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Book nerds unite at the Marina's Horseshoe Tavern 

Wednesday, Jan 16 2008

Peter Ustinov looks nothing like Hercule Poirot, Agatha Christie's Belgian sleuth. Yet he portrayed him a few times on film, despite being too fat, too fair of complexion, and not Belgian. It has always bugged me that a character as exacting and anally retentive as Poirot would be incorrectly portrayed. I mean it really keeps me up at night, wandering the Marina.

How did I end up in the Marina thinking about Hercule Poirot? Well, lately I am into exploring new regions of life in our fair city. The Marina gets a bad rap. Always one for the underdog, I am making it my mission to befriend this neighborhood and get to know the people who frequent it. Everyone has a story worthy of telling. Everyone has a gift to give. Perhaps I can meet some trust-fund person who will buy me drinks, or, better yet, will get so drunk that when we go back to their place they pass out and I can rifle through their things and walk out with a pillowcase full of loot.

Yeah, okay, Hercule, you guessed it: I really don't like the Marina, and no amount of pilfering or good restaurants will change that. But there is one bar that's okay — the Horseshoe Tavern on Chestnut. The Horseshoe prides itself on being the "Un-Marina Marina bar," which I suppose means that the occasional ugly person drinks there and the bar doesn't serve tapas. Yep, we're talking a face only a mother could love and Beer Nuts. One thing puzzles me, however. If this place is so "non-Marina," then why does it advertise "Hot bachelorette parties!" on its Web site?

The Horseshoe (aka the 'Shoe) looks like a hundred other watering holes in this city. It has a long bar with rows of stools, pool tables in the back, pictures of people having fun hither and thither, sports this 'n' that, and a sign that reads "No Whining." There are, of course, tons of horseshoes embedded in the walls and floors and shoved in crannies. 'Shoe regulars will be the first to tell you that its real charm lies in its clientele and its bartenders. I can vouch for the latter. They are friendly, down-to-earth, and always say hi when you walk in.

I sat next to a long-haired guy who probably liked sci-fi, if my powers of deduction are to be trusted. He was chatting about a book with his pal. That's what got me thinking about Poirot, because I recently had a revelation about his character and its relation to horseshoes.

First off, it must be said that, unlike Ustinov, the real Poirot is dark, with a black mustache. He walks in short, birdlike steps so as to always keep the stick up his ass in place. He is neat to a fault, impeccably polite, and a bit OCD. But his literary claims to fame are his "little gray cells." That means his brain, for those of us in attendance who aren't detective material. He's real dern smart and can crack the most difficult of cases, yadda yadda yadda.

Recently, however, whilst reading my millionth Christie novel, it became very clear to me: Poirot isn't that smart. No. When he solves a crime, it has more to do with odd circumstances than it does with his little gray cells. Yep, I'm talking luck. Hercule Poirot is one lucky motherfucker. He trips over an attaché case and discovers the revolver, or he walks into the wrong drawing room and overhears the duchess and her lover, or he goes home with a drunken Marina slut and rifles through her things after she has passed out. But I don't think any of this is literary laziness on Christie's part. Actually, I think she is making a great point, that luck makes the world go 'round.

For example, here's a little-known factoid that only us guinea pig enthusiasts are in on. Nobel laureate Howard Florey, who was one of three scientists to discover the healing effects of penicillin (which led to the miracle of antibiotics), didn't use guinea pigs in his lab, which was unusual at the time. For some reason, he decided to go with mice and rabbits. He injected them with mold and all that, and of course they were rid of their infections, and medical history was made. But if he had used guinea pigs, which are among the few creatures on Earth that are mortally allergic to penicillin, he would have seen the little guys die and would have abandoned his experiments entirely, believing that penicillin was toxic. Florey and his team, which included the more-famous Louis Pasteur, chalked it up to "luck" mixed with some little gray cells. "Chance favors the prepared mind," as Pasteur is famous for saying.

So I suppose that's Poirot's thing — his mind is prepared and he is also lucky. Phew. I'm glad I figured that out.

The geek next to me was still talking about his book. It was about cyberbrains or something, and new languages and someone named Clint. This was one of those guys who could have a woman come and sit on his lap and he would keep talking to his friend about Halo 3. This, as it turned out, was lucky for me. I accidentally spent all my money on my last beer and had no tip cash. I detest not giving tips.

C-3PO, on the other hand, had a big wad of cash sitting on the bar, all willy-nilly. I believe, and to this day am telling myself, that this was his tip for the bartender. I was prepared to do something that I am not proud of, but served a greater good. The bartender would get a tip from me instead of him, or, worst-case scenario, the geek would be two dollars shy of his next Guitar Hero purchase. The universe would rebalance.

When his friend got up to go to the bathroom and the geek was watching the TV, I scuttled two sawbucks from his pile and put 'em in front of me. Yes, this was a low moment, but then again, chance favors the prepared mind, right?

I scuttled out of there before he noticed, feeling kinda cloak-and-dagger. That didn't last long, though. I went home and started to feel funny ... some strange new emotion that can only be described as regret. In retrospect, this was a cowardly, dishonest act on my part. Poirot never resorted to lying and cheating to reach the ends he wanted.

Hey, book guy, I apologize. I owe you an "I'm sorry," or at least a beer. Heck, if you play your cards right, you might even get lucky. Only this time, I get to pick the neighborhood.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair


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