Whoa. It was so not what I expected to find in an old neighborhood, clean, really friendly (and evidently quite popular with the jazz crowd) bar on a late Saturday morning in San Francisco. But there it was. A pickled tiger penis.
I flew down this last weekend to visit my son and his long-time girlfriend for Mother’s Day and we wound up down in the Potrero Hill district looking for a rain jacket he’d heard about made out of Kevlar. (What? Bulletproof rain gear you ask? But why?)
Well, I still don’t know, but it was sure fun poking around in a boutique that carries that kind of stuff. It was part high quality, outdoor expedition style clothing and equipment, and part museum (classic knives, steampunk sculpture, and other assorted oddities.) We were there for a good hour until my bladder made a bathroom search imperative. There was actually a restroom there in the shop but, in spite of my son’s nearly $300 purchase of gear, the guy who worked there denied me access to it. Evidently, everything else in the place was available for customer perusal but not, definitely not, the toilet. God no. They wanted our money, not our pee.
So we made a beeline up the street to the Dogpatch Saloon, which was such a cool place that I instantly didn’t mind being turned out by their highbrow neighbor anymore. My son and his sweetheart sat and ordered a drink while I used the (blessedly clean and sunny) bathroom and then joined them at the bar. That was when I noticed the gallon-sized, glass bottle filled with brownish fluid and something dark and bulky on the bottom, sitting over in a shadowy corner.
Now, my son loves stuff like Kevlar because he’s got the heart of a warrior. I, on the other hand, love stuff that looks like it came from a nineteenth century, London, back street apothecary because…well…that just does it for me.
Anyway, I asked the bartender about it and she smiled, went and got the jar, and set it on the bar in front of us. I liked her. She was an older woman who looked straight out of the neighborhood gang our family used to camp with down in Ensenada back in the sixties–good-natured, weathered, raspy voice, and feeling just fine. I flashed back to sandy sleeping bags, bonfires on the beach, and those worms we occasionally glimpsed floating around at the bottom of our parents’ tequila bottles.
(The older kids whispered that our fathers actually ate the things after dark, which grossed us out, but we were always asleep by then so we never knew if it was true or not. We tended to think not.)
She opened the jar and initially tried to fish out the object on the bottom with a utensil but, after two unsuccessful attempts, gave up in cheerful disgust and stuck her whole arm in. I watched, spellbound, as she grabbed whatever the thing was and pulled it up through the fluid and out the top. It uncoiled. It was black. Tiny pieces sloughed off and were left behind, floating in the disturbed liquid. Two pendulous sacks dangled off of it, about halfway down. The tip had barbs. I think it was about a foot long but it could have been longer.
It’s a pickled tiger penis she said and grinned. It’s supposed to increase male virility. The owner used to dare people to drink it but now he sells it for ten bucks a shot. Evidently, it had been marinating for a long time. Years. I wondered if it originally came from China Town. The fluid was a random mix of different kinds of alcohol and looked repulsive with all the flecks drifting around in it. It was hard for me to believe that anyone would drink the crap. But then I didn’t believe they’d eat the worms either.
All three of us stared at it, dangling there from her hand. It was disturbing and kind of mythical. Initially, I had the righteous thought, well, thank God we have Viagra now. But then I remembered the treatment received by animals in pharmaceutical labs and realized things actually haven’t changed that much. The burden may have shifted species here in the modern west but our four-footed brethren are still bearing the brunt of it all. It was a depressing thought.
I looked back at the tiger penis and found myself hoping that at least it worked. That there had been a night when some aging man struggling with erectile dysfunction left his loving but unsatisfied wife at home yet again and, wandering off aimlessly through the streets, stumbled upon this bar. Maybe it was on a night that he’d reached his wits end, that he was considering leaving her or worse. But then he saw the half hidden jar in a back corner, decided what the hell, and tossed back a quick shot after which the lightning finally (finally!) rose inside him again. He bolted home as fast as his suddenly strong and pumping legs would carry him and leaped back into her bed. And there, with wild tiger breath hot and tingling on the back of both their bare asses, he gave her the most unforgettable, adoring, jungle ride of both their lives.
It helps me deal with my sadness about the tiger, dreaming that maybe some healing can rise from the ashes like that.
An interesting side note: While I didn’t drink a shot of the stuff myself (…hell no…) I still had a dream that night of a tiger pacing around at the foot of my hotel bed. There was no lightning but I did wake up in the morning feeling wildish and energetic and really pretty great.
copyright 2010 Dia Osborn