Piqued, I decided to get outside and go read somewhere public. It was too windy for the park, so I found myself at a bar near my house that looked mostly empty and wouldn’t be noisy. My Guinness cost seven dollars, and within minutes of my first sip a woman with a British accent sat down next to me at the bar and ordered a mimosa. It was 2:45pm. At the other end of the bar sat a hefty MF couple in black leather jackets who seemed chummy with the bartender: a short, wiry woman in a greying white tanktop. “Can you do a mimosa?”
The bartender assured her she could. “I could put some fresh grapefruit juice in it?”
“Lovely,” said the Brit. “And a bloody Mary.”
She was met by her friend, and soon afterward a pearish dude, late 20s, in a navy blue hoodie sat at the end of the bar, next to them. I finished “How to Talk to Your Mother (Notes)” and went on to “Amahl and the Night Visitors”. Between underlining passages that I felt illustrated lessons I’d like my students next week to learn, I overheard some chitchat. The threesome at the end of the bar became a threesome and got along famously. He just moved here from Dallas in May, being called out to San Francisco by a college friend to help on his startup. They sell smoking accessories. Pipes, bowls, vaporizers. Started with just $250,000 seed money, but it’s going quite well.
The ordering Brit moved here this summer for her job. Her mimosa-drinking companion was just visiting.
My pencil tip dulled and I tried to write more obliquely. Their drinks neared their glasses’ bottoms. Should they get shots?
“Ladies, what’ll we have? Something strong? Something a little sweet?” They laughed. They were in their forties over him. “Let me recommend a pineapple upside-down cake. Tastes exactly like the real thing.” He ordered three for them and one for the bartender, explaining to her how to make the thing: mix Pinnacle cake-flavored vodka with pineapple juice and pour it in a shot glass over grenadine. This bar had a Wurlitzer. It didn’t have cake-flavored vodka.
“Do you have vanilla vodka?” he asked, hopeful.
She did. She poured. “It looks like a nipple,” said the visiting Brit, eyeing her glass. Everyone guzzled their shots. “Great,” said the dude. “Tastes just like it.”
He turned to the ladies. “Two things you gotta do to get the full San Francisco experience. One: Golden Gate Bridge. You gotta see it up close, walk right across it, to get a real sense of its size. Pictures? They don’t do it.”
The women planned to sail underneath it tomorrow on a Bay cruise. He figured this would be just as good.
“Two: Alamo Square. Have you seen Full House?”
He moved here in May, and had found this bar shortly thereafter. Now it’s his neighborhood bar, this dark place swarmed with fruit flies and designer light fixtures. Tourists in mock turtlenecks. “You’re the guy with the vaporizers, right?” asked the bartender. “How’s that going?”
“It’s going really well,” he said. “Last week we had an investor write us a check for two million dollars. We thought he was only going to give us a million, but he surprised us.” He grinned at the Brits. “Two million.”
My students pay more than $39,000 to study writing and get an MFA degree. The most we’re able to give them as fellowship assistance isn’t even a third of that. Additional scholarship money, I’ve been told, isn’t easy to find in this town.
Soon it was time for everyone to go on to the next stage of their afternoons, me included. “Let me swap out that card I gave you,” the dude said to the bartender. His hair was a grown-out buzzcut. It lay on his head like a bad disguise. “Use this one instead. We’re gonna business-expense this.” Then he kind of cackled and decided to give his contact info to these women. His company’s business card? It’s rolling papers. His name? Chilly.
The two questions I have the hardest time answering have to do with place: What do you miss about living in Alabama, and So how do you like San Francisco? If I were brainless, or rich, or both, actually, I’d have an easier time with the latter. I don’t know how I like it but I know it’s very hard to do.