SKETCHES OF SAN FRANCISCO "THE HOB NOB"
Rocco and I are prowling the Tenderloin, bar-hopping, carrying a load. We are hoopers, in shorts, sneakers and hooded sweatshirts. We halt and linger at a bar that could be a garage door with dim window from which blinks a beer sign.
Leaning against this establishment are the homeless, prostitutes, addicts, winos. The inside is an expansion of Raskolnikov’s cell—no jukebox, games or snacks, an L-shaped wooden bar with many nicks, the bottom of the L facing the street. We suck in the aroma of stale beer pipes and a urine-reeking john. Several men hunch along the bottom of the L. The bartender is around 60 and in a tight black HOB NOB T shirt. He has a trim gray goatee. He is right on us as we take wobbly stools in the middle of the long stem of the L. Above the cluster at the door is a dim TV with the Giant game.
A strong conversation at that end ceased when we entered.
Then a bull-necked man with a crew-cut and a US Marine T shirt, surrounded by several old timers and a young long-hair, pipes up, “Them two faggots come in here a little while ago, we got rid of their fucking pansy asses.” A beer and shotglass is before him. “Hey, Eddie,” he calls the bartender in his fog-horn voice, nodding toward his crew. “Give these lowlifes another shot.”
“Yeh, thanks, Buck.”
“Fuck you,” Buck snorts. “Ass-bitin” skunks.”
“Hey Buck, we love yah, man.”
“Fuck off, faggots.” He retorts.
The man sitting beside me, who is husky but with a battered face and flattened nose, says, “I doubt either of them faggots swallow cum.”
“Or drink piss,” snorts Buck, appearing aggrieved at this prospect.
Rocco, Jersey transplant, street-wise, coach and teacher in ghettos, winks at me as we sip our beers.
“If they ain’t gonna swallow cum, what good is a fag, Eddie?” asks Buck, his anger rising over this problem.
Eddie grins, his teeth cigarette-stained. In a corner, at the end of the shaft of the L, leaning against a plain wall, stands a morose biker with peaked cap and pug face, flattened nose and two beady eyes. He’s muttering to himself, preoccupied, agitated, alienated from the flow of talk in the bar.
Rocco signals for Eddie, indicating a round, and says to me, “You ready for a shot, grampa?” When I nod, Rocco says, “Eddie, give me and grampa a shot of Skyy vodka. Have one yourself, old-timer.”
Pleased, Eddie puts down his cigarette and goes to work. Though there is a new state law forbidding smoking in bars, everybody but Rocco and I are smoking. The shabby little haunt is so shrouded in smoke we can hardly see out the smudged glass door and window. Sounds from the street are distant, muted. Saturday afternoon.
“Want your shots chilled?” Eddie asks.
“Nah,” I say. “Pour ‘em out, Eddie.”
“If they don’t drink piss!” hollers the guy beside me, looking highly agitated. “They’re worse than the cock-suckers won’t lick up your cum!”
“I don’t know what’s happening to faggots these days,” Buck agrees, glancing at us. “They don’t make ‘em like they used to.”
“AIDS,” says the old timer beside Buck.
“A pox on AIDS,” Buck tells him.
“Ha ha ha.”
“Them two fags, they’re lucky they got out-a here alive!”
“Probly had AIDS.”
The biker against the wall nods slowly and peers at us. A delivery boy brings in a meatball sandwich for Buck, who pays and tips and begins chomping the sandwich, its aroma cutting through the stench. Between voracious, sloppy bites, he spies Rocco and me easily down our shots without chaser, and says, “Hey, you two! You heard Eddie play the bottles?”
We look over. “Play the bottles?” I say.
“Yeh. He’ plays “em with mixing spoons like a fucking xylophone.”
“Eddie makes music,” says one of the crew.
“Eddie, play the bottles for them two,” Buck says.
Eddie swigs his shot. The manner in which he lifted his glass implies he is not averse to playing the vivacious vixen. He begins tinkling the bottles with the mixing spoons to “Jingle Bells.” He is very good. Everybody beams, except the guy beside me and the biker glowering at us from the barren wall. Toward the end, Rocco and I clap. Everybody joins in, and Eddie, in his glory, finishes with a riveting flourish. The guy beside me, who has sullenly drank one Bud longneck after another and chain-smoked non-filter Camels, yells out, “If they don’t drink piss, I don’t want the cock-suckers to live!”
”Awh shut up and settle your ass down, Spike,” Buck tells him.
Spike grumbles into his beer.
“What the fuck’s wrong with you today, Spike?” inquires one of the old-timers, “Yer sure in a rotten mood.”
“It’s a shit world,” Spike tells him, without looking up
“He’s pissed off cuz he can’t find a faggot to swallow his cum and drink his piss,” Buck says, finishing off his sandwich, belching. “Eddie, gimme a shot and give my piss-ant friends one, too.”
“Hey, thanks, Buck.”
“Take a flyin’ fuck, sad-sacks.”
I glance up at the TV. “I think the Giants are gonna take it this year.” I say to nobody in particular. It’s July, the year 2002.
“You think so?” Spike says, glancing at me for the first time.
“Yeh. I like their pitching. Good bull pen. Good starting rotation. Good team chemistry. Good manager.”
“You a Giant fan?”
“Who you for?”
“None of ‘em, the rich, over-paid prima-donnas. I just root for the Giants because I hate the Dodgers.”
“All right!” Spike shows his first smile. Two teeth missing.
“Fuck the Dodgers,” somebody pipes. “Fuckin’ fags.”
“You from around here?” Spike asks.
“Naw. I came up here to see Rocco from the San Luis Obispo area for a little social drinking. I’m actually from LA.”
“And you hate the Dodgers? How come?”
“I hate Lasorda so much, I decided to hate them for the rest of my life.”
“Yeh, I hate Lasorda’s guts,” Spike sneers. “Show off. Big mouth phony. Pig. Always stuffin’ his ugly face with free food.
The bar is beginning to feel cozy. Rocco orders a round for us and I pay and we both leave a decent pile of bills in the trough for Eddie, who pours our shots to the brim.
“I don’t know if the Giants are gonna make it,” Spike says glumly.
“They’ll make it. The division isn’t that strong. The Giants have good power, smart hitters. I like their team. They’ve got a decent balance, and they play the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
“You a ball player? You look like a ball player.”
“Played some ball.”
“Lotta good ball players down there.”
“Shit,” mutters the biker leaning against the wall. These are his first words. Rocco winks at me. I’ve never seen him so quiet. But he’s enjoying himself, relishing the moment.
“You know your baseball.” Spike remarks.
I nod. “Don’t like the game like I used to. It’s homerun derby, everybody pumped up on steroids, swingin’ from their asses, striking out too much. It’s all about the money and ESPN. I’m sick of it.”
Spike nods. We continue a rather cerebral conversation on the state of baseball. We sound like two relative intellectuals. Buck quiets down, as does his crew. The biker unglues himself from the wall and shambles past us in a hard-ass pose, out the door. Rocco and I finish our drinks and discuss heading to our favorite bar in Russian Hill, the Cresta Club. We stand and shake hands with Eddie and thank him for his service and he thanks us for our business and tells us to come back and see him again and he’ll play “Some Enchanted Evening” on the bottles for us. We vow to return. I shake hands with Spike and tell him I’ve enjoyed talking to him, and he says he enjoyed talking to me. Buck grumbles, announces he’s had enough of this filthy, putrid, rotten, faggot-infested shit-hole, and humps out. Rocco and I walk out into the mid-noon sunlight, loaded down with a brilliant golden glow as two hookers eye us up and a homeless man asks for money. We give him a couple bucks and walk past the grumbling biker, who leans against the Hobnob sucking on a cigarette like the photo of Jack Kerouac on the fire escape in NYC.
As we walk along, Rocco says, “Grampa, you oughta run for President. You’d definitely get the gay biker vote.”