By Cory Sklar
By Alee Karim
By Christina Li
By Dave Pehling
By Ian S. Port
By SF Weekly
By Ian S. Port
By Ian S. Port
I have a few personal earworms that periodically run through my head. Every time I turn on the furnace at home, for example, I sing Glenn Frey's "The Heat Is On." When I go to the Pet Club to buy guinea pig kibble, I hum "In Da Club." I have invented my own song for Trader Joe's, a song to the tune of "It's So Easy" ("It's so easy to shop TJ's, it's so easy when you're shoppin' TJ's"). I admit that these things might contribute to my still being single. Bed Bath & Beyond also brings up a familiar refrain: It's not a song, but the word "Beyond" always echoes in my head, as if uttered by an disembodied deity. I think it would be rad to turn the corner from the mattress pads and see billowing clouds and a golden escalator going up, up, up into eternity. Then "One Step Beyond" by Madness kicks in.
There are bars that remind me of the great beyond because they are composed of two parts, a front and a back, and the back is generally shadowy and (often) uninviting. There is a Twilight Zone episode just waiting to happen in these places. This occurs mostly in "shotgun"-style bars, where the actual bar itself stops halfway down the room, and the rear is filled with chairs. The Attic is such a bar, although it does a great job making the back seem inviting and cozy. Others are less successful with the no-man's-land space. The Sea Star comes to mind, and the Saloon on Grant.
Don't get me wrong; the Saloon is one of my very favorite bars. It is also supposedly the oldest bar in S.F., so of course it's gonna be laid out like an 1880s whiskey trough. The bartender working the last time I visited looked like a gal out of The Far Side, and the patrons all seemed to have redwood walking sticks. Everyone was squished in the front, and the back was empty.
It reminded me of my grandma's house. We used to go everywhere in that place except the room my grandpa died in. Everything was kept as it was when he passed; you could enter if you wanted, but the heebie jeebies would always crawl out from under the bed and tickle the back of your neck. I used to do it for kicks. I liked to scare myself sometimes. I would also open the Time-Life book The Desert to the middle, where a gigantic close-up of a wolf spider stared at you with eight shiny black eyeballs from the centerfold. I think that children who do this stuff — as well as those who like to spin around and around until they are dizzy — grow up to be drinkers. Just a theory.
So there I sat, between the action and the beyond, at the Saloon. The lady behind the bar was attentive but not particularly friendly, but she had no doubt been dealing with the regulars all day, who seemed to raise "giving each other shit" to Olympic levels of competition. That would have to get old. I loved it, of course, because it is local color. The general theme seemed to be how no one could get a woman, to which I hollered, "What am I, chopped liver? Where's my drink?" Hilarity ensued.
The bar used to be attached to a whorehouse, so it didn't take me long to figure out what the Twilight Zone episode would be. A person unfortunate enough to sit in the back would find themselves transported to the 1880s, where the women were zaftig and the beer was warm. In Scene One, our protagonist comes to at a table, rubs his eyes, and tries to figure out where the hell he is. When he fell asleep, he had wandered into a hotel bar in Boise. Now he's in some Old West watering hole. One thing that was cool about Twilight Zone writer Rod Serling was that he would never have time travel for the sake of time travel; there had to be some underlying message or irony. In this case, let's say that the man is a milquetoast who can't get a woman, and now that he is in a rougher time, he will find himself face to face with Big Bad Bart, the town menace. Our hero conjures up courage he never knew he had, and returns 100 years later a changed man, full of confidence and machismo. However, by killing Bart he has disrupted the flow of time; the world that he returns to doesn't value machismo, and instead elevates wimps. He is still an outsider.
I decided to put my hand close to the flame, so to speak, and walk toward the back of the bar. I could remember walking through my grandmother's bathroom, which smelled like Shalimar and the 1930s, and opening the door at the back into my grandpa's room. It was clean and cold. His bed was made. I began to feel the tickle at the back of my neck. The back of the Saloon was less eerie, but just as lonely. Everyone was laughing in the front. Later that night I knew this part of the room would be filled with live music and bodies, but now, it was not. I hurried back to my stool.
"Another one?" asked the lady.
"Sure," I said, pulling up my collar to keep out the draft.