Cold Noodles

It was about thirty degrees and raining yesterday.

Ah, thirty degrees. Celsius. It’s good to be on metric again. I missed it. I no longer have to convert every measurement into football fields. And the fucking thing about the imperial system of measurement is, it’s not even used. Not really. Like the meat counter always employed a form of metric. It would be 1.5 lbs not 1 pound 6 ounces. The only people who would try to order by weight in ounces were confused Europeans. Just switch already. Make it official. It’s so much easier. I do not get the intransigence on this issue.

Anyway, it was humid. The humidex is another thing. I hate it. And windchill. Look, minus ten is cold enough, Toronto. You don’t have to inflate it. It’s always windy at minus ten! When you see minus ten, just wear all you got. Like, fucking hell. Why the make-believe shit? Why the “feels like.” Who the fuck needs CP24 to tell them what they’ll feel like? You’ll feel sort of mushy, with varying degrees of slipperiness, some of which depends on your mood, and you’ll feel manageably uncomfortable but you’ll probably want to whine about it. You’ll feel like humans often do. You should be used to it by now. You’ve been one for a minute.

But anyway, it was hot and humid, so I took my first pass at making some cold buckwheat noodles. Cold noodles are a bit like cold showers. I only like them in certain conditions. First time I had them was by accident in 서울. Kind of a point at the menu and see what happens thing. What happened was I got a bowl of ice and noodles. I wasn’t expecting that. Nor was I expecting to like them. But then — icy and spicy? Just about the most refreshing combination in the world. Like a cold shower I like cold showers but only under certain conditions. I like them during the summer here and in Mexico. In Canada? Forget it. The wind will murder you. In Cali? Not so much. Different sort of heat. I should check the humidex. That might be the thing. The tacos are great in both places though. Same with the burritos. Never had cold noodles in Mexico so I don’t know how those are. Do they even have them?

This is starting to run on like some sort of online recipe. I remember when I first started looking up recipes online. It seemed like you would just get right to the point. These days, every dish has a fucking backstory. It’s like a whole narrative arc dealing with where the person learned it, how they learned to love it, and then, finally, you scroll past that and get to the recipe. And that story is all about proving how fucking authentic that recipe is. Who even gives a shit about authenticity? I’m looking up how to make dinner on a computer, not conducting an archaeological dig. Authentic? Am I assessing the value of a painting? My question is — Is it good? Only way to tell that is to eat it. You can’t read a flavor.

Anyway, I’m not going to give you a recipe.

Here’s a picture tho.

All I wanted to say was, I like to run an experiment before I attempt to feed my wife. I think this worked out okay. I can add it to the menu. Quick and easy to make too.

La Hacienda is Dead

It’s dark and it’s hot. Or maybe it’s cold. A draft might be draft blowing through the wall. The back doors might be open. They could be shut. But the front doors? The front doors are closed. It smells like weed and cigarettes. Guinness, Americanos, car-bombs. Red wine in a coffee cup. The lights are off and the music is up. La Hacienda is closed.

I’m not a big fan of nostalgia. I don’t often stroll down Memory Lane and, when I do, I don’t stroll so much as skulk. A fugitive in my own past, I find it hard to look back at anything. I have too many regrets. It’s probably just one of those terrible things about life — the more you learn, the more regrets you’ll have. Only people who don’t get better can view their past with confidence. Those most in need of regret, lack it. So, the good news is, I’m better person than I was. I’m pretty sure of that. The bad news is, knowing that doesn’t help when I’m laying sleepless in bed, listening to my brain rot inside my skull and feeling my heart withering in my chest. Not much helps then.

And, you know, it’s the little things that bother me the most. The big fuck-ups always have a certain glamour. It’s the little ones. The insensitive comment, the stupid remark, the ignorant point of view. That shit is what sticks with me. It’s a shameover.

La Hacienda is where I first learned that word. Shameover. If you haven’t heard it, it’s the part of the hangover where you feel like you should be put on trial for capital offences. It’s all the half-remembered stupidities from the night before, out of context, exaggerated beyond any possible importance, and presented as evidence by your own mind of what a total bag of shit you are. That’s how I usually feel about the past.

But when someone or something dies, the past is about all you can think about. I mean, shit, not like there’s a future left to consider. And La Hacienda isn’t just closed. It’s dead.

And not dead like there was some snow in the forecast on a Tuesday night. Dead like the Dodo. Dead like that dead fucking parrot. Like Jesus, the Toronto Star even wrote a fucking obituary for the place. That’s how dead La Ha is.

I worked there a long time. I started out as under the table casual labor, a dishwasher, while collecting welfare, and volunteering at Meals on Wheels. A friend, a really good friend at the time, got me the job. If she hadn’t, I don’t know what I would’ve done. I was thinking about joining the army. I did not want to go back to a fucking kitchen. I don’t know if I would have gone through with that army thing. I might have. Luckily, I didn’t have to find out. I got hired.

La Ha wasn’t like any place I’d ever worked before. The long and the short of it is that the workers were treated like adults. It was a job with all the bullshit cut out of it. They didn’t try to police your face, “SMILE!!!”, your attitude, or your sobriety. You just needed to do the job. And I know that the place has a reputation for bad service, the words “notorious” and “infamous” are always tossed around. I even like that legend.

But most of us were really fucking good at our jobs. Some of the finest servers and cooks I’ve ever seen in my life worked at that place. They usually did it alone in conditions that would just fucking murder a weaker server or cook. We did it that way for the money and because a lot of us had worked in other restaurants. That made most of us pretty anti-authoritarian. We’d all rather work hard than work with some douchebag manager making you apologize to abusive pricks for their errors. We had some “fuck-you” in us, sure. And some of that spilled out onto the customers. But, usually, onto the right ones. Assholes did not get much leeway. Were mistakes made? Sure.

But assholes got thrown out.

But La Ha wasn’t for everyone nor was it meant to be. The music would be loud and usually abrasive, the place was a certain way, all steak, no sizzle, and that was it.

But some people expect a place to change just because they walked into it. They’d want the lights and sound adjusted to their taste. They expect gratitude just for showing up. People like that hate the idea that they might just have to walk down the street to the Starbucks or some shit. Some people want to be the sort of people who go to a place like La Ha even if they aren’t the sort of people who like a place like La Ha. These people have a hard time with the basic concept that a place might just not be for them. They think that “customer” is some exalted position. That every place is for them.

La Ha said no.

That might be one of my favorite things about the place. We were allowed to say “no.”

And so many of those assholes would act like La Ha was about to go out of business because they heard “no.” But La Ha outlasted just about everyone on Queen West. It buried trendy restaurants and shops by the fucking dozen. It’s dead now but it lived for decades on a strip where lifespans are measured in one year leases.

So we were doing something right. As much shame as I might have about the past, I have very little about most of the people I tossed out of La Ha. Most of them were just fucking bullies. Some were entitled morons. A lot were both.

But, you know, the legend of La Ha and the reality of it was, of course, a bit different. The legend and the reality were tangled up in each other as long as I was there and trying to untangle one thing from the other is basically impossible. You might be able to kick someone out. You might get fired. La Ha could be a bit moody at times. I made some really good friends there. I also lost one of my best friends there.

The memories can be a bit of a mixed bag. God knows, I’m not always proud of how I acted there, things I said, or shit I found funny. La Ha gave me more second chances that a cat gets lives. And the cocaine and booze phase was probably not full of my proudest moments and I probably still owe people apologies about that. The place was like a family, and when you have a family, you have gossip and you have drama and you have some problems. People can get carried away. Things were sometimes quiet and they sometimes came in waves of chaos. It was Toronto’s Island of Misfit Toys. We were misfits. Some of us were, I think, pretty fucked up. And we did some pretty fucked up things. Regrets won’t change that. But I think a lot of us were improved by the spot.

The one thing I don’t regret is working there. I can’t even imagine my life without La Ha as a part of it. And I’m not alone in that. So many of us went to do other and better things and there’s no way that we would have been able to do any of it without a spot like La Ha behind us. It made a lot possible. The place isn’t the sort of thing that can just be replaced. It was more than just a job to me, it was part of who I was, and it’s part of who I still am. I’m a La Ha vet. There’s worse things to be. And without that place, I’m pretty sure that I’d be at least three of them.


I grabbed a bowl of bibimbap today.

Good grub.

This is something I ate quite quite often in LA too. Usually at home. It’s kind of a standard meal for me. Peanut butter and honey sandwiches, gimbap, and bibimbap. I’m not a foodie and, frankly, I dislike foodies. Not as individuals but as a class. Like, why does everyone has to be such a connoisseur about everything. I mean, if you really are a connoisseur, that’s fine. I have no problem with that. In fact, good for you. The world needs connoisseurs too. It needs experts. But 99% of the time, it’s just some half-smart dip, confidently talking a lot of precious nonsense about the details of things whose point don’t even begin to understand. I mean – have you even seen Style Forum? That shit is just a lot of sartorial pedants costuming their second-hand ignorance as dandyism. Foodies are the same way. You get it with everything these days. Even vaping. I just want a hit of nicotine with less cancer. I don’t need to building devices and comparing dick cloud sizes on YouTube. It gets so you can’t even like anything without it being an argument about some arcane aspect of said thing. Fucking geeks, man. They drain the purpose and joy from everything. They ruin everything! Anyway, what I was I on about? Oh yeah, bibimbap. Given the choice, I always prefer good grub to fancy cuisine and bibimbap is just good grub. And this looked like a good place to grab a good bowl of good grub.

Good place to grab good grub.

But the funny thing is, when I’m a stranger in a strange land, I get this feeling like I have to be super polite and respectful. (Some other people, sadly, seem to get the exact opposite feeling.) It’s fine feeling to have –keeps me out of trouble, at least– but sometimes it feels like a bit much and I sometimes have to just relax. Here, in this case at that place, relaxing involved telling the cook that I enjoyed her meal by slapping my belly. It was fine. No one’s monocle cracked. She slapped my belly too. Then I slapped my wife’s belly. It was a big ol’ belly slapping party. I have some bruises.

Good bibimbap though. And I liked the soup too. It was cold with seaweed and cucumbers. I don’t know what it’s called but it was tasty.