I did not watch the Super Bowl today as living estranged from my local sports franchises and childhood associations has taken all sporting desire out of my blood. I’m too consumed with the concentrated streets of L.A. right now to think about anything going on elsewhere. We woke up early this morning and headed to Hollywood to eat breakfast at the 101 Coffee Shop on Franklin, yet another thriving, historic diner in what seems like a never-ending network of living nostalgia, curated in cahoots with my heart’s sentimental core. The wall of photos inside alone is incredible, let alone the decor, and the bacon was indeed extra crispy as requested. As we were walking in, I noticed a gutter punk walking nearby with a beat-up Misfits jacket and two broken middle fingers wrapped in individual casts.
“Looks like he flipped off the wrong dude,” my wife said to me with a smile.
“A double bird and then…CRACK!” I responded with a laugh.
The personalities around the San Fernando Valley are also nostalgic. Some of the retailers I’ve met remind me of long lost relatives, or characters from an old movie that I can’t quite place. I’ve made a few friends in the local Lebanese community as of late, one of which treated me this past Friday to superb bottle of Arak el Rif as a gift, after I asked him about Lebanese drinking traditions. Arak is like a pastis, but with the power and potency of an absinthe, rather than a sweet liqueur like Pernod or Ricard. It’s generally made with only two ingredients: unaged grape brandy and anise seed, and the flavor is quite pronounced. My friend initially offered to buy me the pricier, 140 proof behemoth, but I opted instead for the 53% ABV Special Reserve.
“This is how my grandfather taught me to drink arak: you pour first the arak, then you add the water, and the ice last. The ice must always be last,” the man said to me with a combination of meticulousness, sincerity, and kindness found only in older generations today. For dinner, I ordered up a family meal from Zankou, the legendary, Beirut-born chain of chicken franchises here in Los Angeles, and followed his instructions to the letter. In one hand I had an explosion of cloudy black licorice, and in the other a savory piece of meat smothered in decadent garlic paste. Both flavor sensations sent me back to the old world—as much as someone like myself can truly understand it.
I spent the rest of Sunday on the couch with a blanket, keeping warm against the onslaught of rain that’s blanketed California over the last few days; another old friend under the covers with me, keeping me company.