Chloe and me, we were pretty much a 21st-century urban couple of a certain type. We met at a mock Iron Chef party that some friends of friends of mine put on—I think the theme was “Battle Matzoh,” with a team of out-of-work chefs throwing down the Streit's against a crew of laid-off CNET coders. The coders were winning when I spotted Chloe in a nurse’s outfit one size too small, drinking Manischewitz shots out of a tiki mug. Well, that was it for me. I’ve always had a soft spot for women in uniform who can hold their liquor.
It didn’t take long to convince her to leave the house she was sharing with 3 roommates on Cesar Chavez and move into my place in Oakland. I had a backyard, a Vitamix, a 3-year-old Saab, room for her cat and I always put the seat down, even when she was gone for the whole day at a yoga-and-goat-cheese-making retreat.
And we were pretty much in sync around most things. We’d recently switched our coffee from Ritual Roasters to Four Barrel to Sightglass. With their roastery in Williamsburg and their farmers' market lockdown in Temescal, Blue Bottle was over, Chloe insisted, pulling her curly hair into two Dr. Seussy-looking pigtails on the top of her head, and I had to agree, although secretly, I’d been kind of looking forward to being able to get one of their insane New Orleans iced coffees to wake me up for the drive home after a Sunday of Frisbee and Tecates in Dolores Park, even when it became obvious that their generator-driven coup wasn’t going to happen.
Since we both worked in Emeryville, we got together to eat lunch together almost every other day, sharing leftover jicama-kale salad or hitting up Primos Parrilla if our supply ran low. Sometimes when she was feeling cranky I’d walk over to her office and leave a couple of cupcakes from the Cupkates truck—one for her and one that she maybe didn’t have to know about for the cute maybe-lesbian-but-maybe-not receptionist with the mermaid tattoo and the skateboard kicked up at the back of her desk.
Chloe used to be vegan in college, but like most girls, she was just waiting for someone to feed her a really good pork chop wrapped in bacon and convince her that we could be ethical omnivores together. She’s still pretty skinny though; I’d like to go in on getting a whole pig with the neighbors down the street but I don’t know what our actual capacity for jowl and trotter might be. It’s not like I’m Chris Cosentino or anything, who could probably propose to a woman with a fried calf brain and a lamb tongue and still get lucky.
So we’d had our first anniversary last month at a Stag Dinner in her friend Chicken John’s art space, down the street from the Victorian where she used to live. Pretty cool, and Chloe didn’t flinch at the oyster starter or the second course of squid stuffed with blood sausage. But now her birthday was coming up, on April 1st, and I had to come up with something to top that, without tapping into what we’re saving for going to Bali in December.
That’s when I saw it on my Twitter feed: another underground restaurant, this one by Guerrilla Greens. I hadn’t heard of them, but I figured they were probably part of the East Bay's roving, ever-shifting band of backyard-chickening, rooftop-beekeeping, front-yard-chard-growers. They made me feel old, they were so earnest and gluten-free in their muddy Carharts, foraged lemons rolling around the back of their pickup trucks. But at least a couple of these types could usually be counted on to have worked the line at Ubuntu or done a stage at Saison. I signed us up.
Ok, so maybe I should have seen something weird right then. See, they didn’t ask for an email address or a Paypal account, just my address. In fact, there wasn’t any mention of money at all, which was definitely strange, since usually these dinners are, you know, pretty expensive, especially given that the bathroom's usually down 2 flights of stairs and the main course takes three hours to come out and then it's something like three little pieces of raw goat meat in argan oil covered in flowers.
But I wanted to convince myself that maybe this was something really new. Maybe they were trying some kind of different slow-money business model with kale donated by Novella Carpenter. Not that I wanted us digging into platefuls of cougar-chomped lamb, but why couldn’t there be a new post-capitalism paradigm at work? Underground restaurant, underground biz model, right?
Until I woke up on Monday. Shower, shave, go into the kitchen to steam up an almond-milk double latte for Chloe. Except that the stove’s not there. The refrigerator is gone, too, which is okay because we stopped keeping our coffee beans in the freezer after the guy at Sightglass told us how that shocks the beans. And I usually make the almond milk myself in the Vitamix, so I still should be able to make Chloe her coffee. Except these Guerrilla Greens—and really, who else could it be?—have taken everything with a plug. The espresso machine, the juicer, the toaster, even the crockpot given to us not-really-ironically from Chloe’s mom.
There was firewood piled where the television, stereo, and Netflix envelopes had been. They’d left the iPad, which was nice, but after all, they'd need the Twitter feed to explain themselves. Even without the carefully calibrated fair-trade, shade-grown buzz I’d become so used to every morning, I was beginning to understand.
We weren’t going to their restaurant. Their restaurant was coming to us. We were becoming their restaurant. Their restaurant was inside us.
I picked up the iPad. There, on their Twitter feed, was their paradigm: THE NEW URBAN HOMESTEADING. BY ANY MEANS NECESSARY.
My hands were shaking. I did my yoga breathing. If only they'd left us some matches, we could still make pour-over coffee.
While I crumpled up old copies of the East Bay Express to get the fire going, Chloe came in from the backyard, a baby goat in her arms and a chard leaf caught in her pigtails.
“This..is...the…cutest…thing…I’ve..ever…seen,” she breathed, snuggling her chin between the kid’s floppy little ears. “I’m going back outside to get us some milk for breakfast.”
“But, Chloe,” I whined. “What about your lactose intolerance?” But she didn’t answer; looking out, I could see her head already tucked tightly against the furry brown side of one of the four dwarf goats wandering through the backyard, nibbling the oak branches and trimming down the blackberry brambles. "Aren't you going to be late for Hot Zumba?"
“It’s like squeezing a hairy water balloon!” she called back, as a family of quails skittered over to the compost pile, followed by three seagulls and five high-stepping pigeons. A snake lolled on one of the three discarded, empty computer monitors which were now filled with honeycomb and a swarm of slightly angry-sounding bees. A bag of clay kitty litter and a bale of straw sat in a back corner. I knew, without looking, that the next tweet would be cryptic instructions for building a cob oven.
I still need my coffee every morning, but besides that, it’s not so bad. I know what to do now. Chloe freecycled a hand-cranked coffee grinder, and we filter it through one of her old American Apparel tank tops. We’re naked now, most of the time; it just feels better, especially after a whole bunch of snails moved into the shower. We sleep on the moss under the oak tree; our futon's under the porch, growing our first crop of enoki mushrooms. Chloe says we should have our friends over for escargots in goat butter next week.
Did you know that snake makes an awesome curry? You should try it, you know. Just get on our Twitter feed. We'll tell you how.