Dog Bites

We're thankful Café Gratitude is so easy to mock. Also: The Examiner is hiring!

Someone Get Milton Bradley on the Phone

Like mothers who move their fine china to a top shelf when a toddler comes to play, our friends often keep the things most sacred to them far, far away from us.

That is to say, we're not always nice. We've been known to poke fun at poetry, Buddhists, vegans, and, yes, even baby harp seals. Hence one of Dog Bites' more spiritual buddies tried to keep us from finding out about the three-month-old Café Gratitude, lest we mock it -- in print, no less. Needless to say, we found out about it anyway, and immediately drove to Harrison and 20th streets, sharpening our fangs the whole way.

Instantly, we see there's more opportunity for mockery than we'd bargained for. Café Gratitude's sign is easily one of the trippiest pieces of art in the Mission: It features a rainbow-colored painting of a gender-ambiguous groovy person's profile, in front of a dead tree that looks like brain synapses. His/her mirrored shades reflect a branch of plump red apples. Inside, every item on the cafe's menu -- which consists mostly of vegan and raw foods -- is titled in the form of a personal affirmation. I Am Graceful is a bowl of quinoa with basil pesto for (a steep) $6. I Am Generous is guacamole with flax crackers and a scoop of salsa, also $6.

We order an I Am Lusciously Awake smoothie (Brazil nut milk, dates, figs, cacao, and coffee elixir, for $6.75) and chat up the young man with the shaved head behind the counter. His name is Matthew Manzo, and he tells us that his mother and stepfather, Terces and Matthew Engelhart, started Café Gratitude as a venue for a special game they created. The name of the game is the Abounding River, and its purpose, he tells us, is to "move away from a place of scarcity, towards one of realizing Earth's abundance." It's only then -- perhaps because we've become more lusciously awake -- that we realize every tabletop has, affixed to it, the board for this game, garnished with a basket of cards, pencils, and paper.

We sit down with our delicious, chocolaty drink, and Matthew Engelhart, a skinny man in a black baseball hat embroidered with the words "What are you grateful for?," teaches us how to play. He moves aside a candle labeled "100% soy wax" and presents us with a sheet on which to fill out our chosen "Spirit Abundance" name. Luckily there are sample names to pick from, among them "Energy," "Mana," "Yahweh," "Umpteen," and "Thanksgiving." I decide that my Spirit Abundance name is "Nature Creamy Dog Bites" but decline to announce it to Engelhart, the way my sheet instructs.

Next, we roll the dice and move our metal, feather-shaped pieces around squares on the colorful game board. If either of us lands on a blue square, Engelhart warns us, we must laugh "for no reason." Luckily Engelhart, who goes first, lands on an orange square and picks an orange card that asks, "How are you stingy with yourself?" He admits to us that, what with starting the cafe and all, he has not been regularly going to yoga. Dog Bites draws a card that asks, "What is an outcome you are attached to having, or a result you are trying to achieve?" Our brain suddenly flashes to a strange vision of ourself strolling down a red carpet with a spray-on tan and some kind of riding crop, then just as suddenly goes blank.

"Uhhhh," we stutter.

"Let the River Guides help you," suggests Engelhart kindly, pointing out the hints on the bottom of the card. "What is your experience when you get attached to a particular outcome?" the first reads.

"We become bitchy," Dog Bites replies.

The card instructs us to read aloud: "When we allow nature to take care of things, we are no longer a total bitch." Well, that isn't the exact wording, but at this point, we have started to let goof our baggage, including our notebook and pen, to better focus on our, um, essence. Whatever it takes to emerge victorious.

The Engelharts (who also sell the Abounding River in the cafe for $45) are planning to host weekly game nights, Engelhart tells us. But already people have been using the game on their own. "Couples will come in here and play for hours," says Engelhart. "I'll come over to check on them, and they'll be crying." Today, there is only an older woman getting a foot massage from a younger woman near the window, but that seems somehow appropriate.

We must admit, by the time we visit the bathroom (and gaze into the mirror decorated with the words "I am adoring myself"), we're feeling uncharacteristically creamy and more than a little Yahweh. We even smile when we notice the painting behind us, which depicts children playing in a swimming hole, and one of them has a stub for an arm.

As we re-emerge into harsh, cruel reality, we hear Engelhart's parting words ringing in our ears: "You don't win this game in here. You win it in your life."

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