Bouncer

Katy St. Clair shows a Rottweiler who's boss, wins at bingo, and enjoys Sadie's Flying Elephant

In 1929, a down-on-his-luck toy maker named Edwin S. Lowe picked himself up by his bootstraps and developed a game called Beano. It was modeled after the lotto games he had seen played in the carnival tents of county fairs throughout the South, which were in turn copying the lotto games of Germany, which were in turn copying the Italian lottery called Lo Giuoco del Lotto d'Italia, which dates back to the 1500s. And if that run-on sentence ain't enough for you, picture a tipsy housewife in the early 1930s playing the game, which involved the use of a card with the word "BEANO" written across the top and columns of numbers underneath each letter. Players would place a bean on each square when the corresponding combo was called out. This Depression-era housewife, let's call her Sadie, was so excited to have won that she jumped up, as legend tells it, and instead of yelling out, "Beano!" drunkenly cried, "Bingo!" instead.

And so was born bingo, a game that sounds super-bore-wad until you actually play it. Once you start, that same chemical is released in your primate brain that compels a rhesus monkey to hit the ol' metal bar for a pellet over and over and over again. It's not religion that's the opiate of the masses, it's games of chance. If bingo be the music of love, play on, peeps.

So I showed up at Sadie's Flying Elephant at Potrero and Mariposa on a Thursday night for bingo. Sadie's is the quintessential neighborhood bar, stocked almost entirely with locals and regulars who all seem to know one another but are more than willing to treat you like their "Norm" for the night if you engage them. It has frequently been voted Best Dive Bar by various S.F. publications, but no way is it a true dive bar. Sure, it's kinda dusty and ragtag, with junk-shop stuff piled here and there, questionable art on the walls, old sofas and Archie Bunker chairs, and free popcorn, but there aren't any grizzled alkies, jars of pickled eggs, or Bachman-Turner Overdrive CDs on the jukebox, so it doesn't fit my criteria. If you have a juke that plays Radiohead, you ain't a dive, sorry. The place is named for the owner's daughter, who had an affinity for Dumbo when she was very little. You gotta love a joint like that.

When I walked in by myself, I looked like a recently transferred junior high school student carrying her tray into the cafeteria for the first time. This is the feeling that comes over all of us when we walk into a place that has such a heavy contingent of regulars, I suppose. I ordered a beer and then headed straight for the back, where there was a room full of demonic paintings, a Vespa, a few sofas, and no one else. Ah, a place I could hunker down in and do some serious gambling without interruption.

Now, one thing that is great about Sadie's is that people bring their dogs inside. Cute li'l Jack Russells cavort with bandanna'd Labs and the worst that happens is you get a nose in your crotch. On this night, however, I passed a dozing Rottweiler that immediately perked up when I approached his sofa to get to my seat. It was actually more of a sizing upthan a perking up, and I made haste to get away from him with a cursory "Nice doggy ... good doggy!" Rottweilers terrify me, and they know it.

I sat in a big armchair and positioned my bingo cards in my lap, one on each leg, and ceremoniously placed pennies in the middle "free" square. I had a table for my beer, double-the-odds-of-winning with two cards, and a feeling that chance may just be on my side, that I just might walk away with an Oakland A's beer cozy or a set of Frigid Midget ice trays. The signs were all there. To my right, stuck to the Vespa, was a smattering of magnet poetry, surely a sign that "chance" can even be applied to a mid-'90s refrigerator trend. The first one read: "the china day had you goin', Mickey," which caused me to wonder who besides Toni Basil or Donald Duck decided that the word "Mickey" would be a good thing to throw into a magnetic poetry set. Another sentence read "skeleton hell amusing, could sage help?" Hey, what have you got to lose? It's not like Satan has plant allergies. Then I read my favorite: "after zany comes will." I'm still chewing on that one.

Meanwhile, the bingo numbers were being called out over the megaphone. In a matter of minutes I had three in a row on one card, and four in row on the other. Could this be my night? I was just about to scrounge my purse for more pennies when I sensed a presence. Without moving my head, I slowly looked up, and two piercing yellow eyes appeared about two feet from my face. They were attached to a whole hell of a lot of muzzle. It was the Rottweiler, and he had found me. He sat on his haunches and stared at me like I was Gregory Peck in The Omen. Oh shizznit. It's times like these when I run over what I was taught about this stuff in grade school. Now, do I make eye contact and establish dominance, or would that anger him and cause him to smell my fear? Or, do I offer my hand for him to sniff? Perhaps I could just buy him a Heineken. Goddamn this dog was big.

Then something amazing happened, something that could only be chalked up to chance. To my right, along the bar, came the unmistakable bark of the word "Bingo!," causing the startled Rottie to jerk his massive head toward the sound and then quickly saunter off in search of someone else to terrorize. Let me put this out there to any Rottweiler owner: Yes, Adolf may just be a big overgrown puppy, and yes, I'm sure he was just playing that one time he tore your lip off, but you make the rest of us very nervous when you keep him off leash.

I decided to move over to the bar, especially since no one could hear me scream where I was sitting in the back. I parked it next to a guy with 16 bingo cards. Ah, I thought, so this was the asshole who kept winning. "You are going down," I said to him ominously, and deep down I knew I was right. Later, for the first time in my life, I won. I actually used the word "Bingo!" in a nonsarcastic context, and even scored a free drink. I ordered a Heineken, the significance of which was not lost on the dog. I had asserted my dominance.

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