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Valentine’s Day and the In-N-Out

February 16, 2011

LUMINOUS NEWS – FOOD EDITION

Fox News: “We report. You decide.”

Our Motto: “We decide (where to eat.) We report. You don’t get any.”

Valentine’s day at the start of a San Francisco (working) vacation with Mrs. Muse. Where to celebrate?

Chez Panisse is too fancy for our taste. But there’s Eiji in the Castro, sushi that jumped off the boat at a modest price. Osteria al Forno in North Beach, the most authentic Italian meal we’ve enjoyed outside of Italy. Ton Kiang in Richmond,, great Dim Sum, and if you go to the place next door it’s the same food and cheaper. Dessert’s easy – Tartine in the Mission. The line is always long but we’ll wait all morning for one of their éclairs, or a lemon tart.

V day morning I wasn’t considering any of the above. I was lolling on the couch, jet-lagged, and it was 10 when I suddenly remembered. I put on my coat and slipped out into the rain to get flowers, as if that had been my plan all along.

Roses, two red and a pink. With baby’s breath. Mrs. Muse loves to get flowers. But then I forgot again about this special day, because we had to go out in the rain and take a bus and the Bart to get the rental car because it was all the way down past Daly City. Why not downtown where we usually rent? Mrs. Muse said, “I’m sick of getting ripped off by those big car companies. I found someplace online with great reviews.”

The Super Cheap car rental company. I cast a skeptical eye on the funky little office, next to an acupuncturist. The dude who deftly juggled a smart phone and mountains of papers while entertaining us with his repartee seemed overeducated for his position. But when it comes to such choices, Mrs. Muse never fails. We had wheels and they were super cheap.

My thoughts were still not on V day, but our lunch was planned. I’d been thinking about it ever since I saw one from the taxi coming from the airport in the middle of the night.
I asked the smart fellow, “where’s the nearest In-N-Out Burger.” He laughed and pointed –“Right across the street.” Destiny.

Backstory: over the years I’ve read many murder mysteries staged in LA. The hard bitten detectives and cops – notably Harry Bosch of Michael Connolly’s fine series – eat at the In-N-Out Burger.

I confess my first thoughts on reading of this place were lewd. I pictured a leering Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, muttering about “the old in and out.” I had a vaguely pornographic vision of Linda Ronstadt in hot pants on those rollers skates from her “Living in the USA” tour, which I’d been a part of.

But my fantasy petered out around the burger part. What in (or out) of the world do hamburgers have to do with sex? Nothing, as far as I knew. (Drive-ins are another story. Recently in Amsterdam I read of a drive-in house of prostitution outside of town. But that’s Europe. They do rolling whorehouses. We do burgers.)

I asked around to my California friends. They gave In-N-Out good reviews. And I like a good burger.

When I first met Mrs. Muse one of the first things she did that enamored her to me was to save me from a lunch diet of cheese sandwiches on whole wheat bread with no fixings that some misguided adviser had convinced me were essential to improving my poor health. Mrs. Muse told of how she’d been a vegetarian for years, fell into terrible health herself and went to an acupuncturist (not the same as next to the Super Cheap) who minced no words. “You need to eat some meat now or you will die.” She bought a big steak and, “Ate the whole thing with my bare hands.” She got better. She cooked me a cheeseburger, then another, and soon my health improved too.

Our approach to the In-N-Out revealed two surprises. One – though it looked like something straight from the 1950’s, it was without a hint of “retro”, with none of the irony and snark with which popular culture has slathered that bygone age. No, it just looked like it had been built in the 50s and was just still there. Two – I saw a long line of cars. My drive-in sex fantasy turned cheeseburger fantasy fell away as I realize that the In-N-Out was real. With a long line of real cars, filled with people who’d come for lunch.

The menu was simplicity itself. Burgers. Fries. Shakes. Period. Though there was a choice of burgers – the regular, and the Double Double. We ordered two, plus a fries to split.

Out of the bag the Double Double looked like…a cheeseburger. Not square like Wendy’s. Not all tarted up with mustard and pickles like Micky D’s. Not the better part of a side of beef as is commonly served today. A cheeseburger like back in the 50s.

I took a bite. Another. The words came, in between chews. “Jesus, this is…num,num.num…This is one fucking good…glump, munch, chomp….What a…”
Next to me Mrs. Muse was past words. “MMMMM…OOOOHH….HMMMHHMMM…”
My filthy mind hopped to a blogpost I’d just read about a sex study that revealed the startling fact that female human vocalizations during sex have a strong correlation with not the female orgasm, as expected, but the male orgasm. Fascinating stuff. So, “You fake, just like a woman…” is no recent response of women to the patriarchy, but a biological imperative…

The sounds coming from Mrs. Muse were quite distinct from sounds of that kind of love. They were the sounds of cheeseburger love.

A love from a simpler time, before vegetarians, before 30 kinds of OJ in the grocery store. “Double Double” says it all. If a cheeseburger is good then twice is twice good, which is to say, very good. I can still taste it, num, num num…

We drove away from lunch happy to be together on Valentine’s Day in the great state of California with bellies full of burger.

POSTSCRIPT:

I told Dan about my In-N-Out epiphany and he added a layer to what I thought was a simple tale. He said, “You know my son has a black belt in the In-N-Out.” Apparently if you skip the drive through and go inside, walk up to the merry girl behind the counter and whisper the secret passwords she will hand you something that’s nowhere on the menu. “4×4 animal style with animal style fries.” Perhaps there are as many mysterious Ins and Outs to the In-N-Out as in a Michael Connolly mystery.

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