Thursday, September 8, 2011

polk street

he Tenderloin/Polk Gulch area was the traditional gay section of San Francisco, the bus station, YMCA, nocturnal types you'd find in seedy pockets of most urban areas where the old apartments still had Murphy beds and places rented by the week.  Teenaged runaways selling sex, serious drug abusers, full time transvestites.  These were not those suburban clones that had begun showing up in the Castro in the mid-1970s, pampered baby-boomers with their day jobs and pretense of being so butch, everybody a top.
You'd see young males leaning nonchalantly against fire hydrants on Polk in the early evening, facing the cars that slowly cruised past, thumb notched into top of their jeans, finger pointing down at the crotch.  Old queens buying dinners for a new arrival, who's your daddy.  In a quiet restaurant five men in their 50s, white haired business types casually dressed around the large table in the center of the dining room talking and toasting with one sullen young boy seated among them staring down at his plate.  After they finish eating and pay the five get up and leave while the boy stays in his chair alone in view of the entire room.  No busboy comes to clear the table and the boy does not move.  After about enough time for a cigarette the restaurant doorway opens slightly, a forearm intrudes and gives a little wave and the boy gets up and walks out.
A little B&D never humiliated anyone, right?
The street styles changed during that decade from hippie to disco to punk but the overarching look always had that gritty inner city edge, trashy and tawdry.  Even as late as 1975 it was Polk Street, not Castro Street, that was blocked off on Halloween with a stage and drag queen MCs.

cott was the night bartender at the Mule in this era. He came on at 6 p.m. shift change and arriving first evening on the job George the day bartender laid out the law as only an old queen can:  ``You be on time every fucking day, honey.  I got a second gig I can't be late to, you're not here at six I'm gone, anything that happens it's your fucking ass, OK."
Over the months the job settled in a predictable work routine, last call at 2 a.m., lights up at 2:20, usually to a packed house, stunned looks in the sudden glare as the music is cut, ``Drink Up Girls! Hotel/ Motel Time!"  At 2:30 a.m. close the door to all but a few friends.  Same minor skirmishes each night to get the Last Call Connie's out, they just whine to stay a bit longer.  ``Good Fucking Night!"  And same major battle each night with Trixxi, with two X's she's quick to tell you, trannie who arrives around ten, dumps her handbag out across the bar and for the next few hours frantically arranges the scattered contents, staring down as she babbles constantly, saying to no one in particular things like, ``You can't call me Miss Potato unless you know me."  Sure Trixxi, sure. Time to go home or wherever it is you go. Tweak somewhere else.
All finally gone.
Scott keeps his never empty glass of scotch & soda set to chill down in the ice bin while he finishes up, always knows where to find it.  Once the bills are separated, each denomination counted, banded in packets, recorded  and locked in the wall safe his workday was truly over.  Now he can party, the real Happy Hour begins here at three in the morning. 
He arrived one day to have George mention that when he'd opened he found the previous night's take neatly bundled and set down in the ice bin and found an almost empty highball glass securely locked inside the wall safe.  ``Careful you gonna be you're own best customer,"  George smirked as he marched out with a haughty toss of his nose.
After a few months it was all Scott could do to be showered, shaved and dressed, usually in the clothes piled on the floor, and get in by six.  He developed an ability to shut off the alarm about twenty seconds before it began to clang and then dream that he was fully clothed, brushing his teeth, almost ready to head off to work, smiling, happy because he would be a bit early for a change.
Then eyes pop open, heart pounds up to inside eardrums, stomach gorges up into throat as that dreamy smile contorts into Oh Shit!  Scott rushes around the apartment, pants right where he left them, saves time, proud of this bit of forethought.  In a cab he'll be heading to work as the 9-to-5 crowd is heading home.  Suckers!
So once again on this day Scott awakes to see the daylight seeping from the edges of the window shade, rolls over, looks at a silent clock through a half open eye--it reads 6:03!  Fuck, fuck, fuck as he bolts upright!
He's got head tilted to hold the phone between shoulder and ear sitting edge of the bed, bare feet on the cold floor as he lights his first cigarette, hears the distant continuous ring, imagining the scene in the bar:  George has just given each member of the day crew a free shot as he clears out and now the room is full of drunks and there is no one behind the bar, no one in charge; it's his ass!  Immediate next call is to the cab company, shaking his head, fucking answer the phone!
Scott waits on the steps of his building with another cigarette, tastes like a vacuum cleaner bag has been dumped in his mouth.  The cab pulls up and Scott skews the half finished butt into the curb as he climbs in, telling the driver that he'll double what's on the meter if the guy races.  He lights his third and leans back, exhales, feeling like he's run a marathon already today.  This has got to stop, he needs to begin going home right after work, get up earlier, during the daytime, maybe hit the gym, check out the museums, maybe visit the library and actually read instead of cruise . . . well yeah, since he probably won't have a job after tonight there will be plenty of time for all those things.
The driver is doing a great job, accelerating at yellows, rolling before a red turns green, switching lanes abruptly to advance.  Lucky, there sure doesn't seem to be a lot of traffic out, the cabbie crosses the center line to pass a slow moving, road hogging street sweeper, the burr sound as it stirs around the grime.  Then the same maneuver again a block later, a garbage truck in front of an apartment building.  The realization comes slowly:  Street sweeper? Garbage truck? They're not out at six in the evening, they only operate at . . . Oh God!  How could he, it's still morning!
Scott closes his eyes, opens them again, yep that's still a garbage truck out there.  Hung over and stupid, why can't he just be one or the other?  He's too embarrassed to tell driver to turn around so they pull up to the padlocked bar where he pays the man double the meter as promised.  The sidewalks are all but deserted at this hour as he crosses to the door and unsnaps the padlock.  Odor of stale beer and drying mop water greets him, the strangeness of an empty, quiet barroom.  He flips on the lights and goes to make a pot of coffee.  Of all the dumb things he's done in his life this has got to be the hands down winner.  Congratulations moron: folks, we got a winner!
He sits at a bar stool on the customer side, sipping the coffee and holding yet another cigarette as the adrenaline shakiness drains away leaving a profound fatigue.  Trying to think of who he knows that might have a little meth.  He'll need it if he can't sleep when he gets back home and has to be back here for real in eleven hours.  He empties the pot into the sink and cleans so when George arrives in a few hours nothing will seem amiss.  Then he phones for a cab to get him and his aching head back to his apartment, watching through the curtain until the yellow savior arrives.  The driver half turns to glance over his shoulder briefly as Scott slides to the center of the seat and gives the address. 
Just before they begin moving Scott sees the guy's eyes in the rearview mirror watching him and realizes he's got the same cabbie that brought him.  Scott leans his head onto the seatback and shuts his eyes as he reaches for his cigarettes and he hears the driver say, ``Fucked up didn't you."