Empty pop bottles is all we would kill

Music – The Breeders – Cannonball

Jolene and I got back into the city around 11, and Claire was already too wasted to give us proper directions to the house party.  Apparently they started early.

A half block past Delirium, by the red oaks, she said.  The second unmarked door.

Look for the Vespa with the antlers, she said.

Knock twice and ask for Titus.

We ended up wandering around 16th for a the better part of an hour, amidst the throngs of hipsters, vendors, homeless, and humans.  The first warm weather of the season quintupled the evening population.  Crowds of people excited to be out on a Saturday night without a raincoat or a wool beanie.

“You guys know Titus?”

“You guys know where Titus lives? No?”

“You guys seen a Vespa with antlers?”

We never found the Vespa with the antlers, but we eventually climbed the right fire escape and found Claire dancing on a roof.

She cut her way through the crowd and took us down into the party proper.

The stairwell was full of people in sunglasses and tight jeans, smoking and having very involved, furrow-browed discussions.  They had a record player set up on the landing.  Not a turn-table, an honest to god record player, manned by a dude with an Amish beard wearing a Me First and the Gimme Gimmes tanktop.  Inside the apartment, they had two huge speakers hooked up to someone’s phone.

Record players and ipods.  People wearing used tshirts and paying $1600 to share a room in a raggedy shithole of a building that should have been condemned twenty years ago.

Behold, the Mission.

Claire scattered some hipsters off the couch and, digging between the cushions, nonchalantly came up with a half empty bottle of Jack and a two-liter of Diet Squirt.  I laughed, impressed.

“You have to hide it from these greedy people.” she told me, drunk and earnest.  “They are greedy and will take your whiskey.  We must be careful.”

The three of us found some clean-ish looking coffee cups and drank the rest of it, the other partygoers watching us with eagle eyes, as though Claire were some amazing party magician who might conjure another bottle of booze out of a piece of furniture at any moment.

Introductions were made to various people whose names and faces I will never remember.  To people who will never remember me.

I traded somebody a pack of gum for a beer.  We moved down to the backyard, out into the dirt backyard.

——

“So… you know what I’ve started watching?  That’s really good?” Jo asked.

We were sitting on a broken plastic table underneath the balcony.  People were dancing to James Brown in near darkness.  All the lights were out; they’d unplugged the tangled mess of Christmas lights and lamps and bare bulbs for the Save the Earth Power Hour or whatever shit and couldn’t seem to get them back together.

We were good and drunk.  Claire had wandered off with her boyfriend in search of a missing bag of barbecue chips.

“What?”

“You’re going to mock me.”

“Yes. What is it?”

“It’s really good.”

“What is it?”

“…….”

“…….”

“Battlestar Galactica.” She said.

“Are you fucking kidding me?!” I shouted.  I spent several minutes making strange noises, half coughing, half laughing, so shocked by Jo’s drunken admission that my throat and lungs were in frank revolt.  My brain did acrobatics.  I felt the world shift beneath me.  I thought I was having a stroke, or an aneurysm.

“It’s really good!”

Jolene does not have a nerdy bone in her body, and to hear her tell me she was thoroughly enjoying some dorky ass show about robots and space blew my fucking mind. Blew the hell out of it.

It was all I could do to shake my head, incredulous.

“You have to watch it.”

I continued to shake my head.

We sat in silence a few minutes, watching the people flail and shake to that Taking Me Higher song, the one from Ghostbusters that makes the Statue of Liberty dance.

“Stop judging me.” She said.

“You know… my mental list of things you could have said that would have surprised me less than “Battlestar Galactica” is fucking immense.”

“Don’t hate.”

“Immense.”

We sat for a minute.

“… Well what did you think I was going to say?”

I laughed.  “I have no idea! Not fucking Battlestar Galactica! Not robots and space fighters and shit!…Lost, maybe? Monty Python with Spanish subtitles?”

“Hahaha.”

“A blank screen?  Wild on E?  Snuff porn?  Fox News?  Nothing, no answer could have surprised me more than fucking Battlestar Galactica. Nothing. I can’t believe you.”

“I know, I know. But give robots a chance.  Trust me.”

——-

We sat out back til somebody named Murph came up to us and started talking about his new gallery showing, at which point rather than stab him or myself in the face, I fled to the restroom.

I got lost and, wandering down a hallway behind the garage lit by a strobe light, I found a sub-basement room with eight guys huddled over their laptops sitting around an immense brass hookah.

Upset by my intrusion, they glared at me so angrily that for a moment I feared for my life.  Then I came to my senses, recalling that I was at a party full of hipster wussbags in some backalley slum, and glared right back.

“What the fuck is your deal?” I asked, gesturing ambiguously to the laptops, the towering metal hookah-monster, and the generally weird situation.  They all had horn-rimmed glasses, and were wearing plaid shortsleeved shirts buttoned all the way up.

I’ve spent enough time in labs and server rooms and parents’ basements full of nerds to recognize a group of geeks, even if they’re geeks with Mission pretensions.

“We’re working.” One answered.

“Do you know Titus?” Another asked.

“And what the hell do you do in a basement at 1AM on a Saturday that you’re ‘working’?”

They looked reticent. I crossed my arms and used my Voice of Authority.

“Well?”

“We’re writing reviews.” One of them said.  His neighbor snickered.

“Bad reviews, because it’s Saturday!” He said with a dorky, Mr. Burns-ish evil grin.

“You’re fucking weird.” I said, pointing to Mr. Burns.  I turned back to the first. “Reviews of what?”

“Restaurants mostly.  Mission-area businesses.”

“You guys work for Zagat or Yelp or something?”

He smiled.

“Not exactly.  More often we get paid for the reviews we don’t do.  A new restaurant opens, let’s say.  Maybe a Tapas bar on Guerrero.  Very shabby chic.  We, as a group of… concerned citizens… approach the owner and offer to protect him from critical and disparaging Yelp reviews, for a fee.”

It took a minute for the whiskey-rusted wheels of my mind to crank. Then I understood.

“Oh, shit.”

The guy nodded.

“That…Wow.” I shook my head.  These nerds were the hipster mob.  The fucking Yelp mafia.

San Francisco, the trendier areas especially, is a city that lives and dies by Yelp and Citysearch.  Every San Franciscan with money to spend and an appetite to spend it on checks reviews of a potential eatery first, whipping out their iphone to find the best vegetarian Thai pastry bakery in a ten block radius.  Online reputation is make or break for restaurants here.

And these clever assholes had reinvented the world’s second-oldest profession, the protection racket.  Build up a bunch of established, ‘trustworthy’ Yelp-reviewer accounts, then threaten restauranteurs with an instantly bad reputation if they don’t pay up.

I was stunned.

“First of all,” I said after a few moments, “that’s fucking awesome. Good on you.”

They smiled as one.

“Second of all, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this first.”

One of them handed me a beer from a minifridge built into the innards of the brass hookah thing.  I sat down, enthralled, and spent an hour discussing the particulars of their system, making suggestions, applauding clever tricks they’d used to cover their trail and maintain their credibility.

We drank some more and had a good old time.  I learned their names, and I apologized for calling the weird one weird.  We traded cards, and when Jolene called, furious that I’d left her alone to listen to Murph talk about his latest interpretive piece and its relevance in the post-Bush pre-Obama cultural paradigm, I promised I’d keep in touch.

“I gotta jet, but it was great to meet you kids.  You keep up the good work, Yelp Mafia.”

I’ll bet those little bastards are making a killing.  And will continue to do so, until some 250 lb Persian pizzeria owner figures out who they really are works them over with a tire-iron.

But until that day comes, best of luck guys.

——-

We found Claire passed out, clutching her missing bag of chips.  I stuffed a note into her purse explaining that a bunch of us were going to see a live action theatrical interpretation of the Twilight Zone on Sunday, then carried her out to a cab where her boyfriend waited.

We barged our way back through the stumbling crowds out on Valencia, and amidst SF’s social elite I stage-whispered questions to Jolene about her obsession with space robots and her love of Battlestar Galactica.

She politely told me to go fuck myself.

A homeless guy tried to sell me a copy of the Book of Mormon with the covers ripped off while we waited in line for a dangerdog.

——

Bzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

“Everyguddy I know hav a Thoniccare”

“What?”

Jolene spat into the sink, back at my apartment.

“Everybody I know has a Sonicare.”

“This is why I hate and could never live in LA, Jo.  Because everyone you know has an eighty dollar toothbrush.”

“Yeah.”

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