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Shine on you crazy lightning bugs and deep-sea creatures! 

Wednesday, Apr 11 2007
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Fireflies, or "lightening bugs," which is what I used to call them in Illinois, glow by a process known as "bioluminescence." All living cells have some level of bioluminescence, each with their own unique wavelengths. Only some cells, however, produce enough light to be visible to the human eye. The point is, we are all living in the light, man, it's just that some of us actually let it shine. Fireflies let it shine, as do those weird deep-sea creatures. Shine on, deep-sea creatures!

It stands to reason then that a little restaurant in San Francisco named Firefly would make a flash. People talk fondly of the place, reviewers describe it in those new and adventurous adjectives that critical types are forever racking their brains to find.

I have been trying to actually get out more and go to these places that everyone talks about. Heretofore I have been living more like Gertrude Stein, who once said, and I am paraphrasing here, "I like to go to beautiful places and then turn my back on them." That's pretty much my life. There's all this culture in San Francisco, and yet most evenings it is Netflix that beckons me.

So I am now on a new course in life. I have been saving up money so that I can pay the $100 or so that the evening of a sophisticate will cost. Last week I was ready to go to Firefly (to sit at the bar, of course) and get lit.

Now, if I had a place called Firefly, I would take the metaphor to new heights. The ceiling would be speckled with twinkly fairy lights. All tables would be under gigantic mason jars with holes punched in the lids, with great glowing centerpieces on the tables. It would only be open during the gloaming, when the sun is going down. The waiters would have gigantism.

Alas, the powers that be at Firefly aren't that creative. But they do have mason jars for candle holders. It's cozy and warm, with two rooms and a smallish bar. The hostess has her own personal style. The waiters are well read. The chef has innovative facial hair. The bartender was a guy your mom would want you to date.

I suppose what you are paying for at these nicer places is service and quality of food. For example, when I sat at the front of the bar and then decided that I wanted to move to the end of the bar that had just been vacated, I thought the bartender would trip over himself trying to clean up the spot before I reached it. It was like his boss was watching or something. Only I don't think his boss was watching. He is just a good employee. Weird.

I ordered some kooky Belgian beer that had been brewed in an abandoned well or something, and began staring at people. The chef, especially, who probably thought that I was some desperate single chick who has always wanted to date a chef. He is a good judge of character. Two women were seated to my right, and they had glasses of wine and an appetizer. I set my hearing aid to "super snoop" and dug into their convo:

"Oh god he won't be back," said the one with curly red hair. "He's on tour with Jersey Boys now." Ah ha, I had landed next to some thespians. Actually, I believe they worked behind the scenes in some business capacity, as they spoke of event planning and taking calls and what other shows would be coming through. Plus, they were doing obvious name-dropping of people I had never heard of. It's amazing how you can tell when someone is name-dropping even if it's someone you have never heard of.

They got progressively drunker and started to refer to themselves as being on a Sex and the City episode. The guy-your-mom-would-want-you-to-date bartender chuckled along gamely at the suggestion. I wanted to ask them which one was the slut, but thought the better of it.

I was feeling very content. I was getting ready to meet a group of friends, my Sex and the City cohorts (guess which one's the slut?). I had a warm feeling about fireflies and I was trying to remember why. Certainly they remind me of my childhood. Then I remembered — I love fireflies because they remind me of my brother. He is a classic über-achiever, which is made all the more impressive because he has severe dyslexia. We are opposites. He was the kid who still had Halloween candy on Dec. 1 — which was one month and one day longer than mine lasted. He kept his room clean. He was Phi Beta Kappa from Brown, then Fulbright scholarshipped to Oxford, then Yale Law. To me, he was just the guy who could do long-division when I couldn't. I was the creative loser, he the successful smartie.

To get into Brown, he wrote a personal essay about the two of us when we were kids. He set a beautiful scene on a humid Illinois night. We were on the front lawn and the sun was going down. We were collecting fireflies, each with our own jars. My parents were fighting inside and we could hear them, like we always did, through the walls, yelling at each other. We had grown attuned to busying ourselves during these times. My brother described his way of catching the flies, which was by whacking them into the grass and then pinching them into the jars. I didn't remember that, but when I read it, it came back to me. Then he went on to describe how I would catch the fireflies. He said I would wait for them to reach me, then I would gently cup them into my hands and lead them into the jar. Wow. No one had ever seemed to notice anything beautiful about me before. My brother, the superstar, the one who hand-made his own Christmas presents each year, saw my "light."

So I love fireflies. And I love my brother.

The scallops arrived for the ladies next to me. They were as big as biscuits and in some sauce that smelled heavenly. They had long since let go of any discomfort of having me stare at them all night and they offered me some.

"No, thanks," I said. I didn't feel like eating a deep-sea creature. The bartender lit the candle in my jar and I ordered another beer.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair

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