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Bouncer: Gratitude and fried cheese at the Sycamore 

Wednesday, Sep 15 2010
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I always have mixed feelings toward people who say they wouldn't want to "bring a child into this world." Actually, scratch that: I have feelings of disgust toward people who say that. Westerners are spoiled. Things have never been better for us. The reason we shouldn't be having kids is more a matter of overpopulation, not of being swept up in some apocalyptic mortal coil. A century ago, there were two kinds of people: those who had to work their asses off, and those who were born rich. And by "work their asses off," I don't mean that they put in 40 hours a week at Chevys. I mean that they physically worked 16-hour days, seven days a week. Thank god for labor activists and communists, whose diligent lobbying led to weekends, 8-hour workdays, bans on child labor, and sick leave. All of that led to a stronger middle class, which led to the rise of the teenager in the '50s and '60s, when the children of these middle-class adults had the free time to actually be teenagers and not farmhands. This, however, is when we started to get spoiled. Things got dull, so we started to sneer at suburbia and Leave It to Beaver values. The hippies came with their drugs and laissez-faire morals. They had kids and raised cynical, sarcastic Gen. X-ers, who in turn have raised even lazier Xbox automatons who wouldn't know a hard day's work if it came up and ambushed them in Halo. We are a nation of leisure. And there you have it, folks: American History 101.

I climbed atop this high horse over the course of a week spent watching the PBS reality shows Colonial House, Manor House, and 1940s House, which all take modern families and plunge them into the past for nine weeks. You get to see how little free time anyone ever has, what with the struggle for their very survival taking up most of their time. I came to this conclusion about my own life: I can bitch that the Bay Area is too expensive, and that I have to work three jobs to live comfortably (for me, that means extra money to blow on crap I don't need). But overall, I live pretty damn well. I even have days when I get up and have absolutely nothing on my agenda; time stretches out before me like a $30 whore. In short, I am grateful.

"God bless us, every one," I thought as I sat at a table with three friends at the Sycamore on Mission. It's a small space with a big heart. The bar itself is even tinier, set at the back wall with about four stools. There is also an outside seating area. Banquet seating fills the front and sides, and local art hangs on the walls. You can order beers and sophisticated bar food (lamb sliders, mushrooms with toasts, and my favorite, a big ol' slab of fried provolone with chimichurri sauce and garlic).  

We drank, ate, and chatted among the sounds of Television's Marquee Moon. I went around the table and made a mental note about the people assembled. We were indeed a lucky bunch. Helmut (not his real name; in fact, none of these are going to be real names), an Austrian, came here about 25 years ago as a merchant seaman and worked hard enough to retire at 50. Mike was 35 and an engineer. He went to a good school and then an even better grad school, with the help of his upper-middle-class parents, and now he gets paid good bucks to fiddle around in his head all day. Margot is unemployed, but overcame a heroin addiction a few years ago, which makes her quite heroic to me. Then there was me, a person lucky enough to get paid to write — something that could only be accomplished 200 years ago by having some sort of benevolent patron. We were chomping on gourmet food and talking about politics. Along with so many other people in the city who aren't rich but who get by, we were living a life of leisure.

The bartender came by every once in a while to check on us. The staff at this place is down-to-earth and friendly. I could live at the Sycamore. Yes, things were good for ol' Kate. But don't worry, lest you think that whatever pink cloud I am under has enchanted me, you can bet that by next week I will be back to kvetching. My mother's favorite part of the Bible has always been in the Old Testament. Moses leads the Hebrews out from under the boot (sandal?) of the pharaoh and into the promised land, where there is much rejoicing and nary a gnashing of teeth. But in about two shakes of a camel's tail, everyone starts bitching again, which could only have caused Moses to throw his hands up and exclaim, "Oy vey!" 'Tis indeed the human condition to see the glass as half-full.

Speaking of half-full, we ordered more drinks. I debated going back to work that day, because I could have taken the rest of the day off and watched old Project Runway episodes on YouTube. I had, however, just spent my last $10 on appetizers and had no money for BART. How can I go home and laze about if I have to walk there? Fuck! Why does this keep happening to me? I have no money management skills. The problem is that I don't make enough money in the first place. Life sucks. (See? It's already happening.)

So now I invite you, gentle reader, to look around and feel some gratitude for what you have. Revel in it. Soak it up. For tomorrow, you will invariably feel discontented again. It's birth, school, work, and death, with punctuations of fried cheese and artisanal beer. Salud!

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Katy St. Clair

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