Chaos Theory

Where to drink when you find yourself broke-down in Oak-town

The origins of the word “chaos” are surprising (well, let me clarify that by saying, “The origins of the word 'chaos' are surprising if you are a total geek.” Everyone else can return to programming his TiVo). Instead of meaning “disorder” or “upheaval,” “chaos,” from the Greeks, means “a great void,” “a bottomless drop,” “a big gaping hole,” or depending on parlance, “Barbara Bush's vagina.”

For my purposes, let's stick to the pedestrian definition of “chaos,” meaning “totally fucked up.” It is how I live my life; how I drive down the street with a big gaping hole in the back of my car where some kids threw a brick at me as I scooted past (they must have read my controversial treatise on tort reform or something). I have yet to get the window fixed because I cannot afford it. Whenever I get the money to finally fix it, something else happens, like I get pulled over and have to go to court to pay a fine, or my cat snorts up a foxtail and I have to go to the vet, or the Company Store has a sale on its down comforters and I have to buy one before they run out. If it ain't one thing it's another. So this week, when I was in Oakland for a friend's surprise birthday party and emerged to find that my car was making a bizarre clicking noise when I tried the ignition, it made sense. Total chaos, just a different day.

So there I was in Oakland and couldn't afford a tow, so heck, why don't I go to a bar and meet the townsfolk?

When in downtown Oakland and imbued with the urge to imbibe, one can take the hipster circuit. Begin at the Ruby Room, then head to the Golden Bull, then Radio, then Cafe Van Kleef to top off the night. Real hard-core peeps might dip into Luka's Taproom for a snack at some point, but I don't like being in a place with all those windows (my controversial treatise on tort reform, remember?).

But Cafe Van Kleef is the shit. I always meet someone interesting here, either a city attorney who is prosecuting illegal-immigrant Chinese slave drivers, or pot club proprietors, or people who enjoy the work of the Swans, or Jerry Brown. The place looks like a rummage sale, with stuff jutting out hither and yon in some sort of organized chaos. A lot of the things are sculptures and artwork created by the owner, Peter Van Kleef, or “the frying Dutchman” as I like to call him. He is very eccentric, some might say on a permanent acid trip, but he is also jovial, smart, handsome, and very generous. All the things you want in a bar owner.

I sat down at the bar on one of the tall stools and had some sort of a Euro beer. There was Peter, whipping around in a frenzy, going all argie-bargie getting ready for a meeting with people from the city. Even though he was late, he took the time to say hi to me and talk my ear off. He speaks in one long sentence, punctuated with commas, like this sentence I am writing here, which reminds me that grammar is just a nice way to tether the chaos of words, but back to my original point, which is that Peter Van Kleef talks like this, on and on, in a friendly way, and usually with something interesting to say.

He bounced out the door with even more words falling off him like rain, and I was left with my drink and a gent to my right. He was quite handsome, with dark hair combed into a '50s thing, long sideburns, a vintage leather jacket, and Levi's 501s. Ah yes, a rockabilly rebel. Let's see, where to start? Wanda Jackson reference? No, too obvious. How about … “Hi! So have you heard the Bear Family Louvin Brothers box set?” He stared at me with no recognition. Get this, dear reader, the guy was not rockabilly. He was not only not a hipster, he was an Oakland cop, originally from Italy, who seemed to have no idea that he might look dated in any way. Fascinating! I began to plunge into his depths a bit more, and holy shit, what I found astounded me. This guy was a right-wing Oakland cop from Italy who looked like Johnny Depp in Cry-Baby. He seemed to come from the more libertarian side of Republicanism, so I decided to give him this query: “So, what do you think of gay marriage?”

“Oh, I agree with it completely,” he said, finishing off his beer and ordering another with the flick of his finger. “But that's my personal opinion.” Oh boy, here we go, I thought, the part where he justifies making it illegal. “What I worry about,” he continued, “is where this will lead. I mean, if we let two men get married, who is to say that I cannot bring my brother into this country from Italy, marry him, and he will become a U.S. citizen that way?” He looked at me, palms up in a “You get what I'm putting out there?” kind of way.

I admitted that I had never really considered that argument. However, I said, if that were true, then people would already be marrying their sisters to get them into the country. He had no answer to that, but offered this: “OK, well, who is to say that if we allow gays to marry, that someone couldn't marry their dog, or their parrot, or their gerbil?” Ah, now I saw where he was coming from. He was right: The world would be plunged into total chaos. Much to his chagrin, a gay man had been sitting to his right, listening to our debate. He jumped in and began to assail Giuseppe, or Vito, or whatever his name was.

My cab was waiting for me out front, and, in true form, I couldn't find any cash to pay the guy so I had to go to an ATM. I did, however, get home. My porch light had burned out and I tripped over my lobelia plant, but I snuggled under my down comforter and fell into the great void of blissful sleep.

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