Minor Irritations: A San Francisco Tale
By Jacob “Muffin Man” Kaufman
Jeremy sat down on the metal bench in front of the glossy wooden table, which looked like it had been purchased from a thinking man’s Ikea, or maybe a rustic Urban Outfitters. He gave Manny’s Burritos, the new Mexican joint on Divis, points for trying, and consciously decided that he would not dock them a Yelp star for their tacky and predicable aesthetic.
As he waited for his burrito to arrive, Jeremy scratched at the Pisces tattoo creeping out from under the sleeve of his Replacements t-shirt. Scanning the restaurant, he ascertained that, at 33 years old, he was the oldest person in the establishment, a common sentiment for Jeremy as of late. He pulled out his phone and checked his to-do list. 6 PM: dinner. 7 PM: break up with Angela. FINISH DIVE BAR PIECE BY MIDNIGHT DEADLINE!!! The “dive bar piece” was a list of the top 8 dive bars in San Francisco according to Ocean Bitch, the self-proclaimed “authentic edge” of the SF blog scene. As a struggling free-lance journalist, Jeremy hated these bullshit list-articles almost as much as he hated the word “listicle,” although earlier that week he had experienced mild arousal when his editor Priya (who was six years younger than he and uncomfortably attractive) had told him, “that’s right, a listicle. It’s a portmanteau of ‘list’ and ‘testicle.’ You know, a list with balls.” Jeremy wasn’t sure which was more titillating, the way she said “balls” or “portmanteau.”
Coming up with a creative list of dive bars was a decidedly juvenile if not downright corny task, but Ocean Bitch paid better than most of the other local blogs and Jeremy knew that if he didn’t write the article, some 24 year-old douchebag would do it instead, and probably pack the list with flashy new bars opening in the Tenderloin and 6th Street where white kids paying $3500 a month to live in studio apartments in the Mission go to “slum it” while drinking $11 craft gluten-free IPAs. These kids have probably never even heard of Aunt Charlie’s.
A group of three Millennials sat down at the table next to Jeremy. The first to sit down was a tall Jewish-looking guy—“Does it make me an anti-Semite because I see a balding guy with a big nose and ugly glasses and assume that he’s Jewish?” thought Jeremy. A petite Asian woman wearing a torn purple flannel shirt that looked like it belonged in 1992 Seattle was clinging to the probably-Jew’s arm, and Jeremy couldn’t tell if she was extremely cute or extremely awkward, because she sure as hell couldn’t be both. The third musketeer was a bawdy blonde wearing a tight black tank top and yoga pants who looked like she was on the flip-cup championship team in her sorority but had since replaced shots of whiskey with blenders full of kale juice. Jeremy pretended to flip through Instagram while eavesdropping on the trio.
Blondie was lamenting about her love life. “…and we had gone on, like, three dates. No, four. Four dates, I think. And then he just never called me again.”
“He ghosted you?” inquired Flannel.
“Yes, exactly. Ghosted. Or as we used to call it in Boston, he Boston’d me.”
“Whatever, he San Francisco’d you.”
“Maybe it’s a coastal thing. Southern men are supposed to be gentleman, aren’t they?”
“I’ve heard that too! All men in California and the east coast are assholes,” said Flannel. She then turned to her beau, beaming. “Except for you, Avi!”
Jeremy failed to stifle a chortle and quickly turned it into a cough to avoid arousing any suspicion from his neighbors. “I knew it!” he thought. He also thought back to Angela, whom he was supposed to call in 48 minutes. Angela’s emotional detachment, depression, lack of motivation, and spates of outright cruelty had led Jeremy to attempt to terminate their relationship (to the extent one would refer to Netflix-and-Chill one or two nights a week a “relationship”) for several weeks now, but every time he made that fateful call (Jeremy never texted if he could avoid it), his heart suddenly twinged with loneliness and within the hour they were curled up on his couch watching Cheers reruns. He had to call her tonight, though; they hadn’t spoken in four days and he did not want Angela to accuse him of “San Francisco-ing” her. After all, that would expose Jeremy as a hypocrite, seeing as his most popular article ever on Ocean Bitch (over 50k views!) was entitled, “Any Man Who Ghosts a Woman is a Cowardly, Pathetic, Moldy, Festering Piece of Shit Who Should Have a Spiky Fire Hydrant Shoved Up His Ass.”
“Aww, thank you dear,” replied Avi, in a nasal New Jersey accent. Jeremy’s burrito arrived, a gigantic mass of grease and tortilla drowning in a sea of green enchilada sauce. Jeremy cautiously forked off a bite, and upon contact of meat with tongue, his faced flushed, his eyes rolled back with ecstasy, and his spine became erect. His penis hardened. Cliché tables be damned, Manny’s Burritos was getting five stars, no question.
Jeremy temporarily tuned out the youngsters and savored several more bites, before taking a break from his celebration of gluttony to continue listening in.
Blondie was still talking about boys. “…so we fucked on the first date. Oh god, does that make me a slut?”
“No,” said Avi.
“Yes it does,” retorted Flannel, “but that’s okay, because at this table, there is no slut-shaming. Even though you’re a dirty slut. Was the sex good?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do you mean you don’t know?”
“I couldn’t really get into it. I was freezing my ass off! He lives way the fuck out in the Outer Sunset and of course it’s foggy as fuck and its freezing and the heat is turned off because it’s July and it’s supposed to be summer!”
Flannel and Avi were in stitches, which only encouraged Blondie to continue her soliloquy. “Seriously guys, I don’t think I could cum because my clit was literally frozen. And not like when you rub it with an ice cube, because I kind of like that. I was just really fucking cold and I mean he’s a nice guy and he actually had a pretty big dick—I was surprised because, like, sometimes you talk with a guy and you just think he’s gonna be, ya know, but was actually, like, yeah! But uuunnnggghhh why does it have to be so fucking cold in this city?”
“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco,” Avi chimed in, taking a break from his whiney laughter.
“What?” asked Blondie.
“It’s a quote by Mark Twain.”
“What was it? ‘The coldest winter is in San Francisco’?”
“The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.”
“I like that. That’s funny.”
“Yeah, Mark Twain was actually born in San Francisco, and wrote some good stuff about the Bay Area.” Jeremy nearly dropped his fork. What the hell was this Jersey Jew talking about?
“Really? I thought he was from, like, Minnesota or something,” said Blondie.
“Nope, San Francisco. And his first big story was called the Jumping Frog of Contra Costa County—right in the East Bay.”
“Avi knows everything,” bragged Flannel, throwing her arms around his doughy torso.
Avi continued, “and of course Jack London was also from Contra Costa County, in Oakland—hence Jack London Square.”
“Wait—who was Jack London?”
“Who was Jack London?” Avi was incredulous. “He’s, like, one of the most famous outdoorsy authors of all time. He wrote The Call of Nature!”
Jeremy choked on a large piece of pork, then coughed and slammed his fist against his chest until he spat it out.
“Oh My God!” cried Avi, clearly concerned. “Are you okay? Does he need the Heimlich or something?”
“No, for fuck sake, it’s already out!” Jeremy sputtered, saliva shooting out of the corners of this mouth. “And what a waste, because it’s a damn good burrito! But Jesus fucking Christ, how can you feed these fine young women such bullshit? The ‘Call of Nature’? It’s the Call of the Wild! The ‘Call of Nature’ is what you say when you gotta take a shit—‘nature calls!’”
Avi was taken aback. “Okay, sorry, Call of the Wild, that’s what I meant. I knew that. No need to choke on your food over one little mistake.”
“It wasn’t one little mistake. You are literally the most full of shit person I’ve ever encountered in my time on this planet!”
“Jack London wasn’t born in Oakland, he was born in San Francisco, South of Market!”
Avi pulled out his phone, “I don’t think that’s true. I mean Jack London Square is in—”
Jeremy growled at him, “Put your fucking phone down, you insolent sniveling bitch. Jack London was born in San Francisco, and Mark Twain was born in Missouri. Your friend was close with Minnesota—it also starts with M-I and is in roughly the same longitude. But Missouri—that’s like two thousand miles east of San Francisco! Granted, Twain lived in San Francisco at one point, but seriously, how the fuck could you get that confused? Didn’t you read Huck Finn and Tom Sawyer? You know—Mark Twain’s two most famous books?”
“Well that’s not—”
“And I’m glad you recognize that Twain’s first famous story was about a frog, but it was the Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County. Calaveras—it’s out east in the Sierras, in the gold country. The story is about old time gold rush-era gamblers. Where the fuck did you come up with Contra Costa? And by the way, Oakland isn’t in Contra Costa County, it’s in Alameda County. I hate to break it to you, darling, but your boyfriend certainly does not know everything.”
Flannel crinkled her nose.
“And finally, last but certainly not least, ‘the coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco’ was decidedly not said by Mark Twain. It’s a misattribution that was debunked decades ago. Seriously man, look that shit up on Snopes tomorrow when you’re eating your gourmet Belgian waffles for breakfast at Google.”
“I don’t work at Google.”
“I don’t work at Facebook.”
“Where do you work?”
“I own a startup.”
“Fuck. You.” Jeremy was somewhat surprised at how quickly the curt outburst had left his lips, but remained committed to his delivery. The three stared back in silence for a five-second beat that lasted an hour, before Blondie burst out laughing uncontrollably. Soon, Flannel joined with her own uncomfortable laughter. Avi started chuckling too, before Blondie cut him off.
“What the fuck are you laughing at, Contra Costa County!” she jabbed. “The quiet weird dude with the fucking volcano burrito just totally schooled you! I love this guy! Dude, what’s your name?”
Jeremy, suddenly disarmed, stumbled with his reply. “Uh…Jeremy.”
“Jeremy! Oh man, if I were like 10 years older, I’d hella make out with you.” Blondie laughed at her joke, and Flannel and Avi giggled approvingly, as they began to canoodle. The laughter had shifted to Jeremy’s expense, and Jeremy blushed.
“Um, thanks. I’m just gonna…finish my burrito now.” Still red in the face, Jeremy looked down at his meal, which had mutated into greenish-brown mush. The exquisite flavor had long since vanished. He stood up and gave a little nod and smile to Blondie, who immediately exploded into loud peals of laughter before attempting to apologize (“Oh my god I’m sorry, I’m sorry, that was just really funny, I…fuck, I’m sorry”).
Out on the sidewalk, Jeremy reached into his pocket, fished out his phone, and pulled up a number. Letting out a deep sigh, he hit the green button and raised the device to his ear. “Hey…Angela…hi…I know, long time no…um…what are you up to right now? Wanna hang out where everybody knows your name?”
Photos by Emmeline Sun