Monday, May 09, 2011

Strangers in the Castro, 2011

I’m not sure at the exact moment it happened, and I’ve never felt this way before, but I decided I could live in San Francisco. 

Staying with my friend Jerry in the Castro, the temperature skyrocketed to 60F and locals literally peeled their shirts off to soak it all up. Mark Twain famously quipped that the coldest winter he ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.  So you can imagine this was epic heat.  60F in Sydney and the weatherman talks cold front and wind chill factor.  In the Castro there I caught a guy strolling down the street absolutely 100% butt naked, save for a strategically placed bandana. 

Nearby, a homeless man (fully clothed) limps doiwn the sidewalk.  He shuffles past a bar that’s just opened for Happy Hour and Britney Spears’ latest blares out its windows.  She sings:
If I said I want your body now...

And is joined by a deep gravelly voice, as the bum disinterestedly belts out the next lyric with her:

Would you hold it against me?

That night, I’m seated inside the Twin Peaks Tavern beside two older men as they sip cordials. Watching the royal wedding on the TV, they’re trying to understand why all those British would gather in hordes to glimpse the couple when they can see it all so much better at the bar. “Frankly,” one says to the other, “I’d rather be in Thailand with Fergie.” 

Next door, there is an animated all-night American café called Orphan Andy’s.  There’s a long line out the door and not a single available stool at the counter - but I spot an empty booth.  When I point that out, a patron ahead of me says booths are reserved for parties of two or more and we’re all drunk and alone.  His name is Mike and I ask if he’d like to join me. 

Why not? 

No sooner do Mike and I sit down in the busy café than we meet a woman named Mariah and her gay friend in the booth behind us.  Mariah is passing out drunk into the gravy of her chicken fried steak.  As she does this, she mumbles how she sure is not looking forward to driving home to San Mateo.  

I ask how far away is San Mateo and she slurs, “Half-hour south”, before dipping her head back into her untouched chicken fried steak.  Across from Mariah, a sassy gay friend promises he will not let her get behind the wheel tonight.  He then hands both Mike and I an onion ring - “And don’t forget the ranch dip!” 

After we order, I ask Mike if he has a boyfriend and he says no – he’s single after an eleven-year relationship. When I press, he tells me that his boyfriend of eleven years died in combat action in Iraq.  Although it’s been some time, he has difficulty dating because nobody comes close to comparing with his ex.  Mike was also stationed in Iraq. And no, he didn’t receive his dead boyfriend’s army pension (you know I asked). 

Behind Mike, a man jumps up from a table with his knife and fork, rushes up to the packed counter, and suddenly carves into a woman’s side plate stack of pancakes and syrup.  She looks mildly amused/horrified.  After a bite, he returns to his booth as suddenly as he appeared.

The waiter booms to the man, for the benefit of the whole diner: “That is not acceptable restaurant behavior!” Back in his booth, the man shrugs. The waiter asks the woman if she wants the pancake bandit removed from the premises.  She shakes her head, but pushes her pancakes away.

Back at my table, Mike rolls up his pant leg and shows me a bullet scar from the enemy fire he took in Iraq.  


Dtown~Blog said...

Twisted! I can see why this city would intrigue you. I don't like Pink very much but this post reminds of that song she sings...So raise your glass if you are wrong,In all the right ways,
All my underdogs, We will never be never be anything but loud
And nitty gritty, dirty little freaks...I'll sing that one proudly!

Jesse Archer said...

I hear you, Sal - and them! :)

samael7 said...

Dude! Hope you had a nice visit in my hometown.

I was in Australia in 2001 for five months or so, spending a lot of time in Sydney. I decided that Sydney and San Francisco were the two places I could most live in (of all the places I've been).

The mild weather here in SF is great, but I do miss Bondi, Tamarama, Coogee, Manly, and warm beach weather (and water you can actually dip in without instant hypothermia).