February 5, 2003

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cheap eats
by dan leone

Rabbit's runs

ANOTHER WEEK, another world of sorrows to drown – and I'm not even talking about sports, so, hard as it may be, dig down deep and believe me when I tell you: marital difficulties.

Now don't go getting all teary-eyed or scandalated. Everybody has them, so long as they're (1) married, and (2) difficult. It's natural and normal. Not everyone talks about it, true; and, of those who do, fewer still, I'd venture to guess, would feel comfortable publishing their problems in alternative weekly newspapers. But what can I say? The Chronicle turned me down.

I know what you're thinking. You're thinking, Uh-oh. Wait a minute. He isn't going to do this, is he? Oh, shit. Did Crawdad sign off on this? Is this cool?

Hold on. Let me go ask her ...

(Here the reader is asked to envision the second hand on a clock spinning around maybe really only one and a half times, actually, after which, we return to our narrative.)

So, did you see the Super Bowl?

Just kidding. It's cool, Crawdad says, so long as I adequately obscure the specific details. So, as much as I detest sloppy journalism, in the interest of protecting the privacy of all innocent partiers and guilty crustaceans, I will henceforth refer to the couple in question as Mr. and Mrs. Coniglio. Furthermore, any and all 49ers hat-sporting voodoo dolls with nine-inch bamboo skewers sticking out of their asses found by Mr. Coniglio in Mrs. Coniglio's box of personal letters and old photos and shit shall herewith be referred to as "a rice cake." As for what Mr. Coniglio was doing in Mrs. Coniglio's box of personal stuff to begin with, let's say that he wasn't looking for naked pictures of Mrs. Coniglio's college friends on a beach in France.

So, as you may well imagine, I was at an all-time low, moralewise, down on International Boulevard in Oakland last night, looking for a bowl of pho big enough to literally lose my head in.

Finding one was not a problem. Between Ninth and Sixth Avenues there are no less than three pho joints. I ate at one of them. I'd love to be able to tell you the name of it. I did get a take-out menu, and in fact I actually wrote down some notes on my napkin: how the fluorescent overhead lights looked reflected in the glistening beef broth, and my hat; how the outlandishly beautiful, outlandishly plastic flower arrangements hung on the dinged-up Formica walls; how the dishwasher sang loudly and out-of-tunedly in Vietnamese with the ambient music; how I felt so alone and done for; how good the soup was ...

I was going to write a review about all these things, but I can't now because I honestly don't know if it was the restaurant's fault that, a block and a half after they locked me out (closing time), my "all-time low" got suddenly a lot lower, intestinally speaking.

There was my van, on International between Eighth and Ninth, East Oakland. I live in Sebastopol. The last thing in the world I was, of course, was hungry, but I had no choice: I squirmed into the nearest restaurant, Hong Kong Restaurant, and, hopping from one foot to the other and back as subtly as possible, ordered a bowl of combination chow mein ($5.50), to go.

Then I went. I went and went.

I took no notes, but I do have some vivid memories of Hong Kong Restaurant's bathroom. The most striking detail, which was unfortunately not the first thing I noticed, was this: no toilet paper. Which is where, in this sad story, a napkin and a menu from a pho joint down the street really, really come in handy.

I apologize for everything, but especially for not being able to find a way to mention rice cakes again before the end of this column. I will say this, though: that I did get out of there, dignity intact and an extraneous order of token combination chow mein in tow, and I made it back home without running over the skunk that I almost ran over on Canfield Road. So there's that.

Crawdad came home from work a little later than I did, and she came home hungry. The chow mein was still warm, and great, she said. I still couldn't eat anything, but I had her leftovers for lunch today, and it felt really good to agree on a thing: I loved it too, even warmed-over. It had tons of stuff in it: chickens, pork, shrimps, scallops, squid ... a rice cake.

Happy Chinese New Year everybody.

Hong Kong Restaurant. 839 International Blvd. (at Ninth Ave.), Oakl. (510) 893-8880. Daily, 7:30 a.m.-10 p.m. Takeout available. No alcohol. MasterCard, Visa. Wheelchair accessible.

Dan Leone is the author of Eat This, San Francisco (Sasquatch Books), a collection of Cheap Eats restaurant reviews, and The Meaning of Lunch (Mammoth Books).