Tag Archives: fisherman

Night life in Happy Jack’s: A dog and fish story

by Dell Franklin

IMG_6070A packed Friday night, the band’s cranking, the fleet’s in, the crowd’s juiced just enough to release inhibitions but not yet stuporous or apeshit, a magical time for a bartender, and then this wolfish-looking guy in a hooded sweatshirt and knee-high rubber boots comes in with a pit bull and not just any pit bull. He’s a fisherman, no doubt, but I’ve never seen him in here before and right off my fellow emotional tyrant of a bartender, Jessi, is hysterical at the sight of his dog, both of them wedging into the crowd as those well-behaved dogs of several local fisherman perk up under the feet of their masters along the bar, between stools and under tables. Jessi, known to tongue-lash and punch out guys, quails like a terrified kitten.

My policy is to allow dogs in Happy Jack’s. Though the county has banned dogs in bars for health reasons, supposedly, it’s my contention the dogs owned by violent prone patrons of this particular bar work as a calming affect, like a tranquilizer, and, since all their dogs get along splendidly, it gives them a chance to compliment each other and brag about their dogs, all of them ideal companions on the high seas.

I ask Mel Sylliphant if he knows the guy dragging his pit bull toward the poolroom, freaking out all the women, of which there are plenty. But no, Mel, who’s from up north, has never seen this guy before.

“Look at the balls on that pit,” he says with awe and respect. “Those suckers are fuckin’ tennis balls!”

The dog is black with a spiked collar. The fisherman is built like a barrel and, after pulling down his hood, sports a watch cap, his beard is red in an angular hawk face encasing two fierce eyeballs surveying the crowd.

Jessi, vibrating with paranoia, jabs me. “Dell, we gotta get that dog outta here. Please, I’m scared!”

I go out from behind the bar. A path is cleared. A space is between the crowd and the fisherman and his pit bull, and when he spots me coming he grins, displaying two incisors and no front teeth. I stop before him while his dog eyes me with keen vigilance. The fucker could take off my calf with one chomp.

“Pal, I suggest you take your dog outside,” I say. “He’s freaking everybody out. Why don’t you tie him up somewhere and come back in for a drink. That’s all I ask.”

He peers around. “Folks got dogs in here. Spike ain’t gonna attack nobody ‘less they attack him.”

“No human or dog’s gonna attack your dog—they’re all scared of that monster.”

“That ain’t my fault. Spike goes where I go. I don’t like my dog bein’ discriminated against cuz he’s a pit. At the Bear Flag in Moss Landing, they let me bring Spike in alla time.”

“Well, this ain’t the Bear Flag.”

“What is this—a pussy bar? You head pussy?”

“All right, that’s enough outta you. If you’re gonna pull that shit, YOU’RE outta here.”

“What if I ain’t leavin’, boy?”

Boy? I’m 53 and he’s at least 15 years younger than me. “I can call the cops.”

“Ooooooo, I’m so scared. ‘Sides, they ain’t gonna do squat for bringin’ my dog in. So go on an’ call the motherfuckers.”

“That’s a last resort. I don’t want the cops in here. It’s your dog I’m concerned about.” I fold my arms. “I don’t know your dog. I KNOW the dogs in here. They’re not fighting dogs. They’re scared of your dog. That’s why they’re not out here sniffing. Fear leads to fights among dogs…”

“What’re you, a dog shrink?”

I sigh. “I don’t want a dog fight with this place packed. This is business, man. People’ll walk out of here or they won’t come in when they see your dog, and it’s my responsibility to keep this crowd and do a big business. This is a good night. Everybody’s having a great time. Your dog, even if he’s a peaceful dog, which I trust he is, is still a pit bull the size of a fucking mastiff, and he’s gonna run everybody out of here. It’s business, not personal. I got nothing against you or your dog. Okay?”

He stares at me, eyes empty. “I want a beer.’

“I know you do. I’ll gladly serve you a beer, but not until you get your dog out of here. Okay?”

“I don’t like bein’ away from my dog,” he explains. “The Bear Flag in Moss Landing, the Buena Vista in Eureka, LaRocca in ‘Frisco, they all let me bring Spike in. What’s wrong with this dive? I heard this was supposed to be a man’s bar, and Morro Bay was a tough town. Why are all these pussies afraid of Spike?”

I unfold my arms. “You want a beer, take Spike out.” I reach down and pet Spike’s massive cranium, for he’s gazing up at me with a benign, hopeful look, like he’s been through this before and wants no trouble. “Good boy,” I coo. “Look, I don’t wanna separate you from Spike, man. I can see you two are tight. It’s my opinion a dog like Spike is a far better companion than any woman. You can’t trust a woman like you can a magnificent specimen like Spike.”

He’s still gazing at me with those empty eyes. But I see a glimmer is registering. “Well…” he says.

“You see, the rest of these dogs, well, they’re just ordinary run-of-the-mill mutts. They’re not exceptional studs like Spike. With a dog like Spike, we have to make an exception. The other dogs are spooked by his superior physical gifts. Okay?”

“Well…okay,” he says, not happy. “But this dive, Happy Jack’s, I’m real disappointed. I heard this was a man’s bar. Looks to me like a bunch-a cake-eaters.”

“I gotta get back to work now. You go ahead and take Spike outside, guy, and come on in for that beer.”

I walk him out the front door and watch him continue bow-legged down the street half a block to his pick-up with camper shell. He deposits Spike inside and stands talking to him. He’s got Oregon plates. I return to the bar and Jessi heaves a sigh of relief and we catch up because she fell behind while I conversed with Spike’s master. We do a shot of Crown Royal.

Then he returns. And now he’s holding a fish skeleton about a foot and a half long, at least. This fish skeleton has immense jaws, like a barracuda. The sight of this skeleton is terrifying and women are squealing and edging away into the crush as the lunatic walks with the skeleton thrust out in front of him as if to pave his way. Christ! Again, Jessi is quailing.

“That dude’s crazy!” she cries. “Look at his eyes!”

Though fishermen in the bar are not even slightly aroused, they are also aware of being in the company of a madman, whose goddamn fish skeleton, with its soccer ball-size head and massive jaws, looks prehistoric, like it was manufactured in a Hollywood special effects studio for a horror movie where a blown up version of this fish skeleton prowls the earth and gobbles up a panicky stampede of humans.

And now, as a girl moves gingerly away from him, he thrusts the skeleton at her and she shrieks and flees, pushing through the throng toward the band area up front. Now the maniac is thrusting the fish and clacking its jaws at every woman in the vicinity and grinning, his incisors flaring, having a big time. The fishermen clustered in or near the poolroom seem amused, their dogs out of danger. Most of them have been to the Bear Flag and other dangerous dives in various ports, and so it’s I who must calm down Jessi and restore order in the bar.

I go out front, out of range of the fucking fish. “Hey, you gotta get that fucking thing outta here,” I tell him. “That is the most evil-looking specimen I’ve ever laid my eyes on, dude.”

“It ain’t like it’s alive, boy. It don’t bite. They let me bring it in the Bear Flag in Moss Landing and LaRocca in…”

I put up my hand. “I want that goddamn thing outta here, bub.”

“Yer getting’ huffy with me, boy. I don’t like that.”

“Yeh, well, tough shit. Every girl in here’s freaked out with you thrusting that ugly fish at ‘em.”

“Fuck ‘em. If they can’t take a little joke, tough titty.”

“I’m gonna ask you one more time—get that fucking ghastly fish outta here.”

“And if I don’t?” He regards me with utter disrespect. “What yah gonna do about it, boy?”

I step forward. I take a deep breath. “I’m gonna kill you.” I say it as quietly as possible in the din, without emotion. I do not mean to say this; it just comes out. I realize I mean it, too.

“You’re gonna…KILL me?”

I nod, staring into his eyes, which for the first time show some recognition of what is going on.

“That’s a pretty drastic reaction to my goddam fish,” he says. “Yer gonna kill me over a fish? A dead fish?”

I nod. “This bar is MY territory. I make the rules, and you’re in my territory breaking my rules. This bar is also my livelihood. You’re driving people out, fucking with my livelihood. Those are grounds to kill you. Men have killed over less. I will kill you right here and sleep like a baby, and my only regret will be making poor Spike an orphan. Go ahead, try me.”

My spiel is registering. “Jeezus, yer serious, ain’t yah?”

I’m still staring into his eyes, having moved closer, giving him the same look my bad-ass father gave any threatening person before kicking their ass, a look which in most cases paralyzed them if they had even a shred of sense and self-preservation.

“All right, all right.” He’s backing up. “Jeezus, and I heard this was a cool bar. Settle down, man.”

“Don’t tell me what to do, motherfucker, I’m ready to kill!”

“All right. I’m takin’ my fish back to my truck. It was just a joke. Don’t know why everybody’s uptight over a dead fish. Up in Alaska…”

“Get the fuck outta here. You’re eighty-sixed for life, motherfucker.”

“All right. Jeezus.” He leaves with his fish. People make a path. He doesn’t return, but a few minutes later, after I’ve shared another shot of CR with Jessi, somebody tells me to look out the window and when I do, there he is, across the street in front of Legends, along with a crowd of regulars out on the sidewalk, trying to get in with Spike, and the bartender, Lou, is in the doorway pleading with him and seeming to get nowhere, and in Legends, of course, no dogs are allowed, period. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he shares his beach shack with the million-dollar view with Wilbur, a rescue dog. Dell is the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice and is currently working on a book about his dad who played professionally in the early days of baseball, The Ball Player’s Son.

Night Life in Happy Jack’s: Carp

IMG_6070by Dell Franklin

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 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 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.