Dream Journal

The Best Place in the World [for] Chinese Restaurant

Twilight in my home city of San Francisco, watching down a street as a bicyclist rides uphill on a sidewalk. I yell at then, manage to get one good “don’t ride bike on sidewalk” as they ride right through a group of pedestrians. Afterward, one good “fuck you” for good measure.

Soon after I find the person, a gray haired but well-put-together lady, a woman of a certain age, while I’m walking crosswalk. I listen to her, get her to tell me what’s wrong: she’s a tourist, a meeting soon. Yet something is switched around in these dream streets. It’s the same setting as other dreams of San Francisco, ones with canals, or social revolutions, or maybe in the southeastern neighborhoods years before my time.

I escort her to her meeting, around a strangely colorful yet hostile SF. The streets bright yet cloudy. She enters her meeting in a plastic-walled tent, a dining establishment just off the sidewalk, while I maintain eye contact. She still doesn’t like how I called her on her riding behavior, but I’ve also been nothing but helpful since. “Good luck, be well,” I say through the window, pausing before mouthing “God bless”. I don’t know her well enough to know how it’ll be received — it feels customary, almost too automatic, tonally off-the-mark.

By coincidence, I’ve also arrived at a destination of my own. I used to work at a Chinese restaurant (in waking life too), and it’s in the building adjacent to the tent. The elaborate yet homey sign outside proclaims “The Best Place in the World [for] Chinese Restaurant”. In truth it’s more of a neighborhood cafe/novelty museum. I walk in and they immediately remember me; I ask them to refresh me on my job since this is the first time in 15-18 years I’ve been there (I worked at Kitty Ko’s Golden Phoenix in 2002 irl, thereafter dreamed of it for a few years after perhaps, so this may be unusually accurate). The chef and chef’s husband still don’t speak any English, but greet me enthusiastically nonetheless. Behind the cash register nothing seems to have changed either, and I’m re-warned about the black electrical cord dangling inconveniently in the walkway behind the front counter.

Reacquainting with the place, I remember there are two sections of novelties, plus a back room. They’re separated by age-appropriateness (or morbidness depending on who you ask). One item in the collection that I remember distinctly is a Victorian-era ambulance for the disabled — it’s an open-air carriage with the cheery “spinach-leaf green” color of a hospital, with robin’s-egg blue accent stripes. However, the coverings for passengers, jet-black and shroud-like, made for the privacy of hiding disfigurement and/or pain, are 100% what a modern person would recognize as the Grim Reaper.

I note all this to my sibling Patrick/Alia, who’s sitting at the bar counter. They seem mildly interested but ask instead about the back room. I’m curious also, squeezing through a narrow opening of blocks in the back wall. There are stacks of boxed-up unused novelties. There’s also the entrance to a vast underground performance chamber, something little-used in my time there, which I’d nearly forgotten about.

A group of string-instrument musicians along the back wall of this cavernous hidden space immediately begin playing (reminds me of Azerbaijani cover band Bizimkilər). Looking over toward the stage, there’s also a dance troupe waiting patiently. In hope of introducing them so they don’t have to continue waiting, I go over and ask the first girl I saunter up to what her name is. She answers “Jeanne Artas”. I have to ask if they are the Artas, or if it’s her personal name.

Another group of audience members, a school group of kids, clambers down the improvised brick blocks in the walls — nothing like a stairway and certainly not considered ‘accessible’ by conventional building standards. But this is technically a private area of the business. I reflect for a minute how this huge enclosed space is completely unapparent from the street, and how many of these hidden human spaces there must be, collectively, across the city and the world. I ponder this aloud to the girl, Jeanne, how such a large space could be secreted away, how it even fit. She ponders too, and notes that Kitty, the owner, also owns the coffee shop next door, and perhaps a small corner of it had been used so as in making the entrance of the tall auditorium. To me this is hardly an explanation, and I regard her incredulously.

I kept the dream alive to write down despite/because of the name “Lenipobra” repeating in my head while hypnogogic. A name from my current book, Consider Phlebas, which I had previously forgotten.

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