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CONSTELLATION ASIATICUS: Dee, Linda, Lonnie, Marisa, Zorayda: satellites Daniel, George, "French Fries" Melody

Sunset and evening Star
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning o bar
When I put out to sea ....

Tennyson won't mind if I change the last word to "see." Someone has told me that the Asian barmaids dress up on Friday nights, so I command two stalwart young male friends to escort me. Sure enough, measures of velvet and lace so much rowdy and raucous confusion that we leave after one or two drinks for a deserted (quiet) Chinese restaurant where we can talk.

Observers differ on which star is the brightest in this constellation, but an unscientific poll of voluntary informers show the Lonnie-watchers in the ascendancy.

"Lonnie's young," Dee says, probably to explain her special efficient service, the way she tends to business, rushing from one end of the bar to the other, a diminutive figure in tight, faded jeans and a sleeveless off-white sweater, who probably tips the scales at 90 pounds. Knowing that Lonnie is 42, I'm surprised by Dee's comment, because it implies that she herself is older. When Dee wears makeup and smiles her deep-dimpled smile, she could pass for 24 in the dim light of the bar. Her eyes shine, and she looks like one of the poster girls on the wall.

Melody is a major Lonnie satellite. He &mdash yes, he &mdash lives at St. Vincent de Paul and comes in nearly every morning. "I could watch Lonnie all day," he says. "She's got a hundred different expressions." He.lifts his coffee cup in midair signaling a refill, angling for a dose-up of yet another pert grimace. Lonnie sends Dee to deliver the mug. Today Mel, as the regulars call him, forgot his real money, so he's drinking instant java. I buy him two beers while he says that, no, he's not Catholic, "but I'm still basically Christian, still believe in God. And I still pray." He adds, "I have a beer once in a while, and I smoke, but.... "

During the second beer, Melody tells me the story of Satan, how he was the brightest of the archangels but wanted to rival God, so he was thrown out.

"Where did you get this?"

"Genesis," Mel says. "It's not all in one place. It's scattered through."

"I'll have to read that sometime. It sounds interesting."

While we're talking, Melody says they changed the words in the jukebox song from "sonofabitch" to "son-of-a-gun." I realize that the music doesn't exist for me except as background dissonance interfering with conversation. Others refer to it often. "Oh, Cher!" someone says. Zorayda, the sexiest of the barmaids, sings along with the plaintive outpourings of country that escape my hearing range entirely unless she upstages the soloist. One black barfly brings his own music. Earphones damped in place, he responds to my touch on his arm, takes the phones off, and asks me to repeat.

"What are you listening to?"

"I keep changin' the stations," he says.

"Yes, but what do you like?"

"I like all of it." A long pause. "Except country," and he clamps the phones back on his head.

Surprised in repose, faces of the barmaids reflect boredom, distress, chronic fatigue, but they've learned to light up like Christmas trees for patrons, to twinkle roguishly and slip into the honeyed language of the night, spiced by the charm their accents provide. All are Filipino except Lonnie, who is shutout like

the rest of us when they chatter in their native tongue. At first I get Linda and Dee confused, but Linda has more delicate bone structure and facial features. I see Marisa so seldom she remains light years distant. .

Sixto, the man on my right, drinks Mexican beer. He says he's from the Philippines, and, yes, he can follow what the girls are saying. Dee has just said, "Love is not a good thing."Sixto's limit is three beers, but he orders a fourth to keep our conversation alive. His voice is so soft that I have to ask him to repeat almost everything. I tell him about visiting the bar with friends on Friday night, and, he says, "I wanted to come then, but I was too hungover."

Meanwhile, the gentleman on my left drinks coffee and nibbles on French fries from a small waxed paper bag. I introduce myself but can't hear his answer. He's cute in a teddy bear sort of way: curly brown hair, a pug nose, bright button eyes, and a ramrod spine. The odd thing is that he goes on talking when no one appears to be listening: "I don't want to work for $240 a month for that Christian place .... "

Piping voices float into the Star from the open doorway, and I turn to see three kids halfway in the door. Does San Diego allow children in bars? But Zorayda rushes to the rescue, handing a billfold to her eldest, and shooing them off to a mall movie.

That prompts French Fries to say that he gave Zorayda and her husband the camera to take the first picture of their first child. That was in Mexico, he says, and "I brought the picture of me and her husband in here to prove it."

"At Balboa Hospital," French Fries says, "they put me in a space suit. I wanted to take it home, but they wouldn't let me. The nurse brought me some regular clothes, and I put them on. Then she said, 'You can walk home now,' so I did."

Zorayda (pronounced Zor-EYE-da), easily the most glamorous of the barmaids, looks different every day, like a movie! star or a model. The second time I see her, she has just come in and is having breakfast on the customer side of the bar. She talks very tough, and I wait for the opportune moment to say, "I don't think we've met."

"Yes we have &mdash yesterday."

"Are you Zorayda? You look completely different."

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