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The Sincere Cafe

The Sincere Cafe isn’t what you’d think of as a cafe — there's no espresso, no pastries, no beatnik barista — but it’s my favorite restaurant in San Francisco. It’s between Mission and Valencia on 16th Street, which some would say is a questionable neighborhood but to me it’s an exclamation point. I used to live there, and probably will again, when I get tired of the tourists at Union Square. When the Mission was my home, I ate at the Sincere often, but now that I live downtown I only come to this neighborhood for movies at the Roxie, and it’s automatic: going to the Roxie means eating at the Sincere before. And sometimes after.

To be honest about the Sincere, it’s a dive. Cheap food, cheap people, no decor. It’s been there forever, with hard wooden benches in the booths, and minimal ambiance beyond the smell of good food cookin’. The benches are unkind to my butt, so I always sit at the counter, where the seats are softer and you’ll see more of your waiter, Ken.

And it’s always Ken. I’ve never yet eaten there and not had Ken take my order and bring my food. I’ve asked, and he told me, yes, he works seven days a week. He’s a nice guy, and always wants to talk about baseball through a thick Chinese accent, whether you’re interested or not, and I actually am somewhat interested in baseball.

The Sincere is mostly a Chinese restaurant, but if you want fancy fung shui and paper lanterns and exotic banners on the wall, go somewhere else. Just tables and chairs here. Chop sticks optional.

Not in the mood for noodles and rice? They offer a variety of all-American dishes, and unlike most restaurants with two menus, the Sincere gets both cuisines right. They make a double-dang delicious Denver omelet, their cheeseburger deluxe is simply the best burger in town, and it comes with thick-cut french fries to live for.

There’s nothing they make that isn’t good, but everyone who works there is Chinese-American or genuine Chinese, and that’s the menu I’ll usually order from. Today I had the Number 1, which was excellent. It always is.

I am a fat guy, and not unaccustomed to eating huge meals, but in the many times I’ve eaten at the Sincere, I have never finished my Number 1. There’s so very much of it! Here, let me share some with you:

It begins with won ton soup, rich and full of pork. Today’s bowl was not their best ever, but it was beaucoup better than some fancy restaurant’s won ton. Next comes the pork fried rice, which I drench in soy sauce and try to eat but it’s always too hot — not hot like spicy, hot like it’s fresh from the steamer and they left the lid on until the last moment. You have to wait a few minutes while it cools, but it’s worth the wait. Then all at once there’s egg foo young, prawns, and pork chow mein, all drenched in MSG no doubt, but all exquisite and again, all too hot to eat. A scoop of ice cream for dessert is included, but sometimes I’m so full I skip it, and always I walk out with a doggy bag.

The price? $5.26 including tax, but don’t forget to leave a couple of bucks for Ken. The only disappointment is if you’re expecting to be hungry again in an hour. You won’t be.

♦ ♦ ♦

What brought me to the Roxie was Sex Drugs and Democracy, a documentary about Holland’s legendary and growing acceptance of the facts of life — that many people want to smoke marijuana, and that sex is fun and prostitution exists, and it ought to be safe for everyone involved.

The movie’s MTV-style quick-cutting never stops, and never stops being annoying. It’s a trend in recent movies, and it’s dumb and distracting. Please let the viewer’s eyeballs focus and the brain understand what it’s seeing before jumping to the next image.

Other than that, Sex Drugs and Democracy is an interesting, informative, and maybe even important refresher course on the concept of freedom.

First, let’s talk about sex in Holland: Prostitution has been legalized, and the state even pays for sex services rendered to the handicapped. Hookers are tested weekly for disease, so according to a government official quoted in the film, AIDS is almost non-existent among Dutch prostitutes. Abortion remains illegal, but the law is ignored; abortion is easy to arrange, and fully covered by the socialized health care system. Another talking head tells us that despite the easy availability of abortion, the Netherlands has the lowest abortion rate in the world. Also, there are no big hangups about nudity — the documentary spends ample time at one of Holland’s nude beaches, but again, damn the editing that won’t really let you enjoy the view.

The drugs: Soft drugs (marijuana, hashish, and LSD) are still illegal, but like abortion, nobody pays attention to the law. Cities and towns are dotted with “coffee shops,” where marijuana is on the menu. “Cuppa joe and a joint, please.” Drug prices are affordable, and posted on a menu like scrambled eggs. It’s all out in the open, so it’s all clean and safe; the acid isn’t spiked with poison, and you’re not buying from scuzzy Tenderloin-types where your wallet or life are in danger. The police chief says, despite this liberalized attitude, Dutch youth use soft drugs no more than American teenagers do. Hard drugs (cocaine, heroin, etc) aren’t tolerated, but with soft drugs widely available, there’s less demand for the stronger stuff. Clean needles are distributed to addicts, and methadone is available on request and funded by the government, which hasn’t led to any increase in drug use, says the chief.

The democracy: Holland accepts immigrants from all continents, and a black Dutchman appears on camera, saying there’s little racism to speak of in his country. Gay marriages are as legal as straight marriages. It’s a capitalist country, but with income taxes as high as 90% for the richest citizens, they can afford a plush safety net. Guns are illegal. Capital punishment is unconstitutional. There are more than a dozen political parties with elected representatives, and the Dutch can’t figure out why Americans settle for a two-party system. They have the lowest imprisonment rate of any nation*. There appears to be as much or more freedom of speech, press, religion, and thought as Americans have.

The director, Jonathan Blank, was there to answer questions after the screening, and I had only one question, but someone else asked it first: What are the requirements to obtain legal resident status, and emigrate to Holland? Not surprisingly, the answer is lots of money, so me and my zine won’t be relocating to Holland. But I’ll confess, that country was already the inspiration for my pen name.

And it’s perfect and poignant that this film is playing at the Roxie, in San Francisco’s slums. It’s a neighborhood where you can easily buy crack and heroin, or get shot — things not easy to experience in Holland. Pot, hash, acid, and sex are also for sale in the Mission, but it’s not high-quality stuff like they have there.

♦ ♦ ♦

Ms 45 was my late show at the P.F.A. I’ve seen Ms 45 many times, but this was the first time I’d seen it anywhere other than the infamous Strand. It’s a shout-back-at-the-screen movie, so it really belongs at the Strand. Shouting is discouraged at the Pacific Film Archive (it is, literally, a museum), so the flick lost its audience-participation factor, but it was still a wild ride.

The film is tremendously violent, lacks a happy ending, and it’s so thoroughly feminist it makes Thelma & Louise look like Laverne & Shirley. This is the story of Thana, a woman who gets raped on her way home from work, and then raped again when she gets back to her apartment. That’s a horrible beginning, obviously, but you need to know going in that the first ten minutes are difficult to watch.

After that, though, the fun begins, because the attacks have transformed Thana into a homicidal maniac. She starts killing just about anyone who has a penis. I kept track: 16 of the men she killed deserved to die, and two probably didn’t, and that’s about the right ratio, in my opinion — all men aren’t pigs, but about 89% are.

Ms 45’s female protagonist is mute, incapable of speech, and I hate that. Maybe it’s supposed to symbolize the relative voicelessness of women in society, and OK, I get it, but I wanted her to have dialogue. The movie was written by a man, and my suspicion is that he wrote her mute because he doesn’t quite understand how (or that) women think. Still, it’s a kickass movie.

♦ ♦ ♦

One good meal, and two good movies. Man, life doesn't get much better than today. At least, my life doesn't.

* America has the world’s highest incarceration rate, according to my Information Please Almanac. Send in the cheerleaders: We’re number one, we’re number one! The USA zoomed past South Africa in the standings, when that country’s President Nelson Mandela began releasing its political prisoners.

From Pathetic Life #3
Saturday, August 13, 1994

This is an entry retyped from an on-paper zine I wrote many years ago, called Pathetic Life. The opinions stated were my opinions then, but might not be my opinions now. Also, I said and did some disgusting things, so parental guidance is advised.

 

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