The Jamber Wine Pub, on Folsom, was virtually empty when I arrived — but, to be fair, I'd come much too early in the afternoon for drinking. Honestly, what the hell was I doing there at all? I was in a state of small shock.
Jamber is a multidimensional space built for a crowd: a heated patio outdoors, a nice spacious main area with perhaps the longest line of taps I've ever seen, and a balcony. The kind of place it's easy to find a niche in. I sat at the bar and stared at the giant TV, which was turned to the World Cup. A lesser game that the few lonely occupants of the bar were all watching like hawks.
The score was 0-0, as it usually is. The rules of "the beautiful game" are set up so that it's hard to score.
I'd come from a conversation with a money guy. He'd said he'd wanted to make me rich. He'd said, "I want you to be more successful." He offered to promote my writing. I'd said, "Great," and started to tell him what I thought my best works were.
He'd shaken his head. "No, it doesn't matter," he'd said. It didn't even matter what I wrote — all that mattered was that it was promoted in a way that gamed the various systems that produced sales. Worrying about whether it's good ... well, that makes it harder.
This, of course, is exactly what struggling non-famous writers tell ourselves before we go to sleep at night. But we mean it as a diagnosis, not as encouragement. I have spent the majority of my adult life learning how to put words together in a way that generates light and heat. To makes sentences so sharp they can split atoms.
"Don't care," he'd said, sincerely. "I want you to succeed. The work is the most trivial part of that."
Jamber is one of the increasing numbers of "all California" bars beginning to dot the landscape. Every beverage comes from a California company, and it is a testament to our beer and wine culture that they can get away with it. I ordered a honey-basil ale from Bison. It's not quite to my taste, but still well put together. The kind of thing I like to encourage brewers to try. The wine list is longer than the beer list. Jamber does flights of each. Sounds fun.
I stared at the teams futilely kicking the ball, sending it soaring and tearing across the green field as they help it past gravity — a glorious spectacle that accomplishes nothing. No one scored.
In this life I have few friends. I have no close family. I have no land. No community. Few prospects. All I possess, earned through the struggle I have lived on Earth, is a small modicum of genuine profundity and a small modicum of genuine talent. That's it.
I used to play soccer, in elementary school. It was nothing like this. There was no beauty to it, no art — just a bunch of kids running up and down the field kicking. There were very few ties: The team with the bigger kids always won.
I like the World Cup so much better.
I ordered comfort food. The meatloaf sandwich was top notch; the fries tasty. The beverages I ordered all came in Mason jars. This is a bar that exists because decades ago a few quacks got the idea that they could make really great wine in California; this is a bar that exists because the American microbrew scene is powered by passion. We take it for granted, but they had to earn it.
The soccer game ended. Nobody won. Baseball came on. A slow, deliberate, potentially endless game where they use their hands. Rarely beautiful, but often a high scoring game. People put lots of points on the board.
I'd been lingering for a while, and an after-work crowd started to form — paying no attention to baseball. Points racked up.
I remember a consultant once said, in an argument over web page content, "Benjamin writes very well ... but for people." In a world of Search Engine Optimization, that's a put-down; they're just not the primary audience anymore.
At some point I have to admit that I am a dinosaur trying to build a cathedral in a world of hacker spaces. But if no one cared about quality, Jamber wouldn't exist. I can take some comfort in that.