Zankou Chicken is an Armenian-style fast food restaurant in the Los Angeles area. I lived a block away when the first Zankou on Sunset Boulevard opened in 1982, and I was so ready for something different to eat in the neighborhood that I kept and eye on the restaurant when it was being built. Finally, on opening day, I went in and ordered a half-chicken plate. I had to be the first non-Armenian to eat there. The chicken is rotisserie chicken, and it was served with pita bread, pickled turnip, hummus, and… garlic paste. My God – there is nothing like Zankou garlic paste. I ate there every day for a week, and I evangelized it to everyone I knew. And even today, there are only two reasons to visit LA other than to see family: Zankou Chicken, and Tommy’s Burgers. There are a few other things worth seeing in LA, but these two are the only real reasons to go.
In addition to rotisserie chicken, Zankou has some other spectacular specialties: Various kabobs, felafel, beef tri-tip shawerma, chicken tarna, and pita-bread sandwiches containing the above.
Sharwerma and tarna are cooked on vertical spits, and the cooks carve off portions for each order. The greek “gyro” is also cooked on a vertical spit, but a gyro is nothing like these two. Shawerma ends up as beautifully cooked meat, tender and spiced wonderfully, and it is served with hummus, tahini, tomatoes, pita, lettuce, and pickled turnips. It is delicious. Tarna is basically the same thing, only made with chicken. In fact, the Hollywood store had it on the menu as “chicken shawerma” for years before they went to tarna. I have no idea why they changed the name.
Chicken tarna is heavenly. It is proof of the divine. I am not overstating this.
I moved away from Hollywood, and was therefore not able to get to Zankou as often as I used to. After a few month’s deprivation, I was able to find a way to get back to the old neighborhood and get some chicken tarna. I’m not sure why, but I was in a gloomy mood that day, and was thinking Deep Thoughts. I sat down, and opened up the container to eat, and took the first bite. It was so good. And I thought so myself, “You know, if someone came to me and told me they were considering ending their life, I would give them this: chicken tarna. This alone is reason to live.” No matter how awful the world is, no matter how evil humankind can be, no matter what problems a person may have, there is one thing that makes it all worthwhile: chicken tarna. It is proof that there is still one perfect thing. It is, as I said above, proof of the divine. There is a God.
This happened about twenty-five years ago, and I was serious. I really thought that I could save a person by just serving them up some Zankou. That I could convey the absolute truth that there is at least one good thing in the world that makes life worth living.
If you live life long enough, life teaches you things. I’ve had some interesting times from 1992 until now. I have lost good friends and beloved family to old age, cancer, sickness, accidents, AIDS, and suicide. I experienced the reality of economic downturns and the fact that sometimes, no matter how good you are, the jobs just aren’t there. I realized that certain types of pain are not superficial. Certain types of pain rip you apart. There are circumstances that can happen that push you to an edge where there are just no options. When the weight of the world is on your shoulders, and you cannot carry it, but you have to carry it, because there is no other way, it is just cussing hard. And I’ve been in that circumstance, and we as a family have been in that circumstance. And when you know that there’s no one else to blame, and that it is your fault, well, that just adds spice to it.
I was never suicidal, but I could see how people could be. I could see how life could be so burdensome and how things can close in and crush you to the point where suicide could be an option. I’ve been blessed. We’ve been blessed. And I know it. My wife Jenny knew it. It was through her that I realized that life isn’t random. That there is an invisible hand, a divine hand. I am not arguing faith or religion here; all I am saying is that I have seen it. I, however, have felt the turmoil, and I could see how someone could be angry with God, and be just done with it. Jenny used to tell me, “you better be nice to me. God loves me.” And I have to say that when things got rough, I thought of that, and that while He may or may not love me, He sure as hell loves her. And that helped carry me through.
I wish, I wish, that it was as simple as “here, man, have some chicken tarna, and it will all be okay.” I wish it were that simple. It’s not, though. When you are that dark, you can’t see the good. I felt that way a few times, when even chicken tarna wasn’t enough for me. It was nice when I had an answer. Now I don’t. I think the only thing you can do is to at least not make things worse, and to be there and be loving. I think people should be there and be loving all the time, but especially toward those who are in trouble.
Now I know there are resources available for people who need help, such as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Chicken tarna is not the only thing that is good in the world – there are some really fine people who can really help.
Take care of yourself, and take care of your loved ones. And when you are in LA, get some Zankou Chicken. It can only help.