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Pretzels and Cheddar Goldfish: The cosmos' quarry 

Wednesday, Aug 13 2008

I recently got me one of them tomes I like to call "brainy bachelor bathroom books." It's one of the sort you can find dog-eared on the back of some learned dude's toilet. These books are invariably nonfiction and usually contain a question mark in the title. For example, they often have names like, What Came First, The Chicken or the Egg? A Compendium of Useless Crap about The Origins of Just About Everything, You Syphilitic, Pedantic Loser. Or, 'Hmm, I Wonder If These Scallops Are Still Good?' and Other Famous Last Words.

The book I got was called Why Aren't Black Holes Black? The Unanswered Questions at the Frontiers of Science. (Yep, that's right: I'm the smartest person in my bathroom now, sucka.) I'm always looking for deep Bouncer material, and at the very least I hoped the book could help me somehow make the profound connection between beer bonging in the Mission and gene therapy.

Here's what I learned from the book: We know a lot, but we don't know a whole hell of a lot. (There, I just saved you a trip to the library.) The stuff we don't know is, of course, the most interesting to me, particularly dark matter. We have no idea what this stuff is, but it's in the universe all over the place. It's a mysterious mass of something. I can relate.

My friend Floyd, the smartest guy I know, can also relate. He made it through most books with question marks in the titles in grade school, and has now moved on to books with colons in them, like Polyploid Hybrids: Multiple Origins of a Treefrog Species.

He took me to Thieves Tavern on 14th Street. I complained the whole way.

"Are we almost there?" I kvetched. "Is that it on the next block?" I hate having to walk very far. Thieves is one of those places that everyone has mentioned to me and suggested I check out, so I was excited. I always love to go to a new place. Apparently 99 percent of the universe is unaccounted for; I'm thinking that about 85 percent of the bars in S.F. have yet to be explored by me. For the most part, I can use empirical evidence to predict what I will find inside most bars: a pool table, TVs, long bar, ATM, and usually a jukebox. The interesting stuff is that which is unique to each place, the dark matter that is waiting to be discovered: the clientele, the temperament of the bar staff, the contents of said jukebox, and the eternal question that always haunts me: "Will there be bar snacks?"

Once we walked into Thieves Tavern and I saw the green walls, I remembered that this was supposedly an A's bar. I would've, of course, avoided it like the plague had I recollected that, but it's a good thing I didn't. You mustn't embark on a scientific journey with any preconceived biases or ideas. The rest of my hypothesis was pretty intact: the place had a pool table, an ATM (which was sadly out of order), a long bar, and TVs for Oakland baseball. As for the dark matter, the bar was full of nice enough dudes who looked like they studied political science or journalism in college yet some how fell into systems management.

The real "star" of the place (Get it? "Star"? Ha! Galaxy humor, people!) was the bartender. Goddamn, she was a peach. She was happier to see us than my Auntie Dortha on Easter, and she told us that it was "industry night." I had no idea what this meant, but Floyd got it. Apparently if you work at another bar you can get a discount on Tuesdays: a beer and a shot for $6. Floyd works at the Hemlock and I work at Thee Parkside, so dang, we were in like Flynn. "They figure you've been working hard all weekend and you deserve a deal on Mondays or Tuesdays," he told me. "It's also a way to get people in the bar on those slower days."

Ah, Floydie, is there anything you don't know? I do believe he is the embodiment of the bachelor bathroom book.

Usually when he and I get together it is nonstop chatter which drifts into argument, but on this night we were strangely at a loss for topics of discussion. Then again, Floyd can pontificate about the mundane better than just about anyone I know, and I knew it was only a matter of time before some pearls of wisdom would spew forth from his fulcrum.

"Do you have any snacks?" I asked the bartender, who gave me the sad news that she didn't. This seemed to give Copernicus grist for his mill. "The only places that have bar snacks anymore are for old people," Floyd said. "Young places don't do snacks. It's a dying art, on its way out, just like an old-man bar in the 'Loin."

(Okay, Floyd didn't actually say "in the 'Loin," but I knew that if I quoted him that way it would piss him off, because it makes him sound like a doofus, and that gives me glee.)

I was about to argue with him on this point, but the more I thought about it, the more it actually made sense. I have noticed a paucity of peanuts. Wow, what a sobering thought: the death of bar snacks. I shuddered. But in an ever-expanding universe, stars collapse and swallow things up in their wake. If pretzels and cheddar Goldfish are the cosmos' quarry, then so be it.

I focused on the bartender. I had a strong urge to make her my friend. I'm sure she gets that a lot. She moved behind the bar with grace and had a smile for everyone, even the blubbering drunk guy. If "Across the Universe" is playing in your head while you picture this, then we are on the same wavelength, gentle reader. I tend to have black-and-white thinking about bartenders, don't I? I either think they are a total waste of space, or I elevate them to a deity. I'll work on that.

"I have to get up early," said Floyd. I'm no Kreskin, but I was thinking that he wanted to go home.

"Okay, but I need to get a snack," I said. We left a big-ass tip for the bartender and headed out the door toward Taco Bell, the only place open at that hour in the neighborhood. Taco Bell is predictable as all get-out, and it rocks. It contains no dark matter. Everything there is always the same. It reminds me of the Onion piece titled something like "Taco Bell's Five Ingredients Combined in a Totally New Way." I'm a purist and I always get the same thing: plain ol' crispy tacos. Floyd got something shaped like a hexagon with beans oozing out of it.

"Yumbo," I said, finishing off my taco.

"Yep," Floyd said. We sat staring out the window into nothingness for a second, and then we left.

About The Author

Katy St. Clair

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