“Would he fit in the Focus?” I wondered. At 6’2, 295 lbs, our friend was in for a squeeze. I also had to wonder, “What’s the worst that could happen? Severe beating? Could I take a severe beating?” I’m driving, alone, into the Tenderloin—San Francisco’s most ghetto neighborhood—to meet Redogo…the sole respondent to our Craigslist ad for a fat friend.
We (my friend Matt and I) weren’t trying to be mean. I’ll admit, the kick was in the wrongness. But we were also sincere. Figured anyone who’d answer an ad like that might just be awesome.
I gave Redogo a call. “Hey man, on my way,” I informed him, “Matt’s with the girls now at this Irish bar in the Mission” (our preplanned safe ground). “Come up for a drink first,” he said, speech somewhat slurred, “We’re drinking Jack and still have half a bottle left.” A woman laughed in the background. Um…yeah…. “Don’t want to keep the ladies waiting man,” I offer. But Redogo insists. I decline again. He insists again. Long awkward silence. “Alright, one drink,” I cave, “but then we should really go.”
Fuck. What was I doing? I’d talked to Redogo a couple times now, and he seemed like a genuinely nice guy. But facts were facts. I was going, alone, to a Tenderloin hotel, to meet a 6’2, 295 lb Pacific Islander (did I mention Samoans control the bouncer racket in SF), who’d answered our funny/mean ad for a fat friend. Who’s been drinking Jack Daniels. If things do go horribly wrong, this is the point in the America’s Most Wanted reenactment where I lose all sympathy from the audience. “Oh my god, what a fucking idiot! Hey guys, come here. This guy posted an ad on Craigslist for a fat friend, and now the fat guy’s gonna kill him!”
Fuck it. My instincts told me Redogo was cool. And besides, if there was one thing I’d learned going out in this city, it was to embrace the clusterfuck. The more fucked-up and un-thought-out your plan, the better the night.
I found the hotel and circled for parking. None in sight. I pulled into a fire zone on the corner and called Redogo. “Can’t find parking man. Maybe we should just hit the Mission,” I offered. No worries. He would come down and show me the garage. Here we go… Across the street, a curvy black prostitute leaned back on the hood of a beat up gold Camry. Her miniskirt so short I swore I saw pussy.
Looking back to the hotel, I spotted him. Towering over the corner, waving his hands. He was HUGE!! Not even fat so much, just HUGE. With a puffy, basketball sized afro on top. I waved back and he waved me through the intersection and into the hotel garage. There was a line for the attendant, so he walked up to the car. His eyes were narrowed, suspicious. Of me! Ha! But upon reaching the window, his eyes opened wide, a large smile broke over his face, and a massive brown fist slowly extended for a bump. “Good to meet you friend”, he said. “Good to meet you too man,” I said, bumping his fist. Redogo was cool, after all.
We left the car with the attendant, and on our way up to his room had the usual getting-to-know-you chat (no matter how bizarre the circumstances, the chat is the same). His accent was thick, but his English good. He was Fijian, he told me (not Samoan like the bouncers crews). He’d been in the US four years now, in San Francisco a year. Right now he was working as a desk clerk at a hotel for homeless people. Some nights he also pushed a meals on wheels cart. This is who I was afraid of.
We got up to his room, a tiny apartment-like studio with bright yellow wallpaper, and met Nessy, his drinking partner. A curvy, bouncy Latina well into her Jack buzz, Nessy was excited. “It’s so great, you know, when people can trust each other enough to have an adventure. That’s what it’s all about.” I agreed, pouring myself a Jack and coke. “And for you two to find each other on Craigslist and become friends. It’s so great!” Yeah…friends….. “Everything in your ad was right on,” Redogo added. “Everything you wanted, I was like, ‘that’s me!’” “Everything?” I exclaimed with a laugh, “Ready to jump on the grenade tonight*?” referring to one of the requirements in our ad.
* The grenade, for those not familiar, is the fat girl in a group of girls at the bar. The grenade is usually being ignored, thus not having a good time. She’s therefore more likely to go home early (go off), and will often take one or more of her more attractive friends with her. It is therefore the duty of a guy in your group to jump on the grenade (take the fat girl), and save the platoon. Horrible, I know. But like I said, the kick was in the wrongness.
“The grenade?” Redogo asked, confused. “You know, the fat girl in a group of girls at the bar….someone’s gotta jump on her….”. Blank confused stare. “Uh, never mind”, I said, waving it away, “it’s stupid. Not worth explaining.”
“Hey, I have a Christmas present for you!” Redogo said, throwing open his closet and rummaging through a waist high pile of Hawaiian print shirts. I threw a quizzical glance at Nessy, who arched her eyebrows in return. Looking back at Redogo going through the shirts, it finally hit me. Redogo wasn’t seeing this, as I had, as some kind of bizarre Craigslist audition for friendship. To him, our handful of emails and two phone calls had established a very real friendship. The kind necessitating Christmas presents. Oh. fuck. I AM an asshole!!! If there was ever any doubt. I decided there was only one way to save myself. Go out with Redogo on a crazy, clusterfuck San Francisco night, put aside all reservations, and be truly open to the possibility of real friendship.
Finally finding my gift, Redogo turned around holding a red flower print shirt about ten sizes too big. I put it up against my chest and the bottom reached my knees. “Uh, I don’t think this fits man”, I said, forcing a chuckle, “I might make some money if I wore this out there.” “Huh?”, Redogo asked. “He looks like a girl!”, Nessy explained, and Redogo burst into laughter, taking back the shirt in good humor. “To the Mission!” I declared, downing the rest of my Jack and Coke in one large sickening swig, “Matt and the girls are waiting.”
I phoned Matt. The Irish bar was dead. They’d gone to Amnesia, a tragically hip Mission bar on Valencia street. Perfect. Five minutes later I had them in the Focus headed to the Mission (Redogo fit fine).
Cruising down Market St, Redogo raised his hand to the street light, examining a fresh scar on his knuckle. “Is it healed yet?”, Nessy asked from the backseat. “Yeah, pretty much”, he said, and proceeded to relate the story of punching out a black guy on Market street who’d talked shit to him when he politely refused to give him change. A blow for society I’m sure. But still, it made me nervous. Redogo could be violent, after all.
We rolled into Amnesia to find Matt and the girls (Anna and the new girl Carla) tucked in a corner drinking Coronas. It was Friday night, earlyish, and the place was filling up quick. A really good hip-hop DJ spun to a lone girl on the dance floor.
Apparently Matt, not wanting to look the asshole, didn’t tell the girls. Fortunately, Anna and Carla are totally cool, open minded San Franciscans, and barely batted an eye at the new introductions. Soon we were all chatting and having a good time. Success!
Redogo ordered a round of Coronas, and before we’d finished half our beers, he slammed down his empty and ordered another round. Man could drink! Two fisting it, we tried to catch up. But before we’d dented the second beer, again he was ordering more. We insisted, not without a fierce resistance, that we buy the next round. And so it went. Before long we were all pretty drunk. Eventually drunk enough to incite that most ancient of rituals: dancing in a circle to hip-hop. Redogo had some moves! As did Nessy. “Go Anna! Go Anna!” shouted Nessy to a reserved Anna shaking her white thang. Maybe Redogo would be a friend after all, I thought. He could definitely hang.
After a while, we tired of Amnesia and went to the Elbo Room down the street. The dance floor was expensive, so we opted for the crowded back of the bar. Drinking yet more Corona, Redogo and I attempted more conversation. But between his accent, thickening slur, and the loud music, I could barely make him out. Unfortunately, this was kind of the audition… If we couldn’t manage drunken conversation in a loud bar, it was hard to image our next hanging out. Would we go for ice cream in the park?
We tried for an excruciatingly long couple minutes, managing some communication. But it was really difficult. Looking at Redogo in the dim bar light, my brain strained to its limits trying to understand him, I felt a growing distance between us. He was a really cool guy……and it would be awesome having a friend from such a different place… but I just wasn’t seeing it. All our conversations so far had been a lot of mental work, even before we were drunk, and we’d yet to find anything in common. I too was looking for instant friendship. More and more the older I get. But when it’s instant it’s instant. When I met Matt, out at a bar, I knew right away we could be great friends. I witnessed it when my friends Nicole and Kristy met, some two years ago now, again at a bar. Nicole simply introduced me to Kristy as her new friend, and the look they gave each other said it was true. But it wasn’t happening here. I decided Redogo would be a peripheral friend. Someone to invite out with the group, but not someone I’d go steady with.
The rest of the group joined the conversation and Redogo, beaming with happiness, threw his arms around Matt and I. “I’m so glad we’re friends!”, he shouted. He then took his arm off Matt and wrapped his arm further around my neck, putting me in a firm headlock. It was funny the first few seconds. Then I started wondering when I’d get out. Laughing, he slowly spun me around the bar, slowing off his headlocked prisoner. So this is this how I go out? Not in a violent Tenderloin beating, but like the mouse from Of Mice and Men? Finally, Redogo let me go. Then he turned to Matt, picked him up like a toothpick and carried him around the bar.
Oh Jesus…..The bouncer made tentative steps in our direction, looking on nervously, but our bursting laughter kept him at bay. This was seriously clusterfucked.
Soon, us thirtysomethings (Jesus, we’re thirtysomethings), began to yawn. Between working and partying, our Friday was done. Redogo and Nessy were still going strong though, and tried to get us back to the TL for more partying. But our tiredness won the night, and we insisted on home. We said our goodbyes, with much hugging all around, and pledged to do it again.
A couple weeks later, we met up with Redogo again. This time with a different group of friends at Madrone, another tragically hip bar in the Haight. Again we danced to good hip-hop and had a good time. Figured we’d meet up again. But aside from a few sporadic text exchanges, nothing’s materialized. That was a few months ago... Maybe he came to the same conclusion. Maybe he’s moved on to yet another city? Whatever the case, I hope he’s found what he more than deserves, and more than we could give him; a few true friends.