I have spent a fair amount of time talking about bars in this town that seem to have an eerie presence, as if they were built on an Indian burial mound or something. You walk into one and immediately want to turn around and walk out, despite their friendly enough bartenders, cheap drinks, and ample seating. It stands to reason that the opposite is also true: There are bars with some magical aura and font of fealty that draw you in and make you want to stay, no matter their decor, jukebox, or patrons. The Page is one such place. It is a clean dive with great bartenders. It looks like a million other bars, but still manages to be one in a million. Depending on the day of the week and time of night, it can be populated with Phish fans, Marina plankton, Walnut Creek explorers, bearded hipsters, neighborhood alcoholics, wizards, prestidigitators, philatelists, rubes, and libertarians. Sometimes they're all there at once, pressed up against one another like a Jose Cuervo commercial directed by Hieronymous Bosch.
The Page has a bit of a hipster hunting lodge feel, with taxidermy and chandeliers; beyond that, it is the same as many other rec-room-style dives, with a long bar, billiards, and a faint smell that only decades of imbibing can infuse.
I deliberately visited at a time when it wouldn't be too crowded, partly because that was the time I always go out, and partly because I can't think of anything worse than being wedged next to a philatelist. Still, there were several people there, and all the stools were taken — save one. Going to a bar by yourself is best; you always find a seat, and you don't have to fight with your friends over the guy in the Chrome T-shirt. Yes, ladies, this night I had my pick. Just as soon as I finished my crossword puzzle.
"So this girl is at a bar, and this guy in a big cowboy hat sits next to her," a man next to me said. He looked about 50 and had the Giants' "S.F." tattooed on his arm. From his delivery, I knew he was launching into a joke, not an anecdote. Holy shit, I didn't realize people told jokes anymore. It is a dying art. Instead, we have catchphrases, ironic asides, or deadpan sarcasm.
"He says, 'Howdy, ma'am,' and she says hello back, then she glances down at his cowboy boots. 'Is it true what they say about the size of a man's boots?' she asks, and he says, 'Well, why don't you find out?' So they go to her place and make love all night long."
"Make love?" his friend said with a snide grin. (I'm with him. I hate that phrase.)
"Okay, okay, they did some fucking," the jokester said, giving in to peer pressure. "Anyway, the next morning the cowboy is getting ready to leave, and the woman hands him twenty bucks. 'Wow, ma'am, no one has ever paid me for my services before,' he says. 'That's not for your services,' she says. 'That's to get yourself some smaller cowboy boots!'"
The two of them hooted and hollered and slapped their hands on the bar. Yes, indeedy, joke-telling is a dying art. Where is Alan Lomax when you need him? But truth be told, this is why I go to bars: for moments like this.
I went back to my puzzle.
"Make sure you get my number right," the joker said, leaning into the pen in my hand. "Two-oh-one, seven-three-nine ..." Then he cracked up.
"He's actually a really great guy and a good date," his friend and/or trim coordinator assured me.
"I don't doubt it," I said. "I see you have a spider tattoo on your elbow. Does that mean you killed a man in prison?" He almost spat out his beer.
"You're a live one," he told me. "I bet you like to eat shellfish. Am I right?" I wasn't sure if this was some sort of creepy innuendo. I did a quick brain scan of the possibilities, and the nearest I could come to anything sexual was the vaginalike appearance of an oyster. Was he asking whether I was gay? "I know a great place for lobster," he continued. Okay, he was just trying to impress me with a fancy dinner.
"I can't go out with you until I see how big your cowboy boots are," I replied, immediately kicking myself for encouraging him, but unable to resist a good witticism.
"Hoho!" he guffawed, elbowing his friend.
Had I been 25, I might have let the night get out from under me. I might have led this guy on and not been able to safely remove him. But I have been at this game a while, gentle reader, and the mature bar ho in me knows how to dance just close enough to the fire without getting singed. I can "turn off" my face in an instant and dip back into my puzzle like a librarian lost in some arcane research project. My body stiffens, and I no longer engage with the world. You can kick them cowboy boots right up onto the bar beside me, and I will give them nary a look, much less scope out your size.
I did just that, retreating back into my head.
"She's left the building," my romancer's friend said.
"Yep," he agreed. "That's okay, I only wear an eight and a half anyway. She would be disappointed."
For a brief moment we sat there in a sort of silent pathos. Then I couldn't help but look up, because his shoe size comment was pretty cute, actually. We all smiled, and then slowly started to laugh.
I winked at him. "I knew I'd get ya," he said, taking a long draw on his beer.