I went in because it's going to close soon, or so say all the local papers and internet websites featuring news events about the City. Landlord dispute. Like many legal battles involving tenancy in San Francisco, this saga has been playing out for many, many months.
For now the cocktail waitresses still pop their boots up onto that rung at the service well to plop tiny red swirling straws into drinks. The red velvet banquettes with high backs dimpled with gold-colored buttons are still stuffed with backpacked tourists resting their feet hoping to get a gander at colorful locals who drink hard in the day time.
There was a rickety sliver of a table at the end of the red velvet banquette, near the door. The chair was missing from the other side, so I snagged that spot immediately. A blonde woman appeared within seconds like magic. She asked for my ID, but fetched the Irish coffee anyway while I fished it from my wallet.
Irish coffees are, to me, a San Francisco drink. I had my first one when visiting on vacation in my twenties, and I thought it tasted terrible. This one tasted terrific--strong and no-nonsense. The glass mug took perch on the upper right hand corner of the table while my pocket-sized notebook and my elbows crowded the rest.
"You gonna drink on that all night?"
He was sitting to my right, huge but not imposing. He looked not at me but at my dwindling beverage. "I'll buy you another one."
"Ha, well, thank you. I'm good for now."
His eyes and nose and lips and hands and head and body were enormous. He drank a margarita rimmed with salt. He sat rocking at the red banquette.
I turned my gaze to a deeply frowning man decked out in a navy polo shirt, belted khaki shorts and new white sneakers. He appeared so tired as to almost be absent. He sat in front of a large framed painting of a beautiful woman in a red, feathered dancing dress. The artist did his model no favors, however, as this woman also appeared to have a mangled leg and club foot, which is no condition meant for a beautiful dancer.
The carpet in that bar was once a vibrant red, but now it's a stomped-down shade of mauve pocked with gum chewed decades ago. Well-stuffed stools were populated by the knees of girls leaning over to talk into ears.
The huge man beside me spoke again. He motioned his head down toward the notebook I'd been filling. "You must have a lot on your mind."
His large eyes looked wet and heavy. "Personal question: boy trouble?"
"No. I'm working on a book."
"Oh! No shit?! A writer. That is the ultimate in my book. Makin' people think. Good for you."
I learned that his name is Marshall. When I told him I might write a book about waiting tables I found out he is a retired chef. He was a chef at hospitals and nursing homes and even a jail.
I wanted to write, so I didn't talk to Marshall for long. While most people there had wandered in in groups, he and I were the only people there drinking alone. When he wasn't talking he rocked himself in his seat at the red banquette.
"You come here often?" He asked me this without looking me in the face.
"No, almost never. You?"
"I came in once and turned around. But today I saw you come in here, so I came in here, too. You were like a magnet." He was still looking at the stomped-down carpet.
"Are you serious?"
I didn't know what to say, so I said, "That's funny."
"And it's true," he replied. "I saw you in that blue dress. It set off your complexion and I was done. Done."
He asked me to take his number. He was still not looking at me, so I did. I entered 'Marshall' into my phone and then ten digits I never intended to dial.
"I'll take you to a light lunch or dinner." Marshall broke my heart just a little with that, so I lied: "I have a boyfriend."
It's a lie that's been told and told and told, but I cursed myself for not being more creative. I was glad he was always looking at the floor.
"I'm not surprised. Not surprised. If that boyfriend ever gives you a lick of trouble, you use that number I gave you. Because I love you. And I just met you. But I love you."
After Marshall left I noticed my Irish coffee had gone cold and that the cheapness of the whisky was now digusting and that above me the chandelier with globed, upright lights burned so fat and bright that the whole thing was sure to fall.
[Photo by Richard Bakare]