Tender Isn't the Night

If you're looking to entertain your divorced and jobless friend, avoid the Tenderloin

Watch yourself, because there are militant Hare Krishnas out there. In fact, when last I checked -- which was the late '90s -- they were in Berkeley, quietly plotting against the police and stockpiling weapons. Laugh if you will, but back in my gumshoe reporter days it was the one story that I was actually too chicken to pursue for fear of violent retribution. A cult expert I interviewed told me that the group's plans were to one day spark a bloody coup. It would begin with followers walking up to people like you or me and saying, "Hare Krishna." If we didn't say "Hare Krishna" back, out would come an AK-47 and we would be shot on the spot -- an efficient way of separating the believers from the nonbelievers.

This little anecdote keeps running through my head every time I hear the conservative debate on "Merry Christmas" versus "Happy Holidays" that has somehow seduced the media as of late. "I'm gonna walk into Target," said one guy I heard on talk radio, "and I'm gonna say, 'Merry Christmas.' And if they say 'Happy Holidays' back, I'm gonna turn right around and not give them my money." Hare Rama, dude.

These militant Christians never address any issues that could actually have any positive effect on anyone, like poverty, or health care, or, like, orphans.

Where is this rant coming from? I just got back from the Tenderloin, which is full of poor, sickly transients who were probably orphans at one time. You know the Tenderloin, right? That place that is supposedly being gentrified? My jaunt down Turk Street was the most depressing 20 minutes of my life.

The night began with this great idea. I would take my pal, who filed for divorce and got fired all in the same week, out for a good time. Naturally I immediately thought of a pub crawl, preferably through the old tranny bars in the 'loin, surely a soothing poultice for any gal's wounds.

As soon as we hit the beginning of Turk and looked for parking, we knew that maybe this wasn't going to be quite as fun as we had hoped. While stopped at a light, an incredibly old, incredibly thin man with a cane began to work his way across. He had the air of someone who was sick and handicapped, not necessarily drunk, even when he began what seemed like a five-minute struggle with not falling. His body reeled back and forth at a stiff, 45-degree angle. "Oh no, no ...," we both said in unison, the lilt of our voices rising every time it looked like he would pitch into the curb, only to quickly save himself and head off at another 45-degree angle in the opposite direction. Finally he did fall, face first, into the sidewalk, straight down like a felled tree. That was bad enough, but the people who were on the street near him just stood there and looked at him lying there motionless. No one checked him to see if he was OK. Eventually a guy went over and gave him a sort of poke, and we were swept up in traffic.

"Well!" said my friend and I to each other with an unspoken understanding of how depressing that whole scene was.

But we were determined to put it behind us and have a nice evening, since she had had such a shitty day. Mr. Lee-Ona's Cocktail Lounge was just up on the left, and we parked and headed toward it. I brought my dog, a Jack Russell/corgi mix named Sidney, with the idea that the seedy bars of the Tenderloin would be the last place to ban dogs. Unfortunately, both Lee-Ona's and Aunt Charlie's said no way, albeit kindly. It seems that the cops are always looking for things to cite them for and they didn't want to risk it. Shit. Especially since we sooo wanted to get off that street and into a nice cozy bar.

We headed back a few blocks to my car, past drug deals and bums, and my dog was blissfully stopping to take in the cornucopia of urine and discarded Cheetos wrappers that abounded. As we neared the car, we passed a group of four teenage girls. My dog is a friendly sort and tends to approach people. In general, I instinctively pull her leash toward me and say, "Sorry," or "Excuse me," if she invades someone's space, as I did on this evening when she attempted to sniff the cuff of one of the girls' pants. I did it all while we were walking briskly and talking, just a quick "Excuse my dog" and we carried on down the street. It didn't take long to see that this had angered the girls, and that they were now following us.

"You better be glad you said, 'Excuse me,'" one said menacingly, "or I woulda kicked the shit out your dog. I'd beat the shit out that dog." Something in her voice told me that she really meant it. She continued to rant on and on about bitches who let their dogs get near her, and how we were gonna get beat down, and how they were gonna kill my dog, all down the street. I looked at my friend out of the corner of my eye and whispered under my breath, "Jolly good idea this was!"

"Oh, yes," she replied. "Capital!"

We made it to my car safely and decided to go to an ol' faithful bar, one with sofas and pool tables and kindly poor people. We chose the Uptown in the Mission on Capp. As soon as we walked in, Sidney got love-bombed by all you S.F. dog lovers out there (God bless you, every one), and the bartender smiled at us and offered up some beers. We put $2.50 in the jukebox and queued up an entire Lucinda Williams record, then cuddled into a sofa and made a toast to our friendship, feeling thankful for the things that we had. Some hipsters with handlebar mustaches came in and sat on the sofa across from us; we had close proximity to the bathroom, and life, for that moment, was good. Happy holidays.

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