The North Beach Drinking Olympics

“You know I avoid the Olympics like the plague,” my mom recently wrote in an e-mail, “but you have to see the opening ceremony. It is just amazing, especially all the parts where thousands of people have to act in perfect coordination. I have never seen anything like it.” Then she attached a YouTube clip. I'm sure hundreds of moms across the country have written similar e-mails, but my mom never forwards this sort of thing. I was confused. She usually sends me cool stuff, like zany Japanese game show clips or bits from The Colbert Report. I was trying to figure out which alien life form had taken over my mother, when I continued reading: “Of course, it makes me think of how Hitler was showing off his building prowess in 1936 and how impressive that was.”

Aha! It reminded her of the Nazis. Phew. Now that's my mama. I also knew that she was saying a lot in just a little bitty paragraph. You see, we speak each other's unspoken Third Reich language. Fluently. She was saying that even though the Chinese gave quite a show of greatness, the monster had clay feet. She was also referring to Jesse Owens, the American of an “inferior race” who whomped Kraut booty at the 1936 games and embarrassed Hitler. And finally, my mother was saying that, like our shared interest in the Nazis, the Chinese spectacle both frightened and fascinated her.

Somehow, last week, I ended up in a place that was celebrating the Olympics by having a “countries of the world” costume party. La Rocca's Corner on Columbus in North Beach wasn't officially hosting the festivities, but a group of Aryans had shown up to get drunk and pretend to be of another culture anyway. They didn't exactly go all-out, though. Two guys had on red long-sleeved turtlenecks with “China Ping Pong” written on them in yellow masking tape. Another guy was wearing an argyle sweater.

“Where are you supposed to be?” I asked him.

“I'm a Scot, bitch,” he replied. Nice.

“Excuse me?” I retorted in disbelief.

“I'm Sco'ish!” he repeated loudly.

“Ohhhh,” I said. It seems his really bad Scottish brogue (which sounded more like lower-class Liverpudlian) made it sound like he was insulting me, but he wasn't. I think.

There were actually some real live foreigners in the room, competing for the attention of various females. But this bar prides itself on being a place “where tourists meet the locals,” so you expect a bit of that. I have to wonder which locals in their right mind, exempting the pickpockets, would go out of their way to meet tourists.

La Rocca's is a corner bar in the vein of Cheers, with sports memorabilia and various San Francisco doo-dads about. It's a good place to people-watch through the big windows that surround it, but for me, the real entertainment comes from the bartenders. On this evening there were two of them: one beefy Fred Flintstone guy in his 30s, and another older gentleman who, also in the vein of Cheers, reminded me of Coach.

The Olympics was playing on the TV, and “China” had just bought a drink for “Scotland,” when something Fred Flintstone was doing caught my attention. He was chuckling and making rhythmic pelvic thrusts into his outstretched palms. “Connect the dots!” he said. I looked to see the object of his affection, a comely lass in a polka-dot dress. She was sporting a heavy-handed application of everything from eyeliner to lipstick. Her skin was also a few shades darker than normal from all of the foundation she had, er, installed. I instantly saw all of her insecurities, all of her simian attempts to attract a mate, all of her Hitler-in-1936, Chinese-opening-ceremony showmanship. But when she blushed at the bartender's crass display, I felt a protective tenderness for her.

I got Coach's attention and ordered a beer, pulling the money out of my bra, since I'm not the sort to carry a purse. “Ho ho ho!” he chortled randily. “Are you sure you don't need some help with that?!” Dang, this was quite a crew. Still, I liked them, and chalked it up to a real San Francisco slice-of-life kind of night.

I turned my attention to Fred Flintstone, and somehow we got on the subject of chewing tobacco. “I once knew a guy who was so addicted to it that he got mouth cancer,” he said. “He couldn't chew anymore, so you know what he did?”

“Pulled a Stevie Nicks and had his assistant blow it up his ass?” I offered. He didn't hear me and continued. “He put the chew in the end of a condom and wore it on the hole in his dick. No joke.”

The revelers cheered at something on the screen. I couldn't tell what was happening. All I saw was a sea of Chinese people and some paper dragons. The polka-dot dress girl was starting to get tipsy. She had lipstick on her teeth. I wanted to put my arm around her and gently rub it off with a beverage napkin, but I knew it would be hard to resist rubbing her whole face clean. She was indeed pretty; she just needed to read some Naomi Wolf was all.

“Then there was this other guy,” Fred continued. “He destroyed his insides from drinking, so he made his wife pour a bottle of vodka up his ass. He died, like, instantly.” Wow, this dude was a parade of (possible) urban myths. All I knew was that he was way more entertaining than the Olympics, which kept showing clips from the opening ceremonies over and over.

A couple walked in, she all svelte and exposed belly button, he all designer jeans and an intentionally too-tight T-shirt. Let me guess, I thought: You guys are supposed to be Ibiza.

The polka-dot girl had found a handsome foreigner to flirt with. They say that when you are attracted to someone, you tilt your head to the side and your eyes dilate. A woman might, every so often, touch the man's hand when she is talking. Polka-dot was doing all of these things. With lipstick on her teeth.

The Ibiza guy's back was about six inches away from me, and he leaned back even further to slowly stretch up his arms. His T-shirt rode up, showing his well-formed midsection, and his arm muscles bulged as he let out a yawn. I could smell the gel in his hair. Yes, he was quite a specimen, the living embodiment of a Leni Riefenstahl film. I was frightened yet fascinated.

Everything, it seems, is a show. I wondered howmany times the bartender had told those same stories,for example.

The night wore on, and slowly each country shuffled out of the place. It was time to go. I gave a lil' wave to Coach and Fred, and had one last look at the TV. There they were, hundreds of Chinese people, in perfect coordination.

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