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cheap eats
by dan leone

Sheepless in Sonoma

IF I WALKED you through all the misadventures and bad juju that added up to me and Crawdad eating dinner last night on Auto Row in San Rafael, there would be no room left at the end to say how bad the restaurant was, so, in the interest of responsible journalism, I'll tell you instead about our downhill neighbor's misadventures and bad juju, which will be more concise and more colorful while, on the flip side, having nothing to do with anything, let alone us eating dinner on Auto Row in San Rafael.

Our downhill neighbor has two sheep.

We have two sheep. But our sheep are rental sheep – which is the best kind of sheep to have, by the way. Our landlords sheer and doctor them and deduct their feed from our rent, etc., and all we have to do is enjoy their company. Same as with appliances and plumbing. Which is why whenever people say, "For what you pay in rent you can own your own place," I always say, "Yeah, but why in the world would I want to?" The relative lack of responsibility is worth so much to me I'll pay more-per-month to the death (unless Crawdad ever gets the better of me) for the privilege of renting over owning.

There's some truth to the rumor that I tend to bend this bit a little too far, especially since we left the city. There was the time last summer, for example, when I called the landlords to come and weed our garden, which was getting out of hand. And even though our chickens are by all rights privately owned chickens ... but what about our downhill neighbor?

Oh. His two sheep and our two sheep are buddies, I was meaning to say. They get together at the fence and rub heads right through it and sniff each other and gossip about this and that and grass, which side is greener, baah baah baah, just shooting shit all over the place (pretty much literally).

But there's always the fence. Right?

Well, so Sunday I'm looking out the window at my rental view, privately owned chickens, free-agent hobo birdies, etc., and then I see the downhill neighbor fly by, his side of the fence, on a loud little four-wheeler, scaring the shit (pretty much literally) out of his sheep and ours.

Then I don't see anything for a few minutes, and I forget all about sheep until they come bounding around the corner of the house, right in front of my little window: one sheep ... two sheep ... three sheep.

That's one sheep too many, folks, as a result of which I'm out cold, sound asleep, leaving Crawdad to deal with the neighbor, who, she tells me later, shows up beside himself with sheepishness and sheeplessness, not to mention embarrassment over his ineptitude. He'd been trying to round his sheep up via four-wheeler when he overrounded one of them right over the fence and into our yard. Which had never happened before, so he had no idea how to get it back. "Call the landlord!" I'd've said, but I was inside sleeping still, and anyway this guy owns his place and sheep, the poor sap. He said he'd have to wait for his wife to get home to help him figure it out.

Meanwhile, the three sheeps are having the time of their lives, romping on the same side of the fence for a change, rubbing heads, eating grass, lying on the floor in front of the TV with big bowls of popcorn, just generally fixing for a sleepover. Except that, to their chagrin and to the fourth (left all alonesome) sheep's delight, the wife gets home. Also comes along, by sheer serendipity, an old cowboy pal of theirs they swear they haven't seen in three years.

And he's good with a rope. I still don't believe what I saw – being awake again by the time the whole family and the cowboy came over. And just like in a cowboy song, he swung his rope and he swung it true, first try. Got 'er. Wrangled and wrassled poor Vanilla into the bed of their truck, where the whole family sat on her, kids included, until the wife realized one of them was going to have to drive, and drove.

The moral of the story is this: don't ever eat at Azteca Restaurant in San Rafael on Auto Row, Harbor Village shopping center (just in case you were thinking about it); or I should say don't eat what we ate: chile verde ($9.99) and grilled snapper ($9.99) in the same green sauce. I'd heard great things about this place, and maybe some things about it are great, but the green sauce tastes more like cans than tomatillos, and, even more disturbingly, the atmosphere includes a full-color framed poster of Barney. It's that bad.

Azteca Restaurant. 555 E. Francisco Blvd., Suite 20, San Rafael. (415) 485-5682. Daily, 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Takeout available. MasterCard, Visa. Wheelchair accessible.