Isn’t it crazy when you can not see someone for years and years yet somehow fall right back into a comfortable groove when you do? That’s how it is with my friend Alisha, who I saw for the first time last summer since 2010, and again last Friday when she was in town visiting from Arkansas.
I was so glad that she carved out some time for me on this latest visit, especially when I texted her a picture of a Julian Baker concert flyer and her immediate response was, “YES LET’S GO TO THAT” and within minutes she bought tickets. I forgot what it felt like to have a friend who wants to go to shows!
But first, food. Alisha picked me up from work and we skipped all the frou-frou salutations and went right into our routine of her being annoyed and exasperated and me being totally giddy – ugh, I missed our dysfunctionally perfect yin and yang!
Alisha’s British-voiced GPS led us to Apteka, an Eastern Europe-Yinzer-Vegan joint across from the Allegheny Cemetery that my friend Sarah recommended to me over a year ago and I never made it there because kimchi or GTFO. However, Alisha is vegan so I thought this would be a grand time to check it out and I was happy that it wasn’t crowded yet and the staff wasn’t off-putting as they sometimes can be in a niche vegan eatery, leaving me feeling not inked-up enough and half-assed in my veg-ways. (Which brings us back to kimchi, which I know is made with anchovy paste but I still eat it because I never signed a contract, OK? Korea has changed me!)
Apteka is cafe-style which is kind of annoying when you walk into a place for the first time and they’re like BAM HERE IS THE MENU STAND HERE AT THE COUNTER AND I WILL STARE AT YOU WHILE YOU TRY TO FIGURE OUT OUR WEIRDO MENU GOOD LUCK WITH THE POLISH.
Alisha had a million questions and the Apteka girl very patiently answered her. She asked what the waitress recommended and she blew through the menu so fast I felt like I just been lead through a polka.
Alisha ordered the thing I was going to get so then I had to stand there and stammer, and of course I was unable to pronounce anything on the menu (is it nuts that I was trying to imagine what it would look like in Hangeul to help me sound it out?!) so I just pointed and said, “Lima bean.”
Because the thing I got had a lima bean purée and it was shockingly not phrased more dumb or pretentious than that because you know how nauseating menu descriptions can be in these types of places. Let me see if I can find a menu…
baby lima bean + winter bitter leaves + potato dumplings + fried buckwheat + marjoram (GF)
I didn’t even notice that my meal had marjoram on it and I guess it doesn’t matter because I didn’t even notice it while I was eating it to even wonder what even is it. That was a weird sentence.
(GUYS, I LOOKED IT UP. IT’S MINT.)
Alisha also ordered a pot of some kind of tea for us to share. It tasted like ground. Maybe it would have been better with sugar but do vegans eat sugar? I didn’t see any.
Alisha also ordered the Kanapki which was three pieces of small toast, each with a different spread on it. One was for sure carrot and that was the only one I liked.
Guys, that’s my plate at the bottom there and it was so fucking good – those potato dumpling dickheads were so fucking divine and I wanted so much more, and the fried buckwheat was WHAT THE HELL WHY HASN’T HENRY BEEN CRACKLIN’ BUCKWHEAT FOR ME ALL THIS TIME levels of tasty. And that lima bean puree? I didn’t have time to grab my bathing suit before diving into that bitchin’ legume lagoon.
That’s Alisha’s crap at the top.
Somehow, my dinner was considered a “large plate” and hers was “small” and cheaper yet seemed so much bigger and she was still working on it a good twenty minutes after I had licked the last lima smear from my plate.
To cap off our meal, I ordered dessert for us to split, and again, I could have eaten 5 plates of these.
My Apteka verdict is that the food was bomb and inventive, and even had a level of comfort to it that vegan joints sometimes lack. But, for the price I paid and the amount of food I ate, I was a little unsatisfied. I was ready for second dinner less than an hour later. Even still, I’ll probably go back again because I liked the atmosphere, the staff was great, and I want to try the other things on the menu — I’ll just be prepared to eat my arm later on.
Afterward, we went to the Carnegie Library lecture hall to see one of my favorite female vocalists, Julien Baker. Ugh, I have been dying to see her live for years now but something always comes up when she’s here. I thought I was going to end up going to see her alone because I don’t know anyone else who likes her and Henry was a hard nope, but it ended up coinciding perfectly with Alisha’s visit. She was my concert buddy when she lived in Pittsburgh back in the day and I was so excited to have another good music night with her!
Alisha was all frenzied because she wasn’t sure if we were allowed to park in the lot she chose, and then she was mad because we walked some totally long-ass way to get to the lecture hall when we could have taken a much shorter route, but I was selfishly happy about this because I needed the steps since it was week one of the Law Firm Walking Challenge (OH, I HAVE AN UPDATE ABOUT THIS TOO, CHECK BACK LATER) and I was kicking myself for planning an evening of DINNER and a SEATED CONCERT. Alisha was miserable because she had a bad cold and here I was, walking her around Oakland on a super chilly April night.
When we arrived, she was immediately annoyed because the young girls checking tickets at the door were all googly-eyed over my knack for accessorizing and then we stood in the bathroom waiting for the two occupied stalls to open up and then the bathroom door slowly started to open on its own and we were like WTF SCOOBY, GHOSTS!? but here it turned out Alisha had leaned on the handicap door opening button.
And then a few minutes later, we realized that only one of the stalls had been occupied that whole time, so that was cool.
“I should have known it was going to be a night full of stupid things,” Alisha sighed, insinuating that my presence draws this stuff out!?
Anyway, we found some good seats nice and close (BUT NOT TOO CLOSE) in the first row off the floor. Alisha was whining about why it hadn’t started yet and I was like, “Because it’s only 7. We have another hour.”
LOL Alisha thought it started at 7 that whole time and was so angry that now we had to sit in this growing-more-stifling-by-the-minute room. She amused herself by spying on a man who apparently looked at me twice after I said “bless you” to Alisha so she was convinced he was obsessed with me but clearly I think she was obsessed with him! He kept pretending like he was waiting for someone but then no one ever came…
Then people attempted to speak to Alisha and I thought she was going to will herself to incinerate into a pile of Arkansas ash.
“Why does this always happen? I was doing so good all these years and then I’m with you for like a minute…”
“And the awkward social situations come back?” I laughed, and she emphatically agreed.
It really was an interesting mesh of people there that night though. Lots of punk rock college lesbians, little girls, and old guys.
Tancred was the opener and I really don’t have much to say about them because I have tried so hard over the years to like them, especially when I got more into that Bledfest-type of scene, but I just can’t. The singer is fine but her voice doesn’t evoke a single emotion from me and the lyrics are kind of middle school diary.
But Julien though….
She performed mostly alone until closer to the end of her set, when her friend came out to accompany her on violin. I didn’t take any video and this picture is actually Alisha’s, because I kind of felt paralyzed with regurgitating grief and realized at one point that I was barely breathing.
Julien has this poignant and measured way of singing the most delicate, whispered notes and then, before you have time to prepare yourself, she is lurching her head back and full-blown power-vocals are roaring out of her small frame and sucking up all the oxygen in the room. She will leave you fucking breathless.
So, there’s this thing about me that you should know, and it’s that, as much as I love words, the lyrics of songs usually come secondary for me. It’s the music itself that heals me first and foremost, it’s what gets my heart started, the tears flowing. And then it’s the tone of the voice singing against that music. I have to laugh a little bit because when I was super into the post-hardcore and screamo scene, people would ask me how could I tell what they were saying? And I would say, “I can’t, and it doesn’t matter, because it’s still touching me.” And now, I get the same question because 99.9% of what I listen to is in Korean. And again, it’s the same thing. It doesn’t matter to me what they’re saying, because the music, and the sound of their voices singing in that perfect language, fills my heart with joy that I haven’t felt in such a long time.
But yet, Julien is the rare exception for me. Because I AM listening to her words. And they are slicing through my wrists like a rusty razor. To write the songs she writes…and to sing them with such brittle sincerity and honesty…you have to have a lot of pain in your life. I can’t imagine standing there on a stage in front of so many adoring fans, stripping down to your bare, aching soul, letting us all watch you relive whatever you were going through when these songs came to fruition. She gave us a gift that night, and I will forever cherish it!
This is one of my favorite songs. Careful, she might break your heart.
And then we thought we were going to have to live in the parking lot because one of the parking ticket machines wasn’t working right and traffic was all backed up and we blamed Henry for not driving us.
“You never asked?” he replied to my text. WELL, HE SHOULD HAVE JUST KNOWN TO DO IT!
And don’t you worry – I came home at 11pm and still managed to eke out 20,000 steps.