Bouncer: A Heart to Heart

I don't know why Sixth Street gets such a bad rap. It is indeed Skid Row (one of many), but I never feel nervous or scared walking the stretch by Market Street, the way I do in parts of the Tenderloin. Maybe it's because my day job in social work brings me to some of the SROs (single-room-occupancy hotels) that line the blocks, and I've gotten to know many of the people who live there. And as much as I bitch and moan about panhandling, I get pretty bent out of shape if someone starts bad-mouthing SROs and the people who live in them.

So, as much as I dig the intersection of Sixth and Market, I am still quietly amazed that a bar like Anu exists there. It isn't a dive, or a scruffy bar for rawkers; it's a chic lounge. At least, it was when it opened. It still is, mostly, although it has been singed a bit around the edges. The chef disappeared pretty soon after its debut, and with him went the upscale bar food. The original sleekness of the place has given way to a cozier den-of-modernity–type thing. And the last two times I've been in there, the service hasn't been great. But it's a nice gathering spot before shows at the Warfield, or for nine-to-fivers who don't have many afterwork options nearby. And, of course, for people like me.

I brought my friend John to Anu after a day of celebrating his 66th birthday. First, we went to Amoeba to get a "40-song CD of Miss Diana Ross, please, double CD, please," and then had dinner and wound our way back downtown. John will buy only double CDs, and since they aren't made too often these days (most "double" CDs are now all pressed onto one CD), we don't have much luck finding things.

John has autism, and of all the autistic people I've known, he is the only one who actually fulfills the savant stereotype. If you meet him, he will ask you when your birthday is, and what year you were born. Then he will tell you how old you are (which, yeah, ain't so hard), but he will also tell you the day of the week you were born on, taking into account leap years and all that. It's pretty amazing. He remembers this information about everyone he has ever met. Other things still baffle him, though, like time. John can't tell the difference between an hour and a minute. He also has to put different bills in different parts of his wallet so he won't get them mixed up.

We were in what I guess you could call the "banquette seating" area of Anu, off to the right. A DJ was in the back, doing his thing, and some women were flirting with the bartender and debating which muddled infusion of booze and fruit they should all overdo it on. The bartender didn't acknowledge us when we came in. Even after he glanced at us, he didn't nod or say he would be right with us. This bugs me. When you go to as many bars as I do, you learn that it is bartending 101 to say "Hey" to everyone who enters, even if you can't help them right away. And lordy, especially do so if there are only five people in the place.

John was happy because he got some new tobacco for his pipe and he had eaten a nice quesadilla at Cha Cha Cha. "Today was a great day," he said, with the uninflected tones that often go with autism (think Rain Man). "It was a present for you, too?" he asked, referring to me being able to hang out with him. John still has emotional scars from growing up in a state hospital. He doesn't have a lot of friends, and isn't used to people wanting to spend time with him.

"It was a very nice present for me, too," I said. And it was. I felt very blessed.

I ordered a John a Coke and I got some fruity whiz-bang. Once I actually made contact with the bartender, he was very pleasant. He was also quite good at shuffling out the sketchy random types who wandered in — which is probably an important part of the job at Anu.

We had just settled into our drinks when John said one of the amazing things he often says, and I was reminded why I love working with people with developmental disabilities.

"What does a heart do?" he asked me, his back straight, his feet flat on the floor, his hands on the tops of his thighs like he was sitting in a Quaker church.

"Well," I said, "you know when you cut yourself and the blood comes out?"

"Yeah but what's a heart do?"

"I'm getting to that."

"That's what you said, okay? You are getting to that, then," he said.

I decided to cut to the chase. "The heart pumps your blood all over your body."

"Is that so?" he asked. "Who put it there?"

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