Stories From My Father: Drunk in the Castro

Any attempt to record stories my father has told me would be bereft without some tales from the Castro. My father lived in the Castro in the 1970s, back when it was much more ethnically, culturally, and economically diverse (as opposed to being overrun with white bourgeois hetero families, as it is now, with what sometimes seems like a smattering of token gay culture). He has a number of entertaining tales from this era, and I particularly love this one, because it captures the ways in which times have changed.

One night, my father attended a party at a friend’s, and there was a great deal of drinking and general merriment. People came and went over the course of the evening, food was eaten, and many libations were poured. Gay and straight neighbors alike joined in the festivities, and the party stretched on into the small areas of the morning. At one point, my father got out his saxophone to accompany an accomplished jazz singer who happened to be passing through town, and partygoers danced so vigorously that the bookshelves of a downstairs neighbor collapsed. Fortunately, the neighbor was at the party at the time, so no one was injured in the incident, except for a houseplant.

As the party wound down, various people bedded down on the floor, drifted home, or ended up in the homes of others. This was in the freewheeling pre-AIDS era in which casual hookups weren’t like a game of Russian roulette, and Castro residents were generally supportive of a range of sexual proclivities. My father decided to set forth to another party which was evidently still in full swing, according to the phone reports which had been delivered over the course of the evening, so he made his farewells, collected his coat, jammed someone’s shoes on to his feet, and stumbled downstairs to collect his car, one of a procession of beaters owned by my father through the 1960s and 1970s.

Initially, he attempted to unlock a car which wasn’t his, which was perhaps a forgivable mistake, since it was a similar shade and it was parked in vicinity of his car. As soon as my father realized the error, he staggered down the street to his own vehicle, successfully unlocked it, and prepared to venture onward to his destination.

Yet, for some reason, the car wouldn’t start. My father puzzled over the matter, even stepping out to look at the engine and pull at a few wires and hoses, but he couldn’t figure out what was wrong. Everything seemed to be in order, but the engine just wouldn’t turn over; not even so much as a click. My father leaned back in the seat to consider the challenge, leaving the door open in case he was struck with inspiration and needed to leap out to put a plan in action.

A passing beat cop poked his head in the curbside window to see what the problem was.

“My car won’t start,” my father complained.

The policeman nodded sympathetically as my father detailed all of the possibilities he’d explored. Once my father wound down, the cop tilted his head and said:

“Sir, perhaps it’s because you’re in the back seat.”