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"I had submitted Tiki News to be carried by them, and they declined," he explained. "But I would go to my local Tower and just put a few of them on their shelf. And then people would buy them. So one day Tower's national zine buyer called me and said, "My employees are requesting I carry your magazine.' So now they take 300 copies."
As we cleared our plates, Baby Doe headed to the bar to whip us up a round of Castaways.
Access Otto von Stroheim's zine online
"So how do you feel about all this?" I asked Otto. "It sounds like it was kind of an accident. Your roommate said, "Let's make it a tiki party.' Before that you weren't Tiki Man, right? You were just a normal person. Now you're the king of all tiki."
"I guess so," said Otto. "I mean, I only wear Hawaiian shirts. You know -- all the time. Even at work."
Doe presented us with our fresh Castaways and disappeared into the kitchen for a second to retrieve her incredible dessert, a huge, glistening brown pineapple upside-down cake.
"Mmm ... wow," I said with a mouth full of upside-down cake, "that's, like, a Duncan Hines mix, isn't it?"
They both laughed. "It is Duncan Hines, isn't it?" said Otto.
"But it's great," I assured Doe. "Who doesn't love Duncan Hines mix?"
"The secret," she explained proudly, "is in the brown sugar and the pineapple rings."
"So what do you think, Barry?" asked Otto. "Do you want to go on a little tiki tour of San Francisco? Our original plan was to have dinner at the Tonga Room, but they wouldn't give us a free meal. I called them up and they said, "Well, we'll give you 50 percent off.' I thought, "Oh, that's cheesy.' Isn't that cheesy? I mean, I publish the Tiki News, you know? They're like, "Well, what's that?'"
"I don't think I've been to the Tonga Room in about five years," I said.
"Well, you know," said Otto, "for most people, once every five years is enough. Of course for us, when I first moved here we started going at least once a month. If it got to the end of the month and we hadn't been, we'd be like, "Uh, we haven't been to the Tonga Room this month. Oh God, we better go tonight.' Since I moved here, we've went at least 20 or 30 times."
HEY, TONGA ROOM: How about throwingTiki News a bone, huh?
"Maybe we should just go to the Lilo," he suggested. "It's up to you. We could do tiki all night. We could tiki for, like, a week straight without sleeping."
A hop, skip, and a car pool later we were rolling into the Lilo Lounge on Potrero Hill. The bamboo fans twirled slowly overhead as DJ Mike, Otto's buddy (and publisher of Gearhead), spun exotica tunes on the turntables.
We ordered another round of drinks. A mai tai for Otto. Blue Hawaiian for Doe. And make mine a Tropical Storm. "The thing about tiki," Otto concluded, "is that it's just a great aesthetic, that nobody can really hate, because it's kitschy, but not cheesy. It's just all about fun. And it's not offensive to Islanders because it's so inauthentic, it's so poorly done, that it's not really offending anything about them. It's just total escapism."
When my second Tropical Storm arrived, I did what most pre-2K American men would do: I eased back in my rattan chair, pictured myself escaping to some island paradise, and secretly fell in love with the waitress.
Ah, the tropics.
Want to host The Man Who Came to Dinner? E-mail SFDinner@aol.com and tell us what's cookin'.
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