Nothing says springtime like the Spring Break crowd at Lefty O'Doul's. It's tourists, tourists, and more tourists, popping up like gape-mouthed tulips everywhere and ordering yellow American beers (if American) and decent microbrews (if European). And at what other bar in the city will you find so many children? It's the White House Easter Egg Roll but with corned beef and Jameson.
For once I thought I would read a bit about Lefty O'Doul before I went. The bar's website seemed to credit him with saving the free world, saying he "brought two countries together after WWII," which I assume was the U.S. and Japan, since it goes on to say that he "was credited for bringing America's favorite past-time to Japan." The filing of frivolous lawsuits? The ingestion of trans fats? Ah... no, baseball. Right. Try as I might, I could not dig up any dirt on the guy.
A few years ago some miscreants ripped off the left arm of the mannequin that bore his jersey at the bar, then ran off with it. It was returned in the mail a few years later with a note attached and some pictures, outlining the various adventures that severed arm had experienced. The photos, according to SF Gate, were just of the hand being poked into the asses of various friends of the thieves, though. If you are going to do something like steal an arm, do it big. Replace Davy Crockett's rifle at the state park named after him, or give Washington a third arm a la Vishnu at Mount Vernon. Shove it into the jackalope's mouth at Wall Drug.
But sadly their flaccid adventure somewhat parallels the bar itself. It's billed as one helluva good time, and it does have all the building blocks: piano bar with customers singing, cornball buffet, wacky memorabilia lining the walls, and about five people per cubic foot on any given day. However, don't feel surprised if you leave there feeling empty, like a severed plastic arm that has been forced to feel up all of your female friends instead of being used as a paddle on the Ol' Missip.
I got a good spot by the front where I could check out everyone and listen in, as I am wont to do. There were families galore, and let me tell you this: When one child is given a name that starts with "K," the rest of them must follow suit. This is a new law. Kelsey, Kerwin (I think that was what they said), and Kimber were the aural equivalent of entire broods dressing alike so that they can spot one another in a crowd.
But it's not just Americans who are fun to watch, it's also Europeans, who are easy to spot with their interesting pants.
Everyone was drinking the famous Bloody Mary that O'Doul reportedly created himself... I will go out on a limb here, since you can't libel the dead, and say that yes, while I could find no dirt on him, the fact that he invented a new recipe for a vodka drink must mean that he was a hopeless drunk.
But back to the party, because it's always a party at Lefty O'Doul's, dammit.
Kerwin was playing with a Chinese fan that he had probably just bought, and the other two K's were watching the TV and banging the back of their swinging legs into their stools. By "playing with his fan," he was trying to open the thing, which brought back an unhappy memory of my own. I was in S.F. on vacation with my parents, a young "K" child without benefit of siblings, lonely and dissociative after days of having to block out my folks' fighting. My dad bought me a fan in Chinatown and I was very excited, but as soon as we got out into the street I tried to open it, forced it in the wrong direction, and instantly broke it. I got yelled at. I do have two other nice memories from that trip though. One was crossing the Golden Gate Bridge in a car with "Bennie and the Jets" on the radio. The other was driving through the Sunset and emerging at the ocean. Being from Illinois, the idea that you could all of a sudden just be at the beach after being in an urban area sort of blew my mind. I loved it.
I'm sure the disdain that I show for tourist families is borne of jealousy. They usually all look so happy. There might be one brooding teenager, but for the most part they are a content lot.
Dad and Mom "K" ordered Bloody Marys and clinked their glasses together. They say the most important relationship in a family is the marriage. That is what is supposed to come first, and then the rest follows happily along like a mama duck and her ducklings waddling down the lane. I can say firsthand that my life would have been better if my parents had had a good marriage. I also probably would have had help opening my fan, and, barring that, been able to get a new one because everyone knows a 5-year-old can't figure out how to open a Chinese fan.
I'm pretty sure at this point I was frowning. I was the brooding teenager in the corner, bringing down the O'Doul's experience for everyone. This is why I prefer dive bars. At least there I am one of the most positive people in the room.
I did manage to make eye contact with Kerwin as I got up to leave, and he smiled at me. Aww. Enjoy your fucking fan, I said, under my breath, but I smiled warmly. He's a good kid.