Night Crawler

As a warm, summer dusk settles over SOMA, hints of ukulele and roast pig waft through the intersection of Harrison and Eighth Street. Trader Joe's shoppers looking for parking in the lot nearby subconsciously yearn for the sound and scent, cocking an ear, inhaling deeply as they remind themselves to get two packs of Vegetable Gyoza Potstickers. On the street, a small brown Datsun rattles to a stop in front of the Somar Gallery. The passenger doors fly open and six men and women clad in Hawaiian shirts and grass skirts stream out of the back, the last clutching a hot-pink Hula-Hoop with white candy-cane stripes.

"Look, it's a tiki-clown car," shouts a similarly clad gent standing at the mouth of the Somar driveway. The Datsun driver responds affectionately with three sickly toots from his car horn and heads off to find parking. "You already missed the Hula-Hoop contest," says the self-appointed greeter, gripping a much-mangled, slightly sodden cigar between his teeth, "but you can never have too many Hoops. That's what my old man used to say." The "tiki clowns" smile awkwardly and make their way down the driveway toward a pair of beaming ticket-takers, who are accepting donations for the day's gathering: Hualapai Luau, held under the flickering light of tiki torches. The strong odor of sage and burning eucalyptus replaces that of pork, as if someone were trying to "smudge" away the olfactory suggestion of porcine sacrifice.

"I think the pig might be done," says a ticket-taker, "but there's still fun to be had." Nearby, an overzealous bubble machine dispenses that all-important Don Ho vibe, and under the trees on a small stage made of dirt and 2-by-4s, Alvin A Go Go -- one of the city's most dexterous DJs -- spins a queer melange of exotica, Japanese pop, and nouveau surf. The trees are adorned with Christmas lights and large cellophane flowers that complement the floral mural painted on the corrugated-steel outer wall of Somar; a life-size Easter Island head stands sentry between two burning torches; tiki heads leer from tree trunks and the shoulders of stumbling revelers; multicolored mumus swing from a clothesline draped across the Pineapple Boutique (a booth selling vintage fashions by Lady B); and the Absinthe Underground dispenses an evil-looking concoction that contains Everclear and resembles Joy dishwashing liquid.

"It tastes a little, um, soapy," says a man clutching a yellow cocktail in one hand and a Speak-and-Spin barnyard animal toy in the other, "but it packs a punch that is not altogether unpleasant." He pushes himself off the picnic table and lurches into the hula-dancing fray while shouting, "As God is my bartender, I will never be thirsty again!" GodTodd, the mixologist of the hour, looks up from the makeshift bar and raises a glass.

This is not your typical luau crowd. It is a gathering of artists, eccentrics, miscreants, and lovers of such -- the people who continue to carry the freak torch for all San Franciscans to bear. In this small assemblage there are representatives from the Cacophony Society, Burning Man, Survival Research Laboratories, Defenestration, Circus Redickuless, the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, Crash Worship, the Seemen, and countless other renegade outfits that turn visceral experiences into art, and art into visceral experiences. It is a crowd in which real-life circus geeks are cherished and lithesome club girls barely tolerated. It is a crowd that believes the surest test of an initiate's mettle is his or her willingness to be publicly humiliated. (Strip away all inhibitions and a genius might be revealed, or at least a good lackey.) As the Burning Man Festival draws near, tonight's targets are the "newbies" -- folks who have been visiting the Burning Man Website without revealing themselves to the community. This is their chance to come out -- to be "delurked," as it were.

"All newbies, approach the Niads!" shouts Sister Dana Van Iquity from the stage. Newbie Miggs, decked out in full Polynesian dance gear, approaches with spirit-induced enthusiasm. The other newbies, however, are hesitant to advance. Neither a public service announcement about an alleged loose tarantula, nor a brief interlude during which Sister Dana tongues Ugly Dougly -- who dons a Santa suit in honor of last year's Santicon (when several hundred deviant Santas invaded Portland, Ore.) -- makes the decision any easier for people who were too timid to post onto a Website in the first place. Sister Dana, however, is persistent, and with a little help from old-timers in the crowd, the newbies are properly inducted.

A recitation of "As God is my bartender, I will never be thirsty again" and a large, overflowing shot of Hershey's chocolate syrup licked off by attending "priests" just about do it. But then, it's on to a pleasant little game of bingo, hosted by none other than our bartender, GodTodd. The rules are simple enough: Grab a bingo card, mark off the numbers called, and win fabulous prizes (CDs by CC Peniston, Bryan Adams, Vanessa Williams, and Phil Collins are offered along with a children's bowling set, "perfect for learning how to juggle"). But here's the catch. In an earlier drunken delusion, GT snatched up the grisly remainder of the roasted pig's head and mounted it atop his Tahitian headdress. Now, in order to get a bingo card, "EVERYONE MUST KISS THE PIG!" as the bingo master delicately puts it.

There is some hesitation in the crowd. "Don't kiss the pig," warns a black-clad newbie girl who somehow escaped delurking.

Her bleary-eyed partner chuckles, glancing at the stack of bingo cards sitting at GT's feet, and shakes off the girl's cautionary grip. "I'm going to get a card," he says, running a hand through his indie-boy locks.

"It's not just the pig head," says the newbie girl in hushed agitation, "it's all the people who have kissed the pig before you."

"Aaah, c'mon," says the boy, heading off toward the bingo table. "He won't force me to kiss the pig. I'll give him money or something."

"YOU MUST KISS THE PIG!" shouts GodTodd. A brief pause follows. "No, no, it doesn't cost a damn thing," says GT in consternation. "What's wrong with you? Just kiss the pig. Kiss the pig. C'mon, c'mon kiss the pig. We'll take your picture. We'll take a picture of you kissing the pig. Just kiss the little piggy. KISS THE PIG! YOU MUST KISS THE PIG! Everyone's watching."

Eventually, the boy returns with a bingo card, much to the newbie girl's disgust. It's hard to resist a man like bartender GodTodd.

Slap Shots returns to this space next week.

By Silke Tudor

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