Fool's gold found in a martini glass

'Tis the Year of the Dog, soon to be the Year of the Pig. Needless to say, for a gal born in the Year of the Cock, things aren't quite right. Essentially, if the Chinese zodiac is to be believed, I will be living in someone else's horoscope until the year 2018. Gnarly. It's a good thing I don't go for all that kooky crap, preferring to remain in the realistic terra firma of Western astrology and tarot cards — especially tarot cards. To wit: The last two men who entered my life on a romantic plane were, unbeknownst to them, the subjects of many a reading. Each time I laid out the cards they told me things I did not want to hear: "He wants to bang you but not have a relationship" and "He wants to have a friendship relationship and not bang you," respectively. The cards never lie.

Sometimes I reach into the deck and pick one card that will be my guide for the day (sort of like how people open the Bible and pick a passage, only more satanic). Last week I sat cross-legged on my bed, got into the zone, and pulled out the Fool. Ahh, interesting, I thought. The card depicts a happy-go-lucky dorkwad with a bandana lunch tied to the end of a stick. He has his head high and hums a merry tune, probably "Hello my baby, hello my honey, hello my Ragtime gal ... " I like to think of him as a bit like Chevy Chase in Vacation, cavorting through the desert singing "I-I-I-I love a parade!" with his pants on his head. Yet there's danger in this carefree facade, gentle reader. Upon closer inspection of the card, you'll see that the Fool is about to step unknowingly off a cliff.

Keeping this vision in mind, I set a course for adventure in Chinatown, a place I usually avoid like open-sored genitalia. But the Fool would venture forth, oh yes he would, and he would find a parking spot ta boot.

I do love to drive down those narrow streets; it's the stopping and getting out that gives me pause. I was headed for Red's Lounge on Jackson, right in the heart of everything, and I did indeed find a parking space right in front. (I don't need to tell you San Franciscans that it was like finding a neocon at the Rainbow Grocery.)

Red's Lounge is — how to say it? — really goddamn Chinese. The bartenders barely speak English and the clientele doesn't seem to do so at all, and unlike at most bars in the city, here little, tiny children sit on little, tiny stools next to their parents and eat noodles while the adults slowly get drunk. You gotta love it. Walking in as a honky, you can't help but feel that you've parted the beaded curtain into some Forbidden City where foreigners are mildly tolerated. I had the Fool on my side, though, and was ready to insert myself into a new experience, cliff be damned.

I immediately noticed something strange. Sure, the bar was lined with grizzled Chinese men, the bartender was a pretty, overly made-up gal in a miniskirt, and the temperature inside was about 30 degrees hotter than outside — all things I had expected — but what I didn't expect was Toby Keith playing on the jukebox and college football playing on the TV. Jesus, is nothing sacred? No one seemed to be watching, and I cursed the fact that no matter what bar I go to, there is sports on the television. There is no escape.

Some men behind me were chattering in Mandarin and laughing. I ordered a martini. The bartender was kind, but she looked a little scared at my order, as if she hadn't made one before and was worried. I know that feeling, for I have had it, too, when I was a bartender and someone asked for a Sidecar or a Machu Picchu Sizzler or something. She hadn't heard of Bombay Sapphire, so I pointed it out to her. The first drink she made was like 50 percent vermouth, and she slapped her forehead and said, "Oops, I do over," despite my protests that it would probably be OK. So she made me another drink, poured it into a martini glass, then poured the rest of it into a pint glass and gave me that as well. This was one mother of a drink. Then she held up five fingers and said, "Five dollars, please." I made a mental note to return to this place as often as possible.

It was time to listen to the men behind me and try to figure out what the hell they were talking about. It would be a rough guess, of course, and I would have to infer from inflection. It was definitely a heated conversation, with lots of back and forth and perhaps some disagreements. Could they be discussing the massive United States debt to their home country? Or perhaps the decline of communism as a philosophy and the rise of dictatorial capitalism? Then one of them yelled a word that I recognized quite well: "Touchdown!"

I had drunk a lot of gin. Too much, in fact. I grabbed my bandana tied to a stick and got up stiffly, trying my best to look chic and OK about being the only Caucasian. Suddenly, I got a head rush like no other, and prayed that I would at least make it to the front door. Things were going great until I reached the street. I was wearing new wedge shoes, which I had already nearly broken my ankle in a few times at home, yet I was somehow sure that once out in the real world this never would happen. Maybe it was the gin, or maybe it was the song running through my head ("Hello my baby, hello my dolly ... "), but I bit it. Hard. Folks looked at me like I was a big ol' fool. I was all right, though. I got back up, wiped myself off, and went to sleep it off in my car like any sophisticated woman would. One thing's for sure, the cards never lie. — Katy St. Clair

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