course my time in Spain, my degree in the language, and the years wasted translating sentences from a text book so I can learn how to say: “In the summer, I like to go jetskiing with my family on the lake” – those things might be helping.

In the end, the only thing I really say is, “I’ll have a steak quesadilla. For here please.” Here being a side street next to a Walgreens in Echo Park. Behind me are two brothers. Yes, they’re clearly brothers. You can tell just by looking at them. But one speaks with a thick Boston accent while the other has no detectable accent at all. Which might be confusing if I didn’t know these guys, but I do, so I’m not confused. Yes, we arrived here together. Now it’s coming back.

Before the taco truck: We bust into the Gold Room sometime after 1:30. I ask about the drink specials, but I already know the drink specials. Three tequilas. Three beers. Six, seven years ago, this place used to be scary. It was thick with cholos who had been pushed out of their homes, but still came back to drink in this bar where you can throw peanuts on the floor. People got murdered within a police baton’s throw of this place, but now they have Firestone 805 beers in the fridge. Adios, Tecate, Bohemia, Victoria, Corona. There’s a new lager in town and it’s crafted on California’s lovely Central Coast.

Fuck me. Of course I order a Firestone. Where is my moral compass? Why do I pine for the days when shit-faced cholos would give me and my friends menacing looks while we slurped our bargain-priced drinks before last call? Now this place is as mundane as the lines at Costco. Everybody just minds their own business.

But before that, there was the Thirsty Crow, the Black Cat, Bar Stella which actually didn’t happen, and then Jay’s Bar which did.

At Jay’s, Frank Sinatra is on the TV and Dinesh from Silicon Valley is next to us at the bar. I’m drinking mescal. The same mescal that I drank a week earlier on Balboa Island where one can buy frozen bananas dipped in chocolate and watch very blonde women go on uncomfortable first dates with very leathery men who promise jaunts on the yacht to Cabo and Cannes. I did not have a chocolate banana then or now. But sometimes I think I could drink mescal forever. Then I remember what happens to the Consul in Under the Volcano.

“How, unless you drink as I do, could you hope to understand the beauty of an old Indian woman playing dominoes with a chicken?” 

Goddamn, that is an exquisite sentence. But it’s just bleeding with insanity. The nectar of the Oaxacan gods is not to be overindulged.

Before all that, I’m on my couch with my feet up reading a review about a biography of Saul Bellow even though I don’t like Saul Bellow. Actually, I’m not sure I’ve even read anything by him. I often confuse him the guys who wrote The Swimmer or Rabbit, Run. Maybe that was Bellow. I don’t know. All I know is I’m quietly having a couple of tequilas. A tequila nightcap because it’s the day after Cinco de Mayo and the stuff was lying around. And, as of Sunday, I’ve quit whiskey again, so I might as well drink this stuff. I have one tequila knowing full well I’m going to have a second, and by the time my phone buzzes with an invite to a bar down the street, I’m on my third. I’ll go for one drink. Maybe two. I’ll be back before midnight.

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Of Avocados and Stork: A Study of Expiration

Lettuce comes from a field with an expiration date. Humans come from a seafaring bird, which is inedible and shares the same lack of a definitive expiration date as humans. Working from the premise that certain seafaring birds and humans aren’t raised for consumption and that they share the same lack of an absolute time of dismal reminds me of an individual I once met in passing at an upscale charcuterie at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. His name was Stork and by all accounts he was human.

Born in Cuernavaca during a period of civil unrest and unseasonably inclement weather, not many of life’s chips looked to fall in his favor. Stork was the towheaded son of a diplomat who by the age of eleven he could curse in four languages and woe native girls with all the charm that is afforded by living in government paid home and possessing a different colored passport. Stork is and was the Cuernavacan equivalent of all those Nordic looking folks with once government issued orders that called the Panamanian coastline home. I believe John McCain falls into that category as well.

But lettuce is not cultivated in los cabos de las huertas de Panama and Stork, now a mild mannered man of refined taste and thinning hair, has never been south of Cuenavaca. The weather never permitted and he had read every James Patterson novel up until that point, which would have been the proper reading material to make such a trip, which is not to say he didn’t want to join his brethren (in appearance) in Panama. Quite the opposite, actually. Stork spent much of his youth wondering when he would be reunited with his fellow ex-pat countrymen who his father knew well, but he had never had the pleasure of meeting although it was often assumed he was just visiting, after thirty-five odd years in the place he was in fact a resident.
Since the overthrowal of the last otherthrowers, the Stork clan rescinded their place in Cuenavacan society. To pass the years they took to watching Turkish Delight each evening as a sort of nightcap. When in season, Stork spent his days harvesting their citrus rich orchard while secretly wishing it was possible to grow rutabaga. The father Stork, long since dead from overmedicating with strychnine, left Stork a sizable fortune in the way of an almond farm in California’s central valley, which Stork frequently and regretfully pointed out, was not in Panama, but rather in America.

“There are far worse places than America,” Stork the mother offered. But Stork would hear none of it. He was no longer a towheaded boy with Slavic and Latin based expletives on his tongue. He was now an overwrought naturalized ex-pat grower of citrus, admirer of Rutger Hauer who looked as if he was never going to make it south of the only town he’d ever intimately known.

I knew all of this by the time it was Stork’s turn to pay at the charcuterie. I tried to wish him safe travels figuring it was best to flee while the cashier occupied him. “I’m sure you’ll love Panama, Stork!”

“Panama? Who said anything about Panama? I’m going to Nederland. I’m going to hunt down Rutger Hauer. I want to write his biography.”

What I learned from Stork was although humans don’t come with a neatly labeled and government enforced day upon which it would be best if they were disposed, the human mind is frighteningly similar to an avocado. While you’re fumbling around the display, cupping avocados, which have no doubt been cupped by hundreds of hands before your own, it’s best to pick blindly and without bias to appearance. Stork had the physical attributes of a healthy avocado—blemish free, not particularly mushy. But once you cut that thing open, it became apparent that what bird, man and avocado have in common is all can be rotten at their respective cores long before there’s evidence on the surface.

The Neapolitan Mastiff

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