There are no hooks along the bottom of the bar at Clooney’s Pub with which to store your bag or backpack or satchel — and perhaps that is because I am the only person in the room with anything like a bag or backpack or satchel. I want those hooks, and the people at Clooney’s are so nice that they actually pretend to care.
Clooney’s is a neighborhood bar, not a destination. It’s the sort of place where, when I ask to see a drink menu, the bartender says that he can make mixed drinks and tell me what’s on tap. It’s heavy on standards — Bud, Lagunitas, Shock Top, and what seems like a half-dozen IPAs. Fucking IPAs. I hated IPAs before it was cool.
One of two rooms is dominated by a horseshoe bar with a giant TV behind it turned to football, with walls holding two other TVs turned to games, two TVs that are not turned on (at least that night), sports memorabilia, and pictures of old San Francisco. The other room holds a pool table and more memorabilia. An odd mix of hip hop, classic rock, and I-don’t-know-what was playing on the jukebox. What the music all had in common was that it was loud. It was the sort of crowd in the sort of bar where people sitting around the horseshoe would periodically stand up and gyrate to their songs.
I ordered an 805 blonde ale, because I am that guy, and “Donna” ordered a Lagunitas Little Sumpin’.
“Okay,” she said. “I have to tell you this. Before we talk about anything else, I HAVE to tell someone this.”
“Okay,” I said.
“So, right when the fires started, I met somebody who lived in Paradise, and loaned her my phone because … well, obviously, she needed some help. And then, when she was done, she logged it out of Facebook, gave it back, the whole deal. But …”
She took a breath.
“… apparently she accidentally did something where she connected her Messenger account to my phone too, even after she’s logged out. So when she gets back on Facebook, after they’ve all left the area, all her messages are also going to me now! And some of them are about what’s happened with people from the community after the fire hit, which is really neat to see. But apparently she’s also a meth dealer, and she’s selling a bunch of drugs on Facebook, and it’s just … it’s Jerry Springer-level fascinating. And I … I haven’t disconnected it from my phone yet. I can’t stop reading.”
“Wow.” I’m speechless. “Wow.”
“How was your day?”
“Well … I spent my entire afternoon giving advice to a friend of mine who swore that my explaining the place of Jungian psychology in the modern world was really crucially important to a bunch of things he’s been thinking about. Somehow. Then I went out to dinner with another friend who told me that the person I’d been helping out all afternoon has a history of abusive relationships and once held a friend of hers at knifepoint. So … I don’t even know what I was really doing today …”
“Oh my God,” she said. “Wow.”
“I cannot process this right now.”
“No! Do you want another round?”
I do. I really do.
We’re here to make a drop off. A big arts organization is throwing a fundraiser next weekend, and they asked me to put an item up for auction: a mystery box. I get a box, I put anything I want into it, and they try to convince a rich person to buy it. I said yes, and then decided this was too big a job for one person. I put a team together. Donna is one of the people who made the physical box itself, beautiful wood, shaped and polished and only lightly adorned, and she’s here to give it to me so that I can turn it over to my electronics guy.
The bartender brings us our drinks, and we clink glasses. It’s easy to forget, going to San Francisco bars, just how reasonable a $6 beer can be.
Nearby, a drunk woman who might be a regular but who also seems like she may work here when she’s not drinking here, started to insist that she was going to help the bartender clean the place up and close it down. She tried to help, but was in no condition to be helpful, and it was tender and lovely the way she was surrounded by people who knew her name and knew how to accommodate her as she tried to clean the windows. This moment was a neighborhood bar at its best. We’re all in this together.
“Wow,” Donna said. “This is SO not like San Francisco! I love it!”
“I had no idea there were still bars like this on Valencia,” I agreed.
Donna recently quit her job, and has almost four weeks coming up between her last day at the old job and her first day at her new one. “You’re good at this,” she told me. “You go off on these open-ended trips and just disappear for months at a time. I’m staring at four weeks going: How do I DO that? It seems like SO MUCH time! I talked to another friend who’s good at this, and she told me that the best advice is: Do something that will change you. Don’t be the same person coming back that you were when you left.”
“Wow, that’s pretty good.”
“Yeah, I thought so.
The last big project Donna worked on was a haunted house in the East Bay— a group of friends and housemates who turn their whole property into a horror realm for the whole neighborhood.
“It took us three weeks to really build it out,” she said over another round. The bartender’s attention was hard to get on a moment’s notice, but he was clearly making rounds that we were included in. We were never left for too long: We were being taken care of. “We actually built a cave in the backyard. A full cave. With a waterfall. And a sewer system underneath it. It was SO MUCH WORK! Nonstop! And then the whole neighborhood, hundreds of kids, goes through it.”
But the best part, she said, is always the post-Halloween “friends and family night” that they have, where they ramp the terror and the fucked-upedness up to 11, and go all out to make this trauma-inducing to the people they love most in the world.
“Seeing your friends be that fucking terrified is such a gift!” she said, her face lighting up. “Oh my gosh! Seeing their faces! Hearing the sounds they make! They don’t just scream, they squeak! It’s beautiful! Hey … why didn’t you come?”
“I decided to go to a magical circus instead.”
After friends and family night, they take it all down. “It just took us one day, one day, to take down everything it took us all those weeks to put up. Well, except the sewer. That took longer.”
“There may be a lesson there.”
“All right!” the bartender called out. “Last call! It’s 15 minutes ‘till I close up shop! You’ve got 15 minutes left!”
Around the bar, the crowd of regulars clapped and cheered.
“Well, that never happens,” I told Donna.
“I kind of love this place,” she said.
“Are you still taken care of?” the bartender asked.
Yes we were.