Monthly Archives: June 2014

Fourth of July in Cayucos

Everyone loves a parade, especially the one in Cayucos, Calif.

Cayucos loves a parade, especially the one that celebrates our liberties on the Fourth of July.

The following essay is an account of a typical Fourth of July celebration that happened not many years ago and is repeated annually in our small town by the sea.

by Stacey Warde

I’m raw and unbalanced, hung over from a bout with beer and whisky. I skipped going to work today. It’s gray, overcast and generally gloomy.

Besides, it’s a Saturday, and a Fourth of July weekend. I hate working weekends, especially holidays, but I’m getting used to it. In this economy, few can afford to turn down work.

I awakened early, before 7 a.m, and rode my bicycle to the park to practice aikido, a Japanese martial art designed to defuse conflict, with a friend. We do it regularly, but it’s been a long time since we’ve practiced. It helps me keep an even temper.

Even with a hangover it felt good to tussle and talk. We usually talk politics and the economy. He hasn’t worked in nearly four months; I’m barely employed, working as a farmhand and laborer.

“There’s no work around here,” he says. “I may have to drive down to San Diego to pick up some work.”

He’s a union carpenter and, until recently, supported a family of six. His four children are grown and graduated from high school. Finances aren’t as critical now as they used to be. Still, like everyone else, he needs to pay the bills.

“If I was smart, I’d find something to do with the military,” he says, “that’s where all of the money is.”

Everyone but the banks and military is bankrupt, I say. “What’s wrong with this country?” We launch into another frustrated, cynical litany of ills that plague our nation: Militarism, greed, corruption in government and business, a weak economy and an empire in decline.

“This can’t go on forever,” he says, “we’re more than a trillion dollars in debt.” If anything, the message of the last few years of economic failure has been: The party’s over. The excesses of our revered material lifestyle have drained our accounts and left us empty handed.

Most Americans, hopeful as ever, seem to think the party has merely lapsed into a sustained lull. Things will get better, they say. The markets will regain their vigor, jobs will become available, and spending will save the republic.

Glossy red, white, and blue plastic streamers wave in the wind from houses along Ocean Avenue, which runs through the middle of Cayucos, the small California coastal town where I live, where every Fourth of July floats and troops of scouts, drill teams, and grass-skirted dancers celebrating the Declaration of Independence will march in a show of America’s love for “freedom.”

Cayucos loves a parade, and its freedom. Our small town plays host to more than 20,000 visitors during the Fourth. They come to celebrate their freedoms by eating hotdogs, playing in the sand, and shopping at the “Peddler’s Fair,” known by locals as “Crap on the Creek,” mostly throw-away junk ware.

The word “freedom” gets tossed around pretty easily these days, as if we all agree on what it means: Freedom of the press, speech and religion; the protection of personal effects from government search and seizure, the right to trial by a jury of peers, the right to bear arms.

More often, however, “freedom” becomes an amalgam of unspecified ideas and feelings, which patriots will defend to the death, about what it means to be an American, which usually includes waving the flag, getting goose bumps during the singing of the national anthem, and chanting “U-S-A!” at soccer games.

Upon closer review, this muddle of feelings and ideas about freedom just as likely arises from the belief that Americans are unique in exercising their right to get rich by whatever means possible, to spend money freely without end or hindrance, even when there isn’t any to spend.

“Freedom isn’t free,” we’re told in countless bumper stickers meant to remind us of the sacrifices that have been made on our behalf. Soldiers, mostly young men and women, have given their lives to ensure we continue to enjoy the clear advantages of being an American, including the right to spend our diminished earnings at any big box store outlet of our choosing.

Fourth of July, as often as not, has come to be celebrated not so much for the Declaration of Independence from tyranny as for America’s great military empire and raw technological power, which still has not squelched terrorism, but nonetheless allows us to conduct full-scale war without the requisite sacrifices at home.

We can still shop at Wal-Mart and Costco and spend freely without guilt while others shed blood in foreign lands to stop the amorphous terrorist cells sprouting everywhere like a cancer across the globe.

“The military isn’t protecting me,” my friend says as we grapple. “My tax dollars are supporting the slaughter of civilians. That’s not independence.” Independence is being able to protect yourself, he suggests. “I don’t need the military to do that.”

In my weakened mental state, I don’t argue the point. He’s right, the War on Terror, as most wars, was a sham from the start. It’s a racket for making people rich. We still haven’t stopped terrorism and maybe never will, our invasion of Afghanistan has become America’s longest-ever war, and the Taliban and its cohorts in other parts of the world are as strong as ever.

“Why are we spending all our money over there?” he asks. “We need it here.” We could better use our resources to buttress education, healthcare, improve failing infrastructures but so much of it, he says, gets lost in the shuffle to ship arms and troops to places known and unknown.

CITY-LIFE.4TH-OF-JULY.IMG_3406Already, chairs have been placed in a mass claim for seating along the parade route. Police tape has been pulled through lines of chairs, marking seating sections between groups of the nearly 20,000 spectators who will gather for the parade.

They come from all points: San Francisco, Fresno, Bakersfield, Los Angeles. It’s the busiest day of the year for our little town of less than 4,000.

The parade features the usual Independence Day amusements: Spectators waving American flags, young gymnasts cartwheeling, local bands rocking out on flatbed trucks, grannies dressed in patriotic colors, waving to the crowd from old jalopies.

Once, an outfit of youngsters from Fresno, dressed in paramilitary uniforms, marched crisply in rigid formation, looking distressingly similar to the goose-stepping Brownshirts who helped the Nazis in their rise to power. They were impressive in their military crispness, their quick response to marching commands.

“I’m not that patriotic,” my friend says. “It’s all a gimmick.” If they can get you to believe their story, such as “we need this war,” he adds, they can get you to do anything they want, like put on a uniform and fight their wars, making the “ultimate” sacrifice, in the name of freedom and democracy. Mostly, such rhetoric is pure bullshit, he says.

Still, we love to celebrate our freedoms, even if they have diminished to little more than buying hotdogs and posting bumper stickers with patriotic slogans.

One year, one of the grass-skirted matrons from a beach-chair drill team bolted from the formation as it approached the entry point of the parade. “Hey!” she shouted and waved, beckoning me to wait for her. She ran to me in a heat and threw her arms around my neck, firmly pressed her middle-aged buxomness against my body, and planted her lips on mine.

The rank smell of alcohol at 10 in the morning assaulted my senses. Before I could pull away, I felt her tongue probing my mouth. “Yuck!” I turned my head away and slipped out of her arms. She ran back to her group as if nothing had happened, happy and drunk as ever.

Cayucos is a friendly place. “Did you see that?” I asked my then-girlfriend.


“She just rammed her tongue down my throat.”

“Yeah, right.”

You never know what’s going to happen at the Cayucos Fourth of July parade, but one thing’s sure: Just about everyone here’s proud to be an American, with or without their hangovers, and more so because we work hard and take pride in putting on a good show for our love of freedom.§

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue

the yellow fog

PITH.YELLOW-FOG2I saw a human
form laid out
flat against the hard
asphalt pavement of coastal
Highway 1 today

wrapped in
a yellow body bag,
the bag’s edges, like wings,
fluttered against the profile
of a face frozen in

death in the ocean
breeze, The Rock beyond,

barely visible,
wrapped in its own shroud
of yellow fog.

—Stacey Warde

Night Life in Happy Jack’s: Carp

IMG_6070by Dell Franklin

For Donny Moore, In Memorium. He was a friend, an institution in Morro Bay, who got killed in an auto wreck. 

Homer Carp, a tugboat captain who holds the Morro Bay record for drunk-in-public convictions at 29, ignores my greeting as I slip behind the bar and begin my shift. The happy hour crew has moved to the middle of the bar because Homer sits at the elbow with his coterie—a carpenter, a fisherman, and a Cal Trans employee, Biff Thomas. Once every week or so they play poker and drink beer and eat pizza at one of their residences.

After I get my bank in the register I begin emptying ash trays, mopping the surface, checking fruit, but out of the corner of my eye I spot Carp eyeing me up because his longneck is empty and he’s been drinking since the bar opened at 9 and is ready to transition to CC/coke. He’s sneering at me with these remarkable teeth that buck out and prong in various directions, like every tooth has a mind of its own. His faded black T-shirt is from the Bear Flag Saloon in Moss Landing and his faded Levi’s expose a bulge of fish-scale white belly and the crack of his enormous ass. His ballcap is from a dive in Monterey and pulled low over two protuberant brown suspicious eyes. His head and neck could belong to a buffalo and Homer is basically composed of solid, powerful, whale-like blubber, about 300 pounds of it.

“Hey faggot, you working tonight?” he calls in a voice that could cut through a rock fest.

I ignore him.

“I asked if you’re working tonight, you goddamn swisher.”

I glance over. His ash tray is heaped beside a mash of bills, a pack of Camel nonfilters and a chain with many keys. When he sees me coming he moves his bills back out of my reach. I empty Biffs’ heaping ash tray. All the poker players are chain-smokers.

“How’s it goin’, Biff?” I ask, very friendly.

“Okay, Dell. Hey, I liked your latest article in the New Times. Awesome.”

“I would like a goddamn drink, Dell-Smell.” Carp says nastily. “Can I get a drink in this vermin-infested stink-hole?”

I take my time. He wants his drink in a chimney glass. Everybody watches me go to work. I pack his glass with shaved ice and shoot a quick three-second pour and splash in Coke with the gun, shove in a straw, bounce the drink in front of Homer so that some of it spills in his slopped-up area. I snatch three singles he extends tentatively and ring them up as he stares at his drink with persecuted dissatisfaction. I get busy, treading the boards, but I can hear Homer addressing his cronies and anybody within earshot over the usual jukebox and din of converging voices.

“I been coming in this shit-hole since I was sixteen and in all that time Dell-Smell is by FAR the worst fucking bartender I’ve seen. His service sucks, his attitude stinks, he’s got a putrid personality, he’s lazy and stupid and a know-it-all, considers himself some kind of authority because he gets his shitty articles in a shitty little paper, but what he is is a nothing, a nobody, a wind-bag, and on top of that he’s a flaming faggot!”

I continue to ignore him.

“I’ve drank in every dive from the Aleutians to Mexico, and never have I been served a worse drink by a bigger piece of shit.”

All 22 stools are occupied, the poolroom is packed, and I keep on hopping. Homer quickly drains his drink and pushes his chimney to the edge of the bar with three singles.

“You think that little boy could handle a real job, a man’s job?” He’s standing now—to emphasize his rising discontent. “That ass-packer’s never had a real job in his life, that’s why he’s tending bar in the lowest lowlife dive on the coast.”

I pour myself a shot, sniff it, sip it, put it down and stroll to the front end of the bar to talk to Beer Can Bessie, who’s enjoying Homer’s vituperation.


I take my time moving down the bar, dabbing at certain areas with my towel, empty an ash tray with a single butt before arriving in front of Homer, who growls, “I want a round for my friends and another CC/Coke and I want some goddamn booze in it, Smell!”

I place his chimney on the matt, leave residue in it. I empty the residue in the glasses of his friends, fill them about ¾ full with cubes, pour them generous shots, gun in mix, then cram Carp’s chimney to the rim with shaved ice and quick pour him a weaker shot before gunning in Coke. Then I mop the area of his friends and empty their ash trays before placing their drinks carefully before them on round coasters. Then I bounce Homer’s glass in front of him and sip my shooter with pinky finger extended while he scowls at his drink. The scowl deepens when I return his change, which he scoops quickly.

“You miserable dog-dick worm,” he growls. “You didn’t have this crappy job, you’d be homeless, begging for dimes.”

There’s another rush and I crank on. People are tipping me well. Homer watches me gaze at him with a smug grin as I stuff another bill in my toke jar.

“Can you imagine that weakling fishing for king crab in the Aleutians? He wouldn’t last ten seconds before he’d be puking his guts out and crying for his mommy.”  He swills his entire drink and slams the glass on the bar and points to it. “How about a real drink, you pile of slimy dogshit?”

I snatch the chimney and cram it with shaved ice, tamp down the ice with the scoop like a snow cone, then cram in more ice on top and dribble in CC and shoot in Coke and snag three singles and slam the drink in front of him as his retinue looks on.

“You think you’re pretty goddamn cute, short-pouring me and grabbing my money like a greedy little skunk, don’t yah, faggot?” I empty my toke jar, count singles. “Hey SMELL, I saw your latest article in that cheesy, gutless rag. Couldn’t read it. Pure garbage. You’re no writer. You’re no good at anything. No wonder you’re working in this turd-hole. You’re a turd.” I change singles into a twenty, stuff it in my jar. Homer swills his drink. “You don’t make me a decent drink, I’m coming back there and make my own, puke-breath.”

“You come back here and I’ll crush your thick skull with the Galliano bottle, Fatso.”

“You’ll need more than a Galliano bottle if I come back there.” He’s looking positively vicious now. “Sissies like you can’t fight with your fists. You never been in a real fight in your life. I’ll snap your chicken neck and stomp you ‘til you’re beggin’ for mercy. Any time, boy—right now, in the street! Pussy boy faggot!”

Some newcomers and tourists have come in, and they are shocked at the sight and sound of Homer, who I now purse my lips at and blow him a kiss and wave at him with a limp wrist. He grits his horrible teeth while I address the crowded bar.

“Homer is obviously homophobic. Hates homosexuals. Know why? It’s called self-loathing, because Homer’s a closet fairy. Yeh. He sneaks up to San Francisco and dresses up in sexy evening gowns, has to use a corset to stuff in all that blubber, wears perfume and earrings and lipstick and bra for his fatty boobs, and he swishes his ass in gay bars looking for manly studs in leather!”

His support group chuckles, as do others in the crowd. Activity in the poolroom ceases. “Homer wants romance, and a lotta foreplay and he loves to kiss for hours with his man. Can you imagine a man kissing Homer, with those bulbous lips and caribou teeth?”

They are all laughing now. Homer’s trying to glower, but those choppers are bulging over his lips. I begin prancing around behind the bar, sashaying. “My name is Homer Carp,” I declare in my best attempt at a falsetto. “And I wanna FRENCH KISS my man! I wanna get down and dirty and be a SLUT. I know there’s a woman inside me, just dyin’ to get out, and I can’t control her anymore. I’m GAYYYYY!”

His cronies rollick with laughter. Homer is grinning. His teeth look like a pitchfork that’s been sledge-hammered. He lumbers into the poolroom and starts a game. When he misses a shot (he has an excellent stick), he returns to his area, drains his drink, shoves his glass forward, points to it, tosses a century beside it, and flashes his remarkable smile. I make him a strong drink. When he returns from the pool table he neglects to count his money and flips me a five and I snatch it and stuff it in my jar and walk out from behind the bar and out the back door to stand on the sidewalk and get some air. Across the street Big Bill is taking down the American flag from his hotdog stand. Homer’s un-cherry 1960 Nash Rambler is parked behind my recently purchased and duct-taped, rusted-out and back-bumperless 1981 Chrysler Cordoba, as my Olds died. I stand studying the heaps, until Homer is outside, pool cue in hand.

“What an ugly toad your Rambler is,” I tell him. “It’s a disgrace having that eyesore sitting in front of a respectable place like Happy Jack’s. Why don’t you park it across the street at fancy-pants Circle Inn?”

“That Rambler’ll out-run and out-last that cancer-ridden Chrysler. Look at the duct tape on that thing. Just shows how stupid you are, covering cancer holes with duct tape. Everyone in town knows you’re a clueless idiot when they see you driving around in that ugly piece of shit.”

“That Cordoba, it’s stylish and classy, with Corinthian leather bucket seats. Your Rambler has no sleek lines; it’s like its owner—grotesque, like one of those giant sea turtles on those islands off South America.”

“The Galapagos Islands, dummy. I been there. You’ve never been anywhere but stinky dives.”

We spar a little longer and then I go back to work and stay busy. The after-happy hour crowd drinks themselves out and the dinner hour lull sets in, but Homer remains as the second wave comes in, munching crackers and nuts and beef jerky. He drinks at a methodical pace. Around eleven his eyes acquire a bovine cast, initial signs of his being tipsy. His second wife, diminutive, feisty, alligator-hide, Vera, calls. I hand him the phone and he talks to her briefly. I remark that he, Homer, is afraid of Vera and brag about being my own man, un-monitored by MY woman. He stands and grabs for his keys but I snatch them away. He demands them. I shake my head. He threatens me. I laugh at him. He sits down on his stool and orders another drink. I pour him a strong one. He sips it, settles in.

Rafe Monk shows up, carrying a load, sits beside him. Homer buys him a drink. They shake dice for dollar bills. The bar is clearing out. Vera comes in, tries to prod him home. Homer refuses to budge. I leer and smirk at him. Vera leaves. His son, a studious looking kid, comes in, tries to get him to leave. He won’t budge. The son leaves. Then his daughter comes in, a pretty, plump girl, his pet. Even she can’t budge Homer, who informs me he’s closing the bar.

He and Rafe drink and make slurred, asinine conversation. I have one with them. I play pool with Homer and slaughter him and win $5, which I’d never do if he was sober. Around closing Homer orders a case of beer to go so he and Rafe can drink on his boat down at the embarcadero. I begin cleaning up. Neither man is making sense at this point. They demand their case of beer, tossing bills at me. I get their case from the cooler and take my bank to the safe in the office. I lock the back door and let them out the front door and tell them to wait for me and I’ll drive them to the boat so they don’t get a drunk driving, but no, they’re walking the five blocks or so, and Homer says, “I’d rather go to jail then set foot in yer fuckin’ smelly jalopy, Smell!”

“Well, don’t open that case ‘til you’re on your boat.”

“Fuck off, flamer!”

I step back and adjust the burglar alarm. Lift two stools onto the bar, then step outside and lock the front door and when I look across the street, a squad car is at the intersection facing me and its spotlight pours a stream of light on Homer and Rafe, who are on the sidewalk, both with beer cans. Monk faces the cop in the squad car, while Homer teeters in place as he urinates against the Circle Inn and drinks at the same time. The spotlight moves off them and settles on me. I recognize one of the older cops, Sgt. DeAbrew.

“DELL!” he calls out over his speaker. “ARE YOU SOBER?”

I nod emphatically.


I nod. Homer protests, dick a-dangle, but DeAbrew pulls around the corner, refusing to hear it. I get in my Cordoba and drive over beside them and have to coax them into the car. They toss their case in the back seat and fall in. Homer grumbles about my car—smells bad, music (Miles Davis) sucks, filthy, uncomfortable, etc. I remain silent and drive slowly down to the embarcadero. They manage to get out, cumbersome and gimpy and deliriously drunk, tilting this way and that, Monk holding the case, flashing his incisors in a mad grin.

“Don’t fall in the water and drown,” I warn. “Because I sure as hell ain’t rescuing your sorry asses. I can’t swim.”

Homer grins, his teeth those of a barracuda badly needing an orthodontist. “Comin’ in for a nightcap, stupid?” §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his mate, Wilbur, a very needy chocolate lab he rescued from the animal shelter. He is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice and is currently working on a book about his dad, The Ball Player’s Son.


Night Life in Happy Jack’s: AN INSTANT LOBOTOMY


“Hey, watch yer mouth, dude! I live there, and I don’t like nobody tellin’ me I live in a fuckin’ kennel. I ain’t no dog.”

by Dell Franklin


Tanya and Trudie lurk just outside the back door of cavernous, grotto-like Happy Jack’s, leveling me with malevolent eyes and at the same time trying to get Hubie’s attention along the bar. I have eighty-sixed these two permanently on my shifts for mooching. Like so many of our customers, they reside in “The Kennel,” a square block of pre-war, wooden, added-on, two-story dilapidated eyesore a few blocks from the bar in Morro Bay. Because so many Kennel residents drink here, Happy Jack’s is often referred to by most patrons and numerous citizens as “The Turd.” I often answer the phone like this: “The Turd. Turd-master speaking. May I help you?”

Once, when our owner, 80-year-old Doug Bruce called, he was a bit taken aback but not really miffed since the local business/political community with whom he golfs and hobnobs refer to his bar, behind his back, as “The Sewer,” due to its unholy stench. These weasels have been trying to close it down for years.

The Kennel is scheduled for demolition and replaced by luxury condos for the rapid gentrification of Morro Bay and its influx of wealthy retirees from throughout the state now that our fishing industry is dying. It has to be appalling when these prospective condo buyers cruise the residential streets of Morro Bay and discover the monstrous Kennel with its open garage slots and oily driveways of squat, flat-tired and block-supported heaps as well as smoke-spewing, clanging four-door behemoths, lopsided pickups and rusted vans.

If a prospective buyer idles past the Kennel in daylight hours, there will be little sign of life, almost as if the place is a ghost town or leper colony. However, at night, the jarring discordance of hideous laughter, vile threats, grating music, aimless and endless arguments and senseless, profane blather wails on into the wee hours, and often until dawn. It is not uncommon for neighbors to call the police and, at 5 in the morning, watch the swirl of squad car lights while a weary cop orders one of the zombies to hold down the noise.

Every time Tanya and Trudie catch my eye, I hiss at them and make shooing gestures, as if they’re flies. They are trying to get Hubie’s attention and coax him off his stool (which is almost impossible) and outside so they can propose a blowjob for drug money.

I’ve got a fairly busy week day evening after Happy Hour. The pool room is clogged with some loud young low-rider progeny who, when not spinning around on crank, tiptoe around me, not sure I am to be trusted. They drink bottled beer and down shots of tequila. They have part time jobs—landscape, framing, house painting, etc. They’re all aware I’ve shit-canned Tanya and Trudie and seem okay with it, but a guy named Buford from the Kennel who sits at the elbow beside Hubie has urged me several times to re-instate them and is not happy with my ignoring him. A rangy, stringy auto mechanic with a mop of blond hair tucked under a beanie, he’s been off his stool twice to consort with the two harridans at the door.

I go out to collect bottles and glasses, and as I pass the door, Tanya hisses at me. “Asshole, everybody hates you.”

“Good. I like being hated. It simplifies things.”

“You treat us like trash, but we’re not trash, YOU’RE TRASH!”

“Lowlife scum,” Trudie adds. She is skeletal of face with a knobby concave body in baggy duds. She was once relatively appealing when young, but crank has rotted her teeth and flaked her skin. Tanya, in shin-high black pants and sweatshirt draped over bowling ball breasts, curls her lips up in a sneer. She has a pocked moon face, round mouth and a long needle nose and brown too-close-together eyes brimming with persecution, beneath which are black smudges.

“I don’t think you’re trash,” I say, stacking bottles beside Buford. “I think you’re skunks.”

“You think WE’RE skunks, when you work in the Turd? Ha ha ha.”

“At least I don’t live in a kennel, arf arf.”

“Hey, watch yer mouth, dude,” Buford warns. “I live there, and I don’t like nobody tellin’ me I live in a fuckin’ kennel. I ain’t no dog.”

I ignore him, return to the pool room for more bottles and glasses and stack them near Buford and Hubie. Buford glances at me as I go behind the bar and begin pulling bottles and glasses off the bar. “Those are my friends out there. I don’t like nobody callin’ ‘em skunks.” As he eyes me up, the girls watch from the doorway. “Who you think you are, eighty-sixin’ them gals, when they ain’t done shit? You think yer God?”

“I’m the bartender here. That makes me God.”

“Fuck you are.”

Hubie, white-haired and red-faced, filthy rich through investments and in love with this dive and conversing with his image in the back bar mirror, shoves up his empty mug. He pays with two singles and rolls up two singles like airplanes for my toke jar. Sometimes, for a surprise, he’ll roll up a five or ten. Occasionally, if he’s hungry, he’ll buy us both burgers I’ll fetch from next the diner next door, or a pizza delivered for the house. He never forgets my birthday and brings me sweatshirts. If he’s here at closing, I’ll drive him three blocks to his apartment. After serving him his draft, I thank him for his arrow-shaped tips and place them in my jar. Tanya, watching, places a defiant foot in the bar.

“You always accuse US of moochin’ off Hubie, but you’re the biggest mooch. You want Hubie all to yourself, pig.”

“Get your goddamn foot out of the door,” I snap.

She stubbornly keeps her foot where it is while Hubie stands, points to the mirror. “Rick is Hubie’s friend,” he announces. “Hubie likes Rick. Rick takes care of Hubie.”

He points a stern finger at himself in the mirror. “Rick likes Hubie.” He smiles at this thought.

“You’re such a phony,” Tanya squawks at me.

“Get your goddamn foot out of here. I don’t want a single inch or ounce of your loathsome being in this bar.”


“Hey dude, lay off!” Buford warns. He is fairly new to the Kennel, a drifter/transient with shifty prison eyes that seem to glow. He turns to Hubie. “Hey, old man, gimme twenty bucks for my frenz Trudie and Tanya. Yer a rich dude, givin’ that prick behind the bar bread for pourin’ fuckin’ beer, so give some of it to my frenz, you crazy ole fucker.”

Hubie looks quickly to me, fear in his eyes. “Lay off,” I tell Buford, my gorge rising. His eyes are green neon.

“Fuck you. This bar sucks long as yer in it. You can kiss my white ass.” He turns to Hubie with a sickeningly vulpine grin. “Gimme some-a that cash, ole crazy motherfucker. My frenz need-a eat. Hand it over, ole talkin’-to-yerself-loony-goddamn bedbug.”

Hubie is terrified. I step forward. “That’s enough, Buford. You’re cut off. I want you out-a here.” He grabs Hubie’s mug and hurls it at me, bouncing it off my chest and soaking my face, neck and shirt. Before I can react he hurls an empty bottle at me and then picks up every bottle in the vicinity and has me ducking as he fires one after another at me. One bounces off my forehead and another shatters a bottle of Jameson’s and then Buford flips me the finger and starts for the back door, but not before I am out from behind the bar and on him, the lead-bottomed bottle of Galliano in hand. Just as he reaches the back door I brain him across the side of the forehead and send him careening out onto the sidewalk, Trudie and Tanya jumping out of the way.

When the girls scream at me I lift the bottle menacingly and they flee down the sidewalk. Everybody pours out of the bar onto the sidewalk, where Buford wobbles like a punch-drunk boxer who’s just been bludgeoned by George Foreman, then backs up against the side of Happy Jack’s and slowly sinks to the sidewalk and sits there, eyes blank, mouth hung open, like he’s had an instant lobotomy.

I drop the bottle. A couple cranksters from the pool room pat my back with admiration and awe. “Nice goin’, Rick. Out-a fuckin’ sight, man.”

Buford rises slowly, eyes far, far away. “Wanna fight?” he blubbers, weakly raising his fists.

I fold my arms. His eyes refuse to focus. The bump on the side of his forehead has grown from a jawbreaker to a golf ball. He sinks back down, eyes staring sightlessly. Nobody bothers to call the cops or medics and Tanya and Trudie do not come back for him and will not because they have warrants and are despised by local police.

When I return to the bar, while cranksters all celebrate my braining of Buford, Hubie, the only person not to vacate the bar, says, smiling into the mirror, “May Hubie please have a beer, Rick? Hubie needs a beer from his friend Rick. Rick is Hubie’s friend. Hubie likes Rick.”

Half an hour later I check on Buford just in time to see him wobbling down the middle of the main drag with a tennis ball sticking out of his forehead while drivers honk and steer slowly around him. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his mate, Wilbur, a very needy chocolate lab he rescued from the animal shelter. He is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice and is currently working on a book about his dad, The Ball Player’s Son.


Paranoia in the half-moon light

my shadow jumped outPITH.paranoia in the half moon light
from the corner

of the cemetery road
and it spooked me.

I laughed and fell
into a dream
of love

fearless of the moon
and the half-moon light

in the wet black sand

dripping diffuse
warm and blue

teasing out love
pulling down the tide

sweeping me off

my feet
until they

I gave my nakedness
to her beauty.

I am that willing
I am that overwhelmed

no longer afraid
no longer paranoid

in the half-moon light.

—Stacey Warde


(Summer Travel Tips from Ben Leroux)

Tip #1: “Don’t Be a Comedian”

IMG_0956Are you funny? When you’re in a hotel lobby, do you feel a calling—no, an obligation—to entertain those present with your comedic stylings? Well, this summer, as you and your family check into your favorite hotel, motel, or B&B, in your favorite vacation town, you might want to consider leaving your act in the car. What you consider funny, and brightening up the shift of a dreary-eyed frontdesk clerk, may in fact be having the opposite effect, and causing you more harm than good. Unless your objective is to turn that frontdesk clerk against you, for the duration of your stay, and perhaps for life, you might want to consider keeping your puns, riddles, one-liners, and double-entendres where they belong—inside your unimaginative, unoriginal, untalented brain and resist the temptation of acting like Ted Blankenship of Woodland Hills, California (standard double-queen, three nights, on an American Express, party of four). I’d barely pulled his arrival slip when he’d spotted the “No Pets Allowed” sign.

“Uh-oh,” he said, a cocksure golf-vested man of carefully parted hair.

“What is it, honey?” said a featureless woman of middle age, moving up next to him.

“Looks like you’re going to have to sleep in the car.”

“In the car? Why?”

Blankenship pointed to the sign. “No pets allowed,” he said.

A girl and a boy, 11 and 12 maybe, cupped their hands over their mouths to muffle their laughter. Soon Mrs. Blankenship caught the giggles and they were all laughing.

“Oh, Ted!” said Mrs. Blankenship.

“Daddy!” lisped the brace-toothed daughter. “You’re crazy!”

“He’s at it again!” said the crackle-voiced boy. “Yeah!”

Mrs. Blankenship stepped up to the counter, tears in her eyes. “I’m so sorry you have to deal with us. He’s like this everywhere we go.”

“It’s okay” I said. “Now, if I could just see a major credit card, I’ll get you checked into your—”

See?” said Blankenship. He had his AmEx out, holding it up from a distance, showing it to me.

“Ted, leave the poor man alone!” laughed Mrs. Blankenship.

“What? He said he wanted to see a credit card, so I’m letting him see one. Isn’t that what you asked for, Ben, to see a credit card? I’m sorry, Ben. I’m just kidding you.”

The AmEx came skidding across the counter. I caught it just before it fell and in one motion turned and swiped it through the credit card reader. I wanted to get Blankenship out of the lobby. Twice already I’d shot him my “look,” a look that was about ninety percent effective with lobby comics but hadn’t phased him in the slightest. The credit card machine was old and slow, giving Blankenship more stage time.

“Yeah, go ahead and run the card, Ben. It doesn’t have any money on it, but go ahead and run it. I found it in the parking lot.”

“My god, Ted!” said Mrs. Blankenship.

“He’s really on a roll!” lisped the Blankenship girl.

“I think it’s HILARIOUS!” said the beaming boy.

Mrs. Blankenship caught her breath and stepped forward. “You poor guy! We’re such a weird family!”

The AmEx cleared. I placed it on the counter, next to a pen for Shecky Greene to sign with.

“You’re alright, Ben,” Blankenship said. “You’re alright.”

He began signing his name in exaggerated cursive that filled the entire receipt. Each curve and loop drew little squeaks from the girl. When it came time to dot his “i,” Blankenship lifted the pen about a foot over the slip and let it drop, point first, like a falling dart. The ink hit the mark and the pen fell to the side. “There y’go, Ben. Want a DNA sample, now?”

That got the boy going, which got the mother and daughter going again, and I had to wait for them to quiet down before moving onto the amenities.  Few people listened to the amenities and even fewer remembered them, but hotel lobby comedians loved them. Each one was a potential laugh. I got as far as the hot tub with Blankenship.

“Clothing optional, I hope,” he interrupted. “My wife likes to skinny dip.”

“Ted!” gasped Mrs. Blankenship.

“Daddy!” spat the girl.

“He does it again!” beamed Junior. “Awesome!”

The man of the moment leaned over. In a confidential tone he said: “It’s true, Ben. She sees a hot tub, and off come the clothes.”

“Is that right?” I said.

“‘Is that right?’ Ben says.” Blankenship slapped the counter, took a couple steps away, returned. “Is that right. Ben, you’re priceless. I like you, Ben.”

“Thanks,” I said.

There wasn’t an amenity Blankenship didn’t have a cute little rhyme or wordplay for. He had cracks about the continental breakfast and the free movies, the microwavable popcorn and hot chocolate we provided in the rooms. I somehow got the Blankenships onto the elevator and up to their room, 206, though both 209 and 211 were vacant due to cancellations and identical to 206 except that their balconies didn’t face a fifty-foot crane from the boatyard across the street. Unfortunately, with his decision to be a hotel lobby comedian, Blankenship had set in motion certain frontdesk realities that were not reversible. I entered the Blankenships’ information on the computer, filed their registration slip, and went outside.

I leaned against a pillar and watched a sunset flatten behind the sandspit. The autumn air was coated with woodsmoke and sauteed onions from the seafood joints.  Life smelled good. It was my first night alone at my latest gig—Diggarinni’s Waterview Inn, a 24-roomer at the south end of the Embarcadero. It was no accident I’d ended up here. It was at my first hotel job, ten years ago, a job I’d hated immediately, and had only taken as a last resort, that I’d gotten my first taste of a thing called “downtime.”

CITY LIFE.DESK CLERKThis downtime, or “boredom” as it was also known, was a big problem for many frontdesk clerks, driving many of them to quit. I however, found I liked downtime quite well, and that it could be filled with the only activity I cared about in life, which was writing. Apparently, during these downtimes, hotels still needed people manning frontdesks in case there was a room to sell or a toilet to unplug. As I tasted more and more of this downtime, I began to formulate a mathematical theory that the smaller the hotel was, the less activity there would be, and therefore, more downtime, and I theorized that if I was patient, and kept an eye on Craigslist, that one day soon, I’d find a frontdesk job that was not only bearable, but enjoyable, one where I could finish my novel, Squeegee Road, a piece of work that was going to one day make the literary world forget it had ever heard of Jack Kerouac.

It took some time to work my way down. I worked 300- 100-, and 50-room hotels, and when the ad for Diggarinni’s Waterview Inn came up on Craigslist it was almost as if it had been written specifically for me. For some reason, I had a hard time getting an interview, but I didn’t let it deter me, and I kept going back until I got the job. After just a few moments at the tranquil little inn, consisting of only two floors of rooms,  I could tell that by reporting there five nights a week, I would finish it before the end of my first year, and now, after a week’s training, I was alone for the first time, taking advantage of my downtime. I sat at the little back desk, in front of my cheap laptop, and got to work. I was converting the thirty or so 5,000-word stories I’d had published in a local mag, into manageable 2,000-word chapters. It wasn’t that easy.  There was a lot of hunting and cutting to do, but there were so few interruptions that it was almost like working at home. Around 7:30 p.m., the Blankenship boy called, crackling and giggling about room service, then few minutes later asking what floor the casino was on, the old man coaching him in the background, but after that the only interruptions were the remaining arrivals, all of which were, like most hotel guests, decent, respectful, and cooperative, and since it was a slow night in October, they all received free upgrades to bigger, nicer rooms with better views. Around 9 p.m., I started the night audit—a major affair at most hotels, it took about ten keystrokes and fifteen minutes at the Waterview. I printed the results, locked up the lobby and hopped on my bike. On the way home, I stopped at Sixpacker Liquor for a bottle. By eleven I was on my couch in time for the start of The Daily Show With Jon Stewart.  I’d somehow scored a great apartment too—a writer’s apartment with a view of the Pacific. My luck was turning.

The next day I went in early. For the first time since my interview I was going to sit down and talk with my new boss, Brenda Fonee.  I liked her. She’d impressed me immediately with her calm confidence and personable, professional speech and appearance. She’d done it right, as far as I was concerned, working fifteen years at a sweet, manageable property like the Waterview. Let the stress-loving whackos work the monster hotels. I wanted to please this Brenda Fonee. I wanted her to think highly of me.

We started with small talk, getting to know each other, then Brenda began explaining to me why I’d had such difficulty getting an interview.  She’d wanted to hire me on the spot, but the other two frontdesk clerks, Lauren and Jenni-Jo, had fought her. They were in their twenties and uncomfortable with the idea of having a man in his forties on the staff.  Well, I guess I could understand it, but I wouldn’t turn my back on those two again. Throughout my training they’d both told me repeatedly how they’d lobbied to get me hired over Brenda’s reluctance. You just never knew. Next came Carl, the maintenance man. I’d already had my suspicions about him. He was an odd cookie. Brenda filled me in. He had “mental problems,”  was a liar, and anytime he didn’t get his way he ran to the owners to get her in trouble. The owners. They were another story. Howard and Goldie Diggarinni. Well, the hotel hadn’t been the same since Goldie, or “The Queen,” as Brenda called her, had taken over. Together, Carl and The Queen were making her life a living hell and driving her into early retirement. She was no longer allowed to manage like she wanted to, she could no longer take time off when she needed, and Carl wouldn’t listen to her. At times she felt like The Queen’s “nigger-bitch.”  It shouldn’t have been a big shock to me. Once you looked inside a place, no matter how tranquil it seemed on the outside, there was always dirt, somewhere.

Still, considering the asylums I’d worked in, the Waterview Inn would be ridiculously easy duty, and the faster I got at my job, the more downtime I’d earn for myself.  I was glad I’d come in early to talk to Brenda Fonee. She’d cut to the chase, let me know how things were. She ended our talk by promising me that she’d always protect me from Lauren and Jenni-Jo, and that she’d always protect me, Lauren, and Jenni-Jo from Carl and The Queen. When the talk was over, she asked me how my first night alone had gone.

“Smooth,” I said. “Except for the guy in 206—Blankenship. The comedian.”

“Oh, yes. I met him this morning. Some people just think they’re funny, don’t they? You know who’s funny? Glenn Beck.”

“Boy is he ever,” I said, glad to be sharing a light moment with my new boss. “In fact, without Glenn Beck, I don’t think Jon Stewart would even have a show. Half his material is just rolling tape of the guy. Did you see him crying the other day? Yeah, I can’t get enough of Beck.”

I was chuckling delightedly but they were chuckles I’d soon swallow, and it would be three years before I’d feel the full ramifications of the dizzying turn of events that was about to take place.  All I knew at the moment was that something was wrong. Brenda Fonee’s round maternal face was slackening, and her mouth was dropping ajar. A trap had been set, I’d tripped it, and the steel jaws were clamped tightly around my ankle and digging into bone. I wanted to shake it off. But just then, Carl the maintenance man came down the back stairwell, stepped into the office, and saw Brenda’s face.

“What?” he said.

Brenda was pointing at me, moving her lips, but nothing was coming out.

“What’s wrong?” said Carl. “What the hell’s going on?”

“He… he’s…” Brenda said, “H-he’s…a…Dem.

The first thing I saw was Squeegee Road flash before my eyesnot my job, or life, but Squeegee Road. I knew how much longer it would take to finish it, working a job with no downtime, and unless I did something quick, it was all over. I could tell by Brenda and Carl’s faces that this was a big deal. The two of them were on me like  a couple of mobsters.

“Howard and Goldie hate Dems,” Carl said.

“You wouldn’t have been hired if they’d known,” said Brenda.

“No,” said Carl. “You better not let them find out.”

The phone rang and I had to get up and take it. It was a reservation. While I was on the phone booking it, I could hear them behind me, keeping their voices low. I needed to get back there to straighten things up, explain that I was no Dem—that I was in fact nothing, nothing but a marginal small-town writer looking for a peaceful job with lots of downtime. But then an arrival came in, and then a walk-in, and then the UPS man, and by the time I got away from the counter, Carl and Brenda had gone home for the day, and I was left alone with a gnawing fear festering in the pit of my stomach.

I went outside to my pillar and leaned. Morro Rock was being outlined in pink fire, but I didn’t find it pretty.  I always failed to see traps until my foot was all the way in. Why was it that everywhere you went, someone was always pushing you into one camp or the other? If it wasn’t politics it was cliques, or sports teams.  Life wasn’t much different from prison. Even at little places like the Waterview you had to choose a gang.

I watched the sun fade, trying to sort things out. As the bay went inky I’d come to a couple conclusions. One was that these Diggarinnis were serious about politics and probably saw Jon Stewart, and anyone who watched him as a degenerate, treasonous enemy of the United States, and by extension, Morro Bay, which made the second conclusion easy: I was finished at the Waterview. Oh, I could probably stick it out for a year or so, but sooner or later shit would come down on me. Just like Blankenship, with one little wisecrack, I’d set in motion a little chain of realities that could not be undone, and Squeegee Road would have to go on the back burner again. I’d give Brenda my notice in the morning.

I went back in and sat down at the laptop. I had two weeks of downtime left and I wasn’t going to waste them. I could still get a a few stories converted.

But my fingers wouldn’t move. My brain was heating up with anger.

For starters, wasn’t over half the damn country Dem?

And unless we’d gone back in time, people who owned businesses no longer owned the people who worked in them. There was also a little thing called “symbiosis,” where people like me needed the Diggarinnis for their money and downtime, but people like the Diggarinnis needed people like me to sell their rooms and put up with people like Blankenship.

No, goddammit, I was not giving up my job at Diggarinni’s Waterfront Inn, with all its delicious downtime! Besides, I’d hardly see these people. Nobody wanted to be anywhere near a hotel after five o’clock, not even frontdesk clerks, which was why they were so valuable.  The Waterview and I were made for each other! And I suppose that if push came to shove, and my hand was forced by the Diggarinnis, I could stage a public conversion to the Right. Why not?  Last time I checked, the Dems weren’t paying my rent.

Suddenly my fingers were moving, laptop keys clacking and smoking. All a writer needed was a little peace, a little time. The cheap laptop could barely keep up with me! A short story was coming out. Lots of them were going to come out with all this downtime. Soon, I’d make people forget they’d ever read a Raymond Carver short. I typed and hammered. The only interruptions were the three or four remaining arrivals, all good docile guests, and around nine o’clock, a phone call.

“Thank you for calling Diggarinni’s Waterview Inn,” I answered. “This is Ben. How can I help you?”

Delivery?” It was a man’s voice, choppy.

“No,” I said “Diggarinni’s. Diggarinni’s Waterview Inn. May I help you?”

“Not delivery?”

“No, Diggarinni’s.”

“If it’’s not delivery, it must be DiGiorno.”

In the background, a female passenger was overcome with hysterical laughter, and the caller had begun laughing so hard he was now stuttering.

“W-we’ll t-take a pep-pep-pepperoni—ah, god, man, I can’t keep it up. Hey, this is Steve. Steve and Wendy? The Corbins?  We stay there all the time, usually in room—”

“Hey, Steve. Could I put you on hold for a second?”

“Sure, man, sure.”

Steve was going to be on hold a lot longer than a second.

There simply had to be consequences. By the sound of the connection, he’d be losing his signal any moment, and that time in the dark, winding mountains of the Central Coast would give him and Wendy time to think about their pizza prank. Besides, I couldn’t talk to babbling fools. Out the window, in the moonlight, I could see billows of fog nesting around the masts of sailboats, and another one circling Morro Rock like a gauzy porkpie hat. Harbor seals were barking themselves to sleep. I wasn’t going anywhere, baby. They’d have to fire me then physically remove me.

The next time I looked at the phone console, Steve and Wendy’s line was no longer lit up, which was a good thing that in the long run would make them better people. It was time for me to start closing.

But then I saw Blankenship and his boy getting off the elevator. They were on their way into the lobby with reddened, mischievous faces. Probably they’d been playing with elevator buttons on the way down. It was a popular father/son activity. Blankenship went over to our  pamphlet rack and the kid came to the counter by himself. He asked me for the catalog of our DVD movies. He leafed through a couple pages then asked me, with no fear whatsoever: “Do you have insomnia?” From the pamphlet rack, Blankenship snorted.

From what you’ve learned thus far, about hotel lobby comedians, from the perspective of a former frontdesk clerk, you can probably guess what the Blankenship boy was up to. Certain titles had double meanings if phrased a certain way, and if you asked someone if they had one of these titles, like “Insomnia,” “Doubt,” or “Sixteen Candles,” any answer could be used for further shenanigans. It was the kind of shit that entertained people like the Blankenships for hours on end and turned hotel frontdesk clerks against them. I even tried my “look” on the kid, but his affliction was hereditary. An adulthood of bad hotel rooms and overall sub-par service awaited him and his family to be. The problem that Abbot & Costello had was that they really had come down to select movies, for the family to watch over popcorn and hot chocolate, the perfect ending to a Morro Bay day of beachcombing and shopping, and they now had to rely on a frontdesk clerk that they’d tried to use for a goof, to issue them those DVDs. I took no pleasure in denying them their selections. I did not enjoy falsely apologizing that the movies had been checked out by other guests, and I received no satisfaction in watching Martin & Lewis walk sadly to the elevator with their two very bad movies from the 1990s. Part of me even wanted to run them down and give them the DVDs they’d asked for.

But sometimes it was just too late to go back. It was too late for Blankenship to go back to the moment he’d walked into the lobby as Henny Youngman, and it was too late for me to go back to the moments right before I’d stepped into Brenda’s Fonee’s trap, baited with a fresh steaming hunk of Glenn Beck.

That’s why it’s important, for any hotel guest this summer, and for future excursions as well, to keep in mind that no matter how funny you may find yourself, resisting the temptation of being a hotel lobby comedian may be the smartest decision you make. Before you make that first crack, stop and ask yourself if the few giggles you are about to receive are worth having your  DVD selection limited. Or whether a cute phone prank is worth being put on hold over, never be heard from again. Is being the center of attention for a brief moment worth being assigned to the only room in the hotel facing a fifty-foot crane?

You never know what kind of person might be greeting you from behind that frontdesk, welcoming you to their hotel. He or she could be perfectly stable, or recently driven crazy by hotel work, suffering from too much, or not enough, downtime, and been through things in the past 24 hours that you may not understand, things that have warped and bruised their senses of humor into rotting, acerbic callouses. Remember, too, that no frontdesk clerk is very highly paid.

Pedaling away from the Waterview that night, I saw who had to be Steve and Wendy Corbin, rolling down Embarcadero Street in their sportscar. They’d just spotted the darkened lobby and the NO VACANCY sign. I can’t tell you if they’d  miscalculated their travel time, or if they’d forgotten that their favorite hotel closed at ten, but I can tell you that they were no longer laughing. §

Ben Leroux keeps a low profile and works only those jobs that feed his writing habit.


Night Life in Happy Jack’s: El Niño’s coming! El Niño’s coming!

IMG_6070by Dell Franklin

Monday evening happy hour in notorious Happy Jack’s in Morro Bay and the usual crew along the bar—detached from the poolroom regulars and those scattered up front—and the topic of discussion is “El Niño,” the storm that pounded the area with a touch of disaster a few years back.

“No use stickin’ around here when El Niño hits,” states Eugene, a fisherman, “Cuz there ain’t gonna be no fishing. Might as well take a vacation—or go work at somethin’ else.”

“This El Niño’s supposed to be three times worse than the one in ’83,” claims Maggie, a 50ish woman with excess heft in her ass and bosom. “And IT damn near wiped us out.”

Chubby Estelle, Maggie’s fellow chain-smoker and best friend, says, “Don’t I remember! It rained 58 straight days, didn’t it?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” says Ed Stone, who lives with Estelle and has been on the wagon for months due to almost dying of alcohol poisoning and sips soda with lime and gazes at the Keno screen even though he’s a broke gambling addict helping to pay rent collecting cans. “I believe it wiped out the Cayucos pier and damaged some piers up and down the coast. I believe Cayucos was flooded, if I remember.”

Maggie nods. “Main drag was closed off, businesses flooded out.”

“I might go to Florida, try and fish there,” Eugene muses, holding up his empty mug. “Maybe try the Keys.”

“The Keys is nothin’ but a buncha goddamn queers,” offers Rafe Monk, known as One-eyed Pitbull, who hunkers over his chain of numerous keys, cigarettes, ash tray, change from a hundred dollar-bill, and a Stoli driver in a bucket.

“You can’t escape El Niño in Flor-uh-duh,” says Estelle. “El Niño’s got the whole world by the balls.”

You got that right,” Maggie says sourly.

Estelle giggles, grins, holds up her empty shot glass. She’s already survived a bout with cancer and started breeding at around 14 back in some hollow in Kentucky. Her kids are institutional parasites.

“I’ll tell yah one thing,” says Eugene, a strapping, rumpled man with swollen, enflamed eyes. “Fishin’s all haywire. Water’s so damn warm the albacore are only a mile off shore. Half the fleet’s down from Oregon and Washington pullin’ ‘em out like minnows. Hell, they’re half jumpin’ into yer boat. All those tuna fisherman out in the middle of the Pacific, they’re scrapin’ to survive.”

“Whole world’s cock-eyed,” agrees Maggie, squashing out another butt. I light her a new one. She coughs. “Goddamn pollution and the ozone layer,” she mutters, and coughs.

Estelle nods gravely. “Global warmin’, they call it, love.”

Stone nods, too, filling out a Keno card. “We’re gettin’ our comeuppance, it seems. Maybe we destroyed the goose laid the golden egg. Bad karma after hoggin’ all the resources on the planet and attacking dirt-poor, third-world countries.”

“Awh bullshit,” grouses Monk, a shrimper. Lacking front teeth, his incisors are formidable and his one eye flashes like a laser in a thick, mash-nosed mug topped off by a watch cap. “All them little bastards been leeching off us for years. Fuck ‘em.”

“I’ll tell yah one thing about tuna,” says Eugene. “That is one gnarly fish. You pull one of ‘em up and he’ll look yah right in the eye and tell yah it ain’t gonna be no picnic, he’ll kick yer ass. I gotta lotta respect for that fish.”

“There ain’t gonna be many of the poor fishies left the way this El Niño is going,” laments Estelle.

“Water’s so warm,” nods Maggie. “It’s killin’ ‘em all off.”

“I feel sorry for them poor people live up north on the Russian River, the way THEY get flooded out every year, with just a little bitty rain. They might be run out to sea.”

“Serves “em right,” says Walt, a fisherman at the corner of the bar, hunched over a draft. “There’s just a bunch-a queers up there anyhow. All them Frisco fags got the AIDS. It’s God’s way at getting’ back at ‘em for doin’ things ass-backwards and spreadin’ disease to normal folks.”

Monk, on perhaps his third pack of non-filter Camels, spits tobacco shreds off his tongue, and nods. “I laugh my ass off every time those butt-stuffers get flooded out.”

“You catchin’ any fish lately, Walt?” asks Eugene.

“Hell no. Boat’s down. I’m just drinkin.’”

Sheila, around 30, and only a little jiggly and nubile and fair-skinned like a Botticeli painting, always broke and looking for a job but picky about taking one, says, “I remember El Niño. It rained so hard every day we got washed out of our house. We got evacuated and had to live with my aunt in Atascadero.” She makes a glum face. “Atascadero sucks.”

“I’ll tell yah one thing,” Eugene says, holding up his empty beer mug and glancing down at Walt. “There’s no rush like hookin’ onto a 30-pound tuna and fightin’ that sonofabitch. He’ll come right out of the water and half onto your boat and look you in the eyeball and tell yah it’s gonna be hell to pay. He’ll tear you apart.”

Walt grunts. “Yeh yeh.”

“Whyn’t yah come out with me and do some real work and make some real bank, Eugene? I’m about fed up to the gills with One-Trip Dick and Weasel Frazier and his so-called shot-off dick. Been lookin’ for both of ‘em for two days. I can’t pay ‘em more than half their wages or I won’t see ‘em for a week, they might end up in jail.”

“I’m doin’ okay down at Virgil’s, Rafe. Make decent tips baiting up the tourists. Plus, I score a woman time to time.”

“Suit yourself.”

“I hear El Niño’s bobbing on the equator and takes up a third of the world,” Maggie states. “It’s like this monster jellyfish of hot gas, just comin’ at us!”

“I bet we get washed out,” Sheila says, appearing personally aggrieved. She loves drama. She had a relationship with this maggot named Jerome who sat in with certain bands as some sort of guitarist and tried to get on here as a bartender before I sabotaged his chances with the owner. He dealt drugs, was one minute deeply in love with Sheila and the next being a playboy, so she broke up with him and paraded this dullard named Marvin in front of him, reportedly the first guy Sheila dated in ages with a real job. This dork never had a woman devour him like Sheila, and when Jerome got jealous and wooed her back, this dork went crazy, broke into the pad Sheila and Jerome shared and beat Jerome up and set his long precious curly hair on fire and disappeared from Morro Bay. The whole ordeal was on the local TV news, with Sheila putting on a good show of emotion. “I hope I don’t hafta move back to Atascadero. They only got two bars and thirty-five churches.”

I keep mixing drinks and pouring beer and pushing Keno cards and emptying ash trays and mopping down the bar. “And the waves!” spouts Estelle, gloomy. “They’ll be like…tidal waves.”

“Tsunamis,” Stone corrects.

“…They’ll wash all our itty bitty houses off the beach. If it flooded Cayucos in ’83, how’s it gonna be if it’s three times worse?”

“What I hear is it’s five to ten times worse,” Eugene says. “It’ll be so rough at sea, nobody’ll try and fish.”

“Who gives a shit,” Walt says. “Christ, I’ve survived worse. It’s only a goddamn storm.”

“We had three feet of water in our house,” Sheila is telling Estelle and Maggie, who sort of look after her, though Maggie, unlike Estelle, will not loan her money or buy her a drink or put her up for a night and castigates Estelle in private for doing so. Sheila, after more ups and downs with the maggot Jerome, actually married a Mexican immigrant who held three jobs and ran off with him to Las Vegas and came back a year later skinny as a rail and claiming she had a mysterious disease no doctor had ever heard of or cured. “Everything I owned was ruined or destroyed. I had to start all over.”

“I hope it’s not like what you see on TV when all them rivers overflow, like the Mississippi,” Estelle says. “All them doggies and kitties on rooftops and volunteers savin’ the poor, scared little things, and everybody’s house underwater and all their treasures ruined. That’s so sad.” Near tears, she holds up her empty shot glass, and I fill it with her usual—cinnamon Schnapps. I pat her hand. “Wouldn’t that be terrible if it happened to US? It always happens to THEM, but I don’t want it to happen to us, because we’re all friends and we LOVE each other.”

“Them goddamn queers up in Frisco gonna be scurryin’ like a pack of rats,” says Walt, managing his first corroded smile. “I got a good notion to go on up there and pick a few of ‘em off with my Remington. Damn El Niño’s probly gonna cost me huntin’ season anyhow. Shit.”

“I’ll tell yah another thing,” says Eugene. “You go up to Alaska and fish salmon, those big bastards’ll pull yer ass right on outta the goddamn boat! They’ll come right on outta the water and give you the evil eye like that goddamn man-eating monster in that movie, JAWS. I ain’t bullshittin’ about that.”

“Settle down for Chrissake,” Monk grouses out of the side of his mouth. “That goddamn movie was bullshit anyway.”

“Hollywood faggots don’t know doodly squat about the goddamn fishin’ industry,” Walt tells Monk. Before getting his own boat, Walt worked for Monk but couldn’t take it, joining a long list of deck hands who couldn’t deal with Rafe’s hard-bitten and tyrannical ways. He lifts his empty mug and scratches the ears of his majestic and powerful Chesapeake who is beloved on the waterfront and known to dive to the deepest of depths to fetch anything Walt desires. “Movies are bullshit anyway. I ain’t gone to one in thirty years.”

Monk motions to Sheila, who’s a few stools down. “Come on over here, doll.” Sheila raises off her stool and wiggles that tender ass and places her hands across her ample chest like a helpless little girl. He hands her a sawbuck. “Get me another pack of Camels and have one yourself.” She pecks him on the cheek, takes the bill and heads for the cigarette machine beside the video games. “Give her a shot and a beer,” Monk tells me. “And gimme a refill.” I mix his drink, pour out a shot of Jack and a beer for Sheila, and when she returns with his cigarettes, monk hands her another sawbuck. “Go play somethin’ on the juke, somethin’ to drown out the bullshit in this shit-hole.” He flashes his incisors. She bolts her shot like a longshoreman and heads to the juke.

While Sheila pumps the juke, an apparition materializes through the back door in the person of long, lanky, heavy-bearded Joe Farraday, in his usual pea coat and watch cap. Monk glances at him with venom, sips his drink, turns away as Farraday sidles up beside Walt, who motions me to give Farraday a beer. Farraday pets Hugo, the Chesapeake, who’s up on his hind legs licking his face, and flashes me a smile that’s more like a dog either sneering or growling before attacking. He has worked on and off for Monk for years, been fired at least twenty times, has actually fought Monk here in Happy Jack’s and on his boat.

After I serve Farraday, who shakes my hand and addresses me as “honey,” I wander down to Monk, who’s waved me over.

“Give the worthless rotten prick a shot of Jack,” he says, still not looking in his direction. “Think he’s been in jail. Probly the best accommodations he’s had in years.” He puffs his cigarette. “He’ll end up eating his own shit.”

I lean against the bar holding a shot of chilled vodka and watch Estelle and Sheila fairly swoon as they attached themselves to Farraday with huge, warm hugs. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his mate, Wilbur, a very needy chocolate lab he rescued from the animal shelter. He is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice and is currently working on a book about his dad, The Ball Player’s Son.