Thursday, June 20, 2013

Fantasmas de San Francisco: Red Café

This is my favorite breakfast joint in the Mission. Since I never repeatedly went to this restaurant while I lived in San Francisco, I almost always order the same thing: chilaquiles. They’re the best I’ve ever had. Mi papito swears they taste like ones made in Chilangolandia. If I’m feeling indulgent, I’ll order a side of their grubbin’ casamiento to complement the chilaquiles. (Thank you, Carlisle, for introducing me to this place, and this yummy side dish.)

But The Red Café didn’t make it onto my list of fantasmas en San Pancho because of its food. Over the past four years, I have an evolving history there. A most cancerlicious one.

Shortly after I was diagnosed, I met there with my friends Judy and Carlisle. I had shared The Bad News with them a few days before. They wanted to see me as soon as they could. I remember sitting in a booth with them one weekday morning. Once I gave them a quick recap of my prognosis, I told them I was going to personify my disease. I was going to call my mortal adversary Mr. Hodgkins. To my delight, they thought it was cute that I chose to personify my disease. We laughed in our booth while we imagined what Mr. Hodgkins must be like. Though it was an unusual conversation, not one you would want to have with anyone, I am grateful that together we were able to create some light-hearted fun about my dis-ease. And I felt grateful that my friends cared. I knew I would need all the love I could get then.

A few weeks later, I returned to The Red Café with my parents after our first visit to my oncologist. I seethed in our booth, glaring off at a spot above my parents’ faces. They sat opposite me. I was fucking pissed they had to sit through a meeting scheduled for 9:45 a.m. that didn’t start until an hour later and then dragged on and on, well past noon. I was pissed because my stomach was grumbling—and I imagined my parents were hungry, too. I was pissed because now I had to rush to make it to school on time. I felt like a huge burden to my parents. And it was all my fault although I knew it was not my fault I had gotten lymphoma.

For a minute, I couldn’t say a word to them. What could I say to them after such a meeting? (Gee, who wants a drink? HAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAA!!!) They snuck glances at me until I shook my head and snickered and said, “I just can’t believe that I would ever in my life—let alone when I’m thirty—have to seriously consider if I should freeze my sperm.”

My mom and dad sat quietly, hanging their heads. They looked like kids getting punished for doing something wrong.

Half a year later, my parents and mi hermanita, Carmen, and I returned to the cafe. We had a much more pleasant breakfast together before heading over to UCSF to meet my Radiation/Oncology doctor. And then three months later, right after my oncologist told me my lymphoma was in remission, I celebrated by eating a chilaquile breakfast at The Red Café. I remember sitting at the counter, reading from our Fiction class reader when a stream of wonderfulness via text messages came to my phone; they were congratulatory messages from a few friends and loved ones I had texted to tell them I could add “cancer survivor” to my resume.

A month ago, my girlfriend, Maria, accompanied me to one of my check-ups at the old oncology ward. It was wonderful to return there con mi enamorada who actually wanted to know that part of my life, my past. After we received las buenas noticias that my lymphoma remained in remission (swish!), we walked through the east side of el barrio Mission to the Red Café. It had been years since I had eaten there. All those memories still wafted there. The same kind waitress who tended the counter was still there. I ordered my usual: chilaquiles with casamiento for Mari to try.

It was one of the most magnificent meals I could have ever bargained for.

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