Cesars is our let's not cook or drive anywhere far dining choice. It's a tapas bar on Shattuck that we always seem to end up at on Mondays. Since I am not so fond of Mondays, I think of Cesars as the bad Monday place while Linda thinks of it as the good pour place because they make a good Mojito.
I told Linda that the whole kidney experience had got me thinking about things.
"Well," she said while she paid close attention to the bar tender, "it should get you thinking."
We talked of Joe, our friend who'd crashed at the track and was in the hospital with a spinal chord injury.
"That could be anyone of us," Linda said.
"It sure could," I said.
"Maybe now I'll get my Harry Potter," Linda said. She wanted me to write a book like Harry Potter so that we could buy a house and say goodbye to our landlord who wants to rip out our kitchen.
"Perhaps," I said.
She sucked on the last of her drink then tipped water into her glass and squished the mint with her straw. I thought about my kidneys for a moment and made a vow to take better care of them. I thought about all the free time I would have now that I didn't have to train and traipse all over the central valley on weekends. I was thinking how easy it is for life to get away from you, to veer onto some course you never imagined it would. It took strength to get where you wanted to go. And clearly I wasn't strong. I was feeling pretty weak these days in fact.
"Shall we get the the fries?" Linda asked
I didn't like the fries. They reminded me of crispy brown shoelaces.
"Sure," I said.
The bartender was also the manager. He was mis-fifties, an ex-bike racer who liked to talk about how in his younger, glory, non-bar tending days, he'd go to Central Park and just rip the legs off the other guys. Every single time we went to Cesars he'd tell us this story.
I'd just put it in the 53x12 and just go, he'd say.
He'd get this wistful look in his eyes then snap out of it suddenly and say, "Getting old isn't fun, huh?"
I didn't like that huh one little bit. In fact it disturbed me so much I felt like doing a ten minute seated uphill interval right then. Maybe that was my problem. I ricocheted off people. I was a bumper car kind of a person.
I got the feeling Linda was bored with his chit-chat too and would prefer if he hobbled his old self over and made another round of Mojitos.
I think he sensed our non-interest because he pushed himself up, did an old-guy kind of double-pat on the counter with his palm. Jeez, I thought, this is a bad Monday.
"Maybe I will do the crit this weekend," I said.
"Whatever," Linda said.
I felt I deserved that whatever so I just let it hang there. I was such a mess. I sensed Linda was thinking I was a mess too, but when I looked over she was craning her neck to see where the fried shoelaces were.
The waiter, his hair gelled into a peak in the middle of his head like a wave about to curl, walked slowly with our fries so they didn't spill to the floor.
Should there be so much food on one plate, I pondered.
I thought of poor people in Africa scrambling for whatever they could find -- one squirmy maggot -- and here we were having to balance our food so it didn't fall off the plate. Surely that wasn't right. Then I started extrapolating because the bartender did give a good pour indeed and I was starting to feel it.
What if I couldn't make a decision because I had too many choices? What if i was simply a product of this food balancing society? I felt like some kind of social scientist which is what a good amount of rum does to a person.
Next to us there were a couple of regulars, a midget and an old guy with eyebrows from here to San Carlos. I kept wanting to trim them in between my deep social scientist thoughts and sips of Mojito.
Linda was hitting the fries, removing them gingerly as if she was playing a game of Pick-up Sticks. The pair next to us were talking about the latest news -- the swine flu that was killing off people in Mexico and making its swiney path around the world.
It's in Pakistan, the midget said.
Just might become a pandemic, the eyebrows said.
The midget knelt on the stool, his little feet propping him up so that he could reach his drink on the counter, some ghastly looking brown liquid in a highball glass. A real drinker's drink I thought. We weren't quite there yet. We still liked something besides booze and ice in our drink a little mint, kumquats, perhaps.
Pakistan, I thought. Didn't they have enough to deal with with the Taliban going around lopping off people's heads. Where was the fairness in the world? I lowered my hand over the fries like one of those claws in a seaside arcade and lifted a wad into my mouth.
Shall we order another Linda asked. We'd learned not to try to enhance heaven by ordering two drinks, but in light of what was going on in the world, a second Mojito didn't seem like such a bad idea. Besides, I was weak and this was a bad Monday.
Linda tapped me on the knee and nodded to a different bartender making our second Mojito. Now that's a good pour, her eyes seemed to say. The second bartender was a little guy with a square face. He held the rum bottle high above our two glasses, a steady stream of rum sliced the air.
The Flomax commercial came into my head. Do you suffer from weak flow?
We asked the bartender about one of the tapas items on the menu.
"Pickeeled anchovy," he said in a thick accent of some sort.
"Are you Spanish," I asked.
"No, Serbian," he said.
"Ah," I said because I simply had no Serbia small talk from which to draw.
I said to Linda, "I feel i should know more about Serbia. I sort of missed that whole war thing. I don't know why. Maybe I let my Chronicle subscription lapse that year."
We ordered a $15 fava bean salad that came on a plate the size of Daisy's cat dish, a manchego cheese and greens bocadillo which was my second least favorite item, after the fries, as it reminded me of lawn clippings.
"Let's get out of here," I said when we were done eating and surrounded by empty dishes.
"We better walk home," Linda said
We said goodbye to the sad-sack ex-pro bike racer and the Serbian not-Spanish bar tender and headed out into the bright late April Berkeley evening. Across Shattuck the sidewalk was teeming with people waiting for a slice of the Cheese Board pizza.
"Hey there's Sheila!" Linda said.
We'd run into Sheila and her dog about a month ago. She was a little lady with a thick mustache and glossy red lipstick. A small black dog sat by her feet. It had an incredible under bite. Shiny white fangs poking out nearly parallel to the ground. I thought the dog might be put to good use on a farm, plowing up the fields. I looked at Sheila's cardboard sign. "Donations welcomed."
Mojitos bring out Linda's charitable nature. Last year she bought a homeless lady two nights at a local hotel.
"Can we buy you some food?" Linda asked Sheila this evening.
Sheila said we could: "I'd like a whole chicken from the deli, and some of that barbecue sauce, not the little packets. Ask them for sauce in a container, not the little packets. And maybe some potato salad."
Sheila paused at this point. She put a finger to her lips. I could see her laying out the table. What am I missing?
"...and bread, I like the buttermilk bread it's $4.99, I think. Some soda too. Root beer, A&W, not the diet. I don't like the diet."
So we went shopping on our two Mojito buzz for the homeless lady with the mustache and her plow dog. When I asked for barbecue sauce the lady behind the deli counter handed me three small packets of the stuff in her gloved hand.
"No," I said, "I'd like a small container, please, not the packets. It's for the chicken." I held up the chicken steaming in its tiny plastic coffin.
The deli lady looked at the packets. I looked at the packets.
A deli standoff. No time for weakness.
"You don't want the packets?"
"No," I said. She sighed, tossed the packets aside and reached for a ladle and filled a small plastic container with barbecue sauce.
Now that's a good pour, I thought.