And the winner of the longest dive bar in San Francisco is ... the Sea Star on Third Street in Potrero Hill. From the outside, the place looks dinky, as if it were painted by the Partridge Family in blocky primary colors, but inside you are faced with a long, narrow expanse of working-class imbibement and revelry, ending with a pool table waaaay at the back. Of course, I liked the place immediately.
There are some times when I am in the mood for conversation, and other times when I am not, preferring to listen in on other people or simply swim around in my own head. The Sea Star makes brain laps very easy, since it has no fewer than four TVs above the bar playing either news or sports.
I was indeed lost in thought and mute last week when I sat in between two other guys who looked like they were in the same boat. The Sea Star had been recommended to me by a guy at Retox, a bar around the corner I had visited a few weeks before. "The bartender is a sweetie pie," he said. And when I got to the Sea Star, the bartender said hello in a sweetie-pie sort of way. I ordered a beer and a Polish sausage (hell, yeah!) and then simply sat there. To be honest, I was hoping to run into a specific person. On my first visit to the Sea Star, a guy was making odd noises at the bar. I learned that he was not only a regular, but also someone with a developmental disability. Anyone who knows me knows I am down with mental retardation. Big time. Alas, he wasn't there on this particular night, so I asked about his condition.
"He had some sort of accident," said the guy to my left, who looked like he had a delivery job of some sort. "I'm not sure what happened."
"It can happen to any of us," I replied. "Just takes one fall off the skateboard or wipeout on a motorcycle." Or too much Dancing with the Stars.
He nodded in understanding. The guy on my right, who was eating a hot dog, looked as if he were about to add to our conversation, but decided against it at the last minute. I had the feeling that he knew exactly what had happened to the guy to put him on disability, but then thought, "Eh, who really gives a shit." Oh, but I give a shit. I really, really do.
I looked way down at the end of the bar at a man and a woman who were playing pool. I lost my glasses several weeks ago, and I can't read people's expressions from a distance anymore. The paranoid person inside me felt like they were glaring at me, a newbie. Though I like the Sea Star, I have yet to feel that I belong there, which is odd, since most places do not make me feel that way at all. Then again, perhaps it is odder to feel as if you are "home" in the first five minutes of entering a bar. Maybe the Sea Star is a "healthy" place that needs to get to know you before jumping in too far, too fast.
How is it that your brain can be moving a mile a minute with ideas and paradoxes, but your mouth doesn't feel like engaging at all? Talking to the guy next to me for three seconds drained me like a Kmart inflate-a-pool come wintertime.
But my thoughts kept coming. When one of the TVs flashed footage of the Mormon polygamist compound that had been raided in Texas, I was tempted to start up a convo about that, but instead dug into my sausage. Had I felt like talking, here's what I would have said:
"Hey, does anyone else feel uncomfortable that they took all of those children away from their mothers? The authorities proudly state that they only took kids who were over 4 years old. But have you ever seen a 5-year-old? They are tiny and helpless. I'm not saying that the kids should stay with the fathers who abused them, but the mothers aren't accused of anything. It just seems that all the people in the compound, and not just the abusers, are being unduly punished for their kooky beliefs. I guess I am like a libertarian on this stuff: I believe in live and let live. If you want to have a million wives and no interest in anything fashion-forward, so be it. If you want to do home schooling so you can tell your kids that kangaroos descended from the original pair that was put on Noah's Ark (thank you, www.conservapedia.com!), don't let me stand in your way. The rules should apply to the ages of the wives ... you have to be 18 to get married, period. But beyond that I say their belief systems are none of our business."
I guess I was thinking all of this stuff with my lips moving and no sound coming out, because I noticed the delivery guy staring at me sideways. It's one thing to go to a bar by yourself and just sit there, but the unspoken rule is that you mustn't mutter. It's one of those odd norms: You can drink yourself into a stupor and act like an ass, but under no circumstances must you talk to yourself. It just ain't done.
I tried to redeem myself by finishing my last bite of sausage, which seemed like something a sane person would do. Dang, it was good.
The people at the pool table were still studying me, or so I thought. The white noise on TV was starting to form into actual sentences. The guy on my right with the hot dog kept trying to make eye contact so he could say something to me. No one with mental retardation came through the front door. It was time for my exit.
"Thanks," I said to the barkeep, thinking to myself that she was indeed a sweetie pie, a reliable sort; someone you could count on for advice about removing stubborn carpet stains or getting chewing gum out of hair. But I'm pretty sure my lips weren't moving when I thought that.