It's easy to feel like a stranger in any of San Francisco's neighborhoods. Actually, that's usually part of the fun. But no place makes me feel more like Camusian than the Inner Sunset. It's not that I have any hostility toward its inhabitants; in fact, the people in that part of the city are generally pretty okay. It's also not the businesses, which are quaint and family run. It's something else. Perhaps it's just where Ninth Avenue and Irving sits on the map. The vibes are weird. There is some sort of bad juju working. I feel uneasy.
I walked off the N-Judah and wandered around in search of a new bar, trying to figure out why I was feeling so much disquiet. Saying "Hello" to more than one person who doesn't respond will usually do it for me, and I had just been rebuffed by a second person. She had been looking at me a lot when we were on the N. When I made eye contact with her, though, she quickly looked away. She wasn't gay, I don't think. She looked like she had given her best years to the medical records industry, and now the only thing she lived for was heading north on the interstate to the nearest outlet mall.
We waited for what seemed like forever for the Muni doors to open. "Finally!" I said, smiling at her, as the panels labored apart with a satisfying kerchonk. She sneered at me. Hmm.
I walked a few blocks, past a brewery, the Mucky Duck, and Yancy's Saloon. None of them called to me, so I headed farther down Irving until I came upon the Blackthorn Tavern. Fuggit, I thought, heading in.
The first thing that struck me was how clean the place was. It was your garden-variety pub, with wooden booths and a long bar, but it was extremely well cared for. The woman behind the bar greeted me kindly with a strong Irish accent. Irish people who come to S.F. must be guaranteed bartending positions.
The clientele was mostly brooding and red-faced, except for three youngish guys at the end of the bar, who were whooping it up. I ordered a drink and shuffled through my bag for my money.
Before I knew it, I was being examined by a golden Labrador who was taking great interest in my bag. Usually they make a beeline to my crotch, so I had to consider myself rather springtime-fresh. I remembered that I'd been given free dog biscuit samples outside of the Powell Street BART station that morning. Yay! The people in this 'hood might be lame, but the dogs are not. I happily handed over a Scooby Snack after instructing the dog to sit.
Then I took a seat by the window, at a table way too big for one person. Just try to make me move! I took out my book and pretended to read. A guy came in with a gigantic dog. It looked like a cross between a Lab and a Great Dane. It had a huge collar on, too. Its owner was atomic-fireball-red, with white hair and dirty jeans. This was the face of a serious drinker. He sat at the table next to mine and his dog stretched out beside him.
"Can I give your dog a treat?" I asked. I almost said "healthy treat," since so many nuts in this city are obsessed with what toxins might poison their pets.
"He's fine," the owner said flatly, annoyed. The dog, on the other hand, looked visibly disappointed. "Sorry," I mouthed to him.
"It's okay," the dog mouthed back. "The guy's a douchebag."
I am always struck by the lone drunks who go out to bars and then get annoyed when you interact with them. Why are they in public? Why do they leave their houses to infect other people with their noxious moods? And, most importantly, why don't they like me? Ugh. I hate how codependent I can be.
I kept fake-reading my book and having a conversation with the Great Dane. "You've been on the same page for 10 minutes now," he said.
"Hey, you try reading Going Rouge," I countered.
"A distant relative of mine was in an Iditarod with Todd," he replied.
"Try saying that 12 times fast," I said back.
I got up to go to the bathroom, and decided I would like to pet my new pal. Of course, his owner was the sort of person you had to seek permission from first. So I did.
"No," he replied, smugly. "He's a service dog."
The Great Dane and I looked at each other and almost burst out laughing. For one thing, if he were a service dog, he was not currently "working," and could be petted. This guy obviously just didn't want people to pet his dog. Again, I ask, why did he go out in public, and why did he take the dog? I hate people who have cute dogs or children and resent anyone trying to interact with them.
But maybe I should give the guy the benefit of the doubt. If his pet were indeed a service dog, that would explain why I couldn't give him a biscuit, or pet him, or why he was able to lip-read.
I got back from the john and gathered up my things to leave. "Ciao," I said to the dog.
"Ciao," he said, seemingly resigned to his lot in life.
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