I was sitting at Specs' Cafe in North Beach, waiting for my blind date to arrive, and thinking about Christopher Columbus. One thing I've learned about explorers is that some of them fell into the job haphazardly. For example, Cortez was like 15th on the list of people Spain chose to explore the New World. All the other candidates either didn't want the gig, died before they could get there, or had more pressing things to see to, such as enslaving people in other locations. By most accounts, Cortez was a doofus who lucked into things in a sort of Being There kind of way. So, I wondered, could the same be said for Columbus? Was he just in the right place at the right time? Did he happen to have a particularly deft sense of which wigwam to toss those smallpox-infested blankets upon?
There's so much debate as to whether Columbus Day honors a hero or a villain, but what if he was neither — if he was just a dude who landed a gig? I mean, everyone was a dick back then. If you weren't a serf, you could pretty much do whatever you wanted to whomever you wanted. I guess what I'm saying is: Don't hate the player, hate the game.
Why was I thinking about this? Well, I was on Columbus Avenue, and my date was from Mexico. He eventually showed up, was quite handsome, and we chatted a bit about stuff that you tend to talk about on a first date: the music you like, which bars you frequent, the makeup of your family, and the fact that burritos were invented by gringos. Did you know that? I didn't. I asked him to take me to a bar I'd never been to, and he suggested the Columbus Cafe, a few blocks away.
The first thing I liked about the Columbus Cafe is that it is in no way a cafe. It's just a bar. I don't know why this pleased me, but it did. The second thing I liked was that it was full of disparate kinds of people: old geezers, old hippies, young hipsters, jocks, a German family, and the Lone Pool Guy who seems to frequent every bar.
We sat in the middle of the long bar and ordered our drinks. There was nothing unique about the place, save for the sepia-toned shots of its original owner in various scenarios. The music that was playing was godawful, thanks to whomever plugged 90 minutes of shit into the digital jukebox. I've said it before and I'll say it again: Having every song known to humanity available on a jukebox is both a blessing and a curse.
My date was depressed. He had been out of work for a few months, and his money was running out. Not to mention the fact that he was bored. "It just seems easy to go to a bar every night, to be around people, but it is expensive," he said. I, too, know the pitfalls of being out of work and heeding the pull to the bars. There's that one fantastic moment each evening, when your buzz has reached its happiest peak, when you think, "I don't have to get up in the morning!" You are filled with serenity and joy. Then, of course, after another morning waking up with nothing to do and no prospects, you feel the opposite emotions. Doom. Despair. Fear. Sadness. A yen for Pop-Tarts.
My date left Mexico because he thought he would have a brighter future here. Back home, he said, people generally stay in whatever class they are born into. The trouble is, the United States isn't that different. Sure, we have more layers of economic classes, but it's rare for people to leave theirs and jump up on the scale. So, though he is well-educated and responsible, he doesn't have a lot of choices here besides restaurant work.
I realized that if I hadn't gone to college with my family's help, or had the finances to help this whole writing thing along, I'd be in the same boat. We are all still feudal serfs of some kind, serving our Lord in some way. I happen to be in a shack attached to the main house, but others are sleeping in the barn, baby.
Our conversation was nice enough, but there were also big gaps when we had nothing to say. This is why I rarely go on blind dates. I can't handle the chasms of silence, the small talk, the forced enthusiasm. He went to the bathroom, and I set my eyes on the guy to my right. He was a big, beefy redhead, with his hair pulled up into a sumo ponytail. His massive forearm was holding a pint, and on that arm was tattooed a curvaceous woman in a Hooters T-shirt. "Really?" I said to him incredulously. He smiled a bit sheepishly and said, "Yep." He had a British accent. I was even more intrigued. He also had tattoos of an old man with a snake for a hat, a clown, and a naked woman. "These are tattoos of interesting people I've met on my travels," he said with a thick London accent.
"I'm sure she had a lot to say," I noted, gesturing to the Hooters gal. Thus set off a volley of conversation about Ozzy Osbourne's Birmingham accent and why I should attend Wimbledon just once in my life. In five minutes we covered everything. The talk came fast and easy. We laughed, we cried.
I realized that dating is a hindrance to good conversation. Both parties are usually too self-conscious. I suppose that's why God created second dates. Though it was early, I asked for the tab and told my Mexican companion I had to go. We made plans to see a movie next time.
I walked out down Columbus, the street named for a jerk.
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