The vampire sat at the end of the bar, sipping his three dollar and fifty cent well whiskey and Coke. The man next to him slept soundly in a Coors-and-Jim-Beam induced haze, arms folded across the bar and body slumped over, a half-drunk can of Coors still in his right hand and a pile of ones directly in front of his head. He could have been forty or sixty-five; his weatherbeaten face and curly mop of greying hair made it hard to tell. The bartenders paid him no mind.
It was surprisingly busy for eleven on a Sunday morning, particularly in the dim wood-paneled bar that time forgot, but the vampire supposed it was more entertaining than church. Everyone here belonged to their own congregation, full of wide whiskey buzz smiles and first name familiarity. The Christmas lights that had never been taken down and the aging neon beer signs probably cast a more flattering light on the patrons than God’s holy judgment, anyway.
The vampire shifted on his cracked vinyl stool, which, he noted with a thrill, was off-kilter and badly in need of repair. You just didn’t see this level of wanton disregard for beauty in the city much these days, not when there were fourteen dollar cocktails to be made with hyper local herbs and house-made tinctures. He slurped his whiskey and Coke delicately through the short cocktail straws. It tasted like authenticity.
The 49ers game was on four of the six televisions, but no one paid much attention since their dreams had been dashed by the last overpaid quarterback. At least the vampire was guaranteed to live to see them go to the Super Bowl again.
Down the bar, a tall man wearing a t-shirt (which proclaimed his Outer Sunset residency) under a rumpled flannel shirt was holding a pool cue and gesturing importantly. The man had the soft and indignant look of someone who thought he had rightfully earned the privilege he was merely lucky enough to be born into.
He was on his sixth three-dollar Bud Light and had an upside down shot glass in front of his place, which the bartender had placed there to show him that the vampire had bought him a drink. The man, of course, would use that to order a six-dollar shot of Jameson.
His name was Tim, the vampire learned from the blustery sounds traveling up the bar, and he was sick of what San Francisco was turning into. It wasn’t immediately clear what he thought San Francisco had been before, of course, but the vampire suspected that Tim would have preferred everything frozen in time around 1985, when Tim was about twenty-one and had a Tawny Kitaen-lookalike girlfriend and a fine dusting of coke under his nostrils. He couldn’t be sure, of course, but the vampire had learned to trust his hunches.
“Fucking transplants come in and raise the prices of everything,” he swore at another obvious regular, shooting his whiskey and then, unfortunately for him, the 8-ball. “I can’t even get a job picking up trash in the park, and I have an BS from Stanford.”
The vampire very much doubted everything except the “BS” portion of Tim’s statement. He did not say this aloud.
Tim looked up, as if sensing the vampire’s thoughts. “Where are you from?”
“I’m a native,” the vampire said. “The city and I go way back.” He smiled privately at his own joke. This was the part of eternal life that never got old. Just like him. His smile broadened.
“Oh yeah? Where’d you go to high school?” Tim asked, eyes narrowing in anticipatory triumph. This question, the vampire knew, was everything to a native: the key to a thousand convenient snap judgments about whose residency was more legitimate.
“I dropped out,” said the vampire, which was the truth. Tim’s palpable disappointment gave him the buzz that the well whiskey could not.
“Me too,” said a man in his twenties who already bore the look of someone who had been handsome, once.
The vampire shrugged at Tim. “You’re right, though,” he said. “Whatever happened to the good old days of San Francisco? Things just aren’t the same anymore.”
Tim crossed the narrow bar to clap the vampire on the back with a meaty hand that didn’t seem to be too work-roughened. “I know, man,” he crowed, glad to have found a sympathetic audience whom he didn’t have to tip. “These kids come in here from all over and take our jobs and they want their fuckin’ craft beer—” this was said with a sneer, so that the vampire would know Tim was above such things “—and they trash the fuckin’ city. And then the Chinese come and buy up all our land so no one can buy a fuckin’ home! Someone needs to clean ‘em up and get ‘em outta here.”
“Yeah, man,” the vampire said. “I remember when you could get a good whore and a good buzz for less than the price of this.” He held up his standard-issue rocks glass, now empty.
Tim guffawed, uncomfortable. “You’re weird, man, but I like what you’re sayin’.”
“Yeah,” the vampire said amiably. “I remember when the Mission was full of the Irish, you know what I mean?”
Tim didn’t, but he nodded anyway.
“And when the Outer Sunset was just a bunch of dunes and a park,” the vampire continued. “Man, those were the good old days. No one trashing the city then, or at least they had the decency to build the Marina over the landfill back then. The best thing we ever did was take this place from the Mexicans, am I right?”
“Yeah,” Tim said slowly, unsure if he was being mocked. “It’s my turn, gotta go,” he said, wandering back to the pool table. The vampire watched him with mild interest.
“Another?” the bartender closest to him asked, pointing at his glass. The vampire nodded and put a five on the bar. The bartender returned with his change; he pocketed the quarters and left her the dollar. Always good to have quarters for the laundromat.
Tim finished up the rest of his pool game on the opposite side of the bar, sneaking suspicious glances at the vampire between bullshitting. Each time, the vampire smiled at him pleasantly.
“I gotta smoke,” he heard Tim say, and the man walked out the back door to the little parking lot behind the bar. (Why a bar should have a parking lot, the vampire didn’t know.) The vampire put a coaster over his drink to signal that he would return, and followed Tim out the door.
The fog that had rolled in last night had yet to burn off in the weak morning light. “Kind of chilly today, huh?” he asked, and Tim jumped.
“Yeah man,” Tim said, sucking on his cigarette as fast as possible.
The vampire lit his own cigarette, inhaled, and gently blew a stream of smoke in Tim’s direction.
“What’s your problem?” Tim glared, puffing up his chest like the peacocks at the Zoo. He was not a small man, but he was soft; the vampire would bet dollars to doughnuts that the last time he had been in a fight it had been on a playground.
The vampire tilted his chin to look up at Tim. “Like you were saying,” he said. “The kids these days. They’ve just got no respect.”
“You’re weird,” Tim said, puffing faster.
“I am,” the vampire agreed.
“See you inside,” Tim said, and tossed his cigarette butt on the ground. He ground it under his sneakered heel and turned to reenter the bar.
The vampire sighed and shook his head. After that whole rant about the city, even. He had never been fond of cognitive dissonance. “Aren’t you going to pick that up?”
“Mind your own fuckin’ business,” Tim said, and the vampire was sorry that no one else would ever know his last words. He hadn’t known Tim long, but they befit him in a way no other five could.
Before Tim realized what was happening, he was lying on the ground, drained of blood, a surprised expression on his pugnacious face.
The vampire felt bloated as a tick and twice as happy. He looked down at Tim and nudged the body with his boot so he could pluck the cigarette butt from the ground and dispose of it in the proper receptacle. Were cigarettes compostable? He could never remember.
“Not in my backyard,” he said to Tim’s lifeless form, and walked off, whistling cheerfully.
This was the product of reading the latest thinkpiece about how San Francisco has changed. Also, I like vampires, as long as they don’t sparkle. (They’re pretty much the only things I don’t like sparkly.)
A Google search indicates that cigarettes are not compostable, by the way.
Photo credit: OpenSFHistory / wnp4/wnp4.0734.jpg