Polk and Clay

Copy Circle, corner of Polk and ClayMy memory compass swings to many points at this intersection. There is the now-defunct Copy Circle where my friend Chris used the Xerox machines to create flyer and cassette cover masterpieces using cut-and-paste methods employed in the pre-Photoshop days. I did the same when putting together Cat Butt, my self-produced metal/humor zine. I didn’t follow the true zine ethos of running the copies off after-hours at the office or some other way of cheating The Man, but at least I supported a neighborhood business by having it printed and assembled here.

Red Devil Lounge, corner of Polk and ClayThe Red Devil Lounge is on the opposite corner, crossing Clay. This neighborhood nightclub has been around since the mid-1990s but I only started taking full advantage of the City’s vibrant nightlife in the early 2000s. The Red Devil was one of my favorite night spots since I lived only a short walk away in Russian Hill. Their staple was hard rock tribute bands, 80s bands that were still on the tour circuit, and pop song mashup bands like Wonderbread 5 and Pop Rocks.

Sheroic singing at ArnoCorps, Red Devil Lounge, 2007

Sheroic sing-along with the horns on display (far right) at ArnoCorps, Red Devil Lounge, 2007. Photo: Tanner Jay

One of my favorite bands to see here was ArnoCorps, the ballsy action heroes known for their high-energy, Austrian-accented, audio assault. The floorspace in front of the stage was so small that it was easy to stay up front shoving and slamming, without people being able to get crazy momentum in the pit to cause serious damage. One time I was the victim of “friendly fire” when some choirboy (posing as Richard Simmons) was hurled from the stage into the crowd by their vocalist, Holzfeur. Unfortunately his foot caught me right in the face and I had a nice shiner to show off afterwards.  Other highlights included bassist Toten Adler swinging off from the stage to run the full length of the bar and the time I was pulled on stage to be bench-pressed by drummer Gellend Adler as a show of heroic strength (an event sadly not captured on film or video).

I recently found out the club will close at the end of 2013 and the space will become yet another bar for the young and moneyed drinking crowd. Even though I’d moved out of the area I still went to the Red Devil regularly. This past year I went to a friend’s performance at an open-mic night, attended a benefit for Vivian and Marian Brown (the San Francisco Twins), and discovered a new favorite tribute band, The Purple Ones, a 10-piece band playing brassed-up renditions of Prince songs. Red Devil Lounge, you will be missed!

"Disgruntled groceries" mural on Big Apple Grocery, corner of Polk and Clay

The disgruntled grocery gang—hanging with a random lightbulb

Crossing Polk to continue up Clay you’ll find the Big Apple grocery store, which opened sometime in the early 1980s. As long as I can recall they’ve had a mural running along the Clay street wall depicting a thuggish assortment of cartoon grocery items. You wouldn’t think that leering lemons and carrots with attitude would be good selling points for your produce section, but the store and the mural have both endured.

Walking by this corner also reminds me of an incident that happened when I was junior high school age that rattled me at the time. I was out on Polk doing some errand on a weekend afternoon and was shocked to see a disheveled man sprawled comatose on the sidewalk outside the grocery store. Hard as it might be to imagine now, homeless people suffering from various states of intoxication were not the common sight in the early 1980s—and especially not in this residential neighborhood. I was only 13 and I hadn’t even tasted my first wine cooler—let alone been passed-out drunk—so I thought that this person was very sick or perhaps dead. No one else walking by seemed concerned by his presence, which in retrospect should have been a sign that things weren’t as dire as what I assumed. I was too young to be aware of these social cues but old enough to be walking on my own without a parental unit to turn and ask “Mommy, why is that man lying on the sidewalk?”

It's time to call 911-What to do in an emergency

If only I’d read this book, I might have saved lives by not calling 911 in a non-emergency situation.

I continued walking, but I was a good Catholic school girl and my conscience kept gnawing at me. What if that man needed help or died because no one did anything? I was almost home when I decided that I should call 911 from a payphone. When I nervously explained the situation to the dispatcher, they asked if I had tried to rouse the person and ask them if they were OK. When I answered in the negative and that I was now several blocks away and couldn’t check, the dispatcher became angry. He irately informed me that this person was likely just passed-out drunk but that they had to respond now since I called it in. This meant that someone who REALLY needed the help was going to suffer now. I felt really terrible. Here I was trying to help someone and now I might have actually hurt someone else, who might need the help more? Talk about a moral dilemma. Now I really had something to bring up in confession.

Thirty years later, the City of San Francisco still hasn’t figured out what to do about the problem of chronic inebriates on our streets, even as their numbers drastically increased. Fortunately I’ve grown much more adept at figuring out when someone needs help and when someone is taking a sidewalk nap after too much Steel Reserve 211. College teaches you many things.

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3 comments

  1. I really enjoyed reading this! What an awful thing for the dispatcher to tell a young, concerned citizen. I wonder how often people are passed by who really do need help. We simply assume they passed out from drinking.

  2. Thank you, Logan. I recently read an article describing how cops were doing a “sweep” of some blocks in the super-sketchy tenderloin neighborhood, I think it was to get people off the streets so some maintenance/cleaning could be done and they came across a guy who who they said would have died if they hadn’t gotten him to the hospital. But in that neighborhood passed out people for all KINDS of reasons are so much the norm, no one took notice.

  3. I remember Cat Butt! Outstanding zine, just the title alone clues you into that fact. Great portrait of this area with the photos and descriptions of ” leering lemons and carrots with attitude” plus a random lightbulb. Poignant story at the end of your concern being met with harshness, a sad step on the way to growing up (so sad that maturity has to mean a stop to responding with care and a start to toughness).

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