There I was in a David Bowie video, circa 1975. The room was scattered with high booths upholstered in silver leather, each containing men with spiky, overgelled hair. Everywhere else were sharp corners, black contrasts, cold metallic accents, and blinking lights. This was an attempt at New Wave, space-age chic, methinks. Ground control to Major Tom …
I was at BOC (Bar on Church) at the corner of Church and Market. Until recently, it was the Transfer, an equally uninviting watering hole, though at least the Transfer was gritty enough to look more like a video from Lou Reed's Transformer than Kraftwerk's Man Machine.
Here's the good news: Despite my personal feelings about the design, this bar does everything else right. The bartenders are all very good and very friendly, they have bar snacks, the patrons are chatty and down-to-earth, and the drinks specials are great (80-cent Cosmos, extended happy hours). It's also a great corner to people-watch, since the Muni docks right outside, creating a lot of hustle and bustle. I just can't help wishing the place were cozier, but it seems that some of the bars in this neck of the woods (Lime, especially) are trying to host photo shoots for San Francisco magazine. Whatevs.
I sat with my roommate on a stool at the main bar, right next to the snacks, which were bowls and bowls of pretzels laid out next to the drink garnishes. The bartender didn't seem to mind that we finished one bowl in about five minutes and then immediately reached for another. All drinks cost $3, including pints of Hefeweizen, my favorite. Not that the prices mattered, because my roommate was paying. He was making up for killing my guinea pig earlier in the day.
“I feel terrible, mama,” he said. Again. I was pretty sure he felt worse than I did. When you own guinea pigs, you have to have a certain Zen approach to life and death. They generally don't last very long. Then again, I had specifically told him never to feed them potatoes. So when he picked me up from BART and told me that they were squeaking, so he gave them the only veggies we had in the house — Idaho russets — my heart jumped into my throat. Sure enough, the next day, there was ol' Oreo, stiff as a furry little buck-toothed log. This was also the same day Bea Arthur died, which was very hard to take, and the same day I woke up to my landlord removing my two favorite trees from the front yard. It was a terrible, horrible, no-good, very bad day.
“I had no idea that they couldn't eat that,” he continued.
“It's okay,” I said, choosing not to remind him that I had indeed warned him. He felt crappy enough already. He had just started volunteering at the SPCA, so I joked that he should put this on his résumé. I also decided that if I let him help plan the funeral, maybe he would feel a little bit better, like he was contributing in a positive way and not just as the Angel of Rodent Death.
“I will bury him for you,” he offered, finishing his Cosmopolitan and ordering another. This was not a good option, because so many pigs are already buried in our yard that, were they ever to revert to a zombie state — which is totally possible — our home would be besieged by creatures bent on gnawing their way into our skulls and eating our brains.
I had posted about Oreo's demise on Facebook earlier in the day, asking for funeral ideas from friends. “Launch it into space,” one suggested. “Or at least into the neighbor's yard.” There were also various suggestions for funeral pyres, a mausoleum, and my personal favorite, mummification in a tiny pyramid. In the end I went the Zen route, with the understanding that the body is merely a vessel and the soul separates at death and floats off into the ether, to rejoin the larger life continuum. In short, I put Oreo in the trash and let Waste Management deal with it.
“I don't like those things,” the guy to my left said. I wasn't sure if he was talking about pretzels or guinea pigs, both of which, IMHO, are underrated. “I hate rodents,” he continued. I have heard this old saw time and time again, and usually I launch into my soapbox speech about how guinea pigs are different and not like other rodents, but this night I didn't feel like it. I changed the subject and we got to talking about how he was a screenwriter and had just moved up here from L.A. and how much he hated L.A., which we both agreed was not a good thing if you were a screenwriter.
I wanted to tell him that speaking of screenwriting, I always felt like I was starring in a David Bowie video when I was at this bar. The storyline to the video would be that I had landed on a strange planet where the women had purple lightning bolts in their hair, like the Bride of Frankenstein. I would creep through the bar's terrain on this new planet with slow stealth, like Bowie in the “Ashes to Ashes” video. An image of me lifting the Hefeweizen to my mouth would be quickly edited and repeated five times in rapid succession, ending with me slowly putting it down and giving the camera a pouty, seductive look, the way chicks in low-cut jumpsuits did in low-budget disco videos. Cue refrain. A guinea pig in a tiny silver space suit with a big bubblehead floats by, narrowly missing a potato asteroid. The women with the purple-lightning–bolt hair stare blankly over electronic clapter.
I wanted to tell this stuff to the screenwriter, but I did not.
My roommate poked me and said he had to go. I had to go, too. It was late, and I was tired. I left the Sputnik and emerged onto the street to wait for the Muni, thankful for colors other than silver and black.
He hugged me and again said how sorry he was. “I'm Zen,” I assured him. And I was.