The Casanova has big glass grapes hanging from the ceiling, the kind you saw in your algebra teacher's family room when he had the class over for an end-of-semester party and you were surprised that a guy who did math for a living found beauty in cornball stuff. Those kind of grapes. Every time I sit at that bar, though, I'm also reminded of Aesop's fable about the fox and the grapes. A fox sees these toothsome grapes and is excited at the possibility of eating them. Trouble is, they are too high off the ground and he cannot reach them, though he tries and tries. Eventually he says, "Fuck it," and starts to disparage the grapes, saying that they're sour anyway, so who needs 'em.
If there's anything I try to do in life, it's to not be that fox. I like to see things as they are, let stuff sink in, and either try to change the situation or move on. I like to think that if I weren't able to reach the grapes, I would feel some disappointment, and then I'd figure out how to build a stepstool out of shoots and brambles, nimbly constructing it with my little fox paws and wiping my brow now and again with my big bushy tail.
Then, if that still didn't work, I'd say "Fuck it." Goddamn grapes.
Needless to say, I have been constructing a lot of stepstools lately and still haven't been able to reach much. I'm sure a lot of us are in the same predicament, what with this bad economy and all. I had to wonder if everyone sitting next to me at the Casanova, all of us by ourselves at the bar, whether we were all in the "Fuck it" mode. Going out for beers is one way to deal with things, after all.
To my right was the same guy I always see there, an older African-American man I remember talking to once. I think he's a Vietnam vet. He didn't seem much for talking on this night, though, so I left him alone. A Belgian woman with a bare midriff was at the other end of the bar, singing along to the old Who songs coming out of the jukebox — the really old Who stuff, from when the band was trying to be the Kinks.
I was waiting for a few friends to show up after work. They were late. I looked around and tried to construct more fables. The Casanova is one of the best bars in the city. It's big but still cozy, with couches and low-slung coffee tables. This ain't no "lounge," though; it has a decidedly thrift-store appeal, especially since the walls are adorned with velvet paintings of naked women. One portrays a naked woman looking at a magazine of naked women, which of course brought to mind Aesop's tale of the Tortoise and the Big Titties.
All the fables Aesop wrote are about some sort of transformation: from pride to humbleness, from lowly to exalted, or from ignorance to wisdom. Most of the stuff going on at the Casanova seemed to be your basic "drunk to drunker" sea changes, but, as with most stories, I assume there was more going on under the surface. To wit, the young hipster to my immediate left: He was drinking Racer 5, wearing a Le Tigre shirt, and reading American Psycho. I wanted to ask him whether he was looking for dating tips from that book, but he never made eye contact. I would say he embodied the S.F. bachelor type who has probably moved on from Bukowski but hasn't yet fallen into his Jim Thompson period. (He'll see comparisons between Thompson and Bret Easton Ellis when he reads the Wikipedia blurb on American Psycho after he finishes the book. His interest piqued, he will then explore The Killer Inside Me). He's doing it the right way, though. You don't just jump to Heidegger without reading Plato first. He is like the mouse who slowly stored up grain for the winter while the silly young crow played Xbox 360 all autumn and then starved to death, half-frozen in a pile of cow shit once the frosts came. Finally, the guy looked up at me from his book. I smiled. He went back to his book.
My friends filed in and we sat in the couch area. I couldn't hear what anyone was saying because the DJ, who had recently showed up, was jamming Led Zeppelin. I'm cool with tuning people out, though, so I did that for a bit. Then I heard the conversation turn toward Quackers, those wacky half-boat, half-car things that take tourists from the streets and plunk them right into the bay. Oddly enough, I had never seen a Quacker. I was intrigued. Why is seeing something move from land to sea in a matter of minutes so fascinating? Throw in a group of silver-haired out-of-towners in rainbow sweaters peeking out of the windows, and you can color me obsessed.
"They really have those things?" I asked, astonished. Later that night I went online and read about Quackers. They are old contraptions from World War II, used to storm the beaches on D-Day. Some brilliant person later decided to use them to get tourists from the city to Alcatraz. The Web site for the Quackers (they call the boats "ducks") is even more surreal: "Bay Quackers is committed to free speech and freedom of expression," it reads, for no apparent reason. But then again, I'm tired of these draconian tourist packages that won't let you burn an American flag in the back of the bus. Maybe they are on to something.
Quackers reminded me of the Tale of the Duckling. Not the Ugly Duckling, but the duckling who is probably average looking, like Matt Damon. You see, even though he was a duck, he didn't know he could swim. All day long he waddled on shore, looking out over the refreshing water and wondering how he could build a boat out of shoots and brambles so that he could go enjoy it. He tried to make one a few times, but his webbed feet didn't work well with power tools. At this, he got very upset. If he were the fox, he would've said "Fuck it!" and cursed the lake. But he was kind of a depressive, so he just sat there, feeling sorry for himself. He decided to order a Racer 5. No, make that four Racer 5s. He got drunk. So drunk, dear reader, that he waddled a bit too close to the shore. So close, dear reader, that he fell in! "Squawk!" he cried, flapping his wings and squiggling his feet in the water. He did this for about a minute before realizing something amazing. He was floating! He could swim! All this time he was trying to make a boat, and you know what? His ass was a boat the whole time. I think we can all take something from this story.
The music at Casanova continued to be too loud, so I tuned my friends out again. The American Psycho reader had left, and what looked like an entire band took his area at the bar. They had that hopeful, just-out-of-the-practice-space vibe to them, excited for their next gig. They all ordered Racer 5s. The grapes were there, sparkling above their heads.