Monthly Archives: July 2014

The real shame of American culture


A woman at the thrift shop today asked me if I was homeless.

I had just pulled a pair of Levi jeans off the rack, and a book on writing I’d discovered off the shelf and placed them before her.

“Do you take credit or debit cards?” I asked.

“No, I’m sorry,” she said, “We only take cash. We’ve just had too many problems with cards. That’ll be four dollars.”

I didn’t have any cash on me. I thought my card would do the trick.

Then, she asked: “Are you homeless?”

“Um, no,” I replied. I wore a uniform T-shirt with the company logo of the landscape outfit I work for and sported a pair of pruners in a holster on my belt. I’m a laborer but I’m not homeless, I said.

We just made a quick stop between jobs so that I could find a cheap pair of work pants.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” she responded. “I thought you might be homeless. We sometimes can give items free to customers who are homeless.”

This is a church-run outfit in Los Osos, one that provides income for the church and opportunities to serve the poor.

“Well, I’m not homeless,” I said, “but thanks for asking.”

“I’d be offended if someone had asked me if I was homeless,” she said apologetically.

“Really?” I said quickly, incredulous. “Why be offended? Especially in this economy. No, there’s no need to feel ashamed, not for being homeless” I added, the fires burning, “the people who need to feel ashamed are the Wall Street bankers who’ve robbed this country blind for the last ten years.”

She wouldn’t look at me, refused to engage further in my fulmination against the real shame of American culture: it isn’t homelessness but greed. That’s why this country is so fucked up.

That’s why a church woman intending to do well, to serve the poor, would feel offended if someone had asked her if she were homeless.

The more homelessness and child poverty, the more shame to those who hoard their wealth. The real crux of shame in American culture is greed, not poverty.

All that comes to mind, when I think of it, are the French Revolution and peasants who tear down the ramparts and bring to ruin the elite, the effete aristocracy, who would let the poor eat cake rather than deign to show compassion; and the biblical lament, “Woe to you who hoard your riches and refuse to hear the cry of the poor!” §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice. For a more extended version of this essay, visit

Through the window of a train

city-life.through-the-window-of-a-train.IMG_7206by Stacey Warde

Mom called me once to ask if I’d like to come to a party she wanted to throw for a bunch of old pals. She called it a “Geezer Gathering,” made up of high school friends from more than 50 years ago.

“No, not really, mom. That doesn’t sound like a lot of fun,” I told her.

“Well, would you consider coming down to help me set up?”

“OK, sure, mom. I’ll go to your geezer gathering.”

So, I jumped on the train for a six and one-half hour journey along the rickety Amtrak rail to the Santa Ana station, not far from mom’s old Victorian home in Tustin where I grew up and where she planned to have her party. I’m closing on the geezer range myself; mom was just 17 when I was born. I had plenty to ponder as I got on board the train.

The ride along the pristine California coastline that morning was hypnotic, the noise of the train and chatter of passengers muffled by a modern remake of “The Music of Thelonious Monk” jangling through the ear buds plugged into my laptop. It’s heavenly to turn off the world like that, listen to music, drink coffee and peer out the window of a fast moving train.

Even with this technology at my fingertips, however, a laptop at my disposal, I felt “old school.” No tablet, no smart phone, no iPad, just a clunky old laptop and cheap cell phone with pay-as-you-go service. No special features anywhere on my person—unless you’re looking for something non-digital.

The train is generally a good ride, if for no other reason than you don’t have to worry about driving through LA traffic or paying for gas, the view is nice, and it’s easy to tune out the world if you like, indulge in a book, bury yourself in a story, become an obsessive-compulsive thumber, texting nonsense to anyone who will pay attention, or simply take a nap over the hum of the rails.

That day, however, I ignored the passengers as much as possible. I didn’t feel like being social, even though I’m generally a social person and was feeling a touch lonely. Things hadn’t been going so well at home. I needed to get away and so this trip was a welcome diversion from my dysfunctional life.

A cute but annoying little girl swung her legs in the aisle, supporting herself on the seats in front of me, pushing up with her hands, lifting her weight and swinging her legs back and forth. Her grandma ate donut holes and peered at the rugged coastal terrain through the window, paying little attention to the girl. Close they were, but occupying two completely different worlds, I thought.

For some reason, the view from the train that morning evoked a nostalgic kind of hope, the sort of hope I knew and indulged more as a younger man, when the world seemed larger, filled with new and endless possibilities. Wispy clouds turned pink in the distance and the morning light grew bolder, another day of promise rising with the sun. Back in the day, I’d see opportunity everywhere I looked.

As I get older, I’m sadly learning, the possibilities seem to get narrower, and less inviting. I’ve noticed how much more difficult it is for older, boomer types like myself to get too hopeful, especially now with the economy as doubtful and uncertain as it ever was, but even more so as we turn gray and decrepit.

But that day, if it’s not hope that I felt, there was at least the suggestion of something like hope, a mystery, anyhow, that wasn’t shrouded and foreboding but perhaps even gleaming, putting a different—if not new—light on things. I couldn’t put my finger on it. But I knew things were changing. Perhaps it had something to do with breaking up my routine, the sense that I could not go on like I had been, feeling depressed and trapped. What it was, I did not know. Or maybe it was how the light played through the shimmer of gray marine layer hugging the coastal line as the train turned heavily toward the Pacific Ocean.

The Pacific, under the glare of light and thick marine layer, summer grey and wet, popped in and out of view through the train window as we rolled further south, stopping momentarily at the Lompoc station, the misty morning holding down the coastline under a white blanket of timelessness. It’s hard to tell time in this coastal purgatory of summer mist. Is it still morning, or afternoon?

In either case, the landscape of scrub oak, green cypress, marshes, and sea birds dropping into view out of the mist kept bringing me back to the present moment—the only moment I know that has any real possibilities—as I looked out the train window.

I wondered at the long, long line of old fence posts tilted and worn, no rails or wire between them, holding nothing, just standing awkwardly erect, one after the other, for a distance that seemed absurd. It was a ghost fence that ran along the tracks between the train and the ocean below. What could that fence line have been built for? How long has it been standing like that with nothing to hold or keep out?

I had other absurdities on my mind as well. My girlfriend of seven years said we should end our love affair. We should try living as roommates, she said, until one of us decides to move. I wanted to move; so, I guess, did she. Neither of us could really afford it. We were both broke, held together by another sort of ghost fence.

“Get out now!” a friend told me. “You’ll be sorry if you don’t.”

I thought he was being alarmist, a little melodramatic, as friends can be when they’re watching out for you. I didn’t know that he’d gone through a similar breakup. I didn’t know that he also had kept separate rooms in the same house with his former girlfriend—for nearly six months.

“It was fine until she started fucking the guy she left me for in the room next to mine,” he told me. “You better get out when you can, dude.”

Not long before I hopped on the train, she asked if I’d thought about finding another place. It’s a good idea, she suggested. It’s nothing personal, she assured me, and I believed her, it’s what’s best.

As I looked out the train window, and pondered the flight of a distant heron, the message sank in: It’s over, it’s time for me to move on, and I’m a lot older now than I was seven years ago when we started, the possibilities for lifelong companionship narrowing ever more precipitously. Ah, the end of another conjoining of minds and bodies that could only wrap themselves into a tangled web of tears and unhappiness instead of blissful companionship.

“We’re not right for each other,” she said.

All those years, we kept pushing the wrong buttons, couldn’t seem to find the right ones, and each time it got so messy and hurtful and confusing.

“I don’t want you to feel sad,” she said.

I wouldn’t feel sad if I wasn’t a bit touched, hounded by a confusing mix of the cynic and the romantic, always hoping, always doubting. It’s a curse, really. I don’t know where it comes from but the tension between hope and doubt seems always to bring my relationships to ruin. I did feel sad.

As the train rolled on, I could feel myself moving on, drifting, searching, hoping, doubting.

“So, you gonna find yourself another cute hot young thang—huh?” an older friend asked after I’d told her that my gal, nearly 20 years younger, wanted to separate.

“I’m not looking, really. I’m happy to be a free agent, that’s all.”

My friend moved her body close to mine, and put her lips next to my ear: “You like young pussy, don’t you?” she whispered.

I gagged. Well, that’s not the only thing, I stammered.

Yes, I thought, my gal’s young, and beautiful, no doubt, but she’s smart and caring and, for some damn reason, we couldn’t get along very well. We agreed on that. We had some fine moments amid the turmoil and troubled times. I seldom felt the difference in our ages, only when the occasional stranger mistook her as my daughter. Sex wasn’t the only thing that kept us together.

Still, it felt absurd, in a way, if not entirely liberating, to be moving on, at least at that point in my life, where I wanted to be more settled, and it becomes clearer by the moment that my days are numbered, that soon I will also be a geezer. I tried not to think too hard that life is short, or at least not get morbidly obsessed with the idea, just acknowledge the fact, that I’m older now. I’m no spring chicken, as mom likes to remind me, and it’s quite possible that I will remain alone.

No one my age wants to be alone. I learned this a long time ago from an older friend, a monk, whose entire life was dedicated to celibacy, solitude and prayer.

“The thing I fear most,” he said of death, “is that no one will notice that I’m gone.”

Even in his solitude, he wished not to be alone or forgotten. Even in that final separation through death, he wished to be remembered.

I had high hopes, and so did my young girlfriend, that we could work things out, work through our troubles and stay together until the end—and be remembered. Along the way, perhaps, we both knew it wasn’t going to work, but we’re stubborn, and kept at it, and maybe, in the end, our stubbornness is what brought us to that painful juncture of breaking away.

Now, I’m left with this thought: “Why did I hold on for so long? Will I soon be living in a trailer park, sad, lonely, broken up and finished like so many other geezers who grow old and die in their aluminum fire traps without so much as a hint of their loss?”

Or what about this thought: “Will the white blanket of timelessness that has obscured my view of things and seemed to rule my mind then be swept away, as the coastal breezes outside the train window now lift the misty veil, to uncover lighter, more hopeful possibilities? Are any possibilities left?”

The damned romantic and cynic in me were at it again, stirring up the ridiculous inner tension between hope and doubt, as the train rolled on. Where do these feelings come from?

At the geezer gathering, I’d be co-host with mom to a party of older folks, but not much older, people in their 70s who are closer to the precipice than I am, whose view of any sort of timelessness or aloneness is probably much sharper and more poignant than my own. Perhaps that precipitous view is where the romantic and cynic in me may actually, one day, finally find common, quiet ground.

Like my monk friend, in death I fear not being remembered; in life, I fear being alone.

I looked through the train window into the distant fields where farm workers hunched low from the waist to pick strawberries. I ate a piece of strawberry with my yogurt that morning; it was surprisingly sweet and delicious. The breeze outside the train finally broke up the timeless white sheet of marine layer into patchy clouds and blue haze, a perfect August day along the Pacific Ocean. The beaches of Southern California were assuredly crowded by then as the train barreled down into L.A. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice.

Night life in Happy Jack’s: Mitzi comes to the rescue


Editor’s note: This episode of Dell Franklin’s “Night life in Happy Jack’s” is the first chapter of a book he’s written, titled “Bartender.”

by Dell Franklin

Sunday evening in Happy Jack’s Saloon in Morro Bay and they’ve been at it all day in the murky crumbling grotto, sharks and barracuda and minnows swarming in the cavernous dank dark tank. Some in this crowd have been up for days without sleep or nourishment and are engrossed in babbling conversations or playing pool in the area off the back door or jerking spasmodically at video games up front where horrific sounds of mayhem mingle with the reverberating beat and wailings from the jukebox at nonstop full volume—as requested by the riffraff.

I’m nipping. By 9 p.m.,  I’ve had my burrito from down the street and topshelf vodka makes everything copacetic. Earlier I’d had to deal with little Johnny at the urgency of even some of the most gnarly fisherman, because Johnny, no longer employable as a deckhand, was walking around bare-footed like a somnambulist, dreamy smile on his face, making small-talk with terrified barflies while a rod with a Dirty Harry barrel protruded loosely from his belt line, as if the baggy over-sized Hawaiian shirt could hide it!

Anybody who looks into Johnny’s eyes recognizes cornered animal darkness. “Please,  get that crazy person outta here!” begged Mitzi, the former stripper gone a little chunky around the edges but still with the best walk in town. “He’s scarin’ the shit outta me, and I don’t scare easy.”

“Who do you think I am? Clint Eastwood? Take him to bed, Mitz.”

“You’re NOT funny, Dell! Look, everybody’s freaked!”

I eventually motioned Johnny over like an old pal. He came to the end of the bar where I leaned on the board that lifts so one can go in and out without ducking under. I offered my hand. His soft shake and stare unnerved me. We’d hardly talked before.

Johnny, how yah doin’, man? Everything cool with you?”

“Right on, I’m way cool…,” his voice far, far away.

“Look, I don’t want anybody fuckin’ with you, Johnny. I’m here to watch over you, bro’. I don’t want any asshole tryna take your piece away from you, man. That’s YOUR rod, man.”

“Thanks, man. I appreciate that.”

“So what I’d like to do, to be on the safe side, is I’d like to hide your rod in the safe in the office, you know, lock it up, and then you can have your drink and enjoy yourself without worrying about some asshole hasslin’ you over it, or callin’ the heat, bro’.”

Like a child, he asked, “You think it’s a good idea, bro’?”

“I do, Johnny.”

“Okay, bro’. You’re the boss. It is what it is.”

My arm around Johnny, I walked him into the office. He handed me his rod, which I carefully placed in the safe. “See, Johnny, now your piece is safe, bro’.”

“Thanks, man.”

Back in the bar, Johnny resumed his sleep-walking, slow-talking, directionless prowl and everything was fine. Somebody bought him a drink. I got very busy. Around 10 p.m., he was at the end of the bar.

“Bro’, I need my piece. I’m leavin’.”

“You got it, bro’.”

Happy Jack’s is the oldest bar in the county, has a reputation from Alaska to San Diego for its wild brawls, which over the years have involved knifings, bludgeon-bashing and shootings. And here I am, a fisherman’s bartender who hates fishing and fish, suffers chronic seasickness, fears water, and is allergic to drudge work, which they all know, but as long as I pour good drinks when they want them and manage to keep the peace when it counts, I am accepted grudgingly though, at this point, deservedly disrespected.


So this late crowd forges on, propelled by the powder. The fishermen have cash, and the sea hags yap continuously. Yet cropping up is a new paranoia: A couple from Fresno that nobody likes and seem inauthentic bikers. It’s the female spreading the panic, a glaring moll with an astounding pair of jugs and ass in tight jeans. Again, it’s Mitzi who’s at the bar.

“What’s with THAT dish?” she asks.

“She came up to me, and commented how everybody in here is either drunk out of their minds, zonked on downers, or buzzed to the max on coke or crank. When I shrugged, she asked ME what I was gonna do about it. I told her this was Happy Jack’s in Morro Bay, which meant we were unusual, and I was not the DEA, and she informed me she was a police officer from Fresno.”

“No shit?”

“I asked if she was on duty. She warned me not to mess with her, even if she was off duty, because she’s still the law. I told her there were other bars in town. She just gave me a filthy look and walked off with her Miller Lite. Didn’t even leave a tip, but the husband in leather vest and chaps did.”

Mitzi peers at the lady cop as she chews on her man in the poolroom. “She’s too gorgeous to be a cop; unless she’s undercover as a hooker or porno queen. She’s really hard, Dell.”

“Maybe you can soften here up, ey, Mitz?” I leer.

Five minutes later, Mitzi engages her in conversation. Mitzi is in black heels, black jeans, black V-necked T-shirt, her jet-black hair curved like crow’s wings at her chin, highlighting her cheekbones.

The cop suddenly lashes out at her man and he throws up his hands and storms out of the poolroom and out of the bar and across the street to the Circle Inn, our competition and my former employer. The cop grits her teeth, steaming. Meanwhile, Mitzi catches my eye as she sort of leads the woman toward the area where I’d previously visited with Johnny and motions me over. When I arrive, the cop glowers at me. I stand before the two women drumming my fingers on the bar as the joint fills up as usual on Sunday nights with off-duty wait-people and bartenders from restaurants down on the embarcadero, three blocks away.

Mitzi whispers in the cop’s ear and she opens her purse and reluctantly tosses a twenty on the bar and Mitzi takes my hand and whispers in my ear, “Two Miller Lites and two shots of Goldschlager.”

I do as told while regulars along the 22 wobbly stools wave bills and hold up glasses to get my attention. I make change and, before the cop can snatch her money, Mitzi flips me two dollars and I cram it in my crowded snifter and move down the bar to wait on two young sweeties from the Sea Horse Bar & Grill, Tiffany and Kelly. Just old enough to drink, they are now cocktailing and adorable and make big-time tips and come here on Sunday nights to slum and be outraged as they become indoctrinated into the serious bar society in Morro Bay. I prepare their foofoo drinks and they smile and tip appropriately and I tread the boards and when I look down to the end of the bar Mitzi smiles impishly and waggles her index finger at me and points to the bottles and shot glasses and I do it again and, before the cop can snatch change from a new twenty, Mitzi flips me three dollars.

During a lull, I slip out from behind the bar to collect glasses and bottles piling up in the poolroom and on tables and ledges in the lounge area off the dance floor and band stage. I place them all on the bar for future disposal or washing and when I arrive at the end of the bar Mitzi and the cop are facing each other and Mitzi has her hand on her shoulder like a comforting sister and the shrew seems to be softening ever so slowly. When Mitzi points to the bottles and glasses I quickly fill the order and, this time the cop doesn’t try to snatch her money, and Mitzi flips me a sawbuck and puts a sympathetic hug on her before they turn back to the bar.

One of the diminutive Mexican immigrants in the poolroom catches my eye and nods at me and heads to the john, which is down the hall away from the poolroom and past the office. I wait a minute and join him pissing in twin commodes as he shoves two spoonfuls of coke under my nose. I snort hard, feeling the dust shoot up my nostril and down my throat. When I return to the bar, Mitzi has her hand on the cop’s ass and her middle finger riding up under her snatch.

Back behind the bar I down a double shot to even out the immediate rush and then wait on and schmooze with a couple off-duty harbor patrol guys and a fisherman named Homer Carp, and the next time I look up Mitzi and the cop are gone. Tiffany motions me over with a cutesy-cutesy smile she charms the old droolers in the Sea Horse with. “Can you please please watch our drinks, Mr. Super bartender, sir? We’re going to the little girls room.”

“Sure, babies.”

About two minutes later Tiffany and Kelly scurry up to the bar looking like they saw a ghost. Tiffany, hands on hips, stern as a schoolmarm, exclaims, “Do you know what’s going on in the lady’s room, sir?”

“No I don’t.”

“There’s two naked women in there, and that Mitzi, she’s on her knees eating the other woman’s pussy!”

I shrug. “Well, shit happens in Happy Jack’s.”

“Shit HAPPENS? That all you have to say? You CONDONE it?”

“Not necessarily, no, but nor do I disapprove,” I explain, pouring myself one more, lifting it in a mindless salute, and to what I do not know, and certainly not lesbian shenanigans in the head. With glee, I down it.

She glances at Carp and the harbor patrol boys, then back at me. “You don’t DIS-approve? What would you do if two men were in the men’s room and one was giving the other a blow job?”

“I’d throw their asses out!” I snarl. “Happy Jack’s is not a gay bar!”

“Oh, but it’s okay with women, right?” Very sassy.

“Look,” I say, trying to be reasonable. “Sex between two men is repulsive, and it spreads AIDS. But two women? I find that sensual and exotic and…titillating. It really turns me on.”

They slam down their drinks and storm out. They’ll be back another time.

Meanwhile, half an hour later, Mitzi and the cop, who looks like she’s been tranquilized with an ecstasy pill, are headed toward the front swinging doors, possibly to find a motel room, if I know Mitzi. The husband comes in later, asking around for his woman, but nobody gives him a straight answer. The last words to me from Mitzi, before they left, with a wink, were: “I own this bitch. I’m gonna make a real woman outta her.” §

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: Moolyaks

IMG_6070by Dell Franklin

Jessi, my fellow bartender, pulls me aside on a busy Friday night around 10, the band on a break. She points at the two men sitting on my end of the bar, up front. “Dell,” she says, stressing, “those guys gimme the creeps. They scare me.”

For a woman as blustery, foul-mouthed and often intimidating and confrontational as Jessie, she is easily spooked. Blond Amazon ex-nude stripper and biker moll from down south, her sensing of danger leads to immediate panic; one minute cloyingly needy, the next she has physically attacked men and women in this bar. I see her point with these two guys—the way they stare at women—but so far I have managed to build a sort of rapport with them, if that is possible.

“They’re from Crescent City, Jess,” I explain. “They’re commercial fishermen and loggers. They’re down here for the albacore run.”

“But all the boys are out fishin’,” she says. “Even my Bruce, with his bad back, he’s fishin’.” She stares at the men. She’s got a voice like a meat-grinder from booze, smokes and drugs. “Dell, they look like those apes they showed us in high school.”

“You mean, Neanderthals.”

“Yeh! Like…gorillas. They got weird, slitty eyes. They don’t look like other people. They don’t even look like Rafe Monk. I wish Rafe was here. Those guys give me the willies.”

Fact is, these two are giving a few folks up front a case of the heebie-jeebies. There are crude wooden booths adjacent the tables ringing the dance floor, and sitting in one closest to the door, directly behind the Neanderthals, are two slumming yuppie couples I’d guess are in their thirties. They sip foofoo drinks and left me two quarters instead of a dollar or two as tip, which immediately places them on my shit list.

The man who ordered the drinks has perm-frizzed hair and eyeglasses and keeps gazing over at me as if to get my attention as one of the thugs turns in their direction and says something to the table. Both men are around thirty-five, probably stand 5 feet 9 inches, and their squat, thick trunks hold block heads on no-neck shoulders. In Levi’s and tank-tops, heavily tattooed, their eyes possess a challenging surliness

The women in the booth are attractively presented and well endowed, and when I ask Jessi if she thinks their boobs are real, she says with decisive defiance, “They’re phony. Mine are real, baby. I’m thirty-six and my titties still stand tall and proud.” She grins at me. She wears a red skin-tight mini-skirt and halter top exposing cleavage. “Those high-end bitches think their shit don’t stink. They oughta be down on the embarcadero in the fancy joints. Let’s do a shot, honey.”

We do shots of Crown Royal, her preference. The thugs leer at me. I mosey over to them after mixing some drinks. One of them has short blond hair and blunt, snubbed features, while the other has long greasy black hair and could be part Indian. The blond says, “That’s yer wife, huh? You own this joint?”

“Nah, don’t own anything, pal.”

“She yer woman?”

“Nah. Just work together.”

“That’s some woman. Reminds me of the barmaid at the Bear Flag in Moss Landing.”

“I’ve heard that before.”

“Them two fags in the booth behind us, they mouth off t’ me one more time I’m gonna kick ass. Me and Shep, we don’t take no shit from no man.”

Shep adds, “Them bitches, they give us the come-on, man.”

I offer my hand to Jed, the blond, and then shake with Shep. Jessi, mixing highballs, watches. “Welcome to Morro Bay,” I say, my hand still feeling their crushing grips, which I matched. “Try and ignore those folks.”

I get busy. The frizzy-haired yuppie comes up for another round. Makes sure to wedge in at the middle of the bar, places his order. I fill it. He pays, leaving fifty cents. Then he leans forward, peers down the bar at my new friends, who are eyeing us, and says, “Those two sub-humans, you shouldn’t be serving them; they’re really too drunk. Isn’t there a policy on cutting people off these days?”

I fold my arms. “I have my own policy. This is Happy Jack’s.”

“The blond bozo, he flicked his tongue at my lady and grabbed his crotch. They’re bad news. You’re the bartender here. If this were my bar, I’d have those two out of here before they start big trouble. Don’t you have a bouncer?”

“No. Sometimes the fishermen help, but they’re all out to sea.”

“Well, I’m an attorney in San Luis Obispo, and my advice right now is to get the cops in here and get those two out of here for lewd behavior.” He hands me a business card from his wallet. “This is your responsibility. I’m holding you to that. Those two are beyond offensive. They’re downright…ghoulish.” He issues me a look of disappointment and takes his drinks back to his table.

The thugs, who’ve watched our conversation, motion me over. “What’d that faggot tell yah?” Jed asks.

I fold my arms. “He thinks you’re making a pass at his wife.”

Shep almost comes off his stool. “She done made a pass at US!”

“She give us the goo-goo eye,” Jed adds.

“She wants it,” Shep maintains. “Them girly boys ain’t givin’ her no play. They starvin’ for real men.”

Jed grins at me. “Where we come from, them punks be fucked over already.”

I place my palms wide apart on the bar and lean forward. “Look, best thing to do, if those babes really got the hots for you, is wait for them to make THEIR move. Right now you can’t be horning in on ‘em if they’re sitting with those stiffs.”

“We gotcha.” Jed says. “We don’t aim to make no trouble for YOU. We just wanna get laid, and if we can’t do that, we wanna get in a good fight.”

Shep grins. He’s missing two teeth on the side and his nose is dented. “We rather fuck than fight.”

They order another round. I mix it, bring it over. The band starts up. Now the lawyer comes to the middle of the bar. “You’ve lost control of your bar, mister. Those two apes are taking over, and you’re allowing it. They are blatantly sticking their tongues out and grabbing their crotches and making obscene comments to our girl friends. If YOU can’t get rid if them, I’LL call the cops.”

“You’ll sit your ass back down and do nothing of the sort,” I tell him. “You don’t tell me how to run my bar, motherfucker.”

“Oh that’s cool, calling me a ‘motherfucker.’ Lots of class. Look, anything happens to us with those bozos, we’ll sue this bar and you, especially.” He issues me a withering you’d better-believe-I-can fuck-up-your-life look, and adds. “You’re afraid to stand up to those apes and protect your clientele.” He walks back to the booth with his drinks.

Jessi is beside me. My hands are shaking. My stomach flip-flops and roils with heat. “Dell, I feel big trouble comin’, honey. Let’s do a shot.”

We do shots. Jed is now at the booth asking the girl with the lawyer to dance, I would guess. I quickly move past Jessi and out from behind the bar and push through the crowd to the booth, where Shep stands beside Jed as they have words with the lawyer and his friend while their women shrink in mortal fear. I get between them. Frizzy hair stands and starts in on me about taking charge.

“Sit the fuck down!” I roar at him.

He sits down.

“This is my bar! I’m bartender! You keep to your profession and shut your hole, mister, this is MY turf!” I turn to Jed and Shep. “Let’s go outside a minute, guys, we need to talk.”

“We ain’t got no beef with you,” Jed says.

“I know you don’t, Jed.”

The lawyer rises. “You’re kissin’ their asses,” he whines.

“Sit down, motherfucker! Now!”

He sits down.

I gently place my hands on the wrecking-ball shoulders of the two moolyaks and lead them toward the front door while the band roars on and the crowd of wild dancers parts. It is warm and balmy outside.

I stand before Jed and Shep on the sidewalk. “Look, guys, you gotta help me here. Those geeks are lawyers and they’re tryna get me in a position to sue me and my boss, who’s a Marine veteran of the Second World War.”

“We win’t got no beef with you, man,” Jed says. “Do we, Shep?”

“Fuck no, we ain’t got no beef with you.”

“But we got a beef with them punks,” says Jed.

“They’re not worth having a beef with,” I tell Jed.

“We’re gonna kick their asses and take their fuckin’ bitches, cuz they been fuckin’ with us.”

“We ain’t backin’ down from no man,” Shep adds.

“Look, as a favor, guys, I don’t want you fighting in my bar.”

They look at each other. They’re pretty wobbly. Jed grins at me. “But we drove alla way down here cuz we wanna get in a fight.”

“We come a long way to get in a fight in Happy Jack’s,” Shep explains.

“We been in fights in every fisherman’s bar on the coast, clear from Alaska, but we ain’t been in a fight in Happy Jack’s.”

“Look, if you get in a fight in my bar, you’ll end up in jail. I don’t wanna see you guys in jail. I consider you guests of mine to look out for.”

“We ‘preciate that,” Jed says. “But we don’t mind goin’ t’ jail. We been thrown in jail in every port on the coast.”

“Nobody fucks with us in jail,” Shep grins.

“Look,” I say, “there’s nobody in the bar worth fighting. Those lawyers, you can’t fight them—they’re sissies. You won’t get no satisfaction beating up sissies, will yah?”

“Well,” Jed says. “We got to fight somebody in there if them sissy boys won’t fight us.”

“But that’s all we got in the bar tonight. You guys came down at the very worst time to get in a fight. All the tough guys, they’re on the albacore run, won’t be back for a day or two.”

Jed and Shep look at each other. “Shit,” Jed says.

“Fuck,” Shep says.

“Look,” I say. “You guys, you look like you been at it for a long time. How long you been drinking?”

“We been drinkin’ for two days, since we left Moss Landing.” Jed says proudly.

“When’s the last time you ate?”

“Well, we didn’t have no breakfast, did we, Shep?”

“Nah, don’t think so. Just chips and stuff.”

“Well, dammit, guys, since there’s nobody worth a shit to fight in the goddamn bar, and you ain’t eaten all day, why don’t you go on down the street to the Fisherman’s Roost. Serve breakfast day and night. And you get a real steak and eggs, not a runty little thing. All the fisherman in town eat breakfast there before they go out in the morning. You go on down there and tell ‘em Jessi and Dell from Happy Jack’s sent you. They’ll give you the royal treatment.”

Jed glances at Shep. “Well, I’m starvin’, Shep.”

“Yeh, me, too. Best to eat, I guess.” He’s dispirited.

“You guys get a good meal in yah, come on back and see me. Look, around the corner from the diner’s the Anchor Motel; it’s real cheap and clean, get a good night’s sleep. You guys’ve put in a long day.”

They discuss the situation. I fold my arms. They nod. “Guess we’ll eat,” Jed says. “Thanks for the tip, bro’. We ain’t got no beef with you. You been real fair, and we ‘preciate it.”

“Far as I’m concerned, you’re my guest’s in Happy Jack’s, and I aim to look out for you, just like you’d do for me if I was in Crescent City and drank in your bar.”

“Any time you come to Crescent City, we got yer back, bro’.”

We shake hands all around and I watch them wobble down the sidewalk. I take a big breath, exhale. Re-entering the steaming cauldron, as I pass the first booth, frizzy hair stands.

“I don’t appreciate being insulted by you and cursed by you in front of our ladies,” he states, issuing me an official look of reprimand and possible threat.

“I just kept you and your friend from getting beaten to death.”

“That’s your job. You did a lousy job. I’m contacting the owner of this establishment and inform him of what an incompetent jerk you are, and I’m going to make it a point to get your job.”

I pound the table with my fist, shaking their drinks. The girls shrink back as the lawyer jumps. “You want my job, you piss-ant, take it! Get behind the bar! You wanna talk to my boss? He’s a combat vet from the Great War and I’m a vet and we stick together like fucking brothers. Now you get the fuck out of here! You and your trashy bitches are eighty-sixed.” I toss a bill on the table and grab their drinks and walk over and place them on the bar. Jessi grins at me as I shake a fist at the lawyer, who starts to protest. “Get the fuck out! You’re banned for life on the grounds you’re a weasel and a puke, now move OUT!” I’m waving my arms wildly, frothing at the mouth, and they rise, the women grabbing purses, and scurry out the front door.

I receive a standing ovation from the crowd and a toot from the band. Behind the bar, Jessi has two shots of Crown Royal waiting for us. Before we down them, still grinning, she high-fives me.§

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.