Bellying up to a bar of sperm donors

It seems I am always at my brokest when I decide to go somewheres fancy-schmancy. I like the idea of scraping together my last $15 for a martini, reapplying safety pins to the errant lining of my once chic leather coat, slapping on some Rite Aid lipstick, and hoping that I get past the doorman whose job it is to filter out the riffraff.

Phew, this time it worked.

I went to the Clift Hotel on Geary and made a beeline for the Redwood Room. I tried to walk in the way my friend Sean does when he sneaks from one movie to another. He has patiently showed me how to do it again and again, but I'm still pretty bad at it. When done correctly, it's a steady gait of assured nonchalance, with just a tinge of preoccupation about one's cellphone or candy wrapper. When done incorrectly — like, say, with shifty eye movements and loud exclamations of "Ho! Yes, this must be the movie we paid for right in here!" — Homeland Security is immediately called.

But I pulled it off, and wandered into one of the most expensive hotels in the city with no hassle.

The Clift describes itself as a "wonderland for the jetset," and I'm sure there are a few subscribers to Conde Nast Traveler who sleep there and have drinks in the Redwood Room. But most of the people who fall down this rabbit hole are upperish-middle-class locals who want to impress a date, or young women who want to land a rich husband, or good-looking men who left their wedding rings in their glove compartments, or visiting Australian lesbians who run online dating services. That last is whom I ended up sitting next to, thankfully.

Before I go into that, let me first describe the bar to you. It is indeed impressive. I haven't seen it the way it used to be, its loss bemoaned by many an old-school townie (usually with an RIP Herb Caen aside), but the more recent version is part art deco and part modern — high-ceilinged, richly colored, and amber-lit. Philippe Starck remodeled the bar; in fact, he did the whole hotel's redesign. He's probably the most famous designer in the world, creating everything from lemon squeezers to motorcycles to all manner of interiors. He has his own Taschen book and a line of merch at Target.

The only beef I have with the place is the bathroom. If you're in the Redwood Room and nature calls, you have to go far down some labyrinthine passages to get to it. It's easy to take a wrong turn. At one point I ended up surrounded by three sumptuously adorned walls flanked by deep crimson curtains under mood lighting. It reminded me of that room in Twin Peaks where the midget dances backward and speaks funny. I peeked around the corner and saw a spiffy guy with a clipboard. He knew immediately what my problem was; I'm sure I'm not the first person to get lost on the way to the can. He set me off in the right direction, and all was well.

When I got back, the Australian lesbian Internet-dating mogul had kindly saved my place. I hate to label her with those generic terms, because she was incredibly cool. But I had just come from a meeting with the mother of an autistic person who insisted that her son be referred to as "a person living on the spectrum of autism" instead of "autistic" (give me a fucking break), and I was in the mood to generalize.

Anyway, Liz was delightful. I couldn't for the life of me figure out why she thought San Francisco was a good place for gay dating, but I guess she just doesn't know the city like I do. We did the usual exchange of info, but then quickly moved into some rather personal discussions. We both adore the Little River Band, for starters. And it seems that both of us are looking into sperm donors as a viable way to have children — she because she's in a lesbian relationship, and me because I'm not in a relationship and because my biological clock has gotten all Edgar Allan Poe on me all of a sudden. According to Liz, in Australia, lesbians can't use sperm banks. In fact, she says that no single women can use sperm banks, period. And I thought only America was that puritanical.

But then the most wonderful idea came to me. "Liz!" I said. "You have got to get laid this weekend! This room is full of sperm donors! You can go back to Adelaide knocked up!"

"Ha!" she laughed. "The thought has actually crossed my mind." We both sat in silent excitement, and then, as if on cue, slowly began to look around the room. Most of the men were already talking to women, but there were a few loosies. Then I saw him ... the bartender with the amazing hair. How to describe it? It was like he was a guitar tech for UFO, or someone from Herman's Hermits who let his pate go after a bad night in Bangkok. It was below shoulder-length, but with bangs just above his eyes, and it looked like he had used hairspray to poof it up a bit. Then there was the unmistakable air of someone who really enjoys comic books and chess. "That's him!" I exclaimed. I flagged him down.

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