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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 7 — Caitlyn

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 2:  “Troubled Times”

Caitlyn

           The air had a buzz that only ignorant and loud freshman could generate when they gathered in great numbers.  Cait passed a boy with a map in one hand, phone in the other, trying to navigate the paths that veined the treed campus quad.  Cait stuck to the right so the eager bikers could easily pass, and she saw something she didn’t recognized: weird, artsy bushes spelling out the letters ‘NPTU’.

Cait hadn’t stepped foot on the south side campus in nearly two years.  She hadn’t been a student for a lot longer but she remembered where the library was.  The university encircled a small park at its center that separated the academic and residential sides, and the nearby library towered over it all.

The university library had its air conditioning on and the sweat on Cait’s face chilled immediately.  She spotted her friend working at the reception desk.  It was a slow day, and only one confused-looking girl was asking the other receptionist questions.

Eri had her nose buried in her monitor and didn’t see Cait approach the desk.

“Hey,” Cait said, “still working here?”

“Caitlyn Hash,” Eri said, not looking up.  “It’s been over a year, and you show up at my work?”

“This place is all the same,” Cait said, taking off her sunglasses.  “You’re not finished yet?”

“I’ll be a student as long as they let me,” Eri said, squinting over the monitor.  “It’s a post-grad program, if you cared—they give me a stipend.”

Cait held her hands against her stomach and looked away when her friend examined her body.

“You’re so skinny.  Skinnier, even.”  Eri eyed Cait’s hands fidgeting on her stomach.

“I’m fine,” Cait said and forced her arms to the side.  “Take a walk with me upstairs, will you?”  She glanced at Eri’s coworker, still giving directions to the freshman.  “I need your help.”

Eri asked her coworker to cover the desk and stepped away.  Standing, Eri only came up to Cait’s chest, but as an undergrad, the small Asian girl out-drank most boys.

“Well,” Eri said, “what floor?  Where?”

“2nd floor.  The art book section.”

Eri smirked.  “Shoulda guessed.”

In another minute, the two were standing amid the stacks in a deserted section.  From somewhere, a keyboard clattered, but that might’ve been the only other person on this floor.

Cait’s finger started trailing down one row of tall books when her friend touched her arm.

“It’s over here,” Eri said.  “Someone even checked it out last month.”  She slipped a book off the shelves and handed it over.  “Did you get your check last week?”  She laughed, swapping two other books that were out of order.  “Every cent counts, I guess.”

Cait wiped the book clean of dust and read the cover—Paint the Patriarchy, by Caitlyn Hash, Sara Powers, Vallerie Hart, and Eri Tsunemoto.

“I’m still pissed my name came last,” Eri said, shaking her head.

Cait grinned and opened the book to a random page.  “That was your idea.”

“Using the Life game spinner to decide was my idea,” Eri said.  “Losing wasn’t.”

The page was one of Vallerie’s pieces and the centerpiece of her published collection.  Vallerie was probably the best out of the four of them.  It was a watercolor on a huge canvas, but she had swapped the water for red wine.  Cait remembered that night well—it was a painting party, and no one expected Eri to come home with three boxes of wine.  The painting was in an exaggerated Soviet-style that satirized the blocky, masculine figures.

“You know,” Eri said, “that book is carried by like every leftist bookstore on the coast.  If you hadn’t dropped out of—”

Cait snapped the book closed.  “Listen,” she said, handing the book to her friend.  “I know you don’t anymore—whatever, that’s fine—but you know people who still use, right?”

Eri paused while restocking the book, and then slammed it all the way in.  “If you’re looking for—”

“No.”  Cait glanced around, arms unconsciously wrapping around her stomach.  “I’m trying—I’m trying to get rid of some morphine.  We need the money.”

“Caitlyn . . .”

“You know people though, right?  There’s no way Elliott and Joan quit,” Cait said.

“Yes.”  Eri crossed her arms and looked up at Cait.  “I know people.”

Cait took the nondescript bottle out of her bag and handed it to Eri.  She had been able to sell a bit more than half so far.  “Do you think you can take all of it?”

“Jesus, Caitlyn.  I don’t know if—”

“We’re short this month, and it’s due right now,” Cait said, rubbing the back of her neck.  Her sleeve came away damp.  “You know I wouldn’t ask if—”

“Christ,” Eri said, “you look—when was your last dose, Caitlyn?”  Eri tried to take Cait’s hand but she backed away.  “You’re fucking withdrawing, aren’t you?”

“It’ll pass.”

“No, you’re smarter than that,” Eri said.  She unscrewed the bottle’s cap and took out two tabs, forcing them into Cait’s hand.  “You know you have to taper.”

Cait pocketed them.

“I’ll buy them, okay?  Relax,” Eri said.  “Hell, I’ll probably make a profit.  But, can we not do the thing where we don’t talk to each other for a year?”

Cait nodded.

“You said ‘we’ earlier, right?” Eri said, a childish smile forming.  “You still living with Sidney?”

“What?”

“Is he single?” Eri asked.

“Yeah,” Cait said.  “He’s still hung on his ex, but probably won’t admit it.”  She saw the look on her friend’s face.  “You should call him—shit, I think he had a crush on you or Vallerie at one point.”

“I might,” Eri said.

She led Cait down to the lobby and outside, and they said ‘goodbye’ at the ATM, making promises to have dinner next week.

Walking off campus, Cait’s phone vibrated—it was Drew.  She didn’t answer it.  It was Monday so they were supposed to drop out tonight at his place and fuck, but two tabs wouldn’t do it.  And he’d ask questions.

At the bus stop she turned her phone off, and in less than an hour Cait had crossed the bridge and was back home in the Flats.  After she climbed the four flights of stairs her heart was racing like she had run all the way back and all of her clothes felt damp.

Sid was working at the kitchen table when Cait walked in.

“Hey,” Sid said, glancing up from his laptop.  “I’m gonna talk to the landlord tomorrow.  I thought you were gonna be at the Nurse’s tonight.”

“Don’t call him that,” Cait muttered, heading straight for her room.

“Wait.”  Sid stood up.  “Are you hungry?  I was gonna cook with Geno.”

“No,” Cait said, opening her door and closing it quickly.  Her heart still hadn’t slowed.

“Cait?”  Sid’s voice was close—he had walked over.  “What’s wrong?”

“Sid, I need—” She slumped her body against the door.

“What?”

“If Drew comes by—don’t . . .” Cait ripped her shirt off and wiped her forehead, then rubbed her body down.  “If he comes by tonight, don’t let him in.”

“Okay,” Sid said.

“Okay?”

“I’ll take care of it,” Sid said.  “I’ll be up late tonight writing e-mails, anyway.  Someone’s gotta be hiring even a job-quitter like me.  I’m gonna tell Geno that tonight’s no good.”

Cait threw open the window above her record player and turned the power on.  She peeled off her jeans and found the two tabs before throwing her clothes in the corner.  A glass of water was left next to the player and she chewed one tab before taking a big gulp and dropping the player’s needle.

She opened the closet so the mirror didn’t face her.

“Cait?” Sid called, knocking lightly on the door.

A breeze came in from the window and cooled her entire body at once.  She stretched her arms out and stood on the tips of her toes, staring at the brick wall view the window provided.

“What?” she said

“Last stop for a resolution,” the vocals began.

“Are you gonna lock your door?” Sid asked.

He wanted to check on her later, Cait knew.

She slid the bolt closed on the door and heard Sid walk away.

“I’ve got no new act to amuse you.”

Cait found an envelope and stuffed the rest of the $1,153 inside, hoping that Sid could cover the rest of the rent.  She slipped it under the door.

“If you can’t help it then just leave it alone.”

Cait stared at the lock.

“Leave me alone.”

She slid the bar back to unlock it and put the other tab and water next to her bed, trying to unhook her bra with one hand before deciding it wasn’t worth it.

“Yeah, just forget it.

It’s really easy.

I’ll just forget it too.”

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Distilled Spirits: Ch. 6 — Geno

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 2: “Troubled Times”

Geno

“I can’t tell you,” Geno said and gripped the bottom of his seat.

The 38x dodged around an idling taxi cab and threw a few tourists against bus windows, but the New Portsmouth residents and Destroyer fans were already preparing for the next double parked car.  One man in a business suit and baseball cap wasn’t holding onto anything—the bus slammed the brakes at a surprise stop sign and he only shifted his weight while reading the newspaper, changing pages.

They accelerated and a wave of momentum passed through the packed bus, all the way to the back where Geno and Glenn sat, lucky to get seats after the game.

It helped that they killed time at 18th Amendment Brewery after the Destroyers lost.

“I can’t tell you,” Geno repeated.

“Why not?” Glenn said.

“Because you’re Glenn, and there’s no limit to your Glenn-ness.”

The 38x picked up speed as it headed north through Downtown.  Very few fans could afford to live around here, and they flew by each stop and disappointed person eying the full bus.  Not too many people were waiting—it was still an hour until regular people’s jobs ended..

“It has to do with this month’s rent, doesn’t it?”  Glenn said, elbowing Geno in the side to get his attention.

There was a girl sitting across from them.  She was smooshed between two huge, overflowing fans who jabbered over her small body.  The two sounded married and Geno couldn’t guess how they managed to get separated.  This girl though–Geno recognized her.  Seen now when the bodies between them shifted—she was a young woman actually, wearing the team’s colors with a scorebook on her lap.  Her short hair barely came out of her cap.

She cocked her head when their eyes met, like she was wondering the same thing that Geno was.

Glenn poked him again.  “Sidney’s rent this mon—”

“How did you know about that?” Geno said, blinking.  A few more boarded the bus and he couldn’t see anything but faceless people.  He couldn’t even see out the windows, just catching a glimpse of buildings too large to be anywhere but still Downtown.

“Caitlyn mentioned something about money maybe being tight this month,” Glenn said.

“She’ll handle it,” Geno said.

“When has Caitlyn ever handled anything?”

“She got me a job once.”  Geno forgot about the girl, remembering a few unique weekends he once spent at other people’s houses.

“Yeah,” Glenn said, “a job as a house sitter who sang to plants.”

“There are a lot studies, you know,” Geno said, “studies that support—”

“You told me that you sang game show theme songs.”

Geno turned to Glenn—as much as he could in his seat—and pointed a finger at his friend’s chest.   “There’s very few people who know as many as I do.  If—” He recognized the look on Glenn’s face and sat back.  “You’re not going to leave me alone until I tell you.”

“No,” Glenn said.

Geno checked his phone.  They might be nearing where he needed to be.  He caught a glimpse of a Turkish restaurant he thought he knew and the number ‘2’ on a street sign.

“Okay,” Geno said.  “You know Sidney’s boss? The guy he’s worked with a few times?  Well, it turns out he’s definitely—like, 100%—a racist.”

Glenn’s mouth fell open.  “You mean that Burger Palace guy—the guy who hooked us up with free shakes?”

“Yup,” Geno said.  “Full-blown bigot.”

“And Sidney’s still working for him?” Glenn asked.  “How did he find out?”

“He hasn’t decided yet,” Geno said.  “It’s a paycheck, you know, with actual royalties this time.”

“I’ve gotta talk to him,” Glenn said.  “He knows better than to—”

Geno thought he heard the muffled automatic voice announce his stop and he stood up.  Everyone was moving, pulsating toward the back door.  He twisted and tried to see if the girl was still there.

“Listen,” Geno said over his shoulder, “this is exactly why I didn’t want to tell you.  Just let him be.  I’ll see you tonight.”

Geno wasn’t even sure if his last words were heard—as one, the passengers decided it was time to leave, and a split second before the doors actually opened, Geno was pushed forward and he spilled out onto the sidewalk.  Triple-tapping his pants to check for his wallet, phone, and keys, he turned to watch the door but it closed without letting the girl out.  Geno caught a glimpse of the seat where she had sat—empty.

Glenn smiled down at him as the 38x bolted toward a stop sign twenty feet away.

“Damnit,” Geno said, pretty sure that he would regret telling Glenn anything at all.

Geno glanced around and looked up—he was standing beneath the Horizon Lines Building, the largest building in the city, exactly where he needed to be.  He probably resembled a tourist as people streamed around him, craning their necks to see whatever he was looking at.  After another person bumped into him, Geno entered the building to get out of everyone’s way.

He was meeting one of his employers, Peter, in a cafe on the ground floor.  And Geno was only a few minutes late when he spotted Peter sitting near the windows, people watching with great interest.  After paying for a small coffee, Geno took a seat where they could both watch the sidewalk.

“See anything good?” Geno asked.

“Nah, pretty dull,” Peter said.  “A couple of cops were hassling this homeless guy for a bit.  Thanks for meeting me, by the way.”

“Was it Crazy Man Joe?”

“Who?” Peter asked.

“Nevermind.”  Geno popped the top off his coffee and inhaled deep.

“Look,” Peter said, not smiling, “I know I told you that I had this sweet landscaping job for you—”

“What happened?”

Peter closed his mouth, forgetting whatever he was about to say.  “I gave it to someone else.”

“Someone else?”

“Yes,” Peter said.

“You found another Cubo-Futurist landscaper?”

“Yes,” Peter said.

“You found another Cubo-Futurist landscaper, and they’re better than me?”

“Yes,” Peter said.

Geno blew on his coffee for a few seconds, and tried a sip.  “What’s his name?”

“S.”

“His name is a letter?” Geno said, raising an eyebrow.  “I lost out to a letter?”

“Sexist,” Peter muttered.  “That’s what she called herself, anyway.  A lot of the Russian Cubo-Futurists were women, you know.”

“I do know,” Geno said.  “Who’s her favorite?”

“Archipenko,” Peter answered.

“That’s a guy—and he’s Ukrainian.”

“Hey,” Peter said, “I’m sorry this happened, and I’ll—”

“Can I see her work?”

“What?”

“Her portfolio,” Geno said.

“. . . I don’t have it with me,” Peter tried.

Geno stared across the table.  “Yes you do.  I know you.  It’s in your bag.”

Peter just blinked back for a few seconds, taking a sip of his coffee.  Another sip.

“Fine,” he said.  “But you won’t like it.”  He reached below the table and unzipped his backpack, taking out a thin manila folder.  He slid it across the table.

“That’s it?” Geno asked, picking up the folder.  On the outside, the artist’s information was neatly stenciled in red block letters: a giant S, followed by an address and phone number.

“That’s it,” Peter said.

Geno opened the folder and there was a single sheet of paper inside.  The page was divided into 10 or 12 boxes and in each one there was a photograph of her work.  It was all over the place—a row of bushes he thought he recognized from the park, a hedge line at a large estate, a couple private gardens.  Geno closed the folder when he recognized a living sculpture outside the Destroyer’s stadium—it was a Cubu-Futurist interpretation of their Pop-Eye-like mascot.

He slid the folder back across the table.

Peter was right—Geno didn’t like it.

“I told you so,” Peter said.

Geno didn’t like it because it was better than anything he had ever done, and he didn’t know how she did it.

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Sci-Fi Undercover — Desperate Measures, Book 1 of Angel’s Luck

Title: Desperate Measures (Book One of Angel’s Luck Trilogy)

Author: Joe Clifford Faust (wikipedia)

(Official WordPress Website)

Publishing info: A Del Ray Book / Ballantine Books – 1989

Pages: 245

Cover Art: David B. Mattingly (official website)

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May pulled himself out of the overstuffed armchair and patted Duncan on the shoulder.  “Thanks,” he said.  “But maybe it’s time I looked to the one person who really can do something to help me”

“Who is that?” Duncan asked.

“Me,” May said. (p. 78)

If you took a glance at the previous post on this Joe Cillford Faust novel (or at the cover), you might have certain expectations.  I know I did.  Would it center around debauchery?  Carnal pleasures?  Vices like smoking, drinking, and choking people?  Would it be like Cheers in space–the entire book taking place in an orbital pub?

(One thing Desperate Measures does have in common with a sitcom is in the above quote: glaring, intentional wit written into characters that the reader is supposed like.)

I suppose I could have gotten a better idea of what to expect by reading the words on the front and back, but where’s the fun in that?  If I’m in a bookstore and see this cover artwork, several promises are made to the reader and unfortunately only some of them are kept.  I am happy to report, at least, that there is plenty of choking . . . just not that kind.

Desperate Measures cover

The hypothesized consensual BDSM never occurred, holographic or otherwise.

Sex

Perhaps not completely unusual for a novel published in 1989, Faust plays down sex to a disappointing degree.  Maybe if every page was saturated with whips and auto-erotic asphyxiation, I might get burned out.  But Desperate Measures makes James Bond / screen fade-out sex look like [censored].com.  Here, when sex is mentioned, it occurs ‘off-screen’ or is alluded to with vague dialogue and rather juvenile jokes.

Intoxicants

The cover of Desperate Measures is a rough approximation of the opening scene.  The chief protagonist James May is getting drunk with then-partner Dexter.  As one might guess from the artwork, the celebratory moment turns into an inebriated altercation that creates the initial conflict of the story.  Most of this is in good humor, and drunken shenanigans are sprinkled in throughout the book usually with light-hearted results.   One awesome invention of Faust is Leuten’s Alcohol Neutralzier which would be handy today–it helps negate the effects of drinking both during the night and the morning after.

Violence

Fitting with American media when compared to Europe–while sex is played down, the inner Quentin Tarantino in many of us is just waiting to burst out.  Let’s see . . .

• body count in the hundreds

• creative deaths and weapons (explosive implanted in heads, chlorine gassing, anti-tank rifles, laser carbines)

• cavalier attitude toward killing

• floating bits of someone’s head and brain in a gravity-free cockpit courtesy of the aforementioned implant

To be fair, there is sometimes regret over the ‘need’ to kill someone, and the character of Duke injects some baseline morality in his (initial) hesitation to do harm, but it reads like naiveté compared to the Rambos and McBains beside him.

At heart though, it would be wrong to call the protagonists strictly immoral beings.  Quick to anger?  Sure.  Deceitful?  Often.   But a science fiction novel doesn’t get very far when it’s populated by angels.  Which brings me to–

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Of Mice and Men

Shhh, Lennie. It’s okay. They have rabbits in the future.

Wait.  Okay, I can’t ignore this any longer.  I have to say something quickly about page 138 and John Steinbeck.

If I drew up a list of 100 things that I might expect in science fiction, a blatant reference to the 1937 masterpiece Of Mice and Men wouldn’t make the cut, falling somewhere in the 300s between Oreo Cookie Monsters and a delivery run where nothing of consequence happens.

Page 138:

“They’re good,” Anders insisted.  “It’s a George and Lenny pair.  A small guy does all the thinking and can handle any weapon you put in his hands.  The big one can’t think to save his life but will give until it hurts.  He’s stronger than hell.”

Perhaps by changing (misspelling?) Lennie’s name, Faust thought to throw us off track.  But I have a feeling particularly astute readers might just catch what he’s doing

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All right–one reason all this violence (as well as colorful language) intrigues me is that Joe Clifford Faust loudly advertises his Christianity.  It’s not within the scope of this article, or my own knowledge, to write commentary on the confluence of Christianity and R-Rated science fiction, but Faust’s mental state while writing fascinates me.

He can explain it all much better than I can  (click around Faust’s website–there’s lots on the topic)

An excerpt:

“As far as sex and violence… I’m divided about that. They exist in modern society and anyone who is writing about modern society (as any SF writer and satirist does) has to deal with them. I choose to deal with them by acknowledging that they exist, but not going into graphic detail about what happened. There are points in my books where the reader needs to know that sex occurred between two characters, so I let them know that it happened.”

As far as sex goes–he’s right.  Oddly enough, the novel’s cover is more sexually explicit than any page of the book.  But he glosses over the amount of creative violence, gore, casual racism, and explicit language in Desperate Measures.  Elsewhere on Faust’s website, he describes himself as a reporter of the human condition–someone that cannot leave out vice if intending to be accurate.  Many Christians and Christian Writers disagree and that’s what makes Faust’s position particularly interesting to me.

I would love to read more on religious writers struggling over reconciling their faith with their work, if anyone can suggest some literature on the subject.

If it sounds like I’m ignoring the story and quality of the novel, that’s because I am.  Sci-Fi Undercover is a free-roam exploration of whatever interests me, starting from the cover.  In the previous post on Daystar and Shadow, I went down a path of autism, eugenics, and authorial risks.  For those actually curious about Desperate Measure‘s ability to tell a story, I can tell you that it reads quickly, has funny dialogue and some interesting technology, but it doesn’t take many risks and instead employs a fair amount of sci-fi tropes in unoriginal ways.

Here is the plainest summary of Desperate Measure‘s merits as a novel that I can provide–if someone gave me the next books in the trilogy, I would probably give Book II a chance at some point in my life.

BONUS: In the coming days, I will ask cover artist David B. Mattingly a number of questions about his work and career.  Stay tuned!

Spicy San Francisco — Chicken Doner Pita Sandwich (Tenderloin)

Restaurant name: A La Turca

Location: 869 Geary St  San Francisco, CA 94109

Website:  http://www.alaturcasf.com/

“What’s the spiciest thing on your menu?”

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Chicken Doner Pita Sandwich

(grilled, spiced chicken with lettuce, tomatoes, diced vegetables, and yogurt sauce in pita bread)

          I nearly decided not to post this, but I realized Spicy San Francisco can’t only be about my ulcer-inducing successes.  To be helpful at all, it needs to include it’s partly bland, semi-failures–which could describe this sandwich at A La Turca in the Tenderloin.  It was my first visit to this restaurant and, given its proximity to Edinburgh Castle / Tuesday night trivia, it probably won’t be my last.  It wasn’t a bad meal and the restaurant was cool in a Turkish-taqueria kind of way.  But again, that isn’t the point of this feature.

Also, I didn’t remember to take a picture until halfway through my sandwich.

Takasaki Turkish Food, Japan

The best Turkish food in all of Japan! Make it spicy, please!

          When it comes to a Turkish meal, I generally stick to kebab plates and sandwiches, usually liberally covered in a spicy-yogurt sauce.  Oddly enough, the best Turkish meals of life were in Japan.  In Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture, there was this happy man on the right.  I’m not positive it’s still in business, but if you leave Takasaki Station on the west side and ask around, you should be able to find it.

For two years, he made me delicious food and we practiced English and Japanese together.  When I told him I wanted my sandwich spicy, it didn’t take long for him to learn what I meant.  Within a month, he was making me dishes that weren’t even on the menu, using a sauce that ‘regular’ customers were not allowed to have.  It was heaven, and I was forever spoiled.

          So when I stepped into A La Turca, I was quickly disappointed.  When I asked what the spiciest thing on their menu was, I was told that nothing was spicy, but I could have hot sauce added if I wanted (I did).  I asked if the hot sauce was harissa–and it was.  On the table there was also finely ground red pepper flakes, so the potential for this meal to be amazing was still there.  I went with something that would probably taste all right no matter what–chicken doner, with hot sauce, please!

Delicious!

It was awesomely large and filling!

Chicken Doner Pita Sandwich Zeroed Heat vs. Taste Scale (Z-Scale)

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(-10) • • • X (-5) • • • • (0) • • • • (5) • • • • (10)

Z-Scale Score of -6

What is the Z-Scale?

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Let’s talk about the heat.  First, some baseline modifiers–

•  ordered with hot sauce

•  I added (a lot of) finely crushed red pepper flakes after the first bites

•  I only drank one glass of water, and barely needed that

          This dish has a Z-Scale Score of -6, meaning it could have been significantly more spicy before it began compromising the flavor of the food.  Like with some kebab sandwiches, the heat was not evenly distributed.  After the initial bites, my score hovered around a disappointing -8.  However, if I could give a score to only the last third of the sandwich, it might have been as high as -4.  The last bite was quite enjoyable.

The yogurt sauce, both inside the sandwich and on the side, worked to diffuse a lot of the heat–but this is normal with Turkish food.  The included vegetables, namely the tomatoes and lettuce, also injected more water into the meal.

In the end, I was not bored by this sandwich.  A score of -6 is enough to keep me interested, and it did have some cumulative effect–a pleasant yet mild heat lingered for several minutes after finishing.  If I return to this restaurant, I know to ask for my food to be very spicy and request a side of hot sauce.  I heard someone ask for this as I was leaving, so i know it is possible.

I wonder if I had asked for only hot sauce–and none of the yogurt–would I have been scolded by the Turkish chef?

Distilled Spirits: Ch. 5 — Sidney

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 2: “Troubled Times”

Sidney

            The best part of having a business meeting at Burger Palace was the French fries.  They weren’t better than any other fast food chain, but they were better than having no fries at all.

Sid watched the workers huddle around a deep fryer, pointing fingers at each other—everyone was laughing but Sid’s employer, Jim.  He did all of the yelling, and by the time Jim came out from behind the counter for their meeting, the sounds of hamburgers frying had begun again.

“Sorry,” Jim said, sitting down.  “I work with idiots.  Those people can’t make a milkshake without burning themselves.”

“Those people?” Sid asked.

“Yeah.”  Jim pointed behind him with his thumb.  His coworkers were all Hispanic.  “You couldn’t guess what they put in the fryer.”

Sid pushed his fries away.  There were only two left.

“I read your first draft and it’s fine,” Jim said.  He pulled a folded piece of paper out of his pocket and smoothed it.  It was the game’s script that Sid had wrote.  “I want you to add more of a back story for Toby.”

“Like what?”

“Like some kind of opening segment that really grabs the player’s attention,” Jim explained.  “It’s not enough for Toby to fight the evil black cats—he needs a reason to hate.  Like, really hate them.  Like they killed his parents when he was a kitten or something.”

“I can work with that,” Sid said.

“Like Batman, right?  But don’t make it obviously a rip-off,” Jim said, pushing the paper across the table.  “We’re trying to get the player to really hate the blacks.”

Sid took a slow sip of his soda.   “The blacks?”

“The evil cats—the whole point of Cat Tales II.”

“Right.  The cats,” Sid said.  “How far along are we?”

“We’re mostly just waiting on the voice work.  Get me your final copy and we can publish by the end of the month.”

“Do I need to worry about canon?” Sid asked.

“The what?”

“Story contradictions with Cat Tales I,” Sid said.  “If I add this back story—”

Jim interrupted Sid with a look that he probably saves for his coworkers.

“Hey,” Jim said, “if we really polish this game right, there’s a chance it’ll make the Xbox marketplace.  Just write it, okay?”

A large family came into Burger Palace and Jim stood up.

“I better get back there,” he said.  “You can’t leave those people alone for two minutes.”

When Sid finally got outside, Cait was leaning against a parking meter, waiting for him.  She had a way of looking like she thoroughly belonged wherever she happened to be in the city.

“You said 3 o’clock,” she said, starting down the street.  She had her sunglasses on and it was impossible to tell if she was actually upset.

Sid followed her.  “There was something about a deep fryer.”

“I love the way you look when you’re thinking hard,” Cait said.  “What’s wrong?”

“What time’s the showing?” Sid asked.  They were about a twenty minute walk from the small neighborhood theater.

“Your eyebrows do this thing and you bite your lip,” Cait said, checking her phone.  “You should see yourself.”

Sid sighed.  “What time is the matinee?”

“We’ll miss the trailers if we walk,” Cait said, “but there shouldn’t be a line.”

“That’s fine,” Sid said.  “Are they meeting us there?”

“They’re not coming.”

Sid stopped. “What happened?”

“I didn’t invite them,” Cait said.

“Is it Glenn?”

Cait nodded.

“Still trying to save you?” Sid asked.

“Forget that,” she said.   She put a finger on Sid’s chest and pushed him lightly against a store’s display window.  “I know something’s bothering you.  Out with it.”

They had stopped in front of a Chinese bakery.  Bread smells coming through the open door didn’t smell any different than any other bakery.

“Let me ask you something,” Sid began.  “If I gestured to a group of Chinese people—”

“Why Chinese?”

“Just—just follow me on this.  If I gestured to a group of Chinese people and said—‘Those people are lazy’—how would you take it?”

Cait started walking again and Sid leaped to catch up.  They went half a block before she answered.

“Am I Chinese in this situation?” she asked.

“No, you’re not.  You’re Caitlyn Hash, and no other—“

“Am I Asian at all?”

“—no other details matter.” Sid finished.

She glanced sidelong at him.  “You want me to say it’s racist.”

“Is it not?”

“It could be,” she said.

The light changed and Sid stopped her from walking into the street with a hand on her arm.

“Maybe,” Cait said, “maybe you just don’t like Chinese people?”

“How the hell is that any different?”

“Wait a minute.” Cait prodded Sid forward when the ‘walk’ signal flashed.  “I read your plot points for this game.  Aren’t the evil cats all black?”

Sid nodded.

“And the hero—Toby?”

Sid didn’t answer.

“He’s white, isn’t he?” Cait said.  “A white cat?”

“You know,” Sid said, scratching the back of his head, “when you phrase it that way—”

“You’re working for a racist.”  Cait stepped through a rain puddle without changing her stride.

“Goddamnit.  I didn’t need this.”

“You’re being paid by a racist,” Cait said and Sid recognized her tone of voice.  There was something that she wanted Sid to do and she could usually get him to do it.

“Are you gonna give me a lecture on morality?” Sid asked.

“Do you need one?”

“The rent, Cait, the rent,” Sid said.  “We need this paycheck.  The landlord does.”

“It’s not a big deal,” she said, “if you’re okay with supporting hatred.”

“Stop,” Sid said, rubbing his head.  “It’s his story—I’m just writing it.”

“You’re supporting his platform—helping him spread his views.”

“It’s a phone game.  Caitlyn—”

“You sound like my father when you use my full name, you know,” she said.

“I sound like . . . Cait, how long have you known me?”

“Since 4th grade,” she answered.

“And is it fair to call me a racist?”

Cait thought a moment while they waited for another light, and Sid watched the expression on her face change.  She was trying to stop a smile.

“Well,” she said, “there was the time I convinced you to get high with me and you didn’t tip—”

“No, wait—stop,” Sid said.  “We agreed that everything said—said or done that night doesn’t count.”

Cait’s grin widened.  “I thought that only applied to the naked part.”

Sid tripped over the curb.  “You said you couldn’t remember if we actually—”

“I can’t.  You?”

“No,” Sid admitted.

“I do remember though,” Cait said, “that you have a birthmark on—”

Sid held his hands up.  “Can we stop—can we go back to talking about how I’m a bad person?”

“Here’s my only point,” Cait said, smile gone.  “I don’t think you’re taking feline racial violence as seriously as you need to.”

“Take off your sunglasses,” Sid said.

“Why?”

Sid reached up and plucked them from her face.  “Because I can’t tell if you’re making fun of me.”

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Distilled Notes: Structure and Development of a Web Serial

Robert Jordan's Wheel of TIme--Dragon chapter header

Today I will go to a thrift store and try to find a white chess pawn and a Swiss Army Knife.  When I think of two more items I will have four–one specifically chosen image for each character in Distilled Spirits.  This is an idea I came up with last week and is a happy result of making things up as I go along,

Many blog-advice writers are keen on including the “need of visuals” among their oft-published lists, (never 10 bullet-points anymore though, because 10 has become passé).  But the real reason I will soon include small images in the headers for my Distilled Spirits chapters is that I can.  The web serial format allows for this visual and written interweaving that isn’t always possible in other written forms.  Sure, there are picture books for children and young adults, as well as nonfiction with supportive photographs (like Steinbeck’s A Russian Journal), but for fiction?

The closest corollary is the image that heads this post.  In Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time sprawling fantasy series, the author writes from many perspectives, and in each character’s  chapter he uses a specific image as a header.  This image not only tells the reader what character is next (or what type of situation will likely occur), but becomes associated with that character in the mind of the reader.

          Since this web serial is an experiment in form, I’m able to make decisions such as this as I go–but how to organize this story has always been on my mind.  And there are a few things that I would like to lay out plainly.  You may notice that some of this does not apply to Distilled Spirits up to this point–this is because the initial chapters are intended as an introduction to each character and their world.

•  Four chapters (one from each character) will comprise one ‘episode’

•  Each chapter will primarily attempt to advance the individual character’s story while moving the episode forward

•  Each episode will attempt to have a (mostly) self-contained story arc

•  Every episode will build upon the greater story arc of the ‘season’

•  During this season, the chapter order will continue as Sidney, Geno, Caitlyn, Glenn

•  The length of a season (how many episodes) is yet to be determined

11/19 Addition: Since this post was made, I have determined the proper length of a season to be 5 episodes, or 20 chapters.

          You should notice the crossover terminology between TV shows and writing.  I believe the seasonal and episodic format of television works perfectly with a web serial.  Going forward, readers can expect stories to begin and end in digestible amounts of writing while building toward exciting pitfalls and climaxes.

In the end, this is an experiment, and I hope you enjoy the ride.

Sci-Fi Undercover — Joe Clifford Faust

Title: Desperate Measures (Book One of Angel’s Luck Trilogy)

Author: Joe Clifford Faust (wikipedia)

(Official WordPress Website)

Publishing info: A Del Ray Book / Ballantine Books – 1989

Pages: 245

Cover Art: David B. Mattingly (official website)

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          When I first saw this cover–I was sold immediately.  There wasn’t a part of the artwork that didn’t intrigue me.  It is such an alluring cover that not only am I overlooking the fact that this book is part one of a trilogy that I don’t own the rest of, but I am seriously considering trying to contact the artist.

Important details from the cover:

•  a woman is being choked on a very large television while bar patrons watch

•  a man with the shoulders of Hercules and the shirt of a Hawaiian is not enjoying his massage

*  the (impressively) mustachioed masseuse, with the biceps of Mark McGuire, is very intent on his work, failing to notice that his customer is holding a pistol

• a hologram? on the table displays a hopefully consensual BDSM scene

•  meanwhile, a surprisingly normal-looking individual is passed out next to a hard-pack of Marlboros

•  everyone else seems content to block the exit–surely a fire hazard

          After deciding that this was the next book for Sci-Fi Undercover, I braced myself and read the back cover sales pitch and . . . was pretty pleased by what I found.  Impoverished and unlucky cargo-hauler captain goes against what sounds like the Chinese mafia?  He teams up with a group of mercenaries, reminding me of one of my favorite novels The Warriors Apprentice (of the Vorkasigan Saga)?  No regrets about starting this book.

I wonder if the same artist did this Russian cover?

I wonder if the same artist did this Russian cover?

Joe Clifford Faust has published eight novels over a career that began in the mid-80s.  According to available information, he is still writing and trying to make his out-of-print novels available electronically.  What I found most interesting about his website during my brief exploration was his strong Christian beliefs.  It appears that Faust keeps his writing and his faith separate, a somewhat rare trait among prominent Christian authors.

          Check back later  to read what I thought of the novel and if you see a copy–pick one up and read it with me!  Check out Faust’s list of novels and their incredible foreign covers.  All I know is that I would pay real money for this absolutely awesome Japanese one.

Spicy San Francisco — Panang Gai Yarng (Outer Mission)

Restaurant Name: Pad Thai Restaurant

Location:  3259 Mission St  San Francisco, CA 94110

Website: http://www.padthaisf.com/

“What’s the spiciest thing on your menu?”

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

Panang Gai Yarng

(red curry in coconut cream w/ marinated chicken skewers, mushrooms, bell pepper, ground peanut, pineapple, basil, cherry tomatoes)

         I wasn’t sure when my first opportunity would come to try my hand at Spicy San Francisco, but with two friends from Mexico in town–one who had never tried Thai food before–I had curry on the mind.  What I didn’t expect from this unassuming restaurant awning and ubiquitous name was to fall in love with a new variation of perhaps my favorite Thai dish.

When it comes to Thai food, I’m arguably boring–I stick to colored curries, Thai friend rice (which trumps Chinese), Pad Thai, while occasionally throwing in something I cannot pronounce.  My standby is panang (red) curry for three reasons–

 it’s red

 it contains otherworldly Thai peanuts

and the coconut milk/cream is a wonderful flavor when the heat of the dish is maxed out

         Unfortunately, someone else ordered panang curry so I scrambled for a second option.  And that’s when I saw it.  It had peanuts; it was red; it resembled satay; it was something I had never tried before.  In other words, Panan Gai Yarng, please, Thai Hot!

My new favorite Thai dish!  My mouth is watering again.

My new favorite Thai dish! My mouth is watering again. Click to make it bigger!

          I ordered it with rice, although I suppose it could have been eaten like satay (off the skewers).

          I was most surprised by how well the pineapples and cherry tomatoes worked with the heat.  When I needed a ‘break’–besides water–I ate one of those.  The sheer amount of ground peanuts was also a welcome bonus–the curry was practically mixed with peanut sauce and made more syrupy while toning down the coconut element.  The chicken was slightly blackened–another neat departure from traditional curry.

Panang Gai Yarng Zeroed Heat vs. Taste Scale (‘Z-Scale’)

_____________________________________________________________________________________________________

(-10) •   (-5)     X (0)     (5)     (10)

Z-Scale Score of –1

Explanation of the Z-Scale

________________________________________________________________________________________________________

          Let’s talk about the heat.  Some baseline modifiers–

ordered Thai hot (nothing added by me)

drank 3 glasses of water

no Thai ice tea ordered

  too spicy for any of my friends to eat

          The dish was near perfection, as a -1 Z-Scale Rating is only underspiced to a minimal degree.  I could have taken a bit more heat before it became uncomfortable, and I think other spice-hounds would agree.  Just one bite does not cause much initial burn, and after 30 seconds those with a similar spice passion will be back to normal.  In order to really push the heat of the dish, I had to speed up my eating pace and really cover my chicken and rice with spoonfuls of the curry, (which was thicker than usual–closer to a sauce).

          The heat was cumulative, and it was only after eating quicker than normal and then spooning the sauce directly (after finishing everything else) was I able to make myself somewhat uncomfortable.  The ensuing burn in my mouth lasted a good five minutes, then fading to a pleasant feeling.

          If eaten at a regular pace, without main-lining the sauce, this panang gai yarng should hover around a -1 Z-Scale Rating for most of you.  As always with Thai restaurants–if the heat gets to be too much, Thai iced tea is the perfect solution.

Bonus: A google of “panang gai yarng” suggests that this dish is hard to find outside of San Francisco.

Distilled Spirits: Ch. 4 — Glenn

What is Distilled Spirits?

Episode 1: “Distilled Spirits”

Glenn

_______________________________________________________________________________________

Like some people born into wealth, Glenn does a lot of charity work.

Like few of them, he actually enjoys it.

Like a lot of Americans who grow up in an era of war, recession, and signs of the apocalypse, Glenn wants to ‘make a difference’.

Like most of those who feel this way, he doesn’t really know what that means.

Responsibilities and decisions.

John Lennon lyrics and 60s ideals that mean more to him than his parents.

There’s lots of good that Glenn can do, but what he doesn’t want to hear is that there are some things that he can’t change no matter what.  Like the habits of friends, trending foreign dictators, and the price of a 40 oz. in liquor stores.

_______________________________________________________________________________________

“Total is $4.72,” the clerk said.  “Sales tax went up last month.  Where ya been?”

“Out of town.”  Glenn found a floating $5 bill in his pocket and laid it on the counter.  “I bet Jose on 2nd St. still has these two bucks a piece.”

The clerk pushed the two 40 oz. bottles in a brown paper bag away from him.  “Go there next time then.”

Glenn couldn’t remember the clerk’s name—he didn’t usually come back this way from Sidney’s.  The young man behind the counter was Middle Eastern and already eying the next customer.  Conversation between them was usually limited to exact change.  Like a lot of the immigrants on this side of the harbor, the family running this store probably had dreams of living somewhere else.

The walk south toward Glenn’s building followed the canal that divided Sidney’s neighborhood—Tortilla Flats.  In a couple of hours, the waterside path would be full of wandering couples, loose dogs, and cyclists who didn’t feel comfortable on the roads.  But for now he shared the afternoon with only a couple of high school skateboarders splitting a cigarette and resting on a bench.  They eyed Glenn as he passed, probably deciding whether or not he was a cop in his simple slacks and button-up shirt.

Leaving the Flats at this hour was usually peaceful—the gentle slope up to Canal St. cut off a lot of the commercial noise.  Yet some car honks filtered through the trees and the warm smell of taquerias preparing for dinner was inescapable.

Glenn’s phone vibrated and he had a good idea of who it was.

“Hey, you on your way back yet?”  Geno.

“Yeah.  I’m at 12th or something.”

“What’s was up at Sidney’s?”

“He’s stressed about his new project and Caitlyn’s out,” Glenn said.  He heard the skateboarding clatter begin again behind him.  “Don’t you work tonight?”

“I’m on in a couple of hours.  You won’t believe this gig I’ve landed.”        

“Does it have anything to do with what’s happening to the bushes outside my building?  My bushes?”

“Maybe.  Hurry up—I need some inspiration.”

Glenn stopped walking and leaned against the canal railing.  “You mean 40s and Mario Kart?”

“Yup—don’t leave the country for a while.  I need you.  Help someone here for once, will you?”

Glenn pocketed his phone and kept walking.

The comforting smell of tortillas faded, replaced by harbor water and . . . something else.  It reminded him of summer, like clothes strung up outside to dry after a rainstorm—something Glenn had never smelled in his life.

Then he heard the gentle, easy to miss mechanical hum of washing machines.

Glenn turned the corner on 5th—the street that took him home—and met the stare of the one homeless man known to almost everyone on the north side.

Crazy Man Joe was in his usual 4 o’clock spot: beside the Salvadoran laundromat that marked the boundary between the Flats and the Inner Harbor.  Glenn wasn’t completely sure why no other homeless moved in on his territory when he was gone.  It was prime real estate.  A wide awning protected the sidewalk from the sun at most hours, a heating vent was nearby, and someone had given Crazy Man Joe a folding chair that was now chained in placed.  A public bathroom and water was even across the street at the pupuseria.

It may have been a matter of seniority.  Joe was a grey, balding man.

It may have been his past.  Joe was a veteran with apparently indestructible combat boots.

But Glenn guessed it was because the man muttered to himself and carried a bamboo walking cane that ended, unnaturally, at a threatening point.

“Someone’s using a new detergent,” Joe said.  He sniffed once—twice.  “Tide.”  He sniffed again, nodding to himself.  “Tide Summer Strong.  Came out last week.”

“You got a good nose,” Glenn said, setting his heavy paper bag down and leaning against the laundromat window.

Joe looked at Glenn, eyebrows going in different directions.  The old man cocked his head.  “That bag of yours don’t have any clothes.”  His eyes darted from the bottle caps sticking out to Glenn’s face.  “Why are you talking to me, kid?”

Glenn didn’t have an answer and he wasn’t sure why he didn’t just keep walking.  There wasn’t any suspicion in the homeless man’s eyes—if Glenn was right, it was curiosity on the man’s face and voice.  Glenn slid his back down the window and sat on the ground, five feet from Joe, wondering how many people passed on any given day.  Did he bother anyone?  Did he have any family?  Loved ones?  Did he have any regrets?

“My father dodged the draft,” Glenn said abruptly.

Joe raised his cane at once, twirled it around, and speared a Styrofoam cup that was rolling past.  He scraped it off using the edge of a nearby trash can.  “Your dad was smart, kid.  I was a coward and went to fight.”

“Is that why you’re here?” Glenn asked

“I don’t blame the government,” Joe said.

Glenn watched the man stab another piece of drifting litter and Glenn made a quick decision—he scooted his body closer and took out one of his 40s.

“Here.”  He handed Joe the paper bag with the remaining bottle.  “Take the bag.  Cops aren’t gonna bother me.”

Joe nodded but balled up the paper, tossing it in the bin.  “Cops haven’t bothered me for ten years.  I don’t cause no trouble.”

They both unscrewed their bottles and took a swig.  And another.

“Some things don’t change,” Joe said.  “Like the taste of this shit.  Why do you drink it?”

“My friend likes it,” Glenn said.

Joe laughed, coughed hard, and laughed again.  “Me too.  Me too.”  He stared at Glenn then, 40 oz. halfway to his mouth.  “So what is it—you want my story?  You just another bored rich kid sharing booze?”

“Do you like scaring people?” Glenn asked.

“It’s something to do.  I ain’t crazy—don’t think that,” Joe said.  “I’ve been in an’ out of everything.  A fancy South Harbor clinic one time—that was the best ‘till they kicked me out for getting with the nurses.  Jail’s not so bad—not like prison.”

“Prison?”

“I punched a cop in the 80s,” Joe said, rubbing his knuckles.  “Broke my hand down by the bridge.”

“That’s it?”

“I punched him a lot,” Joe said.  “I was angry back then.”

“And now?”

“Now it don’t matter.”  Joe shook his head.  “Everything that mattered is done and over, I figure.  Me too, soon enough.”

“What—” Glenn cut the question off when he saw Joe’s vacant stare, looking at nothing in particular across the street.

Nothing that passed seemed to catch Joe’s attention as he tapped his cane against his knuckles—tap, tap—against a tarnished ring on his ring finger.  His mouth moved silently.

Glen felt his pocket vibrate.  “Shit,” he said, taking a large gulp, “I gotta go.”

Joe nodded a few times and snapped out of his trance.  He raised his half-finished bottle.  “Thanks for the drink, kid.  Today’s turning out just fine.”

Glenn stood and stretched, figuring he could finish his 40 oz. in two or three blocks if he hurried it.  He’d have to stop at Jose’s store for more inspiration or Geno wouldn’t play Mario Kart with him.

END OF EPISODE 1

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Spicy San Francisco — The First Bite

“What’s the spiciest thing on your menu?”

Image, from left to right:
crushed red pepper, Vietnamese chili garlic sauce, Russian adjika, chili powder, Tabasco sauce, cayenne pepper, Tōgarashi (middle)

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Hello fellow spice-hounds, Bay Area locals, and curious folk!

Spicy San Francisco is a Warm Beer feature that explores the burning, zesty side of the city’s food culture.

The idea is as simple as adding hot sauce to your eggs: every week I will pick one San Francisco restaurant, eatery, hole-in-the-wall, cafe, food stand or truck.  After asking one question (“What’s the spiciest thing on your menu?”), I will happily eat and write about the meal and locale.

My credentials

* If a meal isn’t somewhat spicy, I usually get bored before I finish

* If a person doesn’t eat spicy food–they are judged

The Tabasco Shot, taken to the next level

The Tabasco Shot, taken to the next level

* While in college, I independently invented the ‘Tabasco Shot’, (drip hot sauce on hand, take shot, lick hand.  Repeat)

* I will go to Safeway at 3:00 AM to buy hot sauce if I don’t have any for breakfast

* If I’ve eaten it more than once, odds are I’ve tried to make it spicy

* Like an untried India Pale Ale, a new hot sauce excites me like Christmas morning, or the first baseball game of the year

Criteria:

This is NOT a search for the spiciest possible dish in San Francisco.  Anyone can up the Scovilles until your mouth blisters–that’s not what I’m after.  I’m not interested in a meal that only tries to hurt me.

When evaluating spicy food, one also encounters a problem–how can I compare two dishes eaten weeks apart?  How do you know what I consider spicy?

To answer the 2nd question–here is what I consider normal: at Thai restaurants, I order my food ‘Thai hot’ (and adjust accordingly if weak); at Indian restaurants, I order my food ‘extra/very hot’ (and adjust accordingly); at Italian / pizza joints, I add crushed red pepper and hot sauce;  for Japanese, I ask for Tōgarashi and try to pretend their wasabi is real wasabi; for Chinese, I harvest that jar of red sauce.

Now, let me introduce my grading system.  I call it the ‘Zeroed Heat vs. Taste Scale’, or ‘Z-Scale‘.

(-10)———-(-5)———-0———-(5)———-(10)  

When prepared perfectly, lamb vindaloo is my favorite Indian dish and often is a 0 on the Z-Scale.

When prepared perfectly, lamb vindaloo is my favorite Indian dish and often is a 0 on the Z-Scale.

 

-1 through -10 [Negative Z-Scale] These values correspond to dishes that could have been spicier without hurting the overall taste.  A dish that is just slightly under-spiced will have a value of -1.  This is still likely an extremely satisfying meal.

1 through 10 [Positive Z-Scale] These values correspond to dishes that exceed the necessary level of heat; as in, the heat hurts and/or hides the actual taste.  A dish that is just slightly over-spiced will have a value of 1.  This is still likely an extremely satisfying meal.

0 (Zero) Z-Scale Value This is the ideal.  The dish is neither under-spiced nor does the heat overpower the taste.  This is what I am searching for and want to eat for every meal of my life.

With these metrics, I hope to identify the best places to eat in San Francisco for those like myself, and those who are looking to kick their life up a notch.

Suggestions for eating locales are welcome from all sources!  Please, let me know where I need to try, and check back to see where I’ve been.