Banh Mi Love You Long Time's Vietnamese Sandwiches at Porchlight Storytelling

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Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte at Porchlight
Beth Lisick and Arline Klatte at Porchlight

Seriously, every storytelling/reading/performance art show should start in a room that smells like bourbon and banh mi. On Monday, that was the scene at the Verdi Club in the northeast Mission, as a capacity crowd squeezed in for the 11th season opener of the Porchlight Storytelling Series. At the old-fashioned bar, the bartenders were busy mixing highballs, grabbing bottles of Peroni and filling stubby glasses to the brim with Italian red. And at a makeshift kitchen (toaster oven, a couple of crock pots, tubs of pickled chiles and squeeze bottles of Sriracha), Jessica Nguyen of Banh Mi Love You Long Time was stuffing crisp-toasted lengths of baguette with curry tofu, curry chicken, or slow-cooked pork, adding the necessary magic of cilantro, cucumber, carrot, daikon, and chiles, and handing out dozens of the paper-wrapped sandwiches to the chattering crowd with a smile. At $7, a glass of wine cost a buck more than a sandwich, but with both, you could be very happy for less than fifteen bucks. (Or fifteen even, if you did right and tipped both your bartender and your sandwich-maker.)

Jessica Nguyen of Banh Mi Love You Long Time making sandwiches
Jessica Nguyen of Banh Mi Love You Long Time making Vietnamese sandwiches

Having moved to Brooklyn just 6 weeks ago, host Beth Lisick was happy to be back in town and back on stage with her co-host, Arline Klatte, after Porchlight's August hiatus. The theme this time? Double Dare, one story told in tandem by two tellers. (Although Boots Riley, of Oakland hip-hop band The Coup, did get a pass to perform solo, by counting his 6-week-old son in the audience as his silent partner.)

First up, a word from the show's sponsor: a don't-quit-your-day-job turn by Chris Mittelstaedt, founder and CEO of The Fruit Guys, who wore a full-length banana suit while belting out an ode to fruit, backed by Fiona and Simone, his (much cooler) twin 11-year-old daughters on drums and bass, who could ditch Dad and start a Donnas cover band any day now.


(In fact, as we discovered via an email from Mittelstaedt after this article was posted, the girls have been in an all-girl band, Mysturbia, for several years now. They'll be playing at the Polk Street Blues Festival on Sunday, September 30, at 12 noon as part of the Bird Music School set.)

Robert Lawrence and Carol Queen at Porchlight
Robert Lawrence and Carol Queen at Porchlight

Next up, doctors of sexology Carol Queen and Robert Lawrence, founders of the Center for Sex and Culture, and longtime sex educators, authors, and performers. Carol and I even share a food world connection: back in 1996, we were both contributors to a (now long out-of-print) cookbook of celebrity recipes put together to raise money for AIDS organizations. Titled Food for Life and Other Dish, it offered recipes for novelist Dorothy Allison's Red Velvet Cake, drag star RuPaul's Coush-Coush, "The Apple Pie That Seduced My Girlfriend" from writer Rebecca Brown, and many more. Carol was posed in front of her kitchen counter, breaking eggs, while I was snapped standing on top of my stove holding a pie while wearing a checked gingham dress and a Louise Brooks wig.

So, we go way back, Carol and I, but I didn't know that, around the same time as that cookbook was coming out, she and Robert had gotten a $24,000 grant from the Ford Foundation to present a sex-ed lecture (and some educational porn) to the top brass of China's health administration in Beijing. Their week in Beijing, buttressed by a squadron of translators, included a foray to what was, at the time, Beijing's only gay bar, and the discovery of the late-night gay cruising scene near the illegal bok choy market. The Chinese phrase for the semi-public sex happening wherever a tiny slice of semi-privacy could be found? "Trembling bushes."

Then it was over to the Senor Frogs in Nassau with Anneke Swinehart and Sean Kelly, a place of "wet t-shirts, yard-long margarita glasses, and alcoholic Kool-Aid," that was the first stop of the Bruise Cruise, a floating indie-rock extravaganza of dozens of bands and a whole lot of booze. Swinehart came to the rescue of a friend who was about get roundhoused by a drunken "cube of jerk" for pointing that maybe 2AM was a little late for the guy to be out with a baby in tow. "He was feeding the kid caffeinated beverages so the baby would stay awake and let him keep hanging out at the bar, hitting on teenagers," said Swinehart.

Instead, the "cube of jerk" (which, as Klatte said, should really be your next band name) punched Swinehart, Kelly jumped the guy from behind, and a lot of drunken security staff moved in. Eventually, the guy was 86'd, only to call the cops and finger a completely different guy--in fact, the drummer of one of the bands--as his attacker. It was a long night, punctuated by an "indie rock riot" of crying drunk girls pounding on the police car as the misidentified drummer was hauled away. Eventually, with no charges pressed, everyone got back on the boat for some much-needed cocktails, only to find out that rocker gossip had Swinehart and Kelly busted by the cops for trying to swipe the guy's kid.

As Swinehart deadpanned, "We did not steal a baby at Senor Frogs."

Vietnamese sandwich from Banh Mi Love You Long Time
Vietnamese sandwich from Banh Mi Love You Long Time

During the intermission, during a second round of equally excellent Vietnamese sandwiches, we found out that Nguyen also makes sandwiches at the Red Devil Lounge's open mic every Tuesday, and does bicycle deliveries throughout the city. Her whole setup--baguettes, toaster oven, ingredients--can fit on a bike trailer. Delivery orders of pre-made sandwiches are packed in re-purposed Anchor Steam six-pack cartons and toted in panniers on her regular bike.

Making Vietnamese Sandwiches
Jessica Nguyen making Vietnamese Sandwiches

Back in our seats, we were hoping for some food talk from NPR darlings the Kitchen Sisters, Davia Nelson and Nikki Silva, but instead, they'd brought a snippet of their upcoming radio show, The Making of..., a collaboration with KQED. While there will be food-related segments on upcoming shows, this one focused on the making of Homomobiles, musician/performer/writer Lynn Breedlove's non-profit cab company geared towards anyone who, by virtue of gender identity, size of wig or volume of body glitter, might not get a fast, safe ride home in an ordinary cab. As Breedlove said, "You don't have to be a big bad queer to get a ride, but it does help."

But then, after Boots Riley's truly hair-raising story of getting stopped by MPs on Treasure Island (lesson learned: if an MP orders you to pick up your bullet-less, legally registered gun from the trunk of your car to prove that it's unloaded, do not agree), writers and performance artists Ed Wolf and Kirk Read came on to show how it's a slippery slope from veganism to paying $700 to be locked behind barbed-wire gates while rinsing your lower intestines in wheatgrass juice. According to Wolf, identity in San Francisco was easy in the 1970s. You picked your sexual orientation, your hairdo, your drug(s) of choice, and you were set. By the 1990s, when Reed arrived in the City, "the whole food thing had got out of hand," said Wolf.

"You had to know what you were going to be intolerant of," said Reed, "what enzyme your body was going to not produce." Working at a health clinic, surrounded by co-workers who smoke and drank, even did a little recreational heroin but also ate raw or were vegan, Reed heard a lot about a quasi-spiritual, raw-food retreat in San Diego. A two-for-one week was $700. How bad could it be? As freshly minted vegans, they already felt smug--not our problem!--as they drove down I-5 past the "cowschweitz" of the Harris Ranch feedlots. And then they arrived, to find a compound surrounded by high security gates festooned with signs reading NO PIZZA DELIVERY--a hint that maybe a week of colonics was more than some weak flesh could bear.

Kirk Read and Ed Wolf at Porchlight
Kirk Read and Ed Wolf performing at Porchlight

"Breakfast was one disk of watermelon," said Wolf. "You'd put everything, anything on it--cinnamon, seaweed flakes--trying to give it some taste." Exercise was impossible; people "peeled off" limply during the quarter-mile hikes around the grounds. The big event? The distribution of buckets filled with wheatgrass juice, not for drinking but for, well, internal cleansing. At one point, they snuck off to see Little Miss Sunshine and share an apple from Trader Joe's. Finally, at the end of the week, they fled. Just before getting back on I-5, they saw, like a beacon of light, a Denny's. "We put it down!" laughed Wolf. "Grand Slam, everything. Do you know how hard it is to spend $39 at Denny's?"


Kirk Reed will be performing as part of Yerba Buena Center for the Arts' show Wish You Were Here on Sat, Sept 22, from 8pm-12am.
The Coup will be playing at the Treasure Island Music Festival on Sat, Oct 13.