It’s Sunday and I’ve returned after aimlessly wandering the City. Mostly wandered the drab, yet beloved by me, Outer Avenues. These neighborhoods are home to Chinese, Irish and Russian populations and there’s a nice amalgamation of Irish bars and Russian churches, Polish delis and Chinese dim sum restaurants.
Was thinking about the time I was married…Jiri and I used to come out to the little computer shops out here and build our PCs to spec for as cheap as possible. And we would eat dim sum afterwards. Now I wander the low squat buildings, all of them with electric wires bisecting the sky in a interlaced canopy covering the whole street until you get to a pole where they all converge. It’s like so many lives, per block, humming with hidden energy, the tendrils reaching out for its needed connection. Everything mysterious, secretive.
The sky was a cold, iron bruise and no rain was falling. I was nursing another mild depression (I float in and out of these and have been doing so all of my life, so walks always help). I found Tommy’s Mexican Restaurant and I’ve always heard about this place, so I went in. It was exactly as i expected it to be, given the old sign out front. A proper old school sit down Mexican food place with a nice bar. Familes and people were scattered throughout the warm interior and a football game droned on where the bartender and two men watched it while talking about the neighborhood.
I ordered enchiladas, a constant favorite from childhood and sipped one of their famous margaritas (only fresh lime juice and agave for sweetner and Herradura). And listened to the chatter while watching the end of the Saints game. My own feeling of directionless unmooring thuding a bit in my ears. But there is something soothing in Mexican food. And soon I was eating a delicious enchilada with the red sauce I remember as a kid.
It caused me to remember this friend my father hadwhen I was growing up. His name was Stu and he was one of my dad’s flying buddies. He would come into town (from Arizona) in his Beechcraft and stay nearby at a hotel for a few days. My parents seemed to love this. Often, he brought his wife, Nancy.
We would always go out to his favorite Mexican sit down restaurant, Pancho’s over in a nearby mall. He always ordered the same thing, cheese enchiladas. He and my father were both staunch Republicans and they would while away the early evening drinking and talking about the liberals, aviation, taxes, immigrants (they didn’t like them) and all sorts of other things. My mother and Nancy would talk about shopping. I retreated into my own world.
Later, when I was older and Nancy had stopped coming on trips with him, he and I got into heated arguments. He was glad we had used the bomb on Japan and wanted to use it on other countries. I was filled with disgust at the way he spoke about anyone non-white. That night, in the parking lot of the mall where Panchos was, he gifted my father a bumper sticker. This was in the 80s at the height of the influx of the “boat people”, the nickname at the time for the Vietnamese refugees flooding into the Bay Area to escape the aftermath of the war. The bumper sticker depicted a man in a rice hat and a big red circle was drawn around the man with a slash going right across the center of his face.
They put it on the truck and had a great laugh. Years later, it finally came out, via my mother’s admission, that Stu had been beating Nancy all along. She had been hospitalized becuase of this. And when I saw her years later, after I was finished with college, she smiled when she saw me and said, “you never did like him. That was good you didn’t.” So this what I think of when I have enchiladas.
I walked home and arrived when it was completely dark. Staring down the barrel of another SF winter night. Sifting about inside myself for what to write about. Aren’t writers supposed to write about anything? What about something as mundane as a walk in the Outer Richmond and Mexican food in a Russian neighborhod.
There is a beautiful and big Russian Orthodox church just a block down from Tommy’s. Across the street is a Catholic church and day school. I, of course, am not religious and do not ever expect that will change. But I paused in front of the Russian church. It’s huge, imposing and the four domes are gilt in a beautiful reflective gold. What light was left in the sky seemed absorbed into them, almost like they created a light of their own. The doors were open and there was a throat of darkness going a far distance in and the small specks of candles flickering at the end. Occasional movement, people walking slowly hid the candles and then the flickers appeared again.
Finally, some families emerged. Older Russian woman with scarves tied over their heads. Then men with Russian looking hats. There was a beauty to them. How they emerged from this glowing on the outside, dark on the inside closed world into mine. There was some sort of tug of wanting to belong too. But also the reminder, that my sense of belonging is often skewed. It’s more to fight lonliness. And if that’s the only reason you belong to something, you’re probably not going to remain.