living underground in the real world

there has never been anything better than this

99% unrelated photo

Via Randy comes pretty much the best thing to happen to me all week: just go to his post and click on “this” and it will take you to the most mind-blowingly hilarious video on veganism the internet has ever seen. (as his post refers to my own French toast recipe, this week is pretty much a weird little internet circle-jerk of Randy-and-Lagusta blogging, and you know what? I’m just fine with that.)

Also be sure to notice the fluorescent blue French toast photo.

!!!!

!!!!!!

!!!

I was so exhausted tonight from painting a bathroom and working and worrying about money and grocery shopping and cooking dinner and answering emails and doing billing that without this little web gem I probably would have spontaneously combusted from a stress/hyper-exhaustion cocktail. That’s how good this video is: it spontaneously prevents spontaneous combustion. Just listening to how that dude says “BANANAS!!” will pretty much keep me going for weeks.

I would have expected no less from Supreme Master Ching Hai, to be honest.

In an astonishing coincidence that almost makes me want to believe in god (that god being, of course, Supreme Master Ching Hai) the only vegan restaurant in all of Arizona, was, at one point, across the street from my childhood house. It was called Vegetarian House, and was run by disciples of Supreme Master Ching Hai, who, one learned upon entering the restaurant from the giant color posters of her everywhere, was (and is) a smiling woman of indeterminate age.

I used to hang out there for 4 or 5 hours every day after school, spending my vet tech salary ($5/hour) on $5 plates of eggplant in garlic sauce I would savor while doing my homework and hiding from my childhood. The smell of their standard-issue moo shu veggies, steamed dumplings and spring rolls is the closest thing I get to a pleasant childhood food memory.

Our Jewish Vegetarians group (don’t get me started on the hilarity of that group—someday I’ll scan in some choice photos of us, dour in our yarmulkes and olive skin, whining about the lack of adequate soy milk access—met there religiously (ha) and even though I could tell even at 14 they were all completely insane and I was constantly stating that I was really an atheist Jew in the Einstein mold, they were sweet to me and so once a week we sat around the banquet table and devoured an entire vegan almond cheesecake (no one ever questioned why cheesecake was on the menu at an Asian restaurant, and a quick survey of a few Loving Hut—what SMCH restaurants are now called—menus reveals that it’s still hanging out there on the bottom, even today) whilst proclaiming our moral superiority in all facets (according to vegetarian Jews, vegetarian Jews have the world all sewn up, let me tell you.) and extolling the benefits of Dr. Bronner’s soap. (We really enjoyed only two cosmetics, enough sleep and and Dr Bronner’s Magic Soap, and also enjoyed training our minds and bodies to be strong like Mark Spitz, and also ALL ONE OR NONE ETERNAL FATHER ETERNALLY ONE! EXCEPTIONS ETERNALLY? NONE!).

We seriously talked about the Dr. Bronner’s label for multiple meetings, I swear.

I used to recite memorized passages from it to myself as I walked to school. (“What an apology we Rabbis owe Israel, Marx, Mao, all mankind, for not teaching Astronomy’s great All-One-God-Faith, that with just 6 words eternally unites the human race! As teaches African-shepherd Astronomer Israel for 6000 years, “LISTEN CHILDREN ETERNAL FATHER ETERNALLY ONE!”)

All this contributed to me being a pretty damn weird kid, but then the Supreme Master Ching Hai (also: everyone I’ve ever met always says all four words. Much like Ross Dress for Less, you can’t halfway it when it comes to SMCH) culties invited me to meditate with them on Saturday mornings. I went a dozen or so times, and even though the yuppie next to me kept falling asleep and leaning on me, I was sort of really into it.

Then one day I went to the bathroom while everyone else was closing their eyes and waiting for the “bright flashlight of Supreme Master Ching Hai to illuminate your life,” and I happened to notice boxed “vegan cheesecake mix” on a shelf in the hallway. I idly scanned the ingredients, like vegans do, and noticed “powdered eggs.”

I was a very new vegan at that point, and very very culty about it (OK, yes, in retrospect I do see that I was in about four cults in high school [seriously, I was very into Dr. Bronner’s.]. Amazingly, the one I wasn’t in was the one I was most surrounded by: the drugs-and-guns one my father ran out of our house. So that’s something. My cults focused on cleansing the body in one way or another, it seemed.

At the next VegJewAz meeting I broke the news about the almond cheezecakes we’d been obsessively scarfing down, and someone confronted the SMCH peeps, and things were never quite the same again.

At that point in my life I basically spent every waking hour worrying I had accidentally eaten something not vegan and wondering how properly to atone for this sin and rewatching the movie Gandhi and reading books about Jainism and wondering if I should carry a little broom with me and sweep off my seat before I sat down in case spiders were on it and I squished them and should I maybe wear a little linen cloth over my mouth like I had seen Jains do so as not to accidentally swallow a bug while riding my bike?

So the cheesecake thing hit me sort of hard, and life at the SMCH world was never quite as shiny.
(Oh, and by pointing out that they still have cheesecake on the menu, I don’t want to imply that I still think it has eggs in it—I’m sure it was just a slip-up and they’ve moved beyond it.

On the other hand, remember when Quarry Girl did that expose [way too tired tonight to find accent aigus, my friends] of vegan Asian greasy spoons in LA and found all that non-vegan stuff? And the great Zen Palate swindle of the early 00s? They were caught selling egg-drop soup and other blatantly non-vegan menu items [WHAT VEGAN FELL FOR THAT EGG-DROP SOUP?? I want to meet that person. Actually, I probably know that person: an old client of mine who was “raised vegan” but who once told me she didn’t understand why people were shocked when, at a vegan meet-up, she ordered a cheese pizza and proceeded to casually pick off and throw away the cheese. She also lived in a glorious pre-war apartment on the Upper East Side in a building that also housed her parents and two other siblings—when the kids each turned 18, their parents bought them an apartment in the building. So. Well, there you are: Upper East Siders are the craziest fuckers on the planet. Everything is in its right place.] and then quickly shut down their Union Sq operation—though the other locations continue merrily peddling their awful awful overpriced faux-fancy crap.)

Moving on:

But I still have fond memories of the sweeties at that life-saving SMCH restaurant. A few years ago I got an offer to tape a video that probably would have ended up looking exactly like the one linked to above. I politely declined, but, in truth, anyone with the balls to Photoshop a French toast photo with that much use of the blue paint bucket is pretty much A-OK in my book.

7 Responses to “there has never been anything better than this”

  1. Kevin

    Have you seen the dr bronners documentary? I think it’s called dr bronners magic soap box. It’s really something, let me tell you.

    Reply
    • lagusta

      I haven’t, but I’m dying to! It’s in my Netflix queue!

      (woo hoo!)

      Reply
  2. Randal Putnam

    What a post! I learn so much from you!

    The only restaurant experience I have that comes close is going to Ananda Fuara in SF for breakfast. When I was traveling often to SF for work, I would get breakfast there sometimes twice a month. So pleasant. I’d always be alone and quiet and mindful. Even ritualistic. In any other setting, I’d look totally OCD but there no one blinked. It was like I was eating orioki style before I knew what that meant.

    Anyway, that place is run by followers of the late Sri Chinmoy. Photos of him with big shots everywhere. Paintings he made. The music on the stereo was surely his. Books on the shelf with his writings. Even videos showing him paint or make music of lift really heavy shit or even world leaders. That’s right. Sri Chinmoy had this platform built on which folks would stand and then he’d put his shoulders under a yoke and lift em up. Endlessly inspiring.

    One day I sat and saw a placard on the table announcing his death. I had never met him, but got to know him just by going to the restaurant. I quietly cried and then wondered about all the people he left behind. The workers in the restaurant went to NYC each year to visit him. Looks like they just got back from a visit. Teachers die. They are now teachers.

    I haven’t been traveling for work much so I haven’t been there in over a year. Last nights dinner was basically a recreation of the meal I get there (minus the matzoh). Scrabmled tofu, side of guac, fried potatoes and toast. Keeps me happy for hours. Yea for religious eateries and their peeps!

    Yea for internet blogging for two!

    Now i have to get off the internet. Seriously. Yesterday I was on so long I felt kinda weak. Not good!

    Later!

    Reply
    • lagusta

      Hey, have you been to the Sri Chinmoy place in Queens? It sounds exactly the same. I wouldn’t exactly go out of my way to go there (and let’s be honest, when is Queens on the way to anywhere…except I guess the airports I go to way too often?), but it’s the same sort of vibe.

      I believe this is it, but I was there maybe 10 years ago, so I can’t quite remember: http://www.annambrahma.com/

      Reply
      • Randal Putnam

        I read about it once, but have never been. I’ll mention it to my friend who lives in Queens. Maybe she’ll get lucky and it will be near to her.

        Enjoy a rainy weekend!

  3. Jordan

    Wow is that resaurant on Indian school road? I looked for that place when i was in phx for my cousins wedding a few years back. Once i found it, it wasnt open! damn.. I wanted to eat there sooooooooo bad. We have three places like that here and only one is really relgious oddly enough the super relgious one is the only one that has been known to carry non vegan things and People are usually poking around near their storage areas and finding out that fortune cookies have egg and so on. To their credit they hired a little white girl to check all the supplies form now on. I’m such a sucker for faux meat greasy chinese food. All three of the places here know me by first name.

    Reply

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