Monthly Archives: March 2016

Remembering Charlie Mitchell: Comin’ atcha!

When I first met Charlie Mitchell, he seemed bigger than life. He was larger than life. He’d look people in the eye, size them up in a wink, extend his hand in friendship, find out how things were going. He drove a big truck with a shit-howdy smile and hat, and everyone in town knew who he was. Charlie, after suffering from a massive stroke several years ago, died at his home in Cayucos, Calif., March 17, 2016. He was born in San Luis Obispo in May 1931 and grew up in Gorda, Cambria, and Cayucos. Dell Franklin and I caught up with him in early 2006, and sat with him at his home to talk about his life. We ran his story as a Rogue of the Month feature in the February 2006 edition of The Rogue Voice. This is what he told us.

—Stacey Warde

A marvelously happy, unspoiled and uncomplicated man

Photo by Phil Klein

Photo by Phil Klein

by Dell Franklin

Charlie Mitchell, septuagenarian, in Western shirt, cowboy boots, and Levis®, has more ants in his pants than a row of teenagers in baggy pants and hooded sweatshirts lollygagging at the seawall in Cayucos. Old School? Not Charlie. Change is inevitable, he says, but he deals with it, like it or not, keeping his attitude, as always, positive, cheerful, exuberant, and youthful.

Charlie Mitchell is a rowdy, unapologetically profane, ass-kicking, barn-dancing, hay-bucking, pigskin-hauling kid in a 74-year-old body that has escaped eight close calls with death (he was nearly electrocuted), undergone a knee replacement, and owns a gizzard that finally, after sixty years of hell-fire social imbibing, has put a stop to his drinking.

“I started out when I was around twelve,” he says. “Haven’t had a drink in a month now. The old pancreas brought me to my knees, and the Doc said, no more. What the hell, if I can’t do it, I ain’t gonna miss it. No use letting it get me down. Nobody had more fun than I did. I can still go out to the bars and jaw with the boys and dance and flirt with the girls. Hell yes, I can!” he shouts, almost lunging at me, slamming me on the shoulder to make his point. “Hell yes!”

Charlie started out in a little shack with his family in Gorda on the Big Sur coastline. At six, they moved to Cambria, in those days no more than a cow town. At Coast Union High School, Charlie starred in all sports, stood out as a phenom in football, and ran a hundred-yard dash in 9.7 seconds. The world record at the time was 9.4.

Charlie Mitchell played football at Coast Union High School in Cambria and went on to bump heads with some future NFL great while in college.

Charlie Mitchell played football at Coast Union High School in Cambria and went on to bump heads with future NFL greats while playing at St. Mary’s College.

Charlie’s athletic prowess landed him at St. Mary’s College in Moraga. At that time, Bay Area colleges like USF, Santa Clara and Cal Berkeley were hotbeds for great football players. Charlie played with NFL legend John Henry Johnson, an All-Pro San Francisco 49er running back and one of the roughest characters on the field, and one of the wildest, most colorful off the field. Both men became fast friends.

“John Henry was a black man from Pittsburg. He liked to party—a fueler and a chaser, always wanted to take me to those black bars in Oakland, rough places. Well, hell, I wanted to go, but if Henry found a woman, which he was bound to do, and left me by myself, a white boy like me, in those days, I was liable to get my throat cut. So I stayed in. John Henry, he was about as mean as they came — you try and tackle him and he’d whack you good with forearm shiver, no straight arm. Helluva ball player.”

Charlie played against future Hall of Famers and NFL legends like Ollie Matson, Bob St. Clair (who ate two-pound steaks raw) and Ed Brown. He was offered pro tryouts, but declined.

“Pro ball wasn’t a big deal in those days. Hell, it wasn’t like now, with TV and all, where they were after you to turn pro. I just played to play. I quit St. Mary’s and played JC ball. I got married to Iona at twenty and went in the Navy and played some service ball before they sent me over to Korea on a destroyer escort.

“No big deal. I was no hero. I was just like a lotta guys. But those escorts, they really got bounced around. The seas got pretty rough and if you didn’t have a strong stomach you were in big trouble. Some of them boys were sick all the time. I didn’t like the service, but it didn’t hurt me, either. I’m glad I served.”

From working odd jobs all over the county, and for his dad, mostly on farms and ranches around Cayucos and Cambria, Charlie earned the reputation as a kick-ass worker. Later, he honed his skills as a heavy equipment operator/engineer, running loaders, scrapers, blades, etc. He worked for Madonna and various companies and helped build most of the county roads. He ran heavy equipment for 40 years.

In between this time, in the hurly-burly days when Morro Bay was a major fishing harbor and a sort of last outpost secluded from civilized society in San Luis Obispo, Charlie bought the notorious Happy Jack’s Saloon, known by fishermen and roughnecks up and down the coast and throughout the Valley as a place to raise holy hell and engage in intense fisticuffs,

Having worked Happy Jack’s myself for eight years, I was interested in comparing notes with Charlie.

“Yeah, I had a few fights. Hell, you had to,” he says, shoulders straightening, eyes suddenly agleam, and he paces like a seasoned panther in his kitchen. “I had to park a few guys who got too fueled up and challenged me. I never looked for fights. But when you own a bar and work it, guys are gonna come after you just for the hell of it. Sooner or later you had to go outside with ‘em. That’s the way we did it—go outside and settle things. Well, this one guy, I think he was from the Valley, he kept pestering me, wanting to fight, and so we went outside, and I parked him pretty good, went back in the bar to wait on trade and have a drink, and he comes back in, not satisfied, so we went back out and this time I really parked him good, and he didn’t come back in, and one of his friends told everybody in the bar that you better not mess with ol’ Charlie. After that they pretty much left me alone. I loved that bar. Had more fun. Now my wife, Iona, she pretty much ran the bar. Did the bookkeepin’. Took care of everything. There wasn’t much she couldn’t do. Run a home. Run a business. Great wife and mother. Clear out a bar…”

“Kind of a pioneer woman, Charlie?”

He lunges at me, pounds my shoulder. “Damn right! Married fifty years to Iona. What a woman!”

“What was the lowest point in your life?”

“Losing Iona four years ago. A tough time. Hell, I miss her yet.”

“What was the highest point in your life?”

“Marryin’ Iona in 1952. She was my high school sweetheart. I think about her every day. But you gotta go on. I got a family and a ranch. I keep busy. We got forty, fifty cattle. I know a lotta people. You gotta keep living, and I aim to do so.”

“You’re known as a guy who likes to spice up his conversation with a little cussing…”

“Goddamn right! Now, when Iona was alive, she didn’t mind my cussing, but there were a couple words she wouldn’t let me say, and I tried not to say ‘em.”

“Local legend is, you could stand next to a bar and, with no run, leap up and land on the bar — a four-feet standing jump.”

“Goddamn right!” he smacks my shoulder. “I made more goddamn money jumping on bars. I made other people money. People from the coast and the Valley, they’d put up money that I couldn’t do it. I did it about ten years ago but I had to cheat a little, grabbing the bar. These days I can’t jump much more than a foot. That’s still a pretty good jump, considering I’ve had a knee replacement.”

He shrugs. “At this stage of the game, I gotta admit I can’t do things like I could. I can’t go parking a guy if he’s outta line. No more fueling. But I can still have a damn good time. I had a good time New Year’s Eve drinking straight soda.”

“Anything you missed out on in life?”

“Hell no!”

Charlie Mitchell roars through town in a shiny big pickup, wearing a cowboy hat, and a big smile. Lots of guys these days do the same, but most of it is show. Charlie’s the real thing, no drugstore cowboy. He is testimony to the kind of man who grew up with very little and made more than a lot out of his life. Though born into the Great Depression, he never considers it a big deal, just something that everybody dealt with. He thinks Cayucos and Cambria are too big these days and can’t stand driving to SLO. He was happiest when fishing and hunting in this area as a kid, when there was nothing, not even a freeway to link Cayucos with civilization. He was grateful for work, worked hard, and the hard work developed his already indestructible constitution and transformed him into a man’s man: a marvelously happy, unspoiled and uncomplicated man, who is possibly cagier than he puts on.

When you run into Charlie around town, he always shakes your hand right off, and if you’re not prepared, he might, without meaning to, break your hand with a grip that indicates inner adrenalin strength few men can match, whether they lift barbells or not.

“You a meat-eater, Charlie?”

“Goddamn right!”

“What if the Doc says no more meat?”

“Bullshit! He can go straight to hell. I eat meat every day. I LOVE meat. I’m goin’ down swingin’.” §

Graveside services were held for Charlie on Monday, March 21, at the Cayucos Cemetery. Dell Franklin continues to write from his home in Cayucos and posts original content at Stacey Warde is publisher of

White Sox temper tantrums


by Dell Franklin

Between the ages of 7 and 10, I grew up hanging around the clubhouse and dugout and ballfields where my dad, a former big-leaguer, played, and I wonder just what the hell the 14-year-old son of Chicago White Sox first baseman, Adam LaRoche, is doing hanging around the clubhouse 24/7 when he should be out playing ball with and against his peers in Babe Ruth League or American Legion. The situation seems odd and abnormal, and the fact that his father allows it is even odder and more abnormal.

Chicago White Sox designated hitter Adam LaRoche (25) sits with his son Drake, 13, in the White Sox dugout at U.S. Cellular Field before a game against the Houston Astros on June 8, 2015 in Chicago. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

Chicago White Sox designated hitter Adam LaRoche (25) sits with his son Drake, 13, in the White Sox dugout at U.S. Cellular Field before a game against the Houston Astros on June 8, 2015 in Chicago. (Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/TNS)

My father played for Detroit before WWII and later, from 1949 until retirement in 1953, in the old Pacific Coast League for the Hollywood Stars, San Diego Padres, and LA Angels. While with the Stars, I hung out in the clubhouse with him and ventured onto the ballfield during batting practice and learned how to handle a bat and glove while playing pepper against the centerfield fence with dad’s fellow infielders, Gene Handley, Eddie Baxes, Lou Stringer, and Johnny O’Neill. These guys literally groomed me to be a ball player, and I took to it like a Lab retriever pursuing a tennis ball hurled into the ocean. All of these players had endured tough times from the Great Depression, some had been hardened by war, and they were not the types to baby me if I was going to hang out with them. Many of the ball player’s sons my age wanted no part of the clubhouse.

“You a lover or a fighter, Meat?” they’d ask me.

“A fighter!”

“Naw, we heard you were a lover boy.”


Dell Franklin as a boy with his father, Murray, who played with the Hollywood Stars. Photo courtesy of

The kidding was harsh. If I wanted to hang here, I learned to take it and witnessed these men absolutely relishing the banter of tough love with each other, and realized early on that this was their way of accepting you as a tough kid addicted to the game they considered sacrosanct. To make myself useful, I polished their spikes and boned their bats and accepted having a towel snapped at my ass and my head roughed.

Later, after dad retired, I could not fathom as a teenager being in this same situation.

At this point I was making my own way, and felt I did not deserve to be rubbing elbows with these men, who had paid their dues and hard knocks to arrive at such an exalted level. I would have felt squeamish, undeserving, an intruder. Even as a little kid I realized some of these men, crude and downright profane, did not WANT a child hanging around and holding them back from the kind of obscene behavior and pranks that was part of their culture.

What is truly embarrassing and insane in this year, 2016, are Chicago White Sox players supporting Adam LaRoche, who quit baseball when the GM and owner of the White Sox wanted his 14-year-old kid to cease being a nonstop presence in the clubhouse and field, perhaps feeling he was starting to be a distraction, or perhaps certain players felt they could not be themselves around an adolescent.

The fact that these players staged a boycott of a spring training game and their manager supported them yet eventually talked them into playing is as bush and downright stupid as anything we’ve seen in baseball ever.

Try and imagine something like this happening in the past, when there was no player’s union, no agents, no multi-million dollar contracts, no big leaguers raising their kids in gated communities, but instead one owner who would flat out release you to go sell cars or insurance or dig ditches if you acted in such a childish, outrageous way.

When my dad was traded from San Diego to Los Angeles in 1953, the ownership, unlike the Stars and Padres, did not allow kids like me to be in the clubhouse, dugout or on the ballfield, possibly for insurance reasons. So be it. Those were the rules. By this time I was starting to feel somewhat guilty about the advantages I’d already experienced by being a ballplayer’s son at such a high level, where I was privileged to be taught by professionals and to sit and soak up the game like osmosis, so that my instincts and know-how was already on a 19-year-old’s level.

Evidently, LaRoche possesses what the pundits are calling “fuck you” money, so that he doesn’t need $13 million in paychecks, which indicates his lack of passion for the game. That he stunk last year on a lifeless, spiritless team going through the motions, playing for a rather sedate manager, says it all—his teammates have their heads so far up their asses they threw tantrums after this 14-year-old, who even had his own locker beside his dad, was told he had to cut down on time spent with a ball club the GM and ownership actually wanted to see start winning a few ball games and be in contention.

These ball players are showing themselves to be petulant, entitled brats with no clue as to what a fan goes through and pays to watch them wallow in mediocrity. Poor things, they had their 14-year-old mascot taken away! Boo-hoo! Life is so unfair. Every single one of those players protesting, even discussing a boycott, ought to be suspended or sent down and replaced by hungry minor leaguers who wouldn’t mind the banishment of a 14-year-old who ought to be out competing against his peers instead of being one of the boys.

Word is, the players’ union will have something to say about it. Go ahead and quit, LaRoche, and take your kid to watch a high school game—maybe he’ll learn a little something about life. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur, and whose head spins over the entitlements and pampering and whimpering of today’s professional athletes. For more of Dell’s insights and commentary on sports, politics and culture, visit, where this article was first published.

A happy death?

Mental illness and threats of suicide


“If one of these dogs dies I’m going to make an art project out of this ceiling by blowing my fucking brains out,” Kevin said.

He waved his hand with a flourish, like a painter, above and around the living room where he kept a double-sized mattress on the floor behind a couch facing a big flat screen on the wall where he watched the news and endless rounds of music documentaries and concerts.

He slept on the floor, he said, because it was easier for him, the dogs, and the women who ventured to sleep with him, to crash there rather than climb into bed in another room. And the big screen was always turned on.

We had just finished smoking a joint in this living room in a house he rented in Cayucos, and began trimming some of the marijuana he hauled out from a back room dedicated to an indoor grow operation, a typical set-up with lights and pop-up grow tent for up to 12 plants.

CITY LIFE.KEVIN LAWRENCE mugHe grew pot, he said, to bring in a little extra cash flow. His disability payments weren’t enough to cover his expenses, which consisted mostly of caring for his dogs, dining out and women he met on the internet. He grew decent weed and I helped him on a number of occasions, trimming, getting his product ready for market.

Jeesus! You’re slow,” he said. “That’s the best you can trim? I could hire a retard who’s faster than that.”

“Dude, I’m a bit older than you. These fingers don’t work so well anymore.” Invariably, one of his three dogs would come around the coffee table upon which we worked to get some attention. He brushed up against one of the big 32-gallon bags of finished trim on the floor and put his head on my lap.

“He’s the sweetest, dog,” Kevin said, snipping away. “Always looking for love. Watch out he doesn’t jump up on the couch behind you!” And sure enough, the dog climbed up and squeezed himself between me and the couch, nuzzling his head into my back.

His dogs were his best friends, like beloved foster kids he’d raised, and had been for many years, through the best and worst years, through the prosperous porn years when, he claimed, he made millions and owned a lakefront home where he and the dogs could swim and play all day; and through the devastating loss of everything he ever owned—except the dogs—through a bitter divorce, which jaded him.

“My ex is a fucking bitch, dude. I gave her everything she could ever want and she just turned around and fucked me in the ass with it.”

He had a medical with one of his dogs, trained as a service dog and companion, who wore a vest indicating to all concerned Kevin’s most serious health issue—a mental illness that he freely admitted.

“I’m fucking crazy, dude, and this place is only making it worse.”

Kevin’s not the first Cayucos resident with a mental illness. There have been several. He was refreshingly honest about his, even though at times it got unbearable to hear him talk about how fucked up his life had become, how he’d gladly kill himself, and eventually would if he didn’t get out of this town quick. The only thing that stopped him, he said, were his dogs.

“I’ve gotta stick around and take care of these knuckleheads.”

He talked of moving back, with some desperation, to Santa Monica, where he had “true” friends and the world felt more familiar and real, less parochial and small and elitist and phony than Cayucos.

“This town’s so fucking small, dude,” he’d say, followed by a litany of complaints about the weakness of some men here, and the eagerness of some women, including their wives, who would come to his door in the middle of the night to fuck.

“If you don’t like it so much,” I said, “move! Go someplace where you can be happy!”

“As soon as I get enough money, I will. I’m fucking outta here.”

He loved the macabre, and the deep-felt poetry of the outcast and the malcontent and proudly displayed his parrot-sized tattoo of Charles Bukowski’s grizzled face on his shoulder and arm. He’d share it with anyone who showed an interest in the author.

“You like Bukowski?” he’d ask, rolling up his sleeve. “Here, check this out.”

He scanned the internet for possible hookups with women half his age. Periodically, he’d start an online “relationship” with one of these various exotic and sexy women who sent nude photos, and long, heart-felt notes of endearment, and eventually requests for money. He showed me the Facebook account of one of his twenty-something lady friends.

“Check her out! She’s gorgeous, fucking beautiful,” he said, pointing at his computer screen. “Can you believe it? I can’t believe a girl like that would be interested in a guy like me, my age, fucked up as I am. She’s asked me to pick her up in LA next week. All I gotta do is send her five-hundred bucks.”

Each one, of course, was a scam. He’d lost hundreds of dollars sending money to fake Facebook accounts claiming to be women who said they couldn’t wait to meet him in person. I tried to warn him, “Be careful,” I’d say, “save your money.”

I never quite knew what to believe from Kevin, who kept busy with a variety of schemes, always looking for an angle to make some extra money, or score a fuck-buddy, or even a steady soul mate. He never quit, although he regularly threatened to end it all by blowing his brains out.

He had a generous spirit, offered to help when he could. “I’ve got a route of about four or five mow-and-blow accounts,” he told me once, when I needed to earn some quick cash. “They’re shitty accounts and I hate fucking doing them. They’re yours, if you want them.”

We used to meet at Top Dog coffee shop in Cayucos for occasional conversation. He’d spend hours there sitting at the bar, eating a bagel, talking to the baristas, always pushing the limits of propriety with come-ons and sexual innuendos, never doubtful for a moment that one day one of them would come home with him.

Eventually, the owners built a barrier at the bar, making it impossible for whoever sat there to converse with the baristas. “What’s up with the wall?” I asked one day.

“The owners put it there so that guy, Kevin, won’t harass the baristas anymore.”

I helped him compose a letter to Bukowski’s widow, asking her to consider collaborating with him as a promoter, and website facilitator, of her late husband’s work. He’d developed other sites, he told her, including a dating website aimed at locals, which he hoped would go national, and a porn site.

He had the contacts too to make it happen, he said, and if he could just land this gig with Bukowski’s widow, he’d be set. “If she’d agree to something like fifty-thousand a year, I’d be just fine.”

He delivered the letter through an attorney, a lifelong and dear friend in LA. We never heard back from Bukowski’s widow. The attorney, whom Kevin considered one of his closest pals and confidants, who frequently visited Cayucos to commiserate with Kevin, committed suicide in February, 2014.

“That fucker! I was supposed to be the one who killed himself.”

It was a devastating blow and he appeared to decline even faster. I saw him less and less, and we talked less frequently as he became embittered and morbid, and angry at everyone in town, including me, just another Cayucos phony.

Sooner or later, Kevin figured, one of his schemes would take, and get him out of the month-to-month doldrums of collecting disability checks. He couldn’t wait to relocate, and all his energy went into moving back to LA, where at least he could tell the true colors of his neighbors.

I felt bad for him, didn’t know what to say and wished him well, not quite able to decipher truth from fiction any more. Kevin’s world, it seemed, had turned into a dark and morbid nightmare.


Rapidfire band members: Bill Bailey (Axl Rose™), Kevin Lawrence, Mike Hamernik, Chuck Gordon.

His most recent project, before moving away from Cayucos, was his lawsuit against Bill Bailey, later known as Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses fame. They had performed together in a band called Rapidfire, Kevin claimed, before Bailey made it big.

He had filed suit to make public some unreleased recordings, an EP, Ready to Rumble,  that he and Axl made together. His plan was to turn a mint selling the new releases of Axl’s early, pre-Guns ‘N Roses career. He guessed millions, if only Axl would let them go.

“Axl’s being an asshole about it,” he claimed, “won’t release the tapes, so I’m suing the fucker.”

I listened with half interest, not knowing whether any of it was true, but wanting something good to happen for Kevin. HIs much-heralded Cayucos conquests, frequent online disappointments, and braggadocio over and scorn for the community, jaded me.

“That’s great, Kevin. I hope you it works out for you.”

Meanwhile, he pursued his usual routine, mostly sleeping in late, grabbing coffee mid-afternoon, growing pot and taking his dogs to the pool for exercise. Occasionally, he’d swing down to the Tavern or the Old Creek Ale House and inform anyone who would listen about his early days playing lead guitar for Axl, and how fans would be blown away by the quality of the tracks.

“They’re gonna shit, dude. When they hear this stuff, they’re gonna shit their pants. Axl’s early work, never heard before. Do you have any idea how much that shit’s gonna be worth?”

Toward the end, he seldom washed, his hair dirty and matted, pugnacious face grimy and oiled, but claimed he was regularly getting laid at all hours of the day, nearly every day of the week.

Eventually, he went back to Southern California, where he hoped to connect with old friends, perhaps with Bukowski’s widow to offer his services. Not long after he left Cayucos, however, in January, Kevin Lawrence died from heart failure and pneumonia. He was 51.

I learned of his death through an online heavy metal magazine, Metal Sludge, that confirmed, in fact, Kevin’s claim to fame, that he’d cut an unreleased album with Axl Rose.

At first, word of his death came as a shock only because he’d convinced me that one day he’d kill himself. It was just a matter of time. After one of his dogs died and he hadn’t taken his own life, he said: “I’ve got these two other guys to look after. But I guarantee you that when they go, I go.”

Death by pneumonia seemed the most artless way to go, at least for a guy who wanted to exit with a bang, for someone who wasn’t ashamed to admit his mental illness, and had a plan for how he was going to end his days.

I still have the book he loaned me, “A Happy Death,” by Albert Camus. I never finished the book. I doubt that death through pneumonia is a happy death. I wish his had been a happy death, but who ever heard of a happy death?

I would rather he had taken his life in the dramatic way that he first described, even though it made me sick to hear him say it. I can’t bear to think the real suffering of slowly, painfully losing your breath and drowning in your own fluids as the world closes in and turns dark. He deserved better, even if he suffered, as he freely admitted, from a serious mental illness. §

Stacey Warde is publisher of The Rogue Voice. Comments, inquiries and contributions are always welcome. He can be reached at


He wrestles with the idea of the struggle.

He believes his opponent is the world

he imagines inexhaustible.

Believing himself powerless, his own image

is exaggerated, every gesture a minute lost,

until his life is reduced to a night,

the parameter of a bed.

Sleep is his perfection.

But the day, immeasurably long, is the absence

of sleep. An old antagonist, its eyes painfully

familiar, challenged it refuses the challenge,

for sleeplessness is its perfection.

—Nick Campbell



view from stationary bikeby Dell Franklin

Scrawny old Walt knows just enough about everybody in this supermarket-sized gym (indeed, it was once a Von’s) to make a busybody like myself utterly happy. Walt is the kind of geezer who is not afraid to engage a stranger, instead of muffling himself in headphones and ignoring everybody as he suffers in solitary drudgery—like the robots on the bank of stationary bikes up front under the bank of TVs, and two rows of Nordic Tracks behind them, and the treadmills in the back.

Walt and I are off to the side, up near the front desk, separated from this rabble by a few Nautilus machines. Walt and I have a choice view of all those on the aerobic machines and the other larger cluster of very busy Nautilus machines in front of them, leading to the weight room and the glassed-in wooden-floored workout room where mostly women participate in yoga, Zumba, Pilates and spirited combat involving a mixture of judo chops, kicks and jabs and hooks.

I first encountered Walt when he wandered over as I pumped away and worked on the LA Times Sunday crossword, and said, “I know a good barber. He’s good and pretty cheap.”

I was taken aback. “I don’t need a barber,” I rejoined. “I’ve had my own hair stylist for almost fifteen years.” Truth is, I hadn’t had a haircut in about 15 months.

Walt sports a carefully trimmed white goatee and has white hair shooting out from under a ball cap. He asked, “How much you pay for a haircut?”

“Well,” I said. “I pay a lot, because I only go in every six months or so, sometimes longer, like now.” My hair was so long and unruly at this point that I did nothing with it when I awakened mornings with strands caught in my teeth, and just swiped at it to form it into some semblance of shape. My woman had been frantically urging me to get it cut for months. Truth is, I was sick of it. Also, I shave every four or five days. Why should I shave every day? I’m retired and hate shaving.

“I pay thirteen dollars for my haircut,” Walt informed me. “And he does a good job. Do you want me to write down the address and phone number, so you can make an appointment?”

“No, I don’t. The lady I go to is the wife of my tennis partner, who is one of my two or three best friends. I’m a loyal person.”

Audrey, a pleasant retired grammar school teacher, married to Ron, a retired college football coach, who had just finished on a Nautilus machine, unplugged her ear buds and came over. She and I are friends, exchanging books.

“Ellie is my hair stylist, too, Walt,” she said. “She is very, very good.”

“Well, how much does she charge?” Walt wanted to know. Walt is hunched from scoliosis, and bird thin; and sort of skitters in short mincing steps. He had polio as a kid.

Audrey glanced at me, and I said, “Thirty five dollars.”

“Thirty five dollars!” Walt was appalled. “I can get three haircuts for that.”

“She’s pricey, but she’s good,” Audrey affirmed.

I said, “Since I only get my hair cut every six months, I don’t mind paying that much. I even give her a fifteen dollar tip to try and rearrange my person.”

“Fifteen bucks! Jesus! That’s outrageous.”

“Yeh, but if I pay a hundred bucks over a year, that’s less than you do paying thirteen every month or so.”

Anyway, that was the end of our conversation that time, but Walt and I became better acquainted when he began riding one of the less technologically advanced side-by side bikes at about the same time I did—around ten thirty in the morning, a time when most of the geriatrics like us are in the gym, getting the misery out of the way. Plus, having somebody to talk to while pedaling helps kill the excruciating boredom and pain of solitary exercise, which I usually try to ease by working the crossword puzzle.

Walt and I have begun to be almost confidants. Everybody knows him, comes up to his bike. Some of the middle-aged guys refer to him as “trouble.” “How’s trouble doing today?” they’ll ask, smirking at Walt’s nosy shenanigans. Most of these people have been and are still standoffish with me, uncomfortable kidding like cornballs, which I refuse to play into. Sometimes Walt will try and introduce me to somebody who has observed my strangeness over the years, but they are wary. Walt is a kind of celebrity in here, and I enjoy being his sidekick and admire his nerviness.

For instance, the other morning he observed a guy walking up and down the rows of aerobic machines, going around the Nordic Tracks and then in front of the treadmills and then behind the stationary bikes, seemingly either spying on oblivious panting workout nuts or observing the machines. Later, when he passed by us, Walt, having finished wiping down his bike, engaged the man, and asked, “What are you doing, pacing up and down along those machines—queer hunting?”

The man, middle-aged and togged out in designer workout attire, was literally speechless, could not muster an answer, and abruptly left, visibly shook up. We’ve never seen him since.

“Maybe he comes in here at an hour he’s sure you won’t be here,” I told Walt, who didn’t seem too remorseful at what he’d said.

“I was just kidding,” Walt confessed.

“But you didn’t know the guy, Walt. You can’t say shit like that to strangers.”

“Well, he should have known I was kidding,” Walt maintained. “Hell, I don’t give a damn if he’s a queer or not.”

“He didn’t know that. He probably thinks you’re a loony homophobe, affiliated with those assholes running for president, carrying on about the goddamn bible.”

“Well, if I ever see him again, I guess I’ll apologize and explain I was kidding.” §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur. For more of his work, visit his website,, where this article first appeared.