CHEAP EATS Sockywonk came back from Florida completely bald and we sat in the waiting room at the Kaiser lab, looking at pictures. In fluorescent lights, in the hospital hum, in the stony glare of disease ... here was Florida, her Florida friends, her Florida sister, sunshine and tank tops, big smiles, water. Here was Sockywonk sitting in the haircut chair clowning for the camera, yanking fistfuls of hair right out of her scalp, waiting for the shave.
The last two things she did with her hair, when she had it, and knew she only had it for a couple more weeks, was she cut it into a Mohawk and then bleached it blond. Nowadays she wears a Davy Crockett hat with a tail, some kind of animal, and you know that I love her for this.
She took the hat off and showed me. There were lingering patches of black stubble, random and Rorschach. I put my hand there. It was warm and bristly.
I made a wish.
Once when I used to shave my head and people, including me, always wanted to touch it, I told a coworker while she was rubbing my snow dome that she could make a wish and she did and got pregnant. This was 20 years ago, more or less, in another time zone, and I can't remember the mother's or the father's name, but I imagine the child of that wish, now more or less an adult, tracking me down and appearing at my door one day with a basket of fruit or a cheese tray.
It had been cloudy and drizzly but mild all morning, and when we came out of Kaiser it was brilliantly sunny and freezing. "What do you really really want to eat?" I said. "More than anything in the world right now, for lunch."
"Soup," said Sockywonk. "Japanese."
It's not like her to be decisive and I was thrilled. Soup, in particular Japanese style, is one of my favorite things in the world. On our way to my car she stepped in one of my least favorite things. I found an old copy of the Guardian in the back of the truck, opened it to Cheap Eats, and laid it out on the passenger floor.
In Japantown Center, sucking down edamame outside of Suzu because there weren't any open tables inside, we looked at more pictures while waiting for our noodles. One of Sockywonk's Florida girlfriends is pushing 60, and looks like she's 35. There's a big house, a deck, a river. Sockywonk says something about maybe moving back there.
"Would you do it?"
She doesn't know. She's been living in a rent-controlled apartment here for 15, 20 years. Has a lot of cool and beautiful San Francisco friends too. Some of whom, if not all of whom, are bigger than her and will chain her to a parking meter, if that's what it comes to.
Here was a picture of Sockywonk flashing her boobs.
And here was our soup, finally, and oh-sweet-Jesus I have a new favorite restaurant! Not only do they have karaage ramen, which is fried chicken noodle soup, and not only are the noodles homemade and perfect, but the fried chicken comes in a separate bowl on the side so that, for slow eaters like me, you don't wind up eating sog-monster mush.
I chopsticked a crispy chunk of chicken, dipped and dunked it into the dark, salty broth, and came up with an unexpected spot of ginger hanging on somewhere, a stowaway. Biting into it was like sex, if I remember correctly. Sex, not soup; the soup I remember perfectly, almost tearfully. The most succulent, deliciousest thing you can even imagine.
Fried chicken soup. Sockywonk had a combination plate, tempura over rice, and udon soup. Oh, and we also had shrimp dumplings and they were pretty good too. But how can someone who's 60 look 35?
Chemo conks you on the head and makes you move a little slow.
Fried chicken does the same thing to me, so I had no trouble keeping step with Sockywonk on our way up the stairs to the restrooms, which of course are gender specific: one for this kind, one for that.