Cha Cha Cha: a melange of busboys, gofers, lime-squeezers, and journeymen

You pretty much know a song is great if you can add a quick "Cha-cha-cha!" to the end of it. For example, take Roy Orbison's "Only the Lonely." Wait for the extended "dumbydoowahhhh," and then place a "cha-cha-cha!" after a beat. The trick even works on Whitney Houston's version of "I Will Always Love You," which closes with a long, soaring "youuuuuu ... cha-cha-cha!" and "God Save the Queen": "Nooo future, nooo future, nooo future ... cha-cha-cha!"

Once you catch on, you will be adding cha-cubed to every song you hear. Note that it only works with good songs, though, and not stuff like "American Pie," or that new Maroon 5 single.

I was thinking about all this when I was walking down Mission on my way to a birthday party at Cha Cha Cha. Cha Cha Cha is sort of the default setting for birthday celebrations, the cha-cha-cha at the end of "happy biirrrthday tooooo youuuu ... " In fact, while we drank sangria and toasted my friend's 29th, several other tables were singing that very song to their compatriots.

Cha Cha Cha calls itself a restaurant, and the one on Haight sort of fits the description, but to me, the Cha Cha Cha on Mission is just one big bar with great pub food. For one thing, the bar itself — a gigantic oval in the center — takes up most of the space. Tables hug all the walls around it. You will see your waitress once and then all the service gets passed along to various busboys, gofers, lime-squeezers, and journeymen, all of whom combine to magically provide excellent service. The sangria in your glass will never fall below an inch, you will never see the bottom of your appetizer plates, and if you are sitting in the aisle, you will have a bottomless pit of bottoms rubbing up against you on their way to wherever. Cha Cha Cha is loud, crowded, and worth it.

The eight of us squoze around a small table (it's the past-tense of squeeze. Or at least I'm making it so) and got all celebratory. There was the usual sarcasm, the usual dropping of pop-culture allusions, the usual early 21st-century bourgeoisie decadence tinged with cynicism. In short, I think I'll keep my peeps.

We somehow got on the subject of the band Blind Faith. I believe it stemmed from a comparison of Bruce Hornsby to Steve Winwood, a juxtaposition that I still disagree with vigorously. Matt and Nate argued that Hornsby and Winwood were alike because they both played keyboards and sang in the upper registers of their voices. And, I gathered, they were both "lame." I happen to own Arc of a Diver, Winwood's best solo effort, and I find him decidedly un-Hornsby. I pulled out the big guns.

"Dude, Bruce Hornsby never auditioned to be the singer for Led Zeppelin," I interjected, to which they pointed out that everyone auditioned for Led Zeppelin. "Yeah? Well ... um ... Winwood was in Blind Faith, man. He was wasted and not too proud to admit that he couldn't find his way home."

"That was a fucking Jesus band," said Matt, tossing a piece of calamari into his mouth with a non-verbal cha-cha-cha. I was taken aback, to be sure. I decided to forgo the obvious "no way were Ginger Baker, Eric Clapton, Steve Winwood, and that Other Guy Who No One Ever Heard From Again, Christians," and instead went to, "What's wrong with Jesus?"

Uhh, everything? his look said to me. Nate, who loves a good argument as much as I do, decided to take my side in this one for kicks.

"Yeah!" Nate let out, "What's wrong with Jesus?" Then we both proceeded to defend our Lord, not allowing Matt any inroads, but the gist I got from him was that same old saw about how religion is bogus and Christians are stupid and smart people are atheists. Well, I said, I happen to be an atheist, but I still like Jesus.

"You have to admit," said Nate (and I'm paraphrasing), "that if you read the Bible, once you slog through the Old Testament and eventually get to Jesus in the New Testament, his stuff is pretty revolutionary, pretty incredible."

Pshaw, said Matt. At this point the rest of the table was tensing up, not so much because we were arguing — we always do that — but because they knew that Jesus was one of those things that Matt won't budge on, and that he really gets steamed about. I didn't know this. I also didn't know that making fun of his Grateful Dead T-shirt was bad. Oops.

I kept pushing. As I got up to use the restroom, I raised this provocative question: "Like it or no, don't you think that overall, humans are better off with religion? Don't you think that we have needed some universal law of morality when there wasn't much else throughout history? Discuss." My mind was working on this a mile-a-minute on the way to and from the john. Sure, wars have been fought in the name of religion, and it has upheld unfair power dynamics, but it has also kept people from doing whatever the hell they want. You know, like coveting neighbors and stuff.

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