Cafe Society

Paradise Asian Cafe may not take you to paradise, but close enough

My favorite movie of all time is Blade Runner. It gave me a serious yen for the intersection of Japanese and American culture that's flavored my tastes for years but still, I think, comes off as a bit more wholesome and less creepy than an obsession with Japanese schoolgirl uniforms or hentai.

Second favorite movie? The English Patient — a very nearly perfect film that also happens to be a thinly disguised historical costume drama, full of Nazis and biplanes and the doomed love between a taciturn mapmaker and some other man's wife. Had our first child been a boy, Laura and I were seriously considering naming this completely hypothetical him after one of the characters in that movie, though I was also lobbying hard for calling him Deckard.

The last book I finished was Craig Ferguson's celebrity memoir, American on Purpose. Before that, it was The Great Gatsby (for the thousandth time). And before that, The Year of Magical Thinking, by Joan Didion. I'm halfway through the newest Pynchon right now. My favorite song, something of a theme, is probably "Mexican Radio," by Wall of Voodoo, a tune I could listen to a hundred times in a row without ever getting sick of it. When we were living in New Mexico, I tried to get Laura to take a job as an overnight DJ at some end-of-the-dial station run out of a shack in the high desert just so she could play it for me every morning as the sun was coming up and she was coming off shift.

"What really matters is what you like, not what you are like.... Books, records, films — these things matter. Call me shallow, but it's the fuckin' truth," says Rob Gordon, the main character in the movie High Fidelity. If I remember correctly, he says this either right before or right after having sex with Lisa Bonet — which, not for nothing, would probably be on the list of what a lot of people would like. Not mine, necessarily, but a lot of other lists.

But that's neither here nor there. What's important is what he said: It's what you like, not what you are like, that matters. I believe that. I could easily find myself in a relationship with someone who was heavily into Communism and regularly picked fights with the elderly, but not with someone who didn't like bacon and The English Patient, Apocalypse Now and '80s one-hit wonders — the things I like. Laura and I once got stoned on a courtesy bag from our downstairs drug-dealing neighbor in Albuquerque, sat down to watch Apocalypse Now, and never made it past the opening scene, we were laughing so hard. Then we ate all the leftovers in the fridge and had sex on the couch. Honest to god, that's one of my favorite moments from all the years we've been together — one of the sweetest memories I've got in the vault, and one I find myself turning to over and over again on days that aren't as good as that one was.

It's what you like that matters. And I like science-fiction movies and books about sailing ships and celebrity memoirs and amateur pornography. I like music made in the years that music really mattered to me — those years I spent in high school and in kitchens and had very little of what anyone would consider taste — and falling asleep on the couch to cartoons in the wee hours of the morning. I like literature born of pain or poverty or cripplingly poor social skills and candy from foreign countries with no concept of what candy should be made of and girls who saw the original Star Wars in the theater, because I have absolutely nothing in common with girls who didn't. When I'm in the mood for seeing shit blow up, I like Michael Bay movies because no one makes shit blow up better than he does, and when I'm in the mood for barbecue, I like it to be made by someone with a little psychotic backwoods hillbilly in his blood, because the ability to cook good barbecue is genetic, and smoking pork is only one step removed from distilling moonshine — both of them being an art bestowed only on God's most special children. I like foie gras and French cheese and American cheeseburgers and Spanish tapas in almost equal measure. And while I like the cultural collisions and almost holy rigor of immigrant, ESL cooks making hot pots and jellyfish salad and char siu bao and sesame balls for their fellow transplants desperately homesick for a taste of Tianjin, Wuhan or Guangzhou, I love the second- and third-generation cuisine of Chinese cooks cooking for Chinese customers who grew up on the sweet-and-sour chicken, pineapple shrimp and kung pao, moo shu and orange-flavor everything that is indicative of the American-Chinese refugee canon — neither wholly one thing nor entirely the other; a cuisine born of happy and repeated impacts between an American taste for sugar and bold, simple flavors and the Chinese appetite for all manner of savory weirdness and sauces that make the French look like poor, Third World culinary cousins.