8.72 Meat Bender

 All it took was a little taste at Won Kok ... and the meat bender began. Photo by Dan Johnson.

All it took was a little taste at Won Kok ... and the meat bender began. Photo by Dan Johnson.

by Dan Johnson

It began with a momentary indiscretion hastened by poor judgement and a lack of choices.

I walked into Won Kok at Alpine St and New High St with every intention of keeping my pescetarianism intact.

Now that I think of it, I was already in a precarious position given that the choice to cut meat out of my diet was hedged with a willingness to create exceptions to the rule: fish, eggs, spare ribs from a friend when it’s just one and they’re grass fed.

It was only a matter of time before the dietary house built on proverbial sand detached from the bedrock of discipline and careened downhill into oblivion.

I never intended to arrive here in the world of masticated morality. I was raised an omnivore. We didn’t have the food pyramid. We had the culinary equivalent of a megalithic site where cursory carbs and vegetables were arranged in concentric rings around the central altar where we worshipped slab after slab of dead and preferably smoked meat.

Then last summer I stumbled into Richie’s Café and Grill across from the prison where a quick 8.72 became a dalliance into vegetarianism lite after the astounding shittiness of the hamburger gave me pause.

I don’t particularly care about the lives of consumable animals. That may offend you and that’s ok. I respect everyone’s right to empathize over things I don’t give a shit about. Maybe one day chickens and cows will evolve thumbs and a predatory instinct. Then we’ll really see how we measure up against them in the grand scheme of life. Until then, I’m fine with the fact that they die so we can eat.

I enjoy foregoing the taste of flesh because it’s a gift you give to your colon. You just feel better. Yet, anyone who has ever switched teams from the omnivores to the veggie lovers will tell you that you’re fighting an uphill battle against millions of years of genetically transmitted programming.

Sometimes those urges are stronger than your 21st century peccadillos and pretensions. Today, for instance. I had every intention of packing myself with Chinese-American quick cuisine while also satisfying my meatless agenda.

Then I found myself facing a meat-festooned menu of baked buns and dumplings stuffed with pork and chicken and served at under a dollar apiece. There were rules, sure. I could snag a shrimp dumpling and leave with my dignity intact. Unfortunately, I have grown weary of shrimp: the dingle berries of the sea.

I began asking larger meta-questions about the morality of shrimp itself. Is shrimp fishing sustainable? Are we not also decimating the ocean food chain when we pack these little hook-shaped turds into our guts? Is the Fukushima radiation scare real? Am I about to have a beryllium cocktail?

I threw caution to the wind and ordered up two BBQ pork baked buns, two egg rolls and a sesame peanut bun. What could go wrong?

 Various Chinese meat-filled delights from Won Kok sent the author spiraling into oblivion. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Various Chinese meat-filled delights from Won Kok sent the author spiraling into oblivion. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Cut to ninety seconds later when I was outside jamming a Chinese sloppy joe in my face from a makeshift placemat I’d fashioned out of a hastily ripped paper bag flattened on a bird shit covered newspaper box. Verdict: pretty great!

Anyone who’s ever made fun who dutifully trudge to overeaters anonymous meetings can get bent. Food is as legitimate an addiction as anything else. It will make a junky out of anyone it can.

I didn’t appreciate its compulsive pull until the meat began to enter my bloodstream. I was suddenly overcome with the knowledge that I’d only spent $4.40 of my $8.72 and maybe there would be someplace else I could fold into this week’s post and maybe that place would have meat and maybe it would be good meat and even if it wasn’t I could still write about it that way. Right? RIGHT???????

After another sudden jump cut, I regained consciousness in Philippe’s where I found myself kicking sawdust and complaining loudly to someone I didn’t know about the sheer quantity of saps lined up in front of us to eat a historic sandwich. “Fuck it,” I opined loudly as I exited through a door I first attempted to pull open even though it was clearly a push.

Still flush with coin, I proceeded to Placita Café across from the Chevron at Main St and Cesar Chavez Blvd where the sandwich board sign out front promised a “Small Mexican Burrito” for $2.50. Count me in!

So what if meat tastes like fear? Ipso facto, fear is delicious. I wish more vegetables experienced terror. Then maybe I wouldn’t have been jonesing like a crystal freak on the 30th of the month for lack of the sweet fear my taste buds have come to associate with divinity.

The pork buns were really making their presence known in the larger chemical sphere of my brain. Meat took over. The landscape shifted. Aesthetics failed. Scenery was suddenly less important than a location’s capacity to serve me meat.

Meat. Say it. Meat.

 Meat. More. Meat. Photo by Dan Johnson.

Meat. More. Meat. Photo by Dan Johnson.

The woman who delivered the small burrito to my table was lucky she let go when she did otherwise she’d be nursing a stump right now where her hand used to be. I devoured that slab of beef and cheese.

If memory serves, I practically levitated over to Olvera St on a mistral zephyr of dead cow. I was drawn instinctively to Cielito Lindo because it’s been around since 1934 and because I’ve always wanted to eat there and because it’s only two crosswalks away and because GIVE ME THE GODDAM TAQUITOS.

I don’t shout at the man, but I wanted to. Like all pushers, he was treating me with the level of disdain I deserved. Ordinarily the outright scorn would be a problem. The flippancy with which he snatched the five spot out of my hands. The haphazard way he tossed my change on the counter. The way his partner in crime slapped down two taquitos on the glass and said “there” as if he were feeding a stray dog.

I was halfway to saying some real shit about him and his mom, but every time I tried to form a word, I couldn’t because I was already fifteen feet away with a deep-fried beef taco in my mouth.

I was peaking. I could feel it. The world was a haze of pleasures hidden behind a veil of animal protein. Nothing could touch me. Not the green sauce on my shirt or the shredded beef strands between my incisors and canines. I was fifteen feet tall and immortal!

This pudgy little kid with a “Dude Where’s My Data” shirt and a fidget spinner started going table to table asking where he could get free water. I didn’t even snap at him, I just gave him the stone cold Jurassic Park where I sit completely still and pretend he’s not breathing his filthy sixth grade T-rex miasmas on me.

Then suddenly I was in the Avila Adobe looking down the locked staircase at a section of the zanja madre envatted in plexiglass twenty feet below. I turned to leer at some tourists before saying something pithy about water that horrified them because they didn’t speak English and the person jawing at them was some bestial, meat-drunk caricature of a person who freely admits that he is already a caricature of a human being.

I was initially dismayed to discover how much money I’d spent, but you can’t really put a price on a dead animal afterglow until the moment that protein halo dissipates. In my case, that instance of reason arrived mere minutes later in the Plaza where I was stupefied by the absence of the pan flute virtuoso who plays Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.”

The whole thing felt profoundly unhealthy. Regret is as much an undue burden as is the quick trek home to pound compensatory fiber and glasses of water.

This is not an indictment of meat. This is a criticism of someone who really enjoys meat but denies himself to a point where he is overcome with the urge and means to consume ungodly quantities of street-quality meat then hates himself for it.

Maybe a little less stricture and more compromise is in order. Vegetarianism is a gift to the self and the world at large. Then again, so are stomach enzymes that allow you to eat meat without getting incredibly ill afterwards.

Meanwhile, Won Kok, Placita Café and Cielito Lindo all get a “1” on the binary. Also, I have chosen to award the fidget spinner the coveted “lobotomy of the summer” award. I would say good luck running the world to a generation entranced by ball bearings and cheap plastic, but my generation doesn’t exactly have legs to stand on in the good political judgement department.