CHEAP EATS It still says Carl's on the sidewalk in the doorway because that's what it used to be, and the light from the big scripted Carl's sign used to romanticize our windows. I was on the bottom (like I like it), and then Wayway lived upstairs from me, and Earl Butter lived on top of him. So anytime any of us looked out our windows, Guerrero and 18th, that was what we'd see: Carl's.
Ten years later, Wayway, having circled around the Mission, is back on that corner, haunting my old apartment (or vice versa), and Earl Butter still lives up top. Carl's is something else. The latter-day Missionaries line up around the corner weekend mornings, and their dogs bark, and their cars block people's driveways, and horns blow, and the longtime residents of 18th and Guerrero wake up too early with hangovers and hate the world. Or at least the little section of it called Tartine. At least Earl Butter does.
I crash in his closet sometimes, and I see him in the morning looking out the window and shaking his fist or worse. Out of respect for Earl and Carl and the "good old days," I refused for years to eat at Tartine.
Then this: I get an e-mail in response to something I wrote about unisex bathrooms being like bacon to me, and this cool-sounding woman with a cool-sounding name wants to point me to a cool-sounding Web page called PISSR (People in Search of Safe Restrooms). Cool. Oh, and by the way, while she's at it, she wonders if I'm still looking for dates, and if so, would I happen to be at all interested in queer girls?
I wrote back and said, in effect, where do you eat and when do you want to go there?
Of the three places she mentioned, the only one I'd never been to was Tartine. So we made a plan — Monday, lunch — and that was the day I was cooking one of my chickens all day to say good-bye to my closest, dearest friend Carrie with. Remember?
Big dinner, four courses. So around 11 in the morning, well into Lucille Ball mode and covered in feathers, flour, and tears, I called my lunch date to cancel. First time we'd actually spoken, but before I could come to the point, I must have accidentally said something funny, because she laughed, and that was the end of it. I don't know if you know this about your favorite chicken farmer, but whether it's menfolk or the wimmins, the sexiest thing in the world to me is a good laugh. Know what I mean? You can have all your body parts. I want to hear what you laugh like.
She laughed like I like.
"I'm running a wee bit late," I lied. (I was running a lot late.) "Can we push it back a bit?"
We could! We did, and I was halfway to the city before I realized I was still wearing my apron. At red lights, in the rearview mirror, I tried to make myself pretty, plucking my eyebrows and feathers, etc.
Now, out of necessity, I use the word "date" very loosely these days. Watch out! If you're meeting me to return a book you borrowed, chances are I'm telling everyone I have a date. In this case, she'd used the word first, so even though it was a pressed sandwich to go, a short walk to Dolores Park, and sitting in the grass for an hour between cooking and more cooking, hell yeah, I was nervous.
Especially about the getting-the-sandwich part, because what if Earl Butter saw me? I had no doubt he would have opened his window and ruined everything. (He confirmed this later: he would have.)
My date was sitting on a bench out front, as planned, reading a Nancy Drew book. She was beautiful, the kind of beautiful that makes you want to run back home and take a longer bath (or in my case, a bath), put on different, cleaner clothes, do something about your hair, and read a lot more than you've read so that at least you might seem smart.
Too late for all that. Too late for any of it. I knew Earl Butter to be out gigging until three, and it was quarter till.