Sunday, September 16, 2012

jack day one

ack got his first view of San Francisco where I-80 finally ceased its westward thrust to curve south past Berkeley.  Four days earlier he had given his mother a goodbye hug on the porch of the Craftsman bungalow where he grew up, walked the strip of concrete that divided the front lawn early on an already muggy August morning and drove away from Kokomo on a dim promise from Wade, almost a rumor too unbelievable to be true.  A bit after 2 p.m. his Oldsmobile and the U-Haul that had trailed it those four days curved west one final time to merge with the freeway arteries that led onto the Bay Bridge and into the City.
In the distance before him across the quicksilver shimmer of the bay the image of a tight cluster of office buildings backed by low hills rose into a bright haze.  The connection took no leap of imagination, exactly like the movie, up ahead was Oz.  Jack paid at the toll booth, slid his foot from brake to gas pedal and as the car moved onto the bridge proper he became a clich√©, yet another new arrival.
From the bridge he merely had to follow the directions given over the phone and he would arrive at his new home.  ``It's on 16th just across Market from the main block of Castro Street,''  Wade's voice coming thin and tinny out of the Bakelite receiver, ``Jack, you'll be amazed.''  Then Wade laughed, ``And get a haircut, the sixties are over, it's a new decade out here.''
The apartment key was under the mat, a welcome note was propped on the entry hall table, ``I get off work a bit after six, wait and we'll get a drink to celebrate your arrival.''  Jack couldn't wait, couldn't bother unloading, he had to get out into it, had to see what Wade meant by ``you'll be amazed.''
The wide traffic lanes of Market Street were a last boundary in his journey.  The light became green, the stream of cars parted and Jack crossed the intersection.  As he stepped onto the far curb a group of pigeons hesitated, shuffled and then flared into the air a few feet to settle back to the sidewalk under the plate glass windows of the Twin Peaks bar.  Inside old guys sat sideways on the barstools to stare out.  Shit they must all be at least forty, thought Jack, old queens.  A bit further and Jack became aware that all around him now were young men, smiling and gawking at one another, young and vibrant, reminded of his first Indiana State Fair, the excitement from disorientation at trying to take in too much too quickly.  Without the smell of sawdust, damp straw and cow manure.  All these guys out and this just a random weekday afternoon—doesn't anyone in San Francisco have to work?
He paused in the pleasant gloom under the theater marque to read the Now Playing poster, his own image, stringy hair, baggy pants, reflected pale over the frozen embrace, Audrey gazed up at Gary Cooper.  Odor of buttered popcorn, a siren pull he had to resist, there was too much out here to see, he had to continue on.  Humming ``It Was Fascination I Know. . .'' as he moved away from Love In the Afternoon.  Wade had been right, Jack needed a haircut, not even half a block and already he could tell there was a prevailing style, short cropped hair, moustaches, tight faded jeans, trim and healthy.  Making him feel even more obvious, out of place, more aware of his current status: new in town sailor?
Up ahead at the street corner he could see Hibernia Bank, remnant of the Irish influx, now Hibernia Beach, a row of shirtless guys preening against the granite wall, getting some sun while showing off.  Every shop window he passed was a carefully decorated enticement, even the hardware store.  At 18th St. he stopped, which direction?  A deep steady bass sounded from his left like the approach of a parade.  He turned that direction and stood outside a doorway covered by two heavy black leather curtains.  Seemed a little early for a drink but it was three hours later back home, so . . . OK, a drink.  The bass throb increased as two guys came out through the curtains, laughing, looking at Jack one said, ``Step right on in, always room for one more,'' as he held back the curtain.
Inside blaring disco pounded as he squinted while his eyes adjusted to the darkness.  Human forms coalesced, slowly he could see that the long narrow barroom was jammed with bodies, they looked like the same young men he'd just seen on the street.  Every barstool was occupied and people stood two and three deep behind.  Those attempting to talk over the music were tilted towards one another, mouth close to ear.
Two guys who faced the door with their backs against the bar moved aside enough for Jack to squeeze in.  When the bartender finally noticed, Jack stretched across the bartop and shouted, ``Gin-tonic.''  He watched the drink being mixed: ice, gin, more gin, and finally a little a splash of tonic.  Jack pushed some bills across and shouted that he'd just moved here, confiding, ``This is my very first drink in San Francisco.''
The bartender shut off the stereo, faces turning his direction as the amplified music faded away.  ``This is on me,'' he said to Jack placing the drink and then he announced to the room, pointing, ``Another New One Here!''  And to Jack, ``Where you from?'' then loudly again to the crowd just before turning the music back up, ``Representing the Great State of Indiana.''
Someone was patting Jack on the back as he reached for his glass and before he got one sip it seemed that people were trying to elevate him as if to show him off.  The music was blaring again, he was being grabbed under his shoulders and then from behind his knees and suddenly he became airborn, spun in a whirlwind of hands, tilted on his back into a cushion of raised arms.  The noise level alone seemed enough to bouy him aloft as he began to be passed feet first in celebration down the length of the bar.
Bewildered, hovering above these strangers, this was not the kind of attention he sought, then he relaxed and flowed with it.  Everyone was laughing, arms rose automatically in an undulating wave to support him as he body surfed this curl of hands.  He saw himself full in the mirror as he was borne floating amidst cigarette smoke and odors of cologne.
Around midbar the uplifted hands began tugging at his clothing, people giggling at his helplessness, he felt a shirttail slide out, a shoe went, a button popped.  Fingers groped his flesh as he slid past, someone was tugging at his belt buckle, Wait a minute here!  When the last hands let Jack down on a concrete floor in the rear of the barroom in a garish red, yellow and violet glow from pinball machines he was laughing giddily and completely naked.

What the hell was this place he'd come to?

San Francisco, 1977