Foosball fundamentalists and satanic odors in Hayes Valley

Foosball is but a mystery. No one knows from where this herky-jerky table sport arose; some say Spain, others France. Just like in America, where someone who really dug hanging 10 strapped wheels to a board to sidewalk-surf, the first foosballer must've been a soccer player without a yard. We think that the game started in the 1800s and that little pants began to be painted on the men during the Victorian era. We believe the activity progressed to frat basements where the tables grew in size and sophistication, some being equipped with Zambonilike beer sweepers between plays (or so it has been reported).

Yes, foosball is a sport no man can claim, yet one that has claimed more than one man. The men and (two) women amassed at Place Pigalle in Hayes Valley for the bimonthly foosball tourney are pumped. "Unfortunately, this place doesn't sell soda," says Amy, official treasurer of the bunch. Foosballers, contrary to popular belief, don't seem to be serious drinkers. When the bar owner allowed them to set up their tournaments here, he probably thought that his beer receipts would triple. He was wrong.

I order a Black Butte Porter and sit on one of the sofas in front of the foos tables. Granted, I didn't show up for the games (no one shows up for the foosball except the players), but as people start setting up shop, I become increasingly intrigued.

First, a bit about Place Pigalle. The name sounds fancy, but I have a strange feeling that "Pigalle" is French for "Pigsty." I have no problem with grungy bars. I like the secondhand sofa action and I can even hang with that satanic sulfurous odor wafting through the place and the fact that there are no bar snacks. But this joint has the fucking most goddamn disgusting bathroom I have ever been in. To begin with, it is coed, which never bodes well for women. Drunk men cannot aim. Second, the floor looks like it hasn't been cleaned since Steve Perry was still in Journey. I went to wash my hands and I didn't even want to touch the faucet. And the satanic sulfurous odor of which I spoke earlier bubbles up from beneath the floor of this demonic water closet, leading one to wonder if there is a ruptured septic tank somewhere in Les Bowels Pigalles.

That said, the bartender is great, and the mix of people interesting ... everything from rocker chicks to a nutty hippie in a tie to serious pool players. In the middle of all this, a fastidious Asian guy with chinos and a cellphone clipped to his belt shuffles in and out of my vision carrying various hardwares. He first puts up a short ladder, then he carries a bunch of extension cords. He moves like a night nurse in an intensive care nursery — each task is one of his babies. I love this guy.

"What are you doing?" I ask him. He pauses and begins turning his shoulder in a circle, loosening up for ... something.

"Foosball," he responds, as if that says it all. And it does. It turns out that this guy, Alex, is setting up an extra table for the tournament, complete with overhead lighting and duct-taped-to-the-floor extension cordage.

"Are you competing?" I ask, "Because I already have 50 bucks on you." He throws his head back and laughs like a schoolgirl.

"No," he says jauntily. "I have to go home to my mother. I'm her caregiver." Not only is this guy dedicated to his mom, who had suffered two strokes, he is dedicated enough to the game to make sure that everything gets set up right, even if he can't play. This, gentle reader, is the sort of man who plays foosball.

I sit next to Amy and soak up all I can. I learn all the players' names and their stats. I learn all the rules (the ball is no longer pushed through the hole in the side of the machine, it is now placed directly in the "field"; there's also the very controversial new "no denim" rule instituted by the ITSF [International Table Soccer Federation] in a bid to improve the sport's image). I watch each player wrap grip tape around each handle; I watch sweat run down faces both victorious and dejected.

Here's the thing about being a foosball spectator: As intriguing as the sport may be, it is damn boring to sit out on because you can't see shit. You aren't really supposed to stand next to the table and watch, so all you have to go on is sound. However, I begin to wish that I loved something as much as these people love foosball. Many of them came from as far away as Burlingame to play, sacrificing family and the next day's work performance. I suppose if there were a Flavor of Lovemarathon somewhere twice a month, I would hit that, relationships be damned. But other than that, there really isn't anything that I like as much as these guys like foosball.

I wait forever for one of the nice guys to finish so that he can walk me to my car, but he is immediately flipped into another game. It's foos first, cooz last with these men, I guess. No biggie. Just because I don't have a rod through my quarters and painted-on pants doesn't mean that I ain't a woman, dammit. Besides, if you put quarters in my slot and a beer on my side, you'll get a lot more than just ball play. So there.

 
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