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July 16th, 2007


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07:00 am - Returns
As some of you may know, around this time a year ago, after the Great Police Raid Mixup, I had a serious enough of a panic attack at dinner to warrant a trip to the hospital and EKG readings and the privilege of sharing a hospital room with Frank, an assault-and-battery victim, still high and wasted, who told the police he had no idea who his attackers were, but they were those kids who always hang around outside the bar. (Frank also decided at one point that it was a great time to light a cigarette while in the hospital room, which sent all the nurses a-running in, hollering "Jesus, Frank! There's oxygen tanks in here! You wanna blow us all up?") This userpic was actually taken that night: I was released from the hospital around 3 AM and Lynn drove me to the 24-hour CVS in Porter to fill the initial prescriptions. Well, there wasn't much else to do while we waited, so we went out and looked at the ghastly plaza they'd just put in around the shopping center.

The upshot of all this was that I got some very interesting medication, some which I took briefly, and eventually, some that I'm still taking today. There was a lot of touch-and-go over the next six months regarding types of drugs and amounts, but the doctors figured all that out. The nice thing about it was that I no longer feel totally overwhelmed when I ride crowded Red Line trains, and I can actually get out of bed some mornings.

But alas, with every ordeal there comes sacrifice, and this story is no different. The dinner I was having at the time of the attack was my favorite meal: a big bowl of pho, that tasty Vietnamese beef noodle soup and I was having it at my favorite pho restaurant, Pho Vietnam, on the corner of Stuart and Kneeland Streets in Boston. I remember getting up to pay the bill and staggering, almost drunkenly, out the door and somehow I made it to Downtown Crossing and got on the right train and rode all the way home. I discovered myself lying face down in bed with a cellphone leaning against my ear and Lynn saying "I'll be there in five minutes. Put your shoes on."

Since then I couldn't return to Pho Vietnam. I couldn't even bear the thought of pho, no matter where it came from, and even when I'd stopped re-living the feelings and memories of the panic attack whenever I thought of the soup, I still wouldn't give it consideration when pondering where to eat. It wasn't a conscious decision on my part -- "Do I wanna go back for pho? ...not tonight." It was more of the fact that well, the option had just dropped off the list entirely. This was a shame, for Pho Vietnam's pho was the best pho I'd ever tasted, and cheap besides. I don't know what it was about their ingredients, or their special blend of star anise and other spices, or maybe it was because their beef was fresh and always served rare -- or maybe even raw -- in the steaming hot soup so they cooked while you fiddled around with your chopsticks, sriracha, bean sprouts, and lime, stirring the noodles around and enjoying that amazing smell. There were at least three other Pho restaurants in a two-block radius. The fact that I eschewed them all in favor of Pho Vietnam, not even to "cheat" every once in a while, is a testament to the fact that they made damn good soup.

I ate there at least once a week, usually on Fridays because it was a lovely way to start the weekend. However, I'd also go if I'd had an especially tough day at work, which back then was quite often, because there was nothing better than knowing if you just waited these last 90 minutes out, coloring in one half of a square on your notepad every 30 minutes to give yourself encouragement, there'd be a delicious bowl of soup waiting for you. I got to know the servers, young adults who more often than not sat at their own table in between orders, texting on cellphones and gossiping in a language I don't understand. Eventually I became enough of a regular that they knew what I wanted the minute I sat down. There was no need for a menu. I often left $5.00 tips on a $10.00 meal... well, hey, it was totally worth more than $10.00. The restaurant did not want for customers; I had clandestine dates there (and you know who you are), I often saw theatre folk eating on the cheap there, sometimes from the improv group up the street, I saw art school kids ask for -- and receive -- permission to film a few scenes of somebody's project in the restaurant while the rest of us supped. The scene involved an argument of some sort. I pointed out-of-town friends in the direction of the place, and was tickled when they confirmed that yes indeed, it was delicious pho. I came back week after week. And then I disappeared.

It took several months for me to even think about trying to soup again. And when I did, it wasn't at Pho Vietnam, but at Pho Pasteur -- now "Le's" -- in Harvard Square. Unfortunately, whether it was still my brain or the admittedly obvious decline in that restaurant's quality in the past few years, or both, but the soup just didn't do it for me. It didn't have that taste, that special taste which meant "This is pho and boy howdy, is it delicious." I chalked it up to not-ready-just-yetness and thought about when I might be able to go back to Pho Vietnam and exorcise them psychological demons.

Turned out, Sunday was the day. Nearly a year after I'd had my Unfortunate Incident, I decided you know what? It's time to get that pho. Hopefully it'll taste better than Le's, and hopefully I will fall in love with it all over again. I left work at a jaunty pace (well, brisk, really; the storm clouds overhead looked menacing and there were intermittent sprinkles around) and headed for Chinatown. I neared Kneeland Street and was amazed by the complete removal of the entire block that the Gaiety Theater used to occupy (after the Gaiety went, there was still the matter of the forever-closed Joke Shop and its ilk next door. Gone.) Wow, I thought. Lotta change to the area.

Pho Vietnam was shuttered when I walked up. Strange to be closed so early on a Sunday. There was a piece of paper in the window. Ah, now it all made sense to me. They'd closed one time last year due to "No Hot Water", which indicated to me either a problem with the main or with their utility bill. I wondered what amusing reason it'd be this time.

The sign said "RETAIL PROPERTY FOR LEASE - CALL THIS NUMBER." I peered in. The place was completely stripped. All that remained were the walls and the checkerboard floor. The lease ads were plastered on every window that hadn't been shuttered over. No signs thanking customers for their patronage, and no (hopeful) signs pointing customers in the direction of a new location.

Gone. It was gone. Pho Vietnam had closed for good. I was too late.

I have no idea how late I had been. Didn't feel like asking any of the locals. Don't want to know, really. Don't care to know why or how or any of that. All I know is that a year ago, I disappeared from the restaurant and a year later, the restaurant returned the favor. That's all that can be said about that, except that now I'll never get to enjoy another bowl of their delicious soup.

I didn't quite know what to make of the whole situation, except for that's what happens. Things come and go -- restaurants, movie theatres, amusement parks, people -- and rarely do you get the luxury of knowing that your last experience is your last, so make it count, say goodbye, farewell, and Godspeed.

I have a similar story involving one September day at Holyoke's Mountain Park in 1987 when I finally conquered my fears, rode the Mountain Flyer roller coaster and fell in absolute love with it. I stayed on the ride for the rest of the day, getting in as many rides as I could before we had to go home: front seat, back seat, middle seats, hands up, hands down, eyes open, eyes closed, hands up middle fingers extended (hey, I was 12, ok?), you name it, my brothers (who ended up spending the rest of the day on the ride too) and I did it. Mountain Park closed for good that winter, and I never got to ride that damned thing again. But at least I could say I had, and that I'd loved every second of it, and it's what compelled me to make sure I sought out old parks and rides to enjoy them before they, too, were Gone For Good. My farewell to Pho Vietnam involved what I thought at the time were symptoms of a heart attack and a hasty retreat and I'll never have the chance to put things right in that little card catalogue entry in my head.

Things come and go. That's all there is to it. Forget it, Spatch. It's Chinatown. You move on with your memories, good or bad. Maybe I'll find some better soup someday. Alls I know is after making the sad discovery, I went elsewhere to have a sandwich.

(18 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:ruthling
Date:July 16th, 2007 12:33 pm (UTC)
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Your writing always astounds me, so good! This is fascinating. Sorry about your restaurant, goes to show how I never went there (I prefer the Pho Pasteur across the road, which has only gotten bigger), that I didn't know they'd closed. Hope you find that special wonderful taste somewhere else.
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From:derspatchel
Date:July 16th, 2007 05:05 pm (UTC)
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Thanks for the kindwords. The Pho Pasteur on Kneeland Street "broke off" from Le's chain a while back so perhaps I ought to go in and try theirs at some point. I didn't feel up to it last night, that's for sure. I wasn't exactly thrilled with Pho Hoa, regardless of the graffiti around the place. The third one I can't remember the name of was decent enough, and I enjoyed watching one American regular learning Vietnamese from the servers (he wanted to know how to say "Happy New Year") but at the time, Pho Vietnam was still just around the corner, so I kept returning.

Hmm.
From:ruthling
Date:July 16th, 2007 05:19 pm (UTC)
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That Pho Pasteur has been my favorite comfort food/quick dinner since my sweetie started working down that way in 2000. I will even sometimes make the hike from State St. for lunch. Then again, I'm a vegetarian and so have not actually eaten the pho.
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From:davidglasser
Date:July 16th, 2007 01:39 pm (UTC)
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Wow. I'm sorry to hear about your loss. (It sounds strange saying that about soup and not a person, but... not really.)

(And I'll echo ruthling about your writing ability... I'm often struck that it's a shame that your writing only gets to be appreciated by your friends on LiveJournal; I think you could potentially touch a much broader audience.)
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From:ron_newman
Date:July 16th, 2007 02:11 pm (UTC)
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I agree with the above two commenters. (And what was the Great Police Raid Mixup? If I knew at the time, I've forgotten now.)
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From:derspatchel
Date:July 16th, 2007 04:35 pm (UTC)
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Oh, around 1:00 am on the morning of July 1st last year, three cops came a-visiting, acting on outdated phone information from Verizon. The police had received a call from a disturbed gentleman claiming he had a gun and was gonna hurt himself and others; Verizon looked the number up and said it was a landline attached to our address. Funny thing is, we hadn't had a landline for over a year at that point and when we had, it was RCN.

As it was late and both house occupants were asleep behind closed doors (I had a fan going on in my room too) we did not hear the doorbell ring nor the knocking on the front door two stories below. Acting on the assumption that there was possible homicide being committed right then and there, they gained access to the basement, came up our back steps, kicked down the kitchen door, and proceeded to check the rooms.

My housemate heard them first, woke up while they were tromping around downstairs, and hid in her closet, calling 911 on the cellphone. What a surprise she got when she was eventually told "Don't worry, it's the police." Meanwhile, in my room, I had my hands up, denying I had ever heard any of the names that the police were giving out, and asserting that we didn't even have a landline. I was also not quite in a state of modest dress, considering the sweltering evening.

Once the police realized oh gee, maybe we got the wrong house, we wanted Tuttle, not Buttle, they became civil and proceeded to show us exactly how they gained entry -- every single step -- and that each step was also relayed to HQ on public record. The door was esmashed beyond repair, so we had to keep asking the landlord to put a new one in. Thankfully it was an internal door.

Anyway, I didn't sleep at all during that month. I've been told since that I pretty much had post-traumatic stress disorder (constantly replaying the events in my head even if I didn't want to, trying to reconstruct all I had seen, heard, and felt, and just plain getting flashbacks) and, come August, everything all just caved on in.

I don't know if the city ever recompensated our landlord for the door. I didn't want to pursue the matter further with the city or the police department. As far as I was concerned the real problem was with Verizon, and good luck getting them to admit anything. I had no money, time or patience to yell and scream and stomp. I just wanted to go to sleep.
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From:fancycwabs
Date:July 16th, 2007 02:42 pm (UTC)
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If you were leaving weekly $5 tips, they probably couldn't continue to exist without your support. (Kidding, of course, but I'd wager you were noticed and missed. Hell, you skip a couple of days posting here and folks get antsy.)

My new jeorb put me in a Pho-free zone in Memphis, but your post inspired me to check online and Behold! Pho in Mississippi, twelve minutes away! I know what I'm having for lunch.

Also, for all the other readers in Memphis. Open a damn soup restaurant.
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From:fancycwabs
Date:July 16th, 2007 05:51 pm (UTC)
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Update: Pho in Mississippi doesn't exist, or has possibly been replaced by a pizzeria. Which is what I ended up having for lunch.
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From:campion7
Date:July 16th, 2007 04:07 pm (UTC)
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As I was sitting here reading your post, I started thinking about my mother and her beef stew.

My mother always made the best beef stew. Thick gravy broth, tender hunks of meat that were about as big as your fist, and lots and lots of veggies.

One night, we had no idea what to have for dinner and upon peering into the fridge, we discover that there were containers and containers full of leftovers. So we decided that dinner would be cleaning said containers out. (Nothing gross as anything over a certain number of days old automatically got tossed.)

We divvied it all up amongst the three of us; leftover tuna casserole for Dad (I won't touch the stuff,) leftover meat loaf for Mom, leftover pasta for me. And of course, a HUGE pot of leftover beef stew for all of us.

There was more than enough to feed all three of us, and considering my Dad's and my appetite, that's saying a lot. And it was Dad and I that polished off the beef stew.

Later that night, I remember thinking to myself that I must have eaten a bit much of that beef stew as I spent most of that evening feeling like there was a rock sitting in my stomach.

That feeling continued for the next few days, right up until I was hauled to the emergency room with uncontrollable shaking, rapid breathing, rapid heart rate, and basically not being able to see straight. It was discovered that for those few days, my pancreatic system had completely shut down and sugar had been steadily building up in my system until my body finally said, "ENOUGH! I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!"

Diagnosis: Type 1 Diabetes. As well as three days in intensive care and the rest of the week in the hospital.

Of course, my illogical brain had to link the diabetes with the rock in my stomach and, of course, link that back to my Mom's beef stew. As a result, once I got out of the hospital, I developed a terrible aversion to her beef stew. It was to the point that I could barely stand the smell of it. And when she did serve it, I would only slurp down a small bowl of it. (Mom, logical as she is, didn't take it personally.)

Fast forward four and a half years...

Mom has a heart attack and I fly home to Chicago to be with my family while she has triple bypass surgery. After the surgery, I walk into her hospital room and find her laid flat out on a hospital bed, still unconscious. She's bloated from post-operative fluid build up. There's an airway stuck in her mouth holding her lips open and pushing her tongue aside. Alongside that, a trache tube is stuck down her throat and a ventilator is helping her breathe.

In short, she looks like a corpse that is hooked up to every machine possible.

At this point, a myriad of thoughts is swarming through my head; everything from the quizzical to the morbid to the absurd. And of course in the realm of the absurd was, "If she dies, I'm not going to get to be able to give her beef stew another chance."

Of course, she's recovered and is doing so much better now.

And I've already decided that one of the things I'm going to ask for when I go home for the holidays is for her to make beef stew.

Yes, things come and go, even things so extraordinarily precious to us. And as much as I gripe about my mother, she's been in my life for all 36 years of it. These days, there are not so many people who can say that.

I never knew that the last time I appreciated her beef stew might really be the last time. Although, granted, if circumstances had dictated that that it was the last time, I wouldn't be thinking about her beef stew very much.

Still, we came so close this time around, so little things like that not things that I will be taking for granted anytime soon.

So believe me, Mr. Spatch. I understand exactly where you are coming from.
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From:bedfull_o_books
Date:July 16th, 2007 04:31 pm (UTC)
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For heaven's sake get her to write down the recipe. Really. Even if you don't cook, even if you have to watch her and take notes. It's like getting a part of them back when they are gone.
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From:derspatchel
Date:July 16th, 2007 04:49 pm (UTC)
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I was going to say that. Watch closely and take the recipe with you. You have the chance. And whenever you cook it for yourself, you'll have the memories to savor along with the stew.

If I knew the recipe behind that pho, the Secret Ingredients (ok, love, but what else?) by golly I'd learn how to make stock from scratch and cook that stuff up. I'm supposed to be making my stock from scratch, anyway, seeing as how I'm still supposedly the sous chef at the Wellsburg Grille (long story, impostor fun)
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From:chanaleh
Date:July 16th, 2007 04:53 pm (UTC)
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Oh no!!

I loved it the time you took me there. And all this year I've been watching your occasional self-reports on the pho-bia, hoping that it would eventually go down so that pho could be restored to its rightful place in your arsenal of happy-making things. :-/
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From:derspatchel
Date:July 16th, 2007 06:33 pm (UTC)
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That was a great meal. Weren't you with me when those kids came in to shoot their scenes? That's what I liked about the place. It was in just the right spot for interesting watching.
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From:derspatchel
Date:July 16th, 2007 05:58 pm (UTC)
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I also measured by the 15-minute block, but that was only under Extreme And Dire Circumstances.
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From:derspatchel
Date:July 16th, 2007 06:50 pm (UTC)
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tikva once send me voice mail as she was standing by the Storm Runner's launch track.

"Hear that?" she said. "That was the sound of 48 people simultaneously crapping their pants!"

My retinue of coaster pic shenanigans consists mostly of either reading a newspaper (Knott's Camp Snoopy) or doing the Mark McKenzie Patented Double-Knuckle-Biting Look of Fear, which always gets a laugh.
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From:cursethedark
Date:July 16th, 2007 10:09 pm (UTC)
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I've got a keychain picture of me taking a bite out of my friend's head from a ride at Valleyfair.

On that same ride, one guy pulled up the front of his shirt over his head, then held his arms up. I still laugh at that one.
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From:derspatchel
Date:July 17th, 2007 03:00 pm (UTC)
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I remember one family trip to Disney World in which my brothers and I realized they took your picture at the end of Journey Into Imagination and then displayed still frames of the cars going by on a big screen a little later on (as opposed to having the picture sold to you for $17.95 in commemorative frame, so you know this had to have been the 80s when they had different ideas about how to drain your wallet dry.)

So we rode the ride again, and when we got to the picture part, we staged a terrible fight. I put my littlest brother David in a headlock and cocked a fist while Ryan reached over from the back seat and strangled me.

It was wonderful, that sight of watching that screen later on, watching the procession of cars full of smiling, waving tourists suddenly interrupted by a car full of Ma Parker's Boys engaged in one of our favorite pastimes: beating the snot out of each other. We got Stern Looks from the ride ops upon disembarking, even though we emerged from the ride looking and acting like Perfect Angels.

Now I kind of wish we'd had the opportunity to purchase the picture in commemorative frame for $17.95.
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From:campion7
Date:July 16th, 2007 07:43 pm (UTC)
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*sigh* Dammit, Spatch. Now you've got me thinking about every other close call in my life.

/me orders self not to reach through the computer and fwap Mr. Spatch. :)

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