Where to have lunch before my writing critique group? Hotels are always a good bet on Mondays--they’ve got hungry folks seven days a week. Just remembering my last visit to Boon Fly Café, planned for the sole purpose of eating their amazing fresh-made donuts, is enough to propel the Carneros Inn’s eatery to first choice. That time I justified the donut calories by riding my bike eight miles each way. Today I’m not concerned—no donuts for me!
I ask for a seat at the bar and immediately have a fuzzy memory that I know this bartender. Jamin reminds me he went to Browns Valley Elementary, where I was principal. A boy with some issues back then, he is now a charming young man who loves his job. We chat while I study the menu and the wine list, noting the only other diners at the counter are a couple, probably tourists.
The man next to me is drinking a bloody Mary and I am enchanted to see that Boon Fly serves theirs with a crisp slice of bacon inserted in the glass—two thirds of a BLT. The fellow tells me it’s yummy. His companion asks Jamin to recommend a sandwich and he immediately advocates for the burger—there are so many ways to dress it, it’s like a different meal each time. They even serve a burger topped by two fried eggs for those with a death wish. I order crab cakes and a Pine Ridge Chenin Blanc.
Jamin trained as an electrician and his dad wishes he would give up this culinary fancy and return to a “real” man’s job. Jamin notes that in this economy he’d have been laid off long ago from working with wires. He’s been at Boon Fly for six years and he knows his stuff. I watch him make a mojito with cranberries and mint—it looks like it belongs under a Christmas tree.
I’m deep in conversation and heady with wine when the crab cakes arrive. They are lightly browned, rich and creamy inside and served on a mound of crunchy arugula and fennel, with colorful accents of pink grapefruit and sliced avocado; the flavors complement each other beautifully. While I’m relishing my meal, Jamin disappears into the back and a waitress steps behind the bar to help a patron select a draft beer. They exchange notes about the acidity of two beers and every time she turns to work the tap I notice the tattoo on the back of her neck—it’s a Chinese character.
Ordinarily, I mind my own business, but this is a research visit after all and I’m going to China next week, so I ask her about it.
“It says ‘yes,’” she explains. “My parents are crazy about the Beatles. John met Yoko Ono through her art. She put a white ladder in the middle of the room. You climbed the ladder and used a magnifying glass to look at a tiny word on the ceiling: yes. I saw it at San Francisco MOMA and loved it.”
I was a Beatles fan like her folks, but had never heard this story. I ask her if she’s read e.e.cummings, who brilliantly used so many words in new ways:
whycoloured worlds of because do
not stand against yes which is built by
forever and sunsmell *
like every lark
who lifts his life
from all the dark
who wings his why
and sings an if
of day to yes **
I must take the poems to her so this exchange won’t fade into the workday tumult of pleasant chatter with customers, to be forgotten by tomorrow.
I’m paying my bill and on a whim order some donuts after all, to take to my writers’ group—one tiny donut for each of us. They come straight from the fryer, hot and fragrant, dusted with cinnamon sugar, and Jamin places them lovingly into a box. It is the perfect finish to a lunch that has taken me back to the magic of youth: finding one’s way in a bright and shining world.
* “wherelings, whenlings,” 50 Poems, Grosset & Dunlap, New York, 1939, p.26.
**“may I be gay,” 73 Poems, Harcourt, Brace & World, New York, 1961, p. 43.