Thursday, April 5, 2012

Chapter 8, The Castro Bubble

Chapter 8.

Often people have asked me questions about working in the Castro. They always have leading questions.
“I bet you meet hot guys all of the time right?”

My response generally, “If by hot you mean men who probably do enough crystal to make Courtney Love look like straight-edge, then probably. If you don’t mind steroids, meth or other baggage, yeah I meet lots of hot men.”
This is always the first of many questions, which often are followed by a smile and a silence that can cut glass.
The general public seems to not understand what the job actually entails. Bartending at this particular bar, that’s always packed, where the owner is his own brand of crazy and the clientele essentially lives at the place isn’t easy. Often people think it’s a huge party every night. I get why they think that. News flash, it’s all a part of the show. Sometimes working at the bar is a party all night. Most of the time, as a bartender, it’s a process of working on pretending to have fun so it just looks like a party where people want to drink and in turn we pay our bills. Nothing is free in life. It appears to me that the general public, or at least people I meet tend to forget that bartending is a job like any other job. An hour bartending can me as physically and mentally exhausting as 3-4 hours at most jobs. Like everyone else, besides Paris Hilton, we clock in, clock out, and replay. No one is really up for party mood 24-hours a day, 7-days a week. The people who are, well have problems. We as Americans let these problems play out on various reality shows for our entertainment as they hit rock bottom. Come to think of it, that should be the name of a reality show, “rock bottom.”

Onlookers often glamorize this pretty regular, blue-collar job into mythical descriptions. There is always this odd intrigue with the idea of being at the center of attention. While behind the bar at a busy place, one is shaking people’s drinks, they are also the main attraction. It does happen that sometimes the reason people come into a bar is to see the “hot” bartender, but that is just a part of the mystique or the game if you will. Every night we as bartenders get ready knowing that there will be men lined up and ready from all around, waiting to be serviced. It has all the makings of a D-rated porn. Unfortunately, that is where the similarities stop. Meeting hot, available men all the time with a pick of a different hot guy to go home with at all times of the night sounds interesting. While serving them shots, you get to watch hot guys get drunk and raunchy as they show off for you. I wish it was as hot as it sounds at all times, I would be getting laid more. As cool as that idea is, it unfortunately is far from reality. There isn’t a “money shot” in this reality, at least from what I can remember. I do drink a lot though. Every hot guy in any bar is a couple of drinks from becoming “that guy.” The dude no one wants to get to know because he is a messy drunk.
I have quickly realized that the glamour factor of working in a bar is everything but. Not to say that this job doesn’t have it’s advantages, because trust, it does. When I go into many other bars and restaurants in the city and get hooked up with random free drinks and stuff because they know I too work in the club we call the service industry. I’m not bragging, just explaining. This is a double-edged sword though. There is a non-verbal understanding between service people. If someone hooks you up with free food or drinks, it is customary to tip much more than you normally would. It’s not uncommon in this situation to tip 30-50% of the tab or what the tab would have been if we paid full price. Others might call it excessive. We consider it taking care of our own.

My job is to pick up after every Tom, Dick and lesbian who walks into the Labyrinth along with the broken glass on the floor, in between a busy crowds, cleaning up vomit and leaving work with the smell of rotten beer all over my cloths everyday. On occasion some individuals may vomit in my direction, which while considered a massive party-foul, happens once in a while. It’s all in an evening’s work. Pretty glamorous, I know. The only upside to working here is all the people here. It's like watching a human ant farm in slow motion with drag queens. Being a fan of the social sciences, this gives me a chance to study the inner-workings of the Castro. It was much the same way that read case studies in college.

I am learning many things within my first few months here. I’m learning drink terminology, gay lingo, how to meet guys and who to steer clear of. Something like that anyway. I am learning much about men. When they say they are in their late 20s, often that means they are in their mid-30s. Everything seems to be an embellishment. One inch in conversation equals two centimeters in real life. Even if they claim to be single, you can never be too sure if that's true, cause San Francisco is the land of "open relationships." It’s not uncommon to go on a date with one guy and a few dates later to find out that he is actually in a long-term “committed relationship.” The concept of an open relationship to me, at this point in my life is like being a Jew for Jesus, if you can't commit to the situation, don't do it. I also am learning that gays truly run on alcohol and the criticizing of others. I assume that is why the post Oscar fashion shows still exists.

Here I am constantly meeting people, all of different walks, colors, sizes, likes and studying them. From bear to twink, sugar daddy to muscle stud. Name it and I know them often from the bar. I notice that these “hot” guys getting less and less attractive after meeting them five times a week and having to re-introduce myself to them every time because of their goldfish memories. It's like a glitchy cd or record that repeats over and over. Alcohol does do that. In the bar this is more likely, especially when many of the people here are walking pharmacies. This in itself, is a whole separate topic but while hardcore drugs are not a part of my life, it is a moderately accepted part of other’s here. I watch hot guys every night, go from Stallion to sloppy mess within shots. These sloppy messes often resemble a blend of Groucho Marx and the Hulk in one. We all have met these guys.

One happy hour in particular, there is a relatively handsome man who I watch succumb to the process mention earlier. It’s like a faster version of watching a grape turn to a raisin. He looks like a seemingly normal business guy, in for an after work cocktail, maybe to find someone he could chat with. Within a few rounds this guy who resembling an older Alex P. Keaton ends up retreating further away from the bar. The first round he is drinking at the front of the bar. This is still when small remnants of daylight still slightly peak into the bar. He is sitting chatting it up with those of us behind the bar. I am working with James who is explaining to this guy just why he thinks that Cher was so amazing live. Yeah, I said it, Cher, Chaz Bono's mother. While Cher is a great performer and has a face that looks like it was made by playskool, I would never get in the middle of this conversation. She is one of those guilty pleasures one doesn't admit like watching the "Jersey Shore" and crappy Lifetime movies. I can't even put either on my DVR without fear that someone will see I have watched it. Back to Cher. now This convo. of course is right when the “Believe” video flashes onto the screens of the bar. At this point the music makes me want to start shattering glasses… Instead, I just smile and work diligently. The conversation seems to turn Mr. Keaton off from chatting with us. So, the next round brings him to a table about 10 feet away from the bar. As the hours pass and happy hour reaches near a close, I go on yet another round to pick up glasses. I figure that this guy must be deep in the bar by this point or maybe he has left. By now I assume he is messier than Courtney Love around any substance. On this round, I check every bathroom for glasses just like I do several times daily when working.

I reach one stall and hear this groaning. At first I think someone was taking the shit of a lifetime. Then, I hear hard breathing. It was kind of like that breathing that one often hears in high school while running the mile. In my case, I was often with the last parts of the class, the fat, or smoker kids of the crowd. In response to the breathing, I assume that someone has snorted a line too fast. Then comes a grunt noise. This is the noise that made me wonder if there was a lost cockerspanial in the stall. I imagine it’s being abused by the sounds of it. Then a slurp noise and my mind drifts straight to the gutter. Another moan…Slurp… Moan …Grunt. Curious as any healthy, homosexual, young man is, I peer in. I accidentally lean on the stall door. In turn, pushing it in.

Inside of this stall to my freakish horror is that older guy, who now looks like a different person. He is the opposite of the clean-cut man he came off as hours earlier. Now the tie is hanging out of his pocket and a mouth full of gross. He is rimming the bum who asks me for change everyday freaking day on the corner of 18th and Castro. This bum, I will never forget his gnarl, scrawny body perch on the toilet. When I say rimming, I mean there that this drunken man is rimming a bums ass. The bum is just propped up dingle-berried ass hanging out, and the whole nine-yards. This drunken man has made a transformation that I could only describe as a cross-bread of a Groucho/Hulk creature. This man is also so drunk that he can’t put words together. Caught is literally caught with his hand in the cookie jar. I want to break the glasses in my hands which I just bussed this round, and shove shards in my eyes to sooth the pain.

The life of a Castro barkeep, is a desensitized one. In the Castro bubble, image is been one thing. The reality is often another. When people ask about the “hot guys” I meet working where I do, they often are met with a brief. Sometimes the image that people have in their head is better than the reality.

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