I was tending bar at Happy Jack’s in Morro Bay, a notorious fisherman’s dive habituated by a foul, abusive crowd of ex-cons, cranksters, drug-whores, hard-core alkies, and their coteries. I’d been there six years, fighting off the harpies and mayhem, when my hoop pal, Charlie Richardson, who was part owner of a restaurant/bar on a golf course in Los Osos, offered me a job tending bar nights.
Because I was wearing down from the venal clientele in Happy Jack’s, I’d been mulling over a change, feeling, at 56, that I needed a drastic change. I was told by Mr. Richardson that I was perfect for this new venue because its theme was a sports bar and I was a sports media maven as well as an athlete who understood players and games.
The clubhouse was spacious, well-lit, clean, unlike the sewer-rancid, gloomy, grotto-like Happy Jack’s. Scattered throughout the clubhouse were about ten TVs, controlled by two satellite systems that appeared as intricate and extensive as the instrument panel on a jet plane.
The manager, Greg (also a part owner,) was there to break me in. (I was still working at Happy Jack’s, just testing the waters here). Throughout the clubhouse were tables, to which very pretty, very wholesome young girls delivered meals from a nearby kitchen. The atmosphere among customers and employees was sunny, upbeat. Used to being verbally abused and even threatened, occasionally attacked and retaliating, I was more than pleasantly surprised by the friendliness and courtesy of golfers. No cursing or spouting unintelligible gibberish, just a crew of civilized middle-class suburbanites, and good tippers to boot.
But then there was this cash register. Greg felt I already knew how to work such a register, but when I explained I had never done so, he told me it was “a snap” and it wouldn’t take but a few minutes for him to teach me. A very patient person, he did not realize that since l969 I had only worked registers into which I simply pounded out the amount, hit a SALE button, and ka-ching, out popped the tray, and I made a quick transaction.
This new register looked nothing like the solid-state, anvil-heavy registers I was used to, was this skinny, fragile-looking contraption with a big glowing screen.
“You’ll really like this register,” Greg told me. “It’s real simple, once you get used to it. It does all your adding, so there’s no chance of mistakes.”
“I don’t make mistakes with numbers, Greg. I can add. I won a mental arithmetic contest at the Pomona Fair when I was ten years old. I pride myself in being a fast, power bartender.”
Greg raised a hand to stop me. “Look, this machine has a price list for all items, which automatically go into a computer. This makes it easier for you early on, when you don’t know prices. This register keeps track of past purchases, inventory, and makes it easier to do taxes and keep track of checks and credit card transactions….”
“Credit cards? I’ve never used a credit card machine. I’ve worked street bars. We don’t accept credit cards, only cash.”
“There’s a button on this register for checks, cash, credit cards, employee discounts, personal tabs, kitchen food, bar snacks….”
“How many goddamn buttons are there for all these different things?”
“That’s a lot of buttons to keep up with, man. I’m used to one button.”
He placed a friendly hand on my shoulder. “Once you get used to it, you’ll love this register. I mean, if you won an arithmetic tournament, you can certainly master this register. In fact, I predict, that within a day or two, you’ll LOVE this register….”
“What about credit cards? I don’t know how to operate a credit card machine that’s computerized. Where I work, those pukes aren’t allowed credit cards…most of ‘em don’t have drivers licenses.”
“Dell, calm down.” He squeezed my shoulder to show me reassurance and confidence. “Everything’s going to be okay.”
My first shift, Greg sat at the bar playing a video game, keeping an eye on me. The maze of buttons had me flustered and lost, so that Greg kept having to leave his obsessive playing of a video golf game to push buttons and explain things to me. I felt like a stupid person in front of him and the customers each time this happened. While ringing up one measly drink, I dithered with the register as people held up their empty bottles and glasses. One man asked me to please turn on the Laker game on the TVs while another wanted a hockey game, so Greg had to discontinue his golf video game to regulate the satellite system, which entailed more complications to distract and confuse me. I did manage to mix all the drinks to stem the tide of demands and collected tickets and punched them in the register and commenced hitting buttons.
Suddenly tape streamed out of the register and kept coming, piling up on the floor in folds. Bells dinged. The screen filled with advice to halt the onslaught, but I panicked in following directions, and finally, as customers looked on, Greg peered up from his game and quickly came behind the bar to hit a button and halt the flow. My pride was wounded. Trained at Harrah’s Club and having worked busy clubs and entertained folks at the same time, I considered myself a professional.
Anyway, Greg collected the tape and piled it on the back bar and I started fresh. By this time golfers sitting along the bar were starting to exchange glances, and Greg, despite his constant support and encouragement, was glancing at me with mounting concern. Twice he had to come back and show me how to operate the credit card machine. I finally got it on the third try, but still, I dreaded my next bout with this machine, because, like the cash register and satellite system, it too had its little host of tricks to torment me.
At the end of my first shift my final ring was around forty-grand. Greg and I had a big laugh as he showed me how to close up and operate a complicated burglar alarm, which involved more buttons. The places I’d worked in the past had alarms where a simple turn of a key turned it on or off. The entire bevy of systems and buttons had me intimidated, demoralized, and unnerved.
My second shift, Greg remained patient while I continued to muddle through. Even as I was still struggling with the register, he decided to break me in with the satellite system, which proved, as I feared, more complicated and touchy than the register. There was a thick book with all code numbers of satellite channels, and these proved vexing, not to mention operating the system by itself. But, since I was busy, Greg got all the channels in order while I waited on trade. I was still frustrated by the register. I mean, you could not just ring up a vodka/tonic when in a hurry. You hit two buttons and then had a choice of alcohol, wine, or beer. I pushed alcohol and a barrage of liquors appeared on screen. I picked vodka. Up popped a dozen brands of vodka. I pushed Smirnoff. Hit another button for mixes. Up popped a list. I hit tonic. Then I hit other buttons to make a sale. Still, from time to time, for no known reason I could find, tape flowed and spilled on the floor, and the hateful screen dinged and pointed out advice.
I began to sweat, grow tense, lose heart, wilt. As I continued to fall behind, Greg repeatedly came back to stem the flow of tape. I found myself doubling up a fist with which I desired to violently savage this fucking demented machine. I wanted to pick it up and run out among the happy couples and families eating at tables and slam the thing onto the floor and stomp it into smithereens.
My second night, during which I amassed good tips, I rang up around 25-grand, 23-grand over. Still, I operated the credit card machine flawlessly and, at closing, turned on the alarm without a hitch, impressing Greg, who claimed the crowd was taking a liking to me.
I worked my four shifts at Happy Jack’s, slamming around, getting drunk, and returned to the clubhouse, still training. My third shift I was close to mastering the register; only one brief flow of tape which I adroitly halted. So, on the following night, Greg saw fit to step out for a little dinner, leaving me alone, expressing confidence in my ability to operate all systems. The moment he slipped out the door a shiver of terror rippled through my body. My mouth went dry. My palms turned clammy. And it turned out to be a very busy night—cheap taco special. I had to ring up food bills for waitresses, credit cards, tabs, employee discounts, etc., all needing separate buttons. I immediately fell behind and tried to do too many things at once and hit a wrong button and tape streamed out and piled up on the floor. Bells dinged. The screen advised me. There was no Greg to help me. Then somebody requested a golf channel and told me the number, but since there were two systems, I tried the wrong system and all 10 TVs blinked off, so there was nothing but static on all 10 TVs while patrons clamored like an unruly mob for drinks and games.
I became sort of petrified, unable to function, to even move, my brain vaporizing. I was lathered in sweat, gulping for air, hands shaking, teeth clacking. I began to go faint and held onto the bar to keep from collapsing on the floor where tape was quickly piling up. Finally, after swigging a shot from a bottle of vodka like a skid-row drunk, I stormed into the kitchen and corralled the sweet 19-year-old waitress, Melody, who recoiled in shocked, pop-eyed horror at the sight of me.
“My God,” she gasped, touching my inflamed, sweaty face, “are you sick?”
“Melody, I’m having a seizure! I’m hyperventilating!” I gnashed my teeth as sweat geysered from my forehead, burning and blinding my eyes. “Things are closing in on me, Melody!” I heard myself shouting in a dry, strangled voice., following her out to the bar and going behind it. “The register,” I cried pointing at it. “I’m no match for it. The sonofabitch is gonna kill me!”
Everybody in the clubhouse had ceased what they were doing to stare at me. “Poor thing….” Melody murmured, very concerned. “Do you want me to call the paramedics?”
“No. Take over, honey. I’ll drive myself to the hospital. The bar, it’s all yours, kid, the tips, everything. I gotta go. Tell Greg I quit.”
I dashed to the door. Glancing back, Melody, with a couple strokes of the finger, had all the games back on and the register working. I ran to my car and drove to Cayucos and went straight to the local tavern and downed several shots of good vodka chased with beer and soon recovered, back on an even keel, dry, calm, relieved.
Next night I was almost giddy facing my scabrous crew at Happy Jack’s. “You worthless faggot piece of shit,” Homer Carp, an obnoxious fisherman with teeth that looked like they belonged to a barracuda needing an orthodontist, snarled at me. “I hear you’re goin’ to work at a pussy golf course.”
I poured myself a vodka and swilled it. “Why don’t you get some new choppers, fatass.” I retorted.” §
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.