Imagine yourself as a Miwok Indian, living along the coast of California in the late 16th century. In general, you had it pretty good. The trees were lousy with acorns, the ocean was fecund with fish, and the hills held more game than Milton Bradley. You weren't one of those poor suckers known as the Plains Indians, who had to endure the invasions of warring tribes, harsh winters, and smallpox-infected blankets.
The Miwoks had it pretty good, but did they know they were living in one of the most beautiful places on earth? Did they look out over the Pacific and appreciate the beautiful ferocity of what would one day become Point Reyes National Seashore, a place for jaded city folks to escape to when they want to be reminded of their own mortality? (Because I'm telling you, all it takes is one swoop of water, knocking you out of balance during your Zen nature hike, to realize that you are a mere assemblage of finite parts.)
Whenever I am at Point Reyes, I sit on the beach and think about my own impermanence. But I also think about what it must have been like to be a Miwok in 1579, the year of Sir Francis Drake's arrival. There you'd be, looking out to sea, and spying a dot on the horizon that was slowly came closer, becoming bigger and bigger — a gigantic wooden ship with billowing sails, full of strange, hairy honkies in fruity hats. If Miwoks had cellphones, the text the first one sent to the rest of the tribe would be short and simple: WTF??
If you find yourself alone on your birthday at the Buccaneer on Polk Street, leaning back on your stool and peering at the ceiling, you might have some idea of what that Miwok was thinking. The ceiling of the Buccaneer looks like the hull of a ship. Which means that if it is a ship, then the entire thing must have turned over, upside down, just like in The Poseidon Adventure, which seems an apt metaphor for dizzy intoxication.
As soon as Drake landed on the coast, he had his crew turn his ship, The Golden Hind, onto its side, so that they could repair the hull. This huge monstrosity, which must have completely blown the natives' minds, was then laid prone like a beached blue whale. Seeing the Buccaneer's ceiling reminds me of this.
I thought it might be a good idea to spend my birthday alone here, lost in thought. This makes no sense, because that would make my birthday no different from any other night. But ideally, I would be contemplating the previous year and looking toward the upcoming one. However, I kept forgetting that it was my birthday, and drifting off into thoughts about Fabio from Top Chef, and whether he was married or gay, and speaking of which, is the guy at the end of the bar waiting for someone, or is he alone like me, and should I do something really ballsy and go and talk to him? The Buccaneer is the kind of place you go to with a group of friends. If you are alone, it is only because you are a weirdo and it is your birthday.
He was still alone. It must've been his birthday, too.
The Buccaneer is one of those places I went to years ago, loved, and then promptly never returned to, because it is in Russian Hill, a part of town I rarely get to. I suppose it has a "pirate" theme, but it doesn't hit you over the head with it, which is good, because pirates are so 2005. There's a pool table in the back, but the bar itself is narrow, like a galley. Hurricane lamps contribute to the effect; add sepia tones and the faint smell of a slave ship, and you have yourself a saloon.
Yes sirree, there I was, alone, in the hull of a ship, beginning to feel sorry for myself, if truth be told. Whatever gave me the idea that I wanted to spend this evening solo? Plenty of my friends had offered to take me out for drinks. I could have organized some sort of dinner for myself. And why, of all the thoughts that a nautical-themed neighborhood bar that the locals call the Buc could conjure up, would I think of a peaceful, lost race of indigenous people who were later enslaved and wiped out? Because my default setting is genocide, that's why. It's the same part of my brain that would never will me to go over and talk to the guy at the other end of the bar. It's the same impulse that tells me that being alone on my birthday is what I really want.
I could wallow in my own self-made ennui all night, but I decided to text a friend and have her come and meet me. "It's like The Poseidon Adventure here," I told her, "except there is, unfortunately, no Ernest Borgnine."
I felt my spirits slowly perk up after she said she would come. The whole room seemed to shift, ever so slightly, like the slow rise of a galleon changing course.