Tag Archives: bars

When the bad becomes good


The worst are filled with passionate intensity

culture-rockaway-bully2by John Willingham

Last weekend, my wife and I decided to go a hotel in Rockaway Beach, Oregon, an unpretentious beach town on the Central Oregon Coast, hoping that a trip to the ocean would reduce the considerable anxiety and anger that we both were feeling after the election. The place had a real bargain: for $70 a night, a two-room apartment about 90 feet from the ocean, with only the beach in between.

We hit the local cafes and bars for eating out. The Bar & Grill was toward the end of our list. The internet said the place had broasted chicken and my wife wanted that for dinner. We sat at the bar, as we often do, because it’s easier to have conversations with the locals.

On my left was an empty stool, and on the next stool over was a big man with a Dallas Cowboys hat and jacket. His wife was the bartender/manager. She had on an Ohio State sweatshirt. I love to gab with locals in a bar, so I started talking to the guy about the Cowboys. Well, I hate the Cowboys owner, Jerry Jones, but I was careful to say that I loved the old Cowboys teams from the ‘60s and ‘70s but didn’t really care now how they did.

Someone down the bar said the guy was actually from Arizona, and his college team was Arizona State. He told me, yes, that was his team. He was vague about why he liked the Cowboys. His wife said it was the cheerleaders.

“One of the most admirable people in the country came out of Arizona State,” I said.

“Oh yeah?”

Pat Tillman. He played harder than anyone in the NFL and then gave that up to go fight with the Rangers in Afghanistan after 9/11.”

“Yeah,” the guy said. “And he was killed—you know how? With friendly fire.”

I already knew that. Then I said, “I have great admiration for the military, but one thing that really hurts me is that so many fine young men and women have been killed for a bunch of crazy bastards in the Middle East who hate us no matter what we do.”

He put down his beer, puffed out his chest, and said, “I guess you’re one of those Clinton lovers.”

I tried to get the conversation back on the military, in a positive way. “Look, what I’m saying is that this country has sent a lot of kids to die with nothing to show for it, beginning with Vietnam. I hate that.”

“We could have won that war. We never put everything we had into it. What kind of fucking shit are you talking here?”

He was loud. My wife was next to me. It pisses me off for people to be that way in front of a woman. Old School, I know, but there it is.

“Look,” I said, pointing my finger at him, “let’s have an understanding. We can say whatever we want to say except let’s not use the F-bomb and call names.”

He thought for a moment, took a sip of his beer. His wife came over and shook her fist at him and told him to shut up. He agreed with me to keep things civil. We shook hands on it.

We talked briefly about something else, I can’t remember what. Then he said something about Obama causing all the problems in this country and now things would be great. I said that Obama had at least kept young Americans from getting killed for nothing. “Fuck you,” he growled. “Fuck you, you goddamn liberal pussy.”

I said, “Fuck you, and shut your fucking mouth.”

“Go ahead, take a swing,” he said.

I have a standing rule about this. In this day and time you do not take the first swing unless you are being robbed or someone has moved to attack you. Otherwise, you will be sued or thrown in jail. So I put my right fist, tightly clenched, on the bar, clearly visible to him but just behind my right shoulder so I could hit him with everything I had if he made a move.

“You go for it, you fat son of a bitch, and I’ll knock the living shit out of you,” I said. He was at least ten years younger, heavy but very strong, as his handshake had shown. Maybe an out-of-work lumberman, or maybe just an asshole with a big mouth. But he just sat there. He was a bully, pure and simple.

His wife was beside herself. “I told you!” she screamed at him, shaking her head and retreating to the kitchen.

I paid the tab. My wife was not happy with me for having begun a conversation with the guy in the first place, but she was, thank God, agreeably intoxicated. As we walked past the guy she tapped him on the shoulder. He turned his face and she gave him a peck on the cheek, laughed, and we walked out the door. He had no idea what to make of that, God bless her.

Here’s what I hope I learned from this:

No doubt there are white people who have been left behind in the “new” economy. No doubt it is easy for many of these people to believe that identity groups have gotten all the attention, and political elites have either taken the white working class for granted or screwed them directly or deceitfully for years.

But, too often, their legitimate gripes are subordinate to the hatred they have cultivated over the last two decades, and especially the last eight years. Everything must be good or evil, and everything that is not blindly pro-white, pro-military, and anti-Obama is evil. As Yeats wrote, “the worst are filled with passionate intensity” and no longer have any real bearings, only irrational fear, hatred, and resentment.

The “alt right” has scooped them up and brainwashed them into believing that the worst part of themselves is now the best part of themselves, justified, heedless, self-righteous and authoritarian.  It’s not just the economy, stupid. It’s humanity led once again to its darkest side.

My ill-advised visit to their dark place will be my last. I was close to being there myself. §

John Willingham is a writer and editor from Portland.



For us frail humans on this complicated planet, drink has always been the salvation, and the curse.

Actually, it’s probably more accurate to say that WE are the curse. Booze—like marijuana and assorted drugs—is just there, either grown from the soil or concocted in distilleries, sold legally or illegally by people, purchased and consumed by people.

So what is it that drives the humans of this world to ingest into their systems just about anything that’s available? Clinical professionals blame lack of self-worth, low self-esteem, and poor self-image, and it’s hard for any of us to deny we’ve felt this way one time or another. But what about jobs? Jobs take up at least a third of our lives. We work hard, are driven, deal with bosses, deadlines, competition—it’s a constant grind. Most jobs, because of intimidation and boot-licking, carve out a bit of our pride and dignity. No jobs are easy. They cause us to have faulty nervous systems, bad stomachs, irregular heartbeats, ongoing headaches.

Is it any wonder we hit the sauce?

What about guys who slave away in the blazing sun on rooftops and ladders, inhaling tar, paint fumes and sawdust, ruining their elbows and backs, wearing themselves into arthritic conditions by 40? You think they need a brew? Try and deny them one when they drop that hammer at five in the afternoon after hacking away on a summer day. My advice? Don’t try it.

So what drives us to drink?

Having been a bartender and a totally joyous, well-adjusted alcoholic most of my life, I’d say pain, boredom, and the opposite sex. You don’t go anywhere in life without experiencing some measure of physical or emotional pain. Anybody who claims not to have felt periods of loneliness, depression, and boredom is either a liar or brain-dead or delusional.

As for the opposite sex? Well, let’s face it, damn near every song ever written concerns some guy or gal who’s been jilted, dealt a broken heart, or is in love with somebody who loves somebody else. The stuff of life. What’s more, when it comes to men and women, the common ground has always been studded like a minefield, and those rocky barriers are usually broken down in local watering holes after a few healthy belts of our evil potions.

Now, I’m well aware that a large percentage of folks out there are going to tell me people should be strong enough to deal with all these problems without resorting to booze, pot, escapism, hedonism, debauchery, and so on. That we should be made of sterner stuff, maybe even embrace religion, find a hobby, join a health club, seek professional counseling. They probably feel my way of thinking is pretty damn disgusting, weak-willed and self-indulgent.

Well, they’re absolutely right on all accounts.

But you see, there is possibly no greater rush than being a disgusting, weak-willed, self-indulgent drunkard, a real swill-hound, a barfly, a person who generally has trouble figuring out whether responsibility is more important than having a good time, or vice versa. What I’ve learned is that many of the most responsible, well-meaning people I’ve ever known are drunks. It’s a way of life. Some of us just can’t get by without the right amount of booze. During certain hours of the day (happy hour!), during certain times of the week, during birthdays, all holidays, and special occasions, it’s next to impossible for many of us without imbibing those spirits that achieve the golden glow.

It’s not any easy thing for a drunk or any kind of serious drinker to pass a local pub and not go in, especially if the pub is lined with people—people who are smoking up a storm, guzzling beers, downing shots, slapping backs, hugging, laughing hugely, dancing to music, or engaging in exultant, emphatic, totally aimless conversations that are instantly forgotten.

A lot of us are very sensitive about being the lushes we are. We don’t want to be told we’re drunks. We don’t like being told we’re impairing our vital organs and destroying brain cells and shortening our lives. We don’t like being told we’re a danger to decent society. And we don’t like being told that our behavior is embarrassing, that we are not especially amusing, that we’re actually boring, repetitious, and sometimes overbearing asses.

We are deeply suspicious of and disturbed with the sentinels of sobriety. We feel that the born-again recovering alcoholics, the Religious Right, lifetime teetotalers, and the various pious zealots of this world carry their self-esteem around like a shroud of accusatory doom, vilifying us as catalysts of our morally decayed and collapsing civilization.

Hell, we just think we’re a lot of fun. So please, leave us alone!

Certainly, as drunks, we go out of our way to leave YOU alone. We respect your desire to be sober, respectable, serious, upright, strong-willed, and constructive members of our grown-up world. We know that you mean well and want a better world. We want a better world, too, you know. The only serious problem is that we find it most ideal while totally snockered. Otherwise, it’s not the great world it’s cracked up to be.

You see, in most cases, we just can’t help ourselves. We love the sauce and almost any substance that’ll scramble or unscramble our brains, deaden our senses, impart a whiff of ecstasy, and more or less give us a reprieve from a rather thorny reality. Most of us aren’t troublemakers, brawlers, dangerous drunken drivers, wife/child abusers, sexual predators, or general nuisances. Most of us find a way to get home safely. We hate to fight, and want to be liked, want to make love, and want to be loved and soothed in return, like most people.

We are just a bunch of drunks. Our kind has been around for centuries—eons—and quite possibly we are good for the morale of any country. In fact, it is my firm belief that if you took away our booze, took away our bars, honky tonks, nightclubs, and pubs, and denied us our escapism, hedonism, and debauchery, it would be an utterly dull, joyless, empty world. It would take only a year or so to destroy it and ourselves. §

Dell Franklin writes, and drinks responsibly, always within walking distance, from his home in Cayucos, Calif.