I Ain't No Holocaust Girl

Shuffleboard at the El Rio and why calling your boss a Nazi is passé

It's not often that you can meet a German in a Latin club and talk about the Nazis, but I guess I was just lucky. "Birgit" was more than happy to talk about her country's dark past, and even chuckled when I called her "Birgit Belsen." We were sitting outside at El Rio. She had just explained to me what "Und auch keine dusenflieger" from "99 Luftballons" meant, and I was readying my next American display of buffoonery, a little thing I like to call "Klaus Meine on die Autobahn." In my best high-pitched Deutsch, I exclaimed, "Nein Gasse, nein Cashe, nein Asse, du hat keine gekommen in mein Car. Keine Personen ride ge-free."

What can I say, it was der bier gesprächen.

Despite its prompting an occasional urge to be idiotic, El Rio has a lovely calm to it, and sitting outside at its Gilligan's Island tables is one of life's simple pleasures. This place is pretty much the perfect club, complete with separate band area, shuffleboard, and plenty o' parking. Here's the one thing that makes no sense, however: the jukebox. El Rio has the worst jukebox I have ever encountered -- Fleetwood Mac's The Dance, which is bad live versions of the group's hits; a Tom Verlaine solo album; the Doors, Operation Ivy, the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik, and Rod Stewart's greatest hits. Then there's the obligatory James Brown, Tom Jones, and Marvin Gaye collections. I put in a buck for three songs and had a damn hard time finding anything. I settled on the Talking Heads' "Heaven," Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir," and Stewart's "Do Ya Think I'm Sexy?"

This place is crawling with hipsters 24-7, so you'd think they could throw in some of Springsteen's Nebraska, or Rufus Wainwright, or Electric Eel Shock or whatever the kids are listening to these days.

But back to the Nazis. I was with my friend Theo, whose wife was out of town at a funeral. He was lonely and kept gazing at her picture on his phone in between shuffleboard plays. Well, between shuffleboard and chatting up chicks. At one point he was embroiled in a conversation with a pregnant woman who was holding a pint of Stella Artois. This was when we met Birgit and her friend Caroline, who were sitting near the expectant mother. After it was confirmed that they were Germans, we naturally started talking about the Final Solution.

"Auschwitz is sort of the Disneyland of concentration camps," said Caroline, referring to how touristy the site had become.

"Buchenwald was very moving," said Theo, noting that when he was there the sun was going down and no one else was around.

Earlier in the evening we had been arguing over whether or not there is anything more profound than death. Sure, I offered, there are other things that make you take pause. The presidency of George W. Bush, the musical career of John Mayer, and why Six Flags chooses that fucking annoying old guy doin' tha Freak for its mascot, to name just a few. But to me, death is truly the thing everyone experiences that cannot really be comprehended.

The Holocaust is pretty profound, but now it gets name-checked so much that it has lost its impact. Even I am guilty of comparing the current administration to the rise of nationalism in Germany. And how many of us have referred to the gigantic Harris beef ranch off of I-5 as "Cow-shwitz" or "Dauc-cow"? We call bosses we don't like "Nazis," our cubicles are "concentration camps," and Young Republicans are the "Hitler Youth." The Holocaust has become an adjective. We -- Theo, the Germans, and I -- all agreed. Besides, it's hard to find profundity with Pantera playing in the background.

I was surprisingly more agile at shuffleboard than I thought I would be. I am the sort to send a pool cue ripping through the felt of a tabletop or a bowling ball spinning backward into a video game. It was Theo and me versus the pregnant gal and her friend, with the Germans cheering us on. If Leni Riefenstahl had filmed our game, it would have looked something like this: Crisp black-and-white film in slo-mo, natch. Majestic Mexican paper snowflake thingies hung above us on the ceiling like proud hawks. The camera pans down a line of people on barstools like cars in a long parking lot, fresh-faced hipsters with facial hair, slowly bringing their drinks to anxious lips. Suddenly Theo enters the frame, which has taken on a sideways slant so as to create, as if from nothing, the idea of sinuous musculature. The camera slowly pans to his face, which is in rapt concentration, focused entirely on the chest of the pregnant woman. Then I enter the frame, also at an angle but one counter to that which introduced Theo. From somewhere a fan blows my hair in slo-mo as if I were underwater. I place my hand on the fat, proud puck and begin to slide it ever so gracefully back and forth, practicing for my big move. Images of magnificent, naked Aryans are edited in at this point, all throwing javelins or lifting medicine balls. Then the camera is back on my hand, my arm, my torso, and finally my face, eyes burning, tongue thrust out and over my top lip. The bar patrons are on their feet, cheering. I let the puck fly ... fly ... fly ... and it sails solemnly into the one-point area of the board.

Victory!

But our dominance was short-lived, and the pregnant chick and her friend ended up beating us, not unlike the fall of Berlin. The Germans consoled us and we went outside and ended up talking about G-spots and some guy named Hagen back in Deutschland who really knew how to find one on a girl. "Hagen daaz it real goot," I said, in what was thankfully the last inane thing that came out of my mouth that evening. We parted with the usual "keep in touch" stuff that never actually happens when you bond with strangers over drinks in a bar, and I went home, wondering how I could find a shuffleboard set for cheap.

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