by Dan Johnson
Life is a staggering tapestry of consciousness.
It stretches back millennia through history in a weave that looms existence out of the bare threads of sensation. One and all, we contribute to the fabric by negotiating an onslaught of physical sensations. Our perceptions are the base sum of a process of elimination. Every instant of waking life is an avalanche of stimuli. In the sorting, instantaneous judgments privilege certain types of impression based on 50,000-year-old grooves and dovetails inherited from evolutionarily dominant survival mechanisms dating from the Pleistocene.
Increasingly, as the fields of phenomenological psychology and existential philosophy attempt to come to grips with the topography of the fabric of consciousness, focus may be shifted from the macrocosm of species wide identity to the minutia of individual experience. What tickles our fancy? What unknown biases do we serve?
As an arbiter of so-called “low culture” I deal almost exclusively in the basic vernacular of lived experience. Though it may relate in a self-similar, fractal sense to society at large, my purview is the absolute root language of sense perception.
Cheap food and the quiet hovels that serve it belong to a neglected and often threadbare corner of the cultural spectrum where the basic building blocks of consciousness exude forth in a wellspring of creation.
Qualia—the human psyche equivalent of amino acids. These are the tiny bricks, the atomic components of every individual and collective mind. One part objective sensory experience, qualia are unique in that they necessarily include a subjective element. Though you may remember as reasonable fact the way the wind was blowing at the time of the nearby car accident, the essential pleasure of a qualia is that your near-scientific observations are tied up with layer after layer of unqualified opinion: the wind blew at five miles per hour out of the southwest and I was reminded briefly of the coming of Autumn.
Acknowledge it or not, we seek the pleasure of bewilderment. We have become connoisseurs, addicts even, in the world of sensory hedonism. The average human being alive in the west today harbors a profound and ceaseless hunger for experiences that recombine and juxtapose basic sensations in a way that staggers and rearranges our primitive sensory language to reconfigure our consciousness in toto.
It’s like the late great ethnobotanist Terence McKenna said, “In this domain of perturbed brain chemistry the cultural operating system is wiped clean.”
This goes a long way to explain drug addiction and even the fetishism attached to vinyl records—we are constantly in search of cultural otherness at an essential sensual level.
Personally, I adore these moments of utter discombobulation. In the warren of oddities and off-kilter personalities that is Downtown Los Angeles, I am more apt to shudder my qualia than your average Real Housewife of Banality. Then again, maybe not.
I can’t make any real guarantees, but I can vouch for the fact that a trip inside Bionicos Genesis on a Sunday morning is enough to shake your basic perceptions.
I would describe the juice and rotisserie chicken spot on 7th St between Los Angeles St and Main St as a potent hybrid of the Rainforest Café and El Pollo Loco. There is an experiential quality derived from blinding colors, rich textures and tropical artificialities that reek of the hellishly postmodern suburban mall mainstay. Yet, the food, the service, the clientele, the nuts and goddam bolts of the whole operation exude a potent aura of thrift.
Proceed past faux-grass hut thatch guarding juice jugs from the midday sun and you will find yourself ensconced in a world of color. Every item has a near-neon hue including the stucco walls which have been carefully grooved in long, impasto arcs of bright green that suggest the lush dip of palm fronds.
Consciousness reels at first contact—this is not natural, this should not be here, this shade of green spells danger to the ancient hunter inside my soul.
Perseverance is the mortar of evolution so I maintain long enough to broach the topic of a $7.99 lunch special that will eventually cost me $8.99 because neither party in the commercial exchange speaks a sufficient enough version of the other’s language to get by on particulars.
Empathetic smiles go both ways across the counter. Shrugs bounce on helpless shoulders. A plate is made—one drumstick, one breast, a scoop of rice and beans apiece and a tin foil mound shielding fresh corn tortillas within.
The primal pleasure of consuming the fruit of slaughter ascends into a sublime plateau with pollo this tender. The skin is crisp and browned like a brittle blanket of taste shielding the poultry feast within.
Ecstatic in its own right, the meal is but one facet of a larger sensory head-fuck. A full gallon of unrefrigerated whole milk sweats profusely on a countertop. Pan-flute covers of songs like Whitney Houston’s “I Will Always Love You” clatter out from unseen speakers. A family of softly expressive diners in church garb smiles wearily. Across the restaurant, a well-dressed Latino man slurps at a soda while eyeballing me with a look of unreserved hate. He walks to the bathroom, perhaps as an excuse to turn and sneer at me with a look of malice that bookends the weight of centuries inaugurated with the treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo.
Such hate, such taste, such sounds, such zen.
I merely experienced the tip of the iceberg. The menu is a diverse and inexplicable blend of tacos, burgers, breakfast items and juices of all varieties. Imagine the twin side dishes of cognitive dissonance and psychological disarticulation that come unique to each.
Though the meal eventually cost more than $8.72, I award Bionicos Genesis a “1” on the binary. Like the Rainforest Café, one should expect an upcharge for scenery. Further, the happy haunt deserves an unqualified “better than drugs” Zagat rating for both food and décor.
The rainforest awaits you at Bionicos Genesis, 119 E 7th St.