"You missed 'em," he says, flicking his cigarette butt into Jack Kerouac Alley and wiping his hands on the dirty dish towel hanging at his waist. "But they left a note."
Observing the makeshift red bow tie at his neck, I decide to believe him and enter the dark saloon.
"They already left!" shouts a chorus of afternoon dipsomaniacs. I smile nervously, not wanting to appear ungrateful or ill at ease, and quickly locate the note taped near the bar. "Look for Pee-wee's Green Playhouse near the corner of Grant & Green," I read. I shrug and the patrons inexplicably roar with laughter; one of them, also wearing a red bow tie, claps me on the back. Feeling somewhat buoyed by the note, I laugh back, perhaps a little too loudly, and slip away before anyone can lure me into an illegal game of dice or a doomed bank heist.
Feeling certain that I've narrowly escaped disaster, and that my faithful super-deluxe, fire-engine-red bicycle is just around the corner, I set off for Broadway. Happily, no big adventure can begin and end so quickly (otherwise, there couldn't be a movie). While pausing for a moment in front of a "Live nude girls!" sign, I am suddenly swept up in a tide of excited people leaving a nearby porn shop. And most of them look like me: tight gray suit (my suit is actually black, but never mind), white shoes, pink cheeks, and red bow ties. I hold my breath and close my eyes.
"Hi Pee-wee!" shouts Punk-wee in a shallow falsetto that is unmistakable. "Hah, hah, hah! Hi!"
I open my eyes to see Punk-wee waving his hand like a floppy white fish. It's too good to be true. There's She-wee and Wee-wee, Nursie and Miss Penny, the lovely Miss Yvonne and little Pee-wee Jr. , and all the other FOPs (Friends of Pee-wee) one could ever hope to see.
"Happy Paul Reubens Day everybody!" offers Punk-wee to a passing flock of curious tourists.
"Happy Paul Reubens Day!" we echo in unison.
Sherman Herman, Pee-wee Herman's long-lost uncle and Wee-wee's future betrothed, flips on his boombox and the chorus of "Stroke" by Billy Squier fills the air in the spot where Carol Doda once flounced her bounteous bazooms.
"Stroke me! Stroke me!" howls Squier.
"Stroke! Stroke!" we all respond as we skip up Columbus Street, past the strippers, the barkers, and the outdoor cafes.
"Happy Paul Reubens Day!" we yell, handing out tissues and old socks to all who might need them.
"Happy Paul Reubens Day!" people on the street reply, encouraged by our guileless enthusiasm.
"Come on, everybody," shouts Punk-wee, motioning dramatically.
We all yell in our best strangled-Pee-wee voices ("come" is the magic word) and shuffle after him with our gangly man-child gaits.
In Washington Square Park, amidst the sunbathers, the Frisbee players, and the poetry readers, Sherman Herman conducts an impromptu "Tequila"-dance class: two dozen sundry Pee-wee look-alikes and FOPs, all in their Sunday best, or in the case of Hairy McFlasherton, a trench coat and not much more, dancing on their toes. And so the first annual Paul Reubens Day is born on July 26, 12 years after his arrest for indecent exposure and masturbation at a porno movie theater in Sarasota, Fla.
"Of course, it started with porn," explains Alicia Miziolek, a statuesque model from Baltimore who prefers to be referred to as Drunken Redheaded Slut #1. "Some friends and I were talking about a spread I just did for Nugget and a New Year's resolution I had when I was 19 to go to a porn movie theater -- I still haven't been to one -- and somehow that evolved into a discussion about Paul Reubens."
"In the seventh grade, the boy I liked didn't like me," explains Jamie Slater, a recent transplant from New York who works in a chiropractor's office when not wreaking havoc as Drunken Redheaded Slut #2, "because I talked like Pee-wee Herman. All the time. It wasn't until we started planning that I watched Pee-wee again and rediscovered [Reubens'] genius."
"And the idea just sprang to life," continues Miziolek, "like Athena from Zeus' head, fully developed and ready to go: Paul Reubens Day."
"If you think about it," says Punk-wee, a special-effects artist who sometimes goes by the name Aaron Muszalski, "Reubens was martyred during the last conservative administration, and, after eight years of liberal woo-hoo when the president was getting away with more [than public masturbation], he's under attack again. For computer porn? C'mon, it's ridiculous.
"We love Pee-wee, not in spite of his public masturbation charge, but inclusive of it."
Apparently, the Drunken Redheaded Sluts and Muszalski are not alone. After Muszalski did a search on Friendster.com for anyone listing Pee-wee Herman or Paul Reubens as points of interest, plans began for simultaneous celebrations to be held in other cities next year; and as we skip and holler through North Beach, our numbers certainly grow. By the time we reach the Grant & Green for cocktails, tighty-whitey raffles, and a screening of Pee-wee's Big Adventure, there are enough FOPs -- characterized by tissues sticking out of their front pockets and a propensity to bellow every time someone says, "Come" -- to fill a porn movie theater. Sadly, there are no big-screen porn houses left in San Francisco. We are Pee-wee without porn.
Determined, as ever, to take lemons and make lemonade, we skip and/or waddle stiffly down to the Lusty Lady, where I squeeze into a booth with Punk-wee and Miss Yvonne, aka DRS#1. Peering across the dance "arena," at all the pale, shiny faces and red bow ties pressed to the glass in each of the surrounding booths, I'm not surprised when the dancer before us freezes with her well-pierced labia in hand.
"Where did you all come from?" she asks.
"Ahhhhhh!!" comes the inevitable response of a dozen Pee-wee fans.
And I can only guess that somewhere, without knowing why, Paul Reubens is smiling in that very special way.