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Bouncer: Visiting fantasy worlds at the Sausage Factory 

Wednesday, Sep 22 2010

As a rule, people like being something they are not. We like to pretend. We play make-believe when we are little. We dress up for Halloween. We wear Cover Girl. I am not going to say that all of this is somehow inauthentic or wrong. No. I am not going to get all Holden Caulfield on your ass. Actually, I am going to celebrate this aspect of being human, as best exemplified in the Kristy McNichol film Just The Way You Are. She plays a young girl who was born with a "crippled foot," and uses crutches to walk. She goes on a ski weekend and decides to dress up like someone who has a broken leg, instead of someone with a permanent disability. She puts on a fake cast and stands back and lets the romance blossom. It is supposed to be a feel-good made-for-TV-movie, but it's a pretty depressing message overall: If you have something wrong with you physically, no one will love you, so you have to fix it or die alone. However, the film shines as low camp, and that is really all that matters anyway.

I've been thinking a lot about the Land of Pretend and Make-Believe, because I am at Disneyland for three days. I also knew I was going to write about my favorite S.F. restaurant, the Sausage Factory, and I realized that both places have something in common: They have created alternate universes. They are pretending. When we go to them, we get to walk into surroundings that are far different from the usual.

The Sausage Factory is technically not a saloon. There is a tiny bar area with a few stools by the kitchen, and the rest of the place contains tables and booths. But the beer is ice-cold, and you can sit at a table and order drinks all day if you want. The decor is fantastic, with bordello walls covered with art, knickknacks, and photography. It's old Italy meets a gay man's love of kitsch. Sinatra and other crooners play low over the sound system. It's a Disneyland ride. The portions are Brobdingnagian. The prices are Lilliputian. The tables are close enough together that you can listen in on other people's conversations, a must for the lone diner.

I go to this place probably three times a month. The waiters make you feel welcome and comfortable because they are happy to be there, but not disgustingly so. For example, they will not announce their names and tell you that they will be serving you that night. My waiter last time was my favorite guy. He will joke around if I am in the mood, or simply deliver the carbs if I am not.

The clientele is almost entirely gay men, so I get to put on a costume of sorts: the solitary woman who doesn't give a shit how she looks. Even the least vain among us know that when we are in mixed company (which means there are straight men in attendance), we all have a twinge somewhere, way in the back of our consciousnesses, that wonders whether we are desirable. At the Sausage Factory, I can order a giant plate of antipasto and say, "Fuck it."

I sat at one of the two tables by the front door. Next to me was a couple who were talking about their impending road trip to the South. "Oh, hell no," one guy said. "We are not going to go through Kentucky." The implication was that people in Kentucky ate homosexuals for breakfast.

"It will save time ... " the other guy said.

"Famous last words."

I wanted to make my favorite Kentucky joke about how you can get arrested for smuggling books into the state. But I had to remind myself that this was not a bar, it was a restaurant, and people aren't as open to having you jump into their conversations.

Instead, I pulled out my organizer and worked on my packing list for my three-day trip to the Magic Kingdom. It consisted of one outfit, six pairs of underwear, and a six-pack of Red Bull. I travel light. Besides, once I get there I will buy enough swag to look as ridiculous as everyone else. The only people who look great at Disneyland are little girls. Someone with an amazing marketing mind came up with the idea of princess dresses that can be pulled over whatever you are wearing. The full skirts are made of toile and the little bodices are stretchy. They look pretty adorable.

Actually, the Disney brain I wouldn't mind picking is the one that hires the "Cast Members," which is what the staff is called. There has to be someone who interviews fresh young kids and has a sixth sense for which character each of them could play. If you have fine, fair features and porcelain skin, you are a shoo-in for Cinderella. If you're a brunette with a somewhat roundish face, you get to be Snow White. If you are short and fugly but good at gesticulating, you get to play Chip to another man's Dale. This is the Just The Way You Are career, really. On the bus ride over, no one would even give you a seat. But at Disneyland, underneath all that fur, people flock to you. You are Kristy with a cast. Children adore you. Cute girls want to have their picture taken with you. For six brief hours, you are everyone's favorite chipmunk. You matter.

Back at the Sausage Factory, I am sorry to report that the spirited conversation my mealmates were having about the South escalated into an argument about expenses (as most vacation talks between couples tend to go). They should just get a credit card and do what everyone else does: pretend they have money.

Speaking of which, it is time for me to board a Disney tram and blow about $400 on total crap.

I promise to return to the land of seedy bars and fallen women next week. I promise.

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Katy St. Clair

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