My husband’s out of town on business. He’s in Seattle, where I just flew in from on Sunday. Today is Wednesday, and he’s gone, and our friends who were in town from Boston left at 2 this afternoon to go camping in the redwood trees north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I had my night all planned out, planner that I am: Call Papalote, the Mexican place two blocks east and order my usual, pick it up, take it home, eat, shower, read, watch a documentary in bed and fall asleep on the crest in the middle of the mattress, the place where neither Zack nor I sleep, the place that has not been worn down.
But I took the dog for a walk around 5 and it was so pleasant to be outside, around people, and I had spent the last three hours working on my computer alone at home. So I decided to take myself to dinner instead of taking dinner to myself. I dropped the dog off at home, did some more work on my computer, and then left the house for dinner with myself. I was wearing the jeans I wear when I feel a little too much to fit into my normal jeans, a gray T shirt, a gray sweatshirt from Target, and a black Patagonia vest. My hair was back in a bun, which, despite magazine imperatives to the contrary, will never look “smooth!” or “frizz-free!” because I have thin hair prone to fly away from my skull right around the hairline. The thought of showering and then going to dinner crossed my mind, but it seemed like too much work.
The two blocks down to Papalote are downhill from our house. Sometimes, I wonder if I could lay down on the ground, horizontal, like a sausage, and have someone push me and then I might just roll, roll, down 24th Street, until I neared my destination and put my hands out and picked myself off the ground. This was on my mind as I walked past couples, past schoolgirls out of volleyball practice, past one loud homeless man yelling “THANK YOU!” It took about five minutes to walk to Paplote; I imagine it would take two minutes at most to roll. I may never know.
They’re known for their burritos, but my usual order is chicken molé tacos (2), with avocado. Not super style, which includes guacamole, sour cream, and something else—maybe pico? I just add avocado, and I roll my eyes every time my husband makes his burrito super. How much more do you need to add onto a burrito that already weighs a pound? But he wasn’t there tonight, so that question was off the table.
The table was in the back corner of the restaurant, and I took my plastic number “66” to sit with me. The table had three chairs, and I was only one person, but it wasn’t so crowded that I felt bad about sitting there instead of one of the communal tables in the middle. I had ordered a Negra Modelo, which was a stupid decision when there were Modelo Especials in the same fridge, but that thought came too late. I had gotten two books in the mail the day before—Leslie Jamison’s The Empathy Exams and Witold Rybczynski’s Home: A Short History of an Idea. I brought Jamison with me to dinner, cracked it open, dipped a chip into creamy salsa, sipped from the aluminum-necked bottle. “My job title is medical actor, which means I play sick. I get paid by the hour.” I underlined the second sentence. I checked Facebook on my phone.
The molé tacos are out of this world. I tried to make them once at home, but they were not as delicious by half, so I haven’t tried again. The chicken is so tender, and it is hidden by a small mountain of lettuce and fresh tomatoes and, in my case, avocado. This mountain is so big that I always wonder whether someone forgot to actually put chicken on the tacos, whether, in fact, this is just a mound of fruits and vegetable on two flour tortillas, but the chicken is always there. The salsa is creamy, famous—it’s sold at our neighborhood Whole Foods and other San Francisco stores that sell wares made by local restaurants. I don’t put the salsa on the tacos, but I alternate bites of chips with bites of chicken. The avocado always goes faster than I mean for it to. I can’t help it; I’m greedy with avocado, even when it comes to myself. My present self cheats my future self out of more. When you order the tacos for pickup, they come side-by-side wrapped in foil, and I put them on a plate at home and eat them with a fork and knife. I eat them with fork and knife at the restaurant, too, but this time they come with a bunch of jicama at the top, which I think is strange. Jicama reminds me of high school, of my friend Steve’s mom, the only person I can ever remember saying “jicama” in our small corridor of suburban Illinois. I said “shit” in front of Steve’s mom once, when I burned my hand on a pan of brownies, and she never really liked me after that.
I eat the tacos and try not to eavesdrop too much on the conversation next to me, the man telling another man he’s sorry to be late and also he’s sure he has an idea for the next big startup and also don’t you think Mark Zuckerberg is an asshole? I don’t have an opinion about Mark, but it’s easier to listen distractedly than to read distractedly. I’ll pick up the book at home, I tell myself, and drain the Modelo. I’ve eaten the molé tacos; everything except for the actual taco. Subtracting the carbs from the tortilla gives me room for the carbs from the chips. It’s just good math. The dark blue ceramic plate still holds its full share of jicama, and now the detritus of my tacoless tacos.
Next door, at the convenience store, I take $100 out of the ATM, plus a $2.25 fee. I need $85 to pay the cleaning lady tomorrow morning, and I don’t have five dollars, so I go inside the store and buy one bottle of Racer 5 IPA. The top of the bottle says it’s 229 cents, but when I get rung up the man quotes me two dollars and twenty-five cents. I’m buying a beer to make change for my cleaning lady, I think to myself, and get angry with myself for being such a San Francisco stereotype, for being a woman who employs another woman to clean my house when I could really do it if I wanted to, for not being Leslie Jamison and writing award-winning novels when I’m 26, which was two years ago.
On my walk home, I follow a couple walking a dog. The dog looks like a small goat—black, coarse hair, agile legs. It is not a goat, but for a moment I convince myself that it is, and I want to call my husband and say, Zack! I am walking home behind a goat and I am not a great writer but I am trying! I am not sure who I am, but I am walking behind a goat and isn’t that funny! But it’s just a dog.