A Dark and Stormy Soup

Photos and Illustration by Sean Holstege

“Lobster bisque! Table Six! Now!” the head waiter would roar. “Where the hell is that Manhattan chowder!”

For what? These mindless tourists, too dense to know that Fisherman’s Wharf is the last place to get decent seafood.

What he would gladly pay to fling the bisque at that creature on Table Six now. Look at him, all wrinkles and gold, leering at that girl less than half his age.

Probably get lucky tonight too, the bastard.

Not like he would know, imprisoned at the end of Pier 39 every day and night on a busboy’s wages.

San Francisco could be a cruel host.

So he thought about flinging the bisque all over His Highness and brooded.

Mercifully, the shift finally ended and the tips had been okay.

The Murk. Photos and Illustration by Sean Holstege

Enough to get to Clement Street, have a few jars and take in some rebellious tunes about being imprisoned or starved by English.

And who couldn’t love a good foot-stomper? Nobody, that’s who. Murphy’s, Jameson’s and some Chieftans. Repeat. Perfect way to forget Table Six.

He doesn’t remember most of what followed. A couple of off-duty nurses from USF.

Tiptoeing around the vomit three doors down from the Plough and Stars. The Cork bog-dweller who ploughed into him in the doorway.

Then, it gets murky.

The murk, that Pacific Ocean mist, greeted him the next morning. No cuts, no bruises, no odd pains or sensations. Clothes still on, mostly. Nothing embarrassing, thank Christ.

Ah, but the head. Jesus, Joseph and Mary, the head. What had he done to that? Thoughts as clear as the weather outside. The soup again.

And that’s when it came to him. The soup. That magical, mysterious healing soup. That will do.

A splash of cold water on the face, a knit fisherman’s cap up top and he was up and moving again. He crossed Taraval Street, dodging a streetcar, and ducked into Tien’s Noodle Factory.

Tien knew him by name. They shared this little ritual. Tien didn’t need to ask but he did anyway, and got the customary grunt.

And then it came. The soup. That soup.

Salvation. Photos and Illustration by Sean Holstege

Steam rose from the big ceramic bowl. It was dark. It was stormy. It was inviting. It was a miracle.

The not-too salty chicken broth. That syrupy texture, suspending those mysterious filaments of egg and noodle. The tofu to soak up the flavor and god knows how much alcohol. Some unidentifiable crunchy vegetable. A jolt of tangy rice wine vinegar to spark the senses and a healthy dose of chili oil to clear the pipes.

The soup was dark and stormy. It was hot. It was sour. It was Hot and Sour Soup, but not just any. This was Tien’s hot and sour soup. Jesus, was this good.

And it had brought him back to life. Again.

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