A year ago I saw a chicken clucking along the curb on Stockton in Chinatown, an obvious escapee. I cheered! Then it hopped down into the street, and I watched in horror as it made for the center of the avenue with only its limited brain stem to guide it. And then there came the 30 Muni, barreling down upon it … It drove over the little fella and when it passed, there he was, still intact, still clucking and plodding his stupid little way across the street. Hurray! But then it sunk in that he may have escaped death by bus, Gentle Reader, but this chicken would never make it out of Chinatown alive. Out of the wok and into the fire, as they say in old Xinjiang.
The pessimist in me would like to see this as a metaphor for life, because in order to escape one fate we usually wander into another. It's also the basic set-up of many a classic sitcom.
So, what fate brought me to the bar at the Empress of China? We shall see. For one thing, you have to take an elevator up, which is always sort of a fun adventure for an elevatorphobic paranoiac like myself. My fear of small boxes that move vertically with people in them wasn't in any way alleviated by that horrid story of the woman in Manhattan, who, according to The New York Times, “was crushed to death by an elevator… when the car lurched upward as she entered it, pinning her between the elevator floor and the top of the entranceway.” My heart always skips a beat when I step on the thing with that very fear in mind. Then it's on to Stage Two, where the doors close and I pray to Allah that the thing will move smoothly and arrive at the next floor so I can get the fuck out.
Ahhhhh, I said to myself as I got the fuck out.
The Empress of China is so soothing, and it took me in its opulent arms and fed me eggrolls. It's full of deep reds, carved shiny wood, potted palms, Buddhas, that statue of that one guy with the Fu Manchu mustache and flowing robes that they put oranges underneath. If you look closely at the edges, however, you will find stains in the carpet, dust on the windowsill, and rips in the vinyl. Obviously, I tell myself, they are more interested in keeping their elevator in top working condition, something for which they spare no expense. Everything else takes a backseat.
I don't know why more people don't come to the bar here. It's awesome. Panoramic views, 50 percent off drink specials at happy hour, cornball Singapore Sling-esque concoctions, and the feeling that no one will ever find you here. I like places that feel like an escape.
The bartender smiled at me and I ordered. He nodded and completed the task. No words, just action. I watched the busboy in the background, moving quickly from table to table, a bit rumpled but very handsome; the kind of face that could get him out of this insular neighborhood and onto something bigger. That's fate right there: Most people who are born into a class will remain in that class. There is very little movement up or down, but one thing that can move you up in class is looks. If you are beautiful enough, perhaps you can find yourself a rich man. And if you are a handsome busboy in Chinatown, head to Hollywood. Find your fate.
I sat at the bar with my phone in my hand, poised to make a decision. I had gotten a message on OkCupid from a young buck. It read simply, “Would you ever be interested in sex with a 24 year old?” I looked at his pictures and he reminded me of Tim Lincecum, a major plus. He looked athletic and pedestrian, the perfect person to take as a lover without ever actually falling in love. I answered back immediately, “Yup.” Great, he said, sending me more pictures of himself with his shirt off, etc. At first I thought about telling him that I'm not so interested in that but would prefer to talk more, since my brain is my biggest erogenous zone. But that seemed like a lot of work. I told him I was busy for the next few days but would get back to him. That was a week ago. He has messaged me twice since then.
And there I sat, scared to tell him I can't go through with it, not so much because I am scared he's a maniac but more because I really don't think casual sex is ever good. It never has been for me. What will the Fates allow here? I still wasn't brave enough to say yes … or no. I decided to keep the Fates at bay another week at least. If I was lucky he would just disappear and I wouldn't have to decide. Phew.
When I got back on the elevator to leave I'm happy to report that instead of a woman's head being split open like a watermelon I envisioned the Rainbow In The Dark video by Dio. I imagined myself going down down down into the pits of hell. Or Grant Street. Same diff.