You may belong to L.A.’s great brotherhood of taco eaters
huddled around trucks late at night.
You munch still-muddy radishes to sweeten your breath,
but the stink of onions and garlic and cilantro and pig flesh
will haunt you like a friendly ghost for days.
When we’re hungry, everything tastes good
Hunger is the best spice.
Pico was where I learned to eat
I saw my first punk-rock show on Pico,
was shot at, fell in love, witnessed a knife fight,
took cello lessons, raised chickens, ate Oki Dogs and heard X, Ice Cube, and Willie Dixon perform (though not together)
When this dining room was Tiny Naylor’s
my mom used to take us here for patty melts
when she didn’t feel flush enough
to spring for the onion rings across the street.
You could drive by the restaurant 300 times
without ever being tempted to stop.
You dump your Lexus off with the valet,
march down a breezeway.
It looks like the path to Thunder Mountain at Disneyland.
You walk past a watery ditch lined with shattered rock whose cracks ooze green light.
You are led to an elevator in the rust-colored steel structure.
If you spend much time watching period Asian movies,
you will remember scenes of dark inns,
a crew of women tending an ancient grill,
prodding battered cookpots licked with yellow flame.
Their interiors resonate with dark wood and leather,
stone and iron, surfaces oozing water and flame.
Like the fifth level of any first-person shooter
You never know quite whether to order a Dirty Martini
or to search the ground for a pulsing golden key.
It is time to go down into the dining room.
The minimalist soundtrack,
which sounds like the part
where the icebergs float by in a National Geographic film.
If you try to muscle your way toward a seat
that may not officially belong to you,
a stooped Chinese woman will cut you off at the knees.
A waitress will try to sell you a third or fourth martini.
The skull of Simon Le Bon splats on your forehead.
His brains trickle down your cheek like warm yolk.
I wave toward the canapé,
telling him that I had always considered truffle oil
to be the Heinz ketchup of the overbred.
Traditional dishes are more austere
than what used to be served,
possibly because of the seediness
radiating from the adult-video store next door.
Ghost-white Kobe beef grilled to a crisp-edged liquid succulence.
A foil-wrapped construction the size and girth of your forearm
drapes over a paper plate like a giant oozing sea cucumber.
The bare hint of sweaty afternoon sex in the scent of a juicy midsummer melon.
This is the first of many flowers you will see tonight.
You will recognize none of them.
What will happen is
that your date will suck up the last of his or her Jolly Roger Bowl
and carve your initials in the booth.
You hear the occasional lonely moan of a train whistle
from the tracks that run a few blocks south of here.
It seems exactly right.
As if you are eating your lunch
at some railroad-station restaurant
a hundred miles in the countryside.
And it is hard to avoid feeling that everything
is pretty all right in the world.