Dim Light in the Bar

(San Francisco, October, 1968)

When I walked through the door of the bar, the bartender saw me right away, looked over at me, smiled, reached for a wet glass, wiped it dry with the white towel he had in his hands.

“I’ll take a beer,” I said.

“Tap or bottle?” he asked.

“Tap’s fine,” I responded with a slight grin to smile, put a dollar on the counter, and he gave me back fifty-cents, drew the beer from the tap into the glass he just cleaned, and gave it to me.

“What’s up? The barkeep asked me, knowing I was a little drunk already, he didn’t expect an answer, and he just looked everywhichway as if not to bother me, as I lit a cigarette, and took a gulp of beer, near, simultaneously.

“Can I buy you a drink?” I asked him, after I caught my breath from the gulp and drag off the cigarette.

“No, thanks, the owner gets mad if I drink while on duty, even if the sale is to his credit.”

“Where am I anyways?” I asked the bartender, “what street is this, I got walking about; I live over on Dolores Street, hitting the bars tonight, and ended up here?”

“Mission, you’re on Mission Street, does it ring a bell,” then he hesitated looked at me some, strangely, added, “does it really matter?”

“No,” I said to bartender, putting my glass down, and nodding my head for a refill.

“Tap beer, right?” he commented, as if to make sure I hadn’t changed to bottle beer.

“The same,” I said, with that side grin and half smile.

“Any whores for sale tonight here?” I asked bluntly.

“Listen,” he said “we don’t run that kind of place here, and if you’re the law, get on out of here!”

“I just asked-no problem, I’m not the law, just need some company.”

“Well, okay, but get off that whore stuff,” said the barkeep.

“Come on, Joe,” said a large real whitish middle aged woman, “perhaps I can help the young stud out,” and the bartender laughed, and the man sitting by where the large woman was, laughed.

“What the hells so funny,” I said.

“You,” said the woman called Colleen, “you look so drunk you couldn’t keep it up, if you had someone in the sack-anyhow!”

“Are you sure about that?” I asked.

“Pretty sure,” she said, looking over at the man she was sitting by, “do you think I should?” she asked him.

“Get the money first,” he said, and the big whore laughed again. She was big, real big, and heavy, broad shoulders, but had a nice tone to her rough voice, she had a colorful dress on, must have weighed all of two-hundred pounds, and about my height, not a beastly fat, just a saggy kind of overweight-ness to her. Dirty dishwater blond hair, short, and looked more on the order of Gertrude Stein. She now stood next to me by the bar; she put her hand on my thigh, said with a trying smile “Well?…are we or aren’t we?”

The bartender turned and said to Colleen’s friend, “He’s too drunk to get it up!” and they laughed, and as Colleen was trying now to make her deal, they just kept on laughing.

“How old are you, sunny?” she asked.

“Twenty-one a week ago,” I said, “want to see my ID?” And she chuckled, “No, I believe you,” she said-with a doubtful ‘Huh!’ to her voice. And the more I looked at her, the uglier she got, and now she looked as large to me as a haystack, climbing up on her would be a challenge indeed, if not a feat.

“That’s all right,” she said, “if you can’t do it, fine with me, but if you want to, let’s get going, twenty-five dollars.”

“I only got fifteen,” I said.

“Sure,” she said, “you’ll never last anyhow. I have an apartment across the street we can do it there.”

As we walked out of the bar to cross the street she told her boyfriend, “I’ll be right back, he’s no threat, don’t need you outside the door, just have another beer, I’ll be back in fifteen.”

We went to her apartment, and I staggered about and fell on the bed, she had to unbutton my belt buckle, and she tried everything to get me going.”

“Listen,” she said, “I told Hank I’d be back in fifteen, it’s been twenty minutes and you aren’t even hard, I’m not staying here all night long trying to get you to come.”

“Oh, shut up,” I said, I had never been with such a beastly looking woman before, heavy as she was, it was unnerving. She moved just like a whale, slow and when she moved she crunched everything so tightly together it was hard to breathe, although she was respectful.

Hank knocked on the door, “Everything all right in there?” He asked, but not in a threatening or worried voice, perhaps more on the order of: is he still alive.

“Oh this kid just can’t get going,” she cried.

“I thought so,” he said, “give him five more minutes, then just take his fifteen, and let’s get on with the night’s drinking.”

“You heard him,” she mumbled to me.

She was more than most women would ever be, I say it because she played the tough gal, happily played her role in life with a smile, even at the ugliest moment, she had a pretty smile, true it was that she was large, but she wasn’t dead, although flat with emotion for me and that mattered, and my drunkenness mattered, but she was really friendly. But boy oh boy was she large and wide and all that kind of stuff, and when I left, she smile and said, “You know where I’m at-baby!”