The Marina gets a lot of flak for being a meat market for dumbasses, but it's really no different than any other area of the city. Every bar's clientele is, basically, people who want to sleep with one another. We go to the bars populated by the kinds of people we find attractive: Hipsters like hipsters, so they go to the Casanova; trendy people with money go to Bar Agricole; Financial District singles hit the happy hour at the Rickhouse; folks who have given up on ever having sex again go to Cotters Corner, or any of the other dives in the Excelsior.
The main go-to spot in the Marina for sex with other people like you is the Tipsy Pig. The place got its name from the phenomenon of wandering swine noshing on apples that have fallen from trees and fermented on the ground. No one ever seems offended at the metaphor.
I was nervous to walk into the place. Would everyone be thinner, better-looking, better-dressed, and richer than me? Yes. Okay, facing the truth was the first hurdle. I was also with two other people who really didn't fit the part either. One was a 4-foot woman with Down syndrome; the other was a 6-foot-2, 74-year-old man wearing a big black Stetson with a gold star on it and an outfit made of American flags (don't ask). We scooted our way in — the place was packed. I was just about to turn around and escape when the friendly hostess invited us to sit on the patio out back. "Um, okay," I said cautiously, deciding to go for it. We shuffled toward the back, indeed an odd threesome, but I was still surprised to see a group of four at the bar turn around and burst out laughing, with the juiced gorilla in the bunch actually pointing as well. Nice.
The bartender was preternaturally hot. He was the kind of cute that you fool yourself into thinking other women wouldn't find cute, so that maybe he doesn't realize how cute he is, so that maybe you stand a chance. After becoming another rip in his futon you return again and again, hoping to relive that one magic night, only to realize that you are one of hundreds — that kind of cute.
We made our way to the back and managed to find the last remaining table. I was determined to keep an open mind.
San Francisco can be a lonely place for young transplants who don't consider themselves hip, gay, liberal, or artistic. You have to really dig to find other people like you. It's no surprise that many of them end up in the Marina, where you can discuss lip gloss, Republicanism, or a preference for Folger's crystals without being sneered at by judgmental city folk. I got a good window into Marina culture when I picked up the self-published book Marina Girl, by Heather Joy Hampton, at the Papyrus on Chestnut last week. I have been collecting as many self-published biographical novels and autobiographies as I can lately; they are usually great reads, especially if their delusional authors haven't been edited. Hampton is not delusional, nor is she a shitty writer, but the focus of her book was probably too narrow to attract the eyes of big publishers. Also, the narrative is not exactly fresh. Based on Hampton's own life, it is about a girl from Texas who moves to S.F. to work at an architecture firm. There are, of course, a few typos that a professional editor would have caught, my favorite being this sentence: "Even the homeless man dropping a stinky code brown on the sidewalk couldn't muster my excitement for starting a new job in downtown San Francisco." Unless she is into scat (which would be an awesome read), I think she meant "muss."
At first the protagonist, Olivia, has no friends, but then she moves into the Marina with two other young women and finally starts to feel at home. Olivia is conservative, a bit freaked out by all the homeless people who "reek," unused to gay people, and taken aback by the brutal S.F. dating scene. I like any book about someone who feels like an outsider and has to struggle to fit in, so I enjoyed Marina Girl. Hampton included a glossary of Marina terms, which I found helpful while I sat in the Tipsy Pig with my motley crew, waiting for the server to come take our order.
The women at the table next to us were commenting on their friend's new haircut. "It really brings out your eyes," said one of them. This new look of hers could lead to what Hampton defines as, "Hairspiration: Being inspired by your haircut/color to do things you normally would not do." This sounded dangerous when combined with a Strawberry Fields cocktail, the pretty pink concoctions they were all drinking. Other terms of note include "30Sexpress: Marina bus line that runs down Chestnut ... delivering Marina girls and guys to the Financial District;" "Dateway: The Safeway in the Marina;" "Man-child: Recent college graduate making a six-figure salary;" "Sudden Intimacy Death Syndrome (SIDS): Acronym to describe a relationship that will end seemingly overnight."
As I looked around the bar, most patrons appeared conventionally attractive. It seemed like a lot of people had come with their parents; then I realized that it was the beginning of the school year and perhaps they were there to get their kids settled in. First IKEA for furniture, then Macy's for a new wardrobe, then "onto the Tipsy Pig, honey, where I hope you will find a nice bennie." ("Bennie: Friend with bow-chick-a-bow-wow benefits, otherwise known as a booty call.")
We were enjoying ourselves. The music playing was Top 40 from the '80s, including some gems from Ambrosia. I could have sat there all day. Then my friend spilled her Coke all over my lap. Oops, time to go. Now we would have to walk out, past the gauntlet, looking even stranger now that I had a gigantic wet spot on the crotch of my jeans. We formed a conga line of sorts and headed for the door. The foursome was still there, deep in their cups. One of the women looked at us and I thought I detected regret in her face. Maybe she had just moved here and was finally making friends. She had gotten caught up in the wrong crowd, and, in time, perhaps she would find a kinder set of people in the Marina. She smiled at me warmly. I smiled back. Life's too short.
"Good luck," I said to her.