For Donny Moore, In Memorium. He was a friend, an institution in Morro Bay, who got killed in an auto wreck.
Homer Carp, a tugboat captain who holds the Morro Bay record for drunk-in-public convictions at 29, ignores my greeting as I slip behind the bar and begin my shift. The happy hour crew has moved to the middle of the bar because Homer sits at the elbow with his coterie—a carpenter, a fisherman, and a Cal Trans employee, Biff Thomas. Once every week or so they play poker and drink beer and eat pizza at one of their residences.
After I get my bank in the register I begin emptying ash trays, mopping the surface, checking fruit, but out of the corner of my eye I spot Carp eyeing me up because his longneck is empty and he’s been drinking since the bar opened at 9 and is ready to transition to CC/coke. He’s sneering at me with these remarkable teeth that buck out and prong in various directions, like every tooth has a mind of its own. His faded black T-shirt is from the Bear Flag Saloon in Moss Landing and his faded Levi’s expose a bulge of fish-scale white belly and the crack of his enormous ass. His ballcap is from a dive in Monterey and pulled low over two protuberant brown suspicious eyes. His head and neck could belong to a buffalo and Homer is basically composed of solid, powerful, whale-like blubber, about 300 pounds of it.
“Hey faggot, you working tonight?” he calls in a voice that could cut through a rock fest.
I ignore him.
“I asked if you’re working tonight, you goddamn swisher.”
I glance over. His ash tray is heaped beside a mash of bills, a pack of Camel nonfilters and a chain with many keys. When he sees me coming he moves his bills back out of my reach. I empty Biffs’ heaping ash tray. All the poker players are chain-smokers.
“How’s it goin’, Biff?” I ask, very friendly.
“Okay, Dell. Hey, I liked your latest article in the New Times. Awesome.”
“I would like a goddamn drink, Dell-Smell.” Carp says nastily. “Can I get a drink in this vermin-infested stink-hole?”
I take my time. He wants his drink in a chimney glass. Everybody watches me go to work. I pack his glass with shaved ice and shoot a quick three-second pour and splash in Coke with the gun, shove in a straw, bounce the drink in front of Homer so that some of it spills in his slopped-up area. I snatch three singles he extends tentatively and ring them up as he stares at his drink with persecuted dissatisfaction. I get busy, treading the boards, but I can hear Homer addressing his cronies and anybody within earshot over the usual jukebox and din of converging voices.
“I been coming in this shit-hole since I was sixteen and in all that time Dell-Smell is by FAR the worst fucking bartender I’ve seen. His service sucks, his attitude stinks, he’s got a putrid personality, he’s lazy and stupid and a know-it-all, considers himself some kind of authority because he gets his shitty articles in a shitty little paper, but what he is is a nothing, a nobody, a wind-bag, and on top of that he’s a flaming faggot!”
I continue to ignore him.
“I’ve drank in every dive from the Aleutians to Mexico, and never have I been served a worse drink by a bigger piece of shit.”
All 22 stools are occupied, the poolroom is packed, and I keep on hopping. Homer quickly drains his drink and pushes his chimney to the edge of the bar with three singles.
“You think that little boy could handle a real job, a man’s job?” He’s standing now—to emphasize his rising discontent. “That ass-packer’s never had a real job in his life, that’s why he’s tending bar in the lowest lowlife dive on the coast.”
I pour myself a shot, sniff it, sip it, put it down and stroll to the front end of the bar to talk to Beer Can Bessie, who’s enjoying Homer’s vituperation.
“I WANT A DRINK! YOU RODENT! VERMIN! PISS-ANT!”
I take my time moving down the bar, dabbing at certain areas with my towel, empty an ash tray with a single butt before arriving in front of Homer, who growls, “I want a round for my friends and another CC/Coke and I want some goddamn booze in it, Smell!”
I place his chimney on the matt, leave residue in it. I empty the residue in the glasses of his friends, fill them about ¾ full with cubes, pour them generous shots, gun in mix, then cram Carp’s chimney to the rim with shaved ice and quick pour him a weaker shot before gunning in Coke. Then I mop the area of his friends and empty their ash trays before placing their drinks carefully before them on round coasters. Then I bounce Homer’s glass in front of him and sip my shooter with pinky finger extended while he scowls at his drink. The scowl deepens when I return his change, which he scoops quickly.
“You miserable dog-dick worm,” he growls. “You didn’t have this crappy job, you’d be homeless, begging for dimes.”
There’s another rush and I crank on. People are tipping me well. Homer watches me gaze at him with a smug grin as I stuff another bill in my toke jar.
“Can you imagine that weakling fishing for king crab in the Aleutians? He wouldn’t last ten seconds before he’d be puking his guts out and crying for his mommy.” He swills his entire drink and slams the glass on the bar and points to it. “How about a real drink, you pile of slimy dogshit?”
I snatch the chimney and cram it with shaved ice, tamp down the ice with the scoop like a snow cone, then cram in more ice on top and dribble in CC and shoot in Coke and snag three singles and slam the drink in front of him as his retinue looks on.
“You think you’re pretty goddamn cute, short-pouring me and grabbing my money like a greedy little skunk, don’t yah, faggot?” I empty my toke jar, count singles. “Hey SMELL, I saw your latest article in that cheesy, gutless rag. Couldn’t read it. Pure garbage. You’re no writer. You’re no good at anything. No wonder you’re working in this turd-hole. You’re a turd.” I change singles into a twenty, stuff it in my jar. Homer swills his drink. “You don’t make me a decent drink, I’m coming back there and make my own, puke-breath.”
“You come back here and I’ll crush your thick skull with the Galliano bottle, Fatso.”
“You’ll need more than a Galliano bottle if I come back there.” He’s looking positively vicious now. “Sissies like you can’t fight with your fists. You never been in a real fight in your life. I’ll snap your chicken neck and stomp you ‘til you’re beggin’ for mercy. Any time, boy—right now, in the street! Pussy boy faggot!”
Some newcomers and tourists have come in, and they are shocked at the sight and sound of Homer, who I now purse my lips at and blow him a kiss and wave at him with a limp wrist. He grits his horrible teeth while I address the crowded bar.
“Homer is obviously homophobic. Hates homosexuals. Know why? It’s called self-loathing, because Homer’s a closet fairy. Yeh. He sneaks up to San Francisco and dresses up in sexy evening gowns, has to use a corset to stuff in all that blubber, wears perfume and earrings and lipstick and bra for his fatty boobs, and he swishes his ass in gay bars looking for manly studs in leather!”
His support group chuckles, as do others in the crowd. Activity in the poolroom ceases. “Homer wants romance, and a lotta foreplay and he loves to kiss for hours with his man. Can you imagine a man kissing Homer, with those bulbous lips and caribou teeth?”
They are all laughing now. Homer’s trying to glower, but those choppers are bulging over his lips. I begin prancing around behind the bar, sashaying. “My name is Homer Carp,” I declare in my best attempt at a falsetto. “And I wanna FRENCH KISS my man! I wanna get down and dirty and be a SLUT. I know there’s a woman inside me, just dyin’ to get out, and I can’t control her anymore. I’m GAYYYYY!”
His cronies rollick with laughter. Homer is grinning. His teeth look like a pitchfork that’s been sledge-hammered. He lumbers into the poolroom and starts a game. When he misses a shot (he has an excellent stick), he returns to his area, drains his drink, shoves his glass forward, points to it, tosses a century beside it, and flashes his remarkable smile. I make him a strong drink. When he returns from the pool table he neglects to count his money and flips me a five and I snatch it and stuff it in my jar and walk out from behind the bar and out the back door to stand on the sidewalk and get some air. Across the street Big Bill is taking down the American flag from his hotdog stand. Homer’s un-cherry 1960 Nash Rambler is parked behind my recently purchased and duct-taped, rusted-out and back-bumperless 1981 Chrysler Cordoba, as my Olds died. I stand studying the heaps, until Homer is outside, pool cue in hand.
“What an ugly toad your Rambler is,” I tell him. “It’s a disgrace having that eyesore sitting in front of a respectable place like Happy Jack’s. Why don’t you park it across the street at fancy-pants Circle Inn?”
“That Rambler’ll out-run and out-last that cancer-ridden Chrysler. Look at the duct tape on that thing. Just shows how stupid you are, covering cancer holes with duct tape. Everyone in town knows you’re a clueless idiot when they see you driving around in that ugly piece of shit.”
“That Cordoba, it’s stylish and classy, with Corinthian leather bucket seats. Your Rambler has no sleek lines; it’s like its owner—grotesque, like one of those giant sea turtles on those islands off South America.”
“The Galapagos Islands, dummy. I been there. You’ve never been anywhere but stinky dives.”
We spar a little longer and then I go back to work and stay busy. The after-happy hour crowd drinks themselves out and the dinner hour lull sets in, but Homer remains as the second wave comes in, munching crackers and nuts and beef jerky. He drinks at a methodical pace. Around eleven his eyes acquire a bovine cast, initial signs of his being tipsy. His second wife, diminutive, feisty, alligator-hide, Vera, calls. I hand him the phone and he talks to her briefly. I remark that he, Homer, is afraid of Vera and brag about being my own man, un-monitored by MY woman. He stands and grabs for his keys but I snatch them away. He demands them. I shake my head. He threatens me. I laugh at him. He sits down on his stool and orders another drink. I pour him a strong one. He sips it, settles in.
Rafe Monk shows up, carrying a load, sits beside him. Homer buys him a drink. They shake dice for dollar bills. The bar is clearing out. Vera comes in, tries to prod him home. Homer refuses to budge. I leer and smirk at him. Vera leaves. His son, a studious looking kid, comes in, tries to get him to leave. He won’t budge. The son leaves. Then his daughter comes in, a pretty, plump girl, his pet. Even she can’t budge Homer, who informs me he’s closing the bar.
He and Rafe drink and make slurred, asinine conversation. I have one with them. I play pool with Homer and slaughter him and win $5, which I’d never do if he was sober. Around closing Homer orders a case of beer to go so he and Rafe can drink on his boat down at the embarcadero. I begin cleaning up. Neither man is making sense at this point. They demand their case of beer, tossing bills at me. I get their case from the cooler and take my bank to the safe in the office. I lock the back door and let them out the front door and tell them to wait for me and I’ll drive them to the boat so they don’t get a drunk driving, but no, they’re walking the five blocks or so, and Homer says, “I’d rather go to jail then set foot in yer fuckin’ smelly jalopy, Smell!”
“Well, don’t open that case ‘til you’re on your boat.”
“Fuck off, flamer!”
I step back and adjust the burglar alarm. Lift two stools onto the bar, then step outside and lock the front door and when I look across the street, a squad car is at the intersection facing me and its spotlight pours a stream of light on Homer and Rafe, who are on the sidewalk, both with beer cans. Monk faces the cop in the squad car, while Homer teeters in place as he urinates against the Circle Inn and drinks at the same time. The spotlight moves off them and settles on me. I recognize one of the older cops, Sgt. DeAbrew.
“DELL!” he calls out over his speaker. “ARE YOU SOBER?”
I nod emphatically.
“I’M SICK OF THROWING CARP IN JAIL. WILL YOU TAKE THESE TWO TO WHEREVER THEY ARE GOING? I WANT THEM OFF THE STREET!”
I nod. Homer protests, dick a-dangle, but DeAbrew pulls around the corner, refusing to hear it. I get in my Cordoba and drive over beside them and have to coax them into the car. They toss their case in the back seat and fall in. Homer grumbles about my car—smells bad, music (Miles Davis) sucks, filthy, uncomfortable, etc. I remain silent and drive slowly down to the embarcadero. They manage to get out, cumbersome and gimpy and deliriously drunk, tilting this way and that, Monk holding the case, flashing his incisors in a mad grin.
“Don’t fall in the water and drown,” I warn. “Because I sure as hell ain’t rescuing your sorry asses. I can’t swim.”
Homer grins, his teeth those of a barracuda badly needing an orthodontist. “Comin’ in for a nightcap, stupid?” §
Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his mate, Wilbur, a very needy chocolate lab he rescued from the animal shelter. He is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice and is currently working on a book about his dad, The Ball Player’s Son.