August 12th, 2008

abstract butterfly

golden china

I used to work in an older office building on Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles. Wilshire runs from downtown Los Angeles west to Beverly Hills and then ends up near the beach in Santa Monica. In a by-gone era, the phrase "Wilshire Boulevard" acted as a kind of metaphor for a well-appointed urban area. Now, though, some parts of Wilshire Boulevard are state-of-the-art luxury, while significant parts have seen better days. I worked in the former office of a defunct institution, in a part that had seen better days.

I used to walk a block and a half away in the mornings to buy a croissant over on Sixth Street. I sometimes bought a California lottery "scratcher" when I did--spending my one dollar in hope of winning five or twenty when I scratched out the hidden boxes. Once when I was there on a Saturday, a fellow on a nearby doorstop motioned to me to ask me if I wanted to buy crack. Crack was a big thing back then--on Friday evenings one could see the procession of BMWs and Mercedes drivers in line to buy drugs at nearby MacArthur Park, the place that was perpetually waiting in the rain that never came. I've always been in the camp that does not ingest anything offbeat, so it was a surreal thing for me to see this. I believe the times ultimately changed, the drugs of choice changed, and the trade there abated.

I had a kind of lunchtime tradition. I dined a street to the south, at a cafe whose name I no longer remember. It is affixed in my mind as Golden China. It was not the only cafe I frequented, as I remember having wonderful stew at a Guatemalan place, and capable enchiladas at La Fonda, a place wihch featured night-time mariachi and a day-time sleepy feel.

When I ate at Golden China, I always had sweet and sour. Sweet and sour pork, sweet and sour chicken, sweet and sour shrimp. A universe of sweet and sour choices. The lunch special came with a really tasty egg roll,
rice spooned on with one of those round ice cream ladles, and sweet and sour, all served on a nice porcelain plate. It was entirely predictable, and yet never boring. I perhaps had lunch there very many dozen times from
mid-1987 until mid-1992. I can taste the food there even now. I can even remember the excess of zest I felt when I had too much sweet and sour, and even, perhaps, the joy I felt when the pork tasted just right.

I rarely eat fried foods now, and in particular I do not get much sweet and sour anymore. In a Chinese restaurant I favor chicken and broccoli, ideally with a lighter sauce than the heavy soy sauce some places employ. I have not been to Golden China since the mid-1990s. When I go to Los Angeles someday, I may go there from a kind of sentimental sense of reconnection with twenty years ago. I love that sense of connection and reconnection with one's life and with the people around one. Perhaps Golden China will be there (and perhaps its name really is Golden China). Perhaps the restaurant passed on into the realm of memory.

When you buy a scratcher in a doughnut shop, there are always choices. Would you like to play Lucky 7? Did you say you want Winter Holiday? Spin the Wheel will be one dollar. Each little lottery scratch card game of chance has its own name and little "how to win" details and prizes. The odds are about the same, though, whichever game you choose. You pay your money, and you make your choice. The odds are with the dealer. In the long run, the house always wins. Yet they have fresh croissants, and cinnamon twists, and hot chocolate, if
there is the 55 degree nip of February air.

When the bill comes out for your sweet and sour lunch special number 12, it reads "$ 4.99". You tip a dollar. You go back to work a bit rested. Perhaps you'll eat there tomorrow. For a moment, you think you could eat there each day, every day. But times change. You change. Traditions change. Even your health changes.

As time goes on, I come to value modest joys and comfortable places. I like the view from the top of the
observatory in Griffith Park, up on a modest peak. In the night-time, you look out on an endless horizon of lights, of apartment buildings on Los Feliz, homes in Koreatown, small office buildings,and skyscrapers. If it is still dusk, San Gabriel Mountains are on the horizon. In the wrong part of the Summer, you see nothing but smog. If it's a very hot late December day, when the desert Santa Ana winds blow in from the east, then you see things with a clarity you never thought possible. This is your life you survey, stretching miles before and below. You live here. This is where you live. This is your Golden China.