I know what he meant. The Kung Pao chicken at San Tung isn't the usual-light brown sauced, colorful dish of perfectly squared red and green peppers. It's deep brown and complicated, the peanuts hidden, the peppers non-existent. It's wonderful.
Which is why San Tung is exploding with people and the Chinese joint across the street is empty.
After dinner, Big Chris was still hungry. "I need donuts!"
"Really? You want donuts?"
"Barry (that's what he calls Brock), look up a donut place on your internet phone."
My brother knew of a "Donut World" 3 blocks away.
I hesitated. "What if it's closed?"
"It'll be an adventure!" my companions agreed.
There was no way a trip to a closed donut store is an adventure, but I was outnumbered. We made our way to Donut World, which I was shocked to discover is open 24 hours. The boys were thrilled.
Donut World is on the corner of 9th and Judah, and the big Muni train winds right around it every few minutes. A glass case was half-filled with boring-looking donuts and stools too close to the ground lined the windows. Donut World looks like the opening of a dreary episode of the X Files. From henceforth, if I ever want to be depressed and sit in a diner in the middle of the night drinking shitty coffee and lamenting things, Donut World it is.
We made our selections and sat at the two round tables in the middle of Donut World. An elderly woman sat on a stool by the window eating a jelly donut with her coffee and staring at the trains going by. She had one of those canes with a little plastic disk on it that turns into a mini seat.
Another old lady just stood in front of the glass case of donuts, staring. She shifted side to side for an eternity, as if expecting a sign to make the decision for her. I imagined the mini-bamboo plant on the counter suddenly and mysteriously falling over and side-to-side would scream, "maple old-fashioned!"
Alex and Chris chomped on their donuts oblivious to the modern performance art going on before us.
Brock and I were rapt.
"What's her story?" I whispered.
"We don't have enough time." Brock stared down at his custard-filled bar. "I don't even know where to begin."
We finished our boring donuts and sat around looking at each other, growing slightly depressed. Donut World can do that to people. Each bite sinks you a little deeper into becoming the kind of person that sits on a stool while holding a cane than transforms into a stool.
They should call it the Black (Donut) Hole.
There was no music, no sound, no talking. We sat in silence for a moment.
When suddenly Brock exclaimed, "This place is giving me the creeps."
And with that, he stood up and stormed out. We followed him, in respectful awe of his use of his outside voice, inside, and headed back to the cars. On our way, we passed a collection of "Free" junk on the sidewalk. We knew it was free, of course, by all of the "Free!" signs taped to the junk, and included in the pile was a 6-foot folding table, a used pepper grinder and a half-filled bottle of soy sauce. Brock selected a book called, "The Doors of his Face, the Lamps of his Mouth."
"What the fuck is that?" Chris demanded.
Brock scoffed, "I'll have you know it's won a Nebula Award."
He began to read aloud as we walked, only pausing when we passed a little male porcelain acupuncture statue propped in a window. Someone had taken the time to sew a tiny loincloth, protecting his modesty.
The boys stopped and wondered what was beneath the loincloth and fought over "The Windows of his Ears, the Spoons of his Nose" and started to talk about donuts again.
And I thought, shit. They were right. This was an adventure...