Post-playa re-entry: an update

The massive preparation for this year’s Burning Man is my excuse for the radio silence as of late. I arrived back home exactly one week ago, almost to the minute. There is a notorious decompression period after the event. I know this sounds strange to the uninitiated, but it is a real phenomenon and its intensity can vary. Since this was a relatively mellow burn for me, I expected a softer transition back to the “Default world” (aka Defaultia).

Perhaps I underestimated the unyielding clockwork of fragmented glaciers that is the city life of San Francisco. The day after my return, everything in the “real world” seemed a massive, cold monolith that was looming overhead. Every bit of unfinished business seemed to be pounding angrily at my door. The pedestrian masses resembled the daily marches inside a military prison (not that I would know).

I’ve been evading these mundane horrors through the ancient art of procrastination. Aside from two social outings, I’ve only left my apartment for food. Way too much of my personal gear is still covered in alkaline dust. My priorities have been sorting and uploading Burning Man photos and napping, which I almost never do. I’m finally making a dent in the bottle of Bulleit that I surprisingly only half-consumed the previous week. All of my dreams are a unintelligible mosiac of desert imagery – the mark of a playafied subconscious.

As far as the decompressing process, this is actually pretty tame.

But my subterfuge was soon threatened by… a job opportunity. It seems I can return to a career I spent a year trying to distance myself from with a company I once quit without a confirmed alternative. This required applying online, which required the Frankenstein, corpse-cobbling task of writing a cover letter. I hate writing cover letters. I would rather write my own father’s obituary. Especially a cover letter to the effect of “Hi guys! I know I left 3 years ago because I couldn’t take the bullshit intrinsic to this line of work, but I sure would like to re-enter the vicious cycle!”

As you can imagine, this is an uncomfortable dilemma to face so soon after stomping around the desert dressed like a post-apocalyptic ranch hand. (A more comprehensive report of that experience will soon be posted, then I promise to put the topic to bed for a while.)

So long story short, things are in flux. Today I managed to stave off my own malaise, as well as the gastrointestinal effects of bad Vietnamese food, to perform well at the interview. Decisions will have to be made. Compromises are inevitable.

What would be the opposite of a honeymoon? Whatever you’d call that, it’s over.

But for you, dear readers, that means I’ll be manning the soapbox very soon!

Mazel tov,

Damian

SF’s Deepest Dives – Part 1: The 21 Club

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21 Club is just a two-block stroll from that pedestrian heart of the city, Powell Street Station. Now this is only a block or two into the Tenderloin, but it looks, smells and feels much deeper. The corner of Taylor and Turk is a busy little intersection with an artfully painted crosswalk.

It’s about 6pm and I’m with two British drinking buddies, Tom and Emily, who have just come from the Financial District. There happen to be about a half dozen, large black citizens in worn black hoodies conversing in front of the building. I briefly wonder what percentage of San Francisco’s politically correct, yogalates crowd would invent an excuse to walk the other way. We are, of course, ignored as we pass between them and enter the establishment.

[FYI: Your humble narrator is indeed half-black himself, but this is irrelevant.]

There are 7 people sitting at the bar and our entrance attracts everyone’s attention for a moment. (Cue the record scratch) It’s an ethnically mixed crowd, the average age being maybe 50. Most of them have a face like Danny Trejo, including the one woman. A basketball game is playing on a 21” screen in the corner. Boston vs. Miami, I think.

Emily asks Frank, the bartender/owner who looks much healthier than his clientele, if she can put her bike in the corner. We find seats in front of the window with a clear view of Taylor St. There is a stack of Philippines Today in the corner of the window. The cover reads CORONA GUILTY. Embarrassing, I have no idea what this means.

[FYI: Your humble narrator is indeed part Filipino himself, making this relevant.]

Tom orders us drinks and I take note of the mishmash of things that decorate the 21 Club.

The windows are lined with SF 49er’s/Bud Lite hangers (the kind of advertisements that double as Super Bowl decorations). There is an antique rifle above the center of the bar. A sign reads CAUTION: RATTLESNAKES HAVE BEEN SIGHTED IN THE ROUGH.

Another reads NO DOGS OR IRISHMEN ALLOWED ON THESE PREMISES. Babbleheads, masks, trinkets, a worn Hoobastank bumpersticker.

The bar itself displays Seagrams 7, Bacardi, Smirnoff, Old Crow, Jim Beam, Cutty Sark. The most top shelf libation appears to be Hennessey. It is literally on the top shelf.

Tom points out that Frank is from Guam. Incidentally, a variety of cans of SPAM decorate the center shelf. I can’t tell if some of them are international versions or just store brands. Emily says that the woman at the end of the bar doesn’t seem to like her.

On the wall near the bathroom is a framed two-page spread. The section is Tenderloin Stars. The title of the article reads “Frank, Barman of the 21 Club.” http://www.studycenter.org/test/cce/issues/119/ccx.119-cp4&5.pdf

On the other side of the room is a small framed article from Esquire Magazine with the title “Best Bars of 2008” presumably featuring 21 Club. http://www.esquire.com/features/best-bars-in-america/best-bars-list-0608

There are several books nearby including Physician’s Desk Reference, Encyclopedia of Modern Bodybuilding and, to our amusement, Glenn Beck’s “Arguing with Idiots.”

Tom points out the more-prominently displayed book “Lost in America: A Dead End Journey.” It was apparently written by one of the regulars.

An ambulance wails down Turk St. The front door of the bar is open and we all have front row seats to the siren symphony.

It’s at this point I notice that those of us inside the bar are not the only ones with front row seats. There is a man standing outside the window with his face nearly touching the glass. His ratty, faded black hoodie is unzipped exposing his bare chest. He is staring at Emily like a shipwreck survivor peering at a glass of water. There’s nothing too provocative about her attire, unless you count the slightly low cut of her T-shirt. The man outside apparently does. I consider slapping the window, but I have no idea what this unpredictable wretch would do.

His G-rated peepshow is interrupted when he finally notices the 6’2” Tom sitting next to her. And just like that, the man’s demeanor shapeshifts before my eyes. He suddenly smiles and waves bashfully at Tom. He laughs and pantomimes a gesture of harmlessness as if to say “Oh, you know me. I’m just foolin’ around, boss!”

But he does not leave. He chugs the remainder of his King Cobra and slams the can on the sidewalk as if having scored a winning touchdown. He continues to peer into the window and as soon as Tom turns towards the TV, his focus slams back to the English girl sitting between us. His prison-rape gaze is so shameless and lustful I would not be surprised if there were a strange puddle on the sidewalk. I figure this a good time for me to go the restroom and let Tom be a hero is the demon should break the glass.

I take a moment to browse the fairly modern jukebox. It has the classics you’d expect: The Doors, Patsy Cline, Metallica. There’s also The Black Keys, Lady Gaga, Amy Winehouse and interestingly enough, IZ.

Aside from a strip of flypaper over the toilet, the men’s room is in better shape than I expected. The sink is surprisingly clean, but maybe nobody washes their hands. I decide to give my audio recorder to Emily later to critique the lady’s room.

When I come back, there’s a Snoop Dogg/Johnny Cash mashup playing over the speakers. The outdoor voyeur is thankfully gone. A man in a wheelchair is now talking to my friends. I can tell that he’s not a veteran or panhandler. He’s a clean-cut Maori fellow and his chair has nice, custom 25” aluminum rims. The kind you usually see on lowriders.

His name is Rodney and he’s part of the AXIS Dance Company, which integrates dancers with and without disabilities for modern contemporary performances. He’s apparently been dancing for 16 years. Rodney moved from New Zealand to SF 5 years ago and is quite knowledgeable about the Tenderloin. He’s a charming guy and our chance encounter with him is a testament to the unpredictability of the city.

The overall mood of the 21 Club has perked up. The people sitting at the bar are all chatting and laughing. They may not be strangers to hard times, but none of that matters now. Frank is in a good mood, not just working, but seemingly hosting. He’s clearly a shrewd but generous barman of a bygone era. He’s obviously seen a lot go down over the years while running his business here. I make a note to talk to him in more depth later.

At around 7:15 the smell of marijuana floats in. Almost like the sunlight shining through a gap in the clouds, a more hopeful-looking breed of pedestrians suddenly appear in clear contrast to the passersby we’ve watch for the last hour. People with fresh clothing, healthy strides and smooth complexions. People who appear to have jobs or classes they’ve just come from. What may be the first toddler I’ve seen all day walks in front of the door with his mother not 4 feet away.

The 21 Club’s charms are apparent for those willing to venture where yuppies and hipsters fear to tread. It’s a nostalgic retreat for the neighborhood folk to leave their troubles at the door.

And out the window, we see a rotund, middle-aged woman drop her shorts and take a piss on the sidewalk. In her hand is a bloody piece of tissue. On her face is the strained look of someone who has waited as long enough. Tom and I turn our heads out of courtesy and disgust. Emily has gone to the bathroom and missed this exhibition.

Michael Jackon’s  “Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough” is playing on the jukebox. After leaving a puddle and bloody rag on the sidewalk, the woman pauses in front of the open door to dance enthusiastically to the music.

And speaking of bodily functions, I’ll now cap off this edition of Deepest Dives with:

EMILY’S LADIES ROOM REPORT:

“Now here I am in the ladies’s room of the 21 Club. There is a notable population of animal life demonstrated by the flystrip hanging from the ceiling covered with what I can only describe… as a horde of small flies. There is a hole in the ceiling, which goes… I do not know where. Perhaps into a black void of stench. The artwork, on the other hand, uplifts this environment. Some quality of, why I would almost say, Cubist faces sketched throughout the facilities. On the wall in the toilet is inscribed something to keep up our spirits ‘Chin up. Cheer up. Panties down.’ That’s all for now. Thanks so much for tuning in. Bye bye!”

How my negative Facebook rant helped me overcome writer’s block

So my official blog was supposed to be up weeks ago. Having crowned myself something of a street festival connoisseur, I was going to cover the How Weird Street Faire and Bay to Breakers. By contrasting them and offering my “unique” perspective, I had planned to entertain and amuse my readers with a quirky little introductory adventure into the life of Damian Drummer. But as fun and unorthodox as these events were, I just can’t find the motivation. To me, the experiences were no more blogworthy than the previous 5 or 6 times I’ve attended those events.

I’ve been unemployed for 2 months now. My aspirations had begun to falter under the advanced stages of chronic procrastination and a touch of writer’s block (which I think is really just an internalized form of procrastination). It’s Memorial Day weekend and it’s Saturday night. I’m at home with some leftover three-meat DiGiorno, about to watch Sherlock Holmes online with a browser open to Facebook (but pretending to not be on Facebook).

This guy named Matt from my hometown is online. We weren’t exactly friends growing up, but I knew who he was. I remember him being a skinny, quiet and harmless kid. But since I realized that people from “back in the day” tend to be the most obnoxious part of social networking, I actually let his friend request sit in the queue for a year before I decided to accept it.

It turns out he never left that town and, like many of the folks I grew up with, doesn’t seem to be doing much with his life these days. As an adult, he takes pride in being flippant and unrefined. He insists on this unsettling profile picture of himself that resembles the final shot of Anthony Perkins in Psycho. He has that punk rock way of not giving a fuck that you just don’t advertise on your wall if you’ve ever wanted a job that requires a suit. East Texas will do that to you if you’re not one of the cool kids, or if you’re not focused on starting a career or a family. Matt reminds me a little of myself before I moved here. I once described the feeling of living there as being “trapped in a rundown insane asylum I have to fistfight my way out of.”

I can safely say that I’ve mellowed out a lot in 7 years. SF has been good to me and I’ve had more fun than I thought was possible. You learn to be grateful while never forgetting the time in your life when you should have demanded more. I adopted smugly-written, but wisely-lived credos like “Listen more than you speak” and “It’s better to be kind than to be right.” As it stands now, Matt and I don’t really have much in common except for a couple of acquaintances, some comic book movie geekery and perhaps an antisocial streak.

So it’s 11pm and he posts:

Guess I will stay up all night and get drunk by myself.

Yup, one of those kind of nights.

It’s a sad but not surprising declaration. I’ve been in a playful-snarky mood that night, having already pissed off one oversensitive friend enough to unfriend me. I write on Matt’s wall:

Your community failed you, Matthew!

He Likes this and writes:

I had a community Damian? Damn, I must’ve been drifting through the crowd.

His people start commenting about beer and chicken and the desire that they could taste the same and I’m still chuckling at my silliness. I write:

You’re 30ish, single, not a sex offender that I know of, and you have nothing to do on a Saturday night of a 3-day weekend but drink (probably domestic) beer by yourself and stare at your FB page with that Columbine look on your face?? No, sir! That doesn’t fly in my America.

I’m fully aware of the hypocritical nature of this indictment when he responds:

lmao! Oh Damian, you know me so well. That gave me a good laugh.

I guess that was kind of funny. But really, look at this poor bastard. I think about most of my old friends and where they are now. Sure, my town had a high school homecoming court, a couple of small colleges and a “world famous” downtown Christmas light tourist attraction. There are places I can and won’t direct you to that will sing the praises of that “sweet little town.” But for me, all the plucky civic pride and small town “values” are cheaper than the knockoff greeting cards they were printed on. Greeting cards in a moldy cardboard box left to rot inside the boarded up gift shop inside the empty mall that dried up the minute Wal-Mart open up on the other end of the highway.

And sitting here at my computer, I suddenly feel the ignition. The Molotov cocktail I kicked around for weeks finally bursts in my brain and I am at long last motivated to step up to the soapbox … to beat up on my old hometown. No one was going to argue with me on Matt’s thread. I’m preaching to the choir. I don’t even entirely believe everything I’m about to say. But I made the conscious decision that if anyone disliked what I was about to write – fuck ‘em.  To me, this was like a drunken frat boy who had attempted to pick a fight but had tripped on his own shoelaces. And I was going to kick that son of a bitch in the ribs on general principle. In other words, it was better to be mean than to be right.

Marshall is like Silent Hill populated with extras from True Blood and Easy Rider if it were run by the smarmy principal from Donnie Darko. Why don’t you just hang out and drink with your friends in the parking lot of Sonic? Or is that meager territory still ruled by assholes who shop at Baskins? So maybe the few local property owners have choked all economic growth and opportunity out of the town like a Down syndrome giant in a ratty barn choking the life out of a pack of bunnies. So maybe your drunk ass fucked up and got banned from the one decent bar that town has ever seen. The mayor, the church leaders, the PTA, Miss [jr high principal], whoever goes to town hall meetings… it is likely/mostly their fault you’re sitting at home alone, drinking lukewarm Coors and wondering if you can make the label on the can change colors if you blow hard enough.

Matt was entertained. He told me it was the most spot on interpretation of the town he had ever read and that I touched on everything except the police.

I went on to add:

I was actually going to throw in a bit about the police department being a bunch of Marine Corp boot camp rejects with too much time on their hands to reflect on their cheating wives and broken dreams, but I didn’t want to be too long-winded.

So now I revisit this mean-spirited rant and figure this will do as a half-assed Blog # 1. It’s not great. But it is a couple of pages and that’s a start.

Is the ice broken yet?

Hi. My name’s Damian.