In Scotland there are roundabouts, which are their version of a four-way stop, and they are very nerve-wracking. Not because we nearly miss hitting other people each time we enter one that's a given but because every time I see one, that XTC song "English Roundabout" goes through my head and will not leave. My mother introduced me to XTC in high school. My mother is great. She is in her mid-60s and she had to make sure that we brought along the latest Arcade Fire CD, tucked into her suitcase next to the eczema medication and the Prozac.
Today, however, I am on a tourist bus, heading for the Orkney Islands north of Scotland. We have been here for only four days, and it's incredibly beautiful. I have bought a make-up bag with guinea pigs on it, and a Nessie tea towel, and lots of interesting gummy candy, all things you cannot get in America ... but I am homesick. I will be ready to come back to San Francisco.
The night before I left I went to Wish, a bar on Folsom Street owned by the same folks who brought us Mighty. I was with Brock, and he had been telling me to forget about the guy I was interested in, that the dude would never come around, that I could do better than him anyway, all the things a gal likes to hear when she is getting ready to dump someone.
Wish is cavernous, dark, and trying a bit too hard, sort of like a grade-school haunted house tour, which, of course, makes it all the more endearing. It has the usual hip lounge stuff going on, with modern-yet-cozy seating, artfully placed amber lighting, and hot bartenders. It was the skill of the bartenders that set this place apart, however. They were very warm and attentive, offering up an enchanted bowl that never seemed to run out of popcorn. Anyone who knows me knows I like my bar snacks (B'Snacks, as I call them).
The place wasn't very full, save for a gaggle of bridge 'n' tunnelers to our left who were being set upon by another pack of vaguely European guys. I say "vaguely," because their clothes were just a little bit too gay to be on straight S.F. dudes, but their flirtations and leers with the babes were too straight to be from gay S.F. dudes. Ergo, Euro.
I was just questioning their deal, hoping to engage Brock's gay-dar, when he surprised me. "I dunno, Kate," he said, "but they look pretty good to me." This really shouldn't have surprised me, as he was on his fourth vodka drink. One of the men in question had dark, gelled hair, a red button-up shirt, and was wearing cologne. He was chatting with a heavily made-up woman who, to use a cliché, would be the sort who one might chew off his own arm to escape the clutches of the next morning.
At the time, this all felt very tedious. There I was, at another bar, watching the same group of dumbass losers try and get lucky in a city that will always be cooler than any of its inhabitants, myself included. Now, sitting on a bouncy bus tearing through the Highlands, I feel a wistful pang for Wish. I wish I were home. I remember deciding to leave Illinois, to move out to California. I remember the entire first year in my new state, waking up thankful and energized when I saw strange things like lemons hanging from trees. I wanted to be a writer and I thought it would be impossible to make inroads in a place so full of writers, artists, and musicians. There would be no room for one more. I suppose I made a wish.
In front of me, on the bus, is a quartet of young women from Alabama. They spent the better time of the morning putting each other's hair into French braids, just like the women used to do in Illinois. They are wearing too much foundation, just like the women used to do in Illinois. One of them accidentally ordered a curried chicken sandwich earlier, and you'd have thought she'd been asked to eat haggis or blood sausage. I watch them and miss San Francisco. Another passenger asks the ladies what they do back home, and, to my delight, they answer that they're all Harlequin Romance writers, out on a holiday together. Wow. We pass the chateau of romance novelist Barbara Cartland in the Scottish countryside, which draws oohs and ahhs from my mother and me. I attempt to envision these women sitting in front of their computers, trying to come up with creative new ways to say "erect cock."
Speaking of which, back at Wish, Brock was egging me on to talk to the European guy. The cougar had walked away, leaving the man alone next to us. We both turned and smiled at him, and he slowly looked our way, wondering what the hell we wanted. He smiled cautiously. "Hi," I said. We considered one another, thought the better of it, then resumed our respective evenings.
"Let's go," said Brock, having reached his limit of booze and men. I walked out of Wish feeling like it had been another basic night out, happy for the fealty but fundamentally bored.
Now I can't wait to be bored in San Francisco again. I can't wait to eavesdrop on people's conversations, or eat B'Snacks, or feel out of place, or wish that I had more. And I can't wait to write about it, and have you read it. I'll see you when I get back.