The Tiger’s Head

Food writing of sorts

There’s a place on Geary that’s a good place to go. There’s a jukebox there, and a fake tiger’s head above the bar. The old lady in back moves like it was built to her, or she to it, crooked in all the right places.

Chef brought us there. Chef liked bars where you could smoke, and you could smoke there, dipping butts in makeshift aluminum foil ash trays, bending the rim around the barrel and watching it puff away as you illubricated yourself in low-end liquor.

The light was low and dusty like a renaissance painting. We sat at the end, a blonde to our right, the type of blonde that pairs well with dimly lit bars.

Chef was at the jukebox quick. Samson started a conversation, a reliable fellow for that. I exited the conversation, the same. Blonde Mona Lisa took my place. As it were, they shared a love of fishing. Country boy Samson enjoyed Mona Lisa, but no more than any other woman in a bar. I just listened and thought, but in no particular order, staring at the big tiger’s head.

When Chef was done with the jukebox, he made his way back, wobbling like the old lady who belonged there. For the rest of the night, the music played right. Samson went on about some shit, slowly pushing towards something else entirely. Me and Chef got going on the swing of it all, the whole show. An episode of Cops played on the tv hanging from the ceiling. A girl in the corner wrote stories in a notebook. One dude looked like the creepy clown thing from the Six Flags commercials. Some people surely belonged there, some had just stumbled in, and some had come because you could drink, you could smoke indoors, and you could watch everything going along.

When the hour struck, the blonde was coming with us. We dropped out the dutch door into the street. You’d never know it was a bar with the door closed, just a crack of light and some tunes. As I looked back at the old door swinging, there was the bald clown, dancing out after us.

In that crack of light and a strange turn, he planted his feet and cast in her direction a torrent of angry filth. One doesn’t generally pay much heed to street corner accusations, but we could tell from her face she was guilty, guilty of every word, and it only looked worse as the charges gained weight.

We might have left it alone, just continued on our way, but words got the best of the old whore, taking her softly by the ear. She spun around flailing. Me and Chef stepped to safety. My swimming thoughts put music to the scene as I saw something happening here, something certain and final.

Stomping, screaming, back at the creep, she rose a fist, snarled, and brought it down hard across his pale cheek. He did not react. He did not flinch. He did not stop cursing. She wasn’t half way back to us when she realized that she had not yet won. Once more she spun to him, flailing the butts of her palms at his unprotected face. The blood began to flow. Samson seemed to want to do something heroic, but there was no room for heroism here. Me and Chef sat back, wide eyes, jaws dropped. This woman meant to take care of her own business, and we saw fit to stay out of her way. Years of sad existence led up to this crappy moment, and nobody could pretend to know any better.

So it passed, uninterrupted. He called out; she returned. He stood there motionless as she pummeled him until she ran out of breath, then he called her back for more. On the last assault, he reacted, doubling over, not in pain exactly, but what appeared to be a sort of confused discomfort.

As she stormed off, victorious, he rose, blood like a warm rain on the sidewalk, rumbling one more charge of his mantra, this time broken, defeated, “dirty whore, sucked an old man’s cock for money!”

Me and Chef ended up in the noodle shop down the street. Samson came by soon after. He had walked the fine lady to her door, only to realize that she was indeed a whore, and a bloody whore at that. Samson’s good judgement had fought the whiskey and gotten the best of it, and him too. This was one fish to be left alone. He had thanked her for her good graces and taken his leave. We sat together, the three of us, and ate.

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