Hanging out in bars in expensive restaurants is like playing dress-up; it's pretend. You might not be able to afford dinner there, but you can sit at the bar and order a beer and be a part of things. You just have to make sure you don't have a credit card with you, because after a few drinks, that $25 crab starts lookin' mighty tasty. Oh, and the lobster. And what the hell, you need to build your credit anyway, so you might as well just go for it and charge up a $200 dinner. You only live once!
I sat in the Jellyfish Lounge at Farallon and did not have any alcohol for these very reasons. But, I did have a delicious near-beer and a spinach salad. Besides, there are a million places to drink in S.F. I like to come to Farallon because it is so beautiful inside. Gossamer jellyfish hang from the ceiling and the entire restaurant has an iridescent shine like the inside of a shell. The bar is right at the entrance, so you can watch everyone come in while you construct backstories for them: Couple on their third date (still giddy to see one another but no longer shy); wealthy family from out of town who are staying in a nearby hotel; older couple who are going to see a play later.
Of course we could delve deeper into their stories, if we were the sort. The guy on the date has herpes and this will be the night he tells her. He's pretty sure she will be cool about it and deal because she was in the Peace Corps and don't they come across malaria and shit? The rich family has too many skeletons to mention here, but the daughter is going to order just a plate of plain lettuce and water and then do about 200 sit-ups back at the hotel; the dad is going to peruse the boutique whiskey and ask questions about each one while his wife thinks, "Sure, go ahead and act like you wouldn't drink nail polish remover if that were available, you narcissistic bastard." The retired couple have both had unhappy marriages in the past, but after meeting one another seven years ago on a bird-watching trip to Point Reyes, they finally found their soulmates.
As for those sitting near me at the bar, they were mostly professional-looking men and one woman in a nice job interview outfit and sneakers. She kept looking at me; maybe she was constructing my backstory. There is no way she would get it right. Plus, I was thinking about Mad Men. Folks in fancy restaurants drink like they are on that show: hard booze in short glasses with ice.
I was watching the season finale when I got a memory from my childhood out of nowhere. It was one of the nicest things my mother had ever done for me. My family was not very communicative or demonstrative with our feelings. We showed love for each other by being funny and making each other laugh, or by bonding through sarcasm about the world around us. If I ever got sad or hurt I would retreat to my room and deal with it alone, usually by stuffing the feelings down with food, fantasy, or a book.
In the first year of junior high, the worst time in anyone's life, my school was having a dance and it had a '60s theme. This would be my "in," I would show up to this thing in my pretend outfit and make friends instantly. I asked my mom for help. "What did people wear in the '60s?" I asked her. She went to her closet and pulled out the grooviest stuff she had. This wasn't flower child crap, this was Mad Men territory. She found a faux fur coat that was short with sleeves that came mid-forearm. She put me in a cool dress like Joan would wear.
"The lips were pale," she told me, and she applied a super light pink to mine. "Lots of eyeliner too," she added, loading me up. I was really starting to look like someone on Dark Shadows. I loved it. She teased my hair. Mostly I loved doing this with my mom. It was a rite of sorts; she was dressing me up the way the cool women looked when she was my age. I was sure most people at the dance would be dressed like hippies ... so obvious!
Then my mom and I got in the car and she drove me over. I was nervous, for reasons anyone who has been 13 can relate to. We drove up to the junior high and it was teeming with tweens. I peered over my mom and looked out her window: No one, I mean no one, was dressed in so much as a fringe jacket, let alone like Betty Draper. My stomach knotted up. To get out of the car and enter that Thunderdome dressed like I was would have been suicide. Without any comment, my mom said, "You want to go home?" She said it with so much love, yet no judgment. She remembered how it was at 13.
"Please," I said.
Maybe I was being hard on the family eating dinner at Farallon. Maybe the daughter has healthy eating habits and maybe the dad can stop after one drink. Maybe the woman in the nice clothes and sneakers who keeps checking me out isn't a lesbian, I just remind her of someone.
"Another one?" asked the bartender. I grabbed the food menu. Maybe I can afford to also order the shrimp, "poor man's lobster."
Let's pretend. You only live once.