July 03, 2002
Arts and Entertainment
By Amanda Nowinski
THE THURSDAY 4 p.m. fog is a cotton ball stretched so far it almost tears apart. Cool, toxic, and sublime, it surrounds Kevin and me as we leave the stoner sushi joint on Haight and head toward Chances on Divisadero, where we plan to have "just one shot." The sake has warmed our stomachs, but I insist that Kevin get a little more tipsy before returning to work. Because, of course, drunk employees are the best P.R. for a company.
Inside is dark and womblike, the perfect complement to the white, subzero summertime air. The bar is empty except for a couple of guys with coolers sitting at the window table and the bar owner, Hisham, who happens to make the best lemon drop in town. Stevie Wonder's "Ribbon in the Sky" plays on the jukebox as we order a round of shots, and I look out the window, through the nearly opaque wall of fog, and watch as a homeless guy takes out his dick and starts to piss on someone's garage door. For a moment I get all choked up, thinking about the fact that come July 29, I'll no longer be living in my native San Francisco. With my eyes on the pisser, I wonder if I will ever fall in love with another city's trash cans and cracked cement.
Three shots later the bar begins to fill up with locals, and I start chatting some of them up nice, unpretentious guys like Gordon, who met his business partner over a game of pool at Chances, and Dennis, whose friend phones him at the bar. Kevin and I begin to drain our checking accounts into the jukebox, and it's absolutely worth it, with psychedelic day songs like Charles Mingus's "Bird Calls," John Coltrane's "Naima," Jimi Hendrix's "Red House," and one of my all-time favorites, Prince's "Pop Life." After the Clash's "Magnificent 7" we leave so that the well-greased Kevin can get back to work, except for some mysterious reason, we hop in a cab and head straight to the glorious heart of the 'Loin to Aunt Charlie's infamous tranny bar on Turk, to be exact.
By now it's twilight, and the fog seeps into Aunt Charlie's, cleansing the booze-soaked air. I meet a soft-spoken man who tells me about being at Stonewall that one revolutionary night in New York, and Joe the bartender shows me a book about the history of drag royalty in S.F. I ask a beautiful Latina tranny if she "comes here often," and she chortles, "Uh, no." Kevin and I then head up one block to Mr. Lee-ona's; that's where the trouble begins.
I notice it's already 11:30, and me and two friends I have just made Bell Pepper and Charles are owning it up and down the bar as "I Will Survive" comes on the jukebox. Charles dips me, and we all run over to the stage and put on a drunk freak show for the entire bar with additional members of our cast. We are all on fire and we know it and the energy inside the bar is so kind and warm that we just keep it going. I buy a loopy Sagittarius named Robin a Budweiser, feeling deep down that Mr. Lee-ona's is a little piece of heaven on a bleak, bleak street in a city that lately can't seem to get fully erect. Outside, Charles, Bell Pepper, who is a stunning 62, and Arch Styles give me sweet, motherly life advice. "Be fierce in New York and don't take no shit," they tell me. "But you'll never find any place as good as this town." "Get into the Groove" comes on, and we run back inside to work it.
Later we all head over to the Gangway, another legendary gay 'Loin bar, where I, Charles, and Bell Pepper keep dancing like crazy to the disco jukebox. After last call I give Charles and the bartender, a kindhearted man named John Wise, a tarot reading, and then Kevin and I leave, walking toward Polk. We are enveloped in the fog I have known all my life, a fog I'll never leave, because, as they say, home is where the T.L. tranny bar is.
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