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For people who spend the day saying and writing things that others accept, while thinking things that are infinitely more interesting.

Monday, May 23, 2005

The Hoka

It was as out-of-place as a tuxedo in a barnyard. To call it a throw-back would be to imply it actually had a shred of contact with current life. At its best, The Hoka was a timewarp, a pocket of illusion in a world that had begun to move wholeheartedly towards cynicism. At its worst—and it was often at its worst—The Hoka was the trash heap of discarded dreams.

The only word to describe its presence was “sprawl.” It didn’t sit so much as it oozed against the rising land, a tent made of wood, shingles, drywall and spit with the charm of an aging hooker who’d discovered the joys of basket-weaving. Part bar, part restaurant, part hangout, part theater and all Hoka.

My first visit there was like walking into fish guts. The air itself felt sticky, none the least for the obvious cloud of smoke that lingered above and beyond the bar. We ordered coffee with chickory, New Orleans-style, and the heavy mug was cracked to the point where creamy liquid seeped out like a tired tear. Around me appeared, disappeared and re-appeared relics of a bad memory: aging faces, stooped shoulders, emaciated bodies of the time when peace and love and drugs and rock and roll were virtually one magical amalgam. Long hair turning gray, tied back into ragged ponytails or hanging loose like dried kelp. Tie-dyed clothing desperate for patching. Sandals with blackened outlines of ancient sweat.

We ordered food. My choice was hamburger, rare, a choice that can only be deemed insane. It arrived wrapped in goat cheese, or something spewed, on buns that weighed a pound each surrounding a piece of meat so charred it should have been a paperweight. Two bites confirmed the cheese, the taste of wet cardboard and that paperweights are not food.

Music drifted in and out of the smoke, interruptus. A song would begin, the hazy tribe would oooh and then the music would fade to dreamy smiles. Notes plunked and clinked through the air, vying for escape. Then another song would begin, the ooohs, the fadeout, the dreamy smiles. Over and over.

We ordered more coffee and my mug had no handle. The movie was about to begin, the classic Humphrey Bogart in “The Maltese Falcon.” Popcorn appeared out of the dark, a Hoka gift that felt vaguely menacing. Tim-the-Freudian warned me that sometimes the reels were shown out of order and we sat on chairs that kept their shape out of sheer stubborness. The screen was a patched set of sheets that behind them had the parking lot. No walls, just a sheet. The Hoka never closed.

The movie began. Not even this smoky hovel could erase the snappy dialogue, the quick wit and sheer magnetism of Bogey, Sydney and Peter as they chased “the black bird.” But at the chase’s peak, Bogey doesn’t take the fall, the stuff dreams are made of is center-screen and then the tense apartment scene where the gunsel is sold down the river makes its play. Nobody said a word, and when the third reel ends, we get up and leave past the screen, into the dingy, sweet-smelling night. We didn’t pay for anything and we walked away in heavy silence.

At The Hoka, dreams came first and the sell-out last. Every day.


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