by Dell Franklin
Tanya and Trudie lurk just outside the back door of cavernous, grotto-like Happy Jack’s, leveling me with malevolent eyes and at the same time trying to get Hubie’s attention along the bar. I have eighty-sixed these two permanently on my shifts for mooching. Like so many of our customers, they reside in “The Kennel,” a square block of pre-war, wooden, added-on, two-story dilapidated eyesore a few blocks from the bar in Morro Bay. Because so many Kennel residents drink here, Happy Jack’s is often referred to by most patrons and numerous citizens as “The Turd.” I often answer the phone like this: “The Turd. Turd-master speaking. May I help you?”
Once, when our owner, 80-year-old Doug Bruce called, he was a bit taken aback but not really miffed since the local business/political community with whom he golfs and hobnobs refer to his bar, behind his back, as “The Sewer,” due to its unholy stench. These weasels have been trying to close it down for years.
The Kennel is scheduled for demolition and replaced by luxury condos for the rapid gentrification of Morro Bay and its influx of wealthy retirees from throughout the state now that our fishing industry is dying. It has to be appalling when these prospective condo buyers cruise the residential streets of Morro Bay and discover the monstrous Kennel with its open garage slots and oily driveways of squat, flat-tired and block-supported heaps as well as smoke-spewing, clanging four-door behemoths, lopsided pickups and rusted vans.
If a prospective buyer idles past the Kennel in daylight hours, there will be little sign of life, almost as if the place is a ghost town or leper colony. However, at night, the jarring discordance of hideous laughter, vile threats, grating music, aimless and endless arguments and senseless, profane blather wails on into the wee hours, and often until dawn. It is not uncommon for neighbors to call the police and, at 5 in the morning, watch the swirl of squad car lights while a weary cop orders one of the zombies to hold down the noise.
Every time Tanya and Trudie catch my eye, I hiss at them and make shooing gestures, as if they’re flies. They are trying to get Hubie’s attention and coax him off his stool (which is almost impossible) and outside so they can propose a blowjob for drug money.
I’ve got a fairly busy week day evening after Happy Hour. The pool room is clogged with some loud young low-rider progeny who, when not spinning around on crank, tiptoe around me, not sure I am to be trusted. They drink bottled beer and down shots of tequila. They have part time jobs—landscape, framing, house painting, etc. They’re all aware I’ve shit-canned Tanya and Trudie and seem okay with it, but a guy named Buford from the Kennel who sits at the elbow beside Hubie has urged me several times to re-instate them and is not happy with my ignoring him. A rangy, stringy auto mechanic with a mop of blond hair tucked under a beanie, he’s been off his stool twice to consort with the two harridans at the door.
I go out to collect bottles and glasses, and as I pass the door, Tanya hisses at me. “Asshole, everybody hates you.”
“Good. I like being hated. It simplifies things.”
“You treat us like trash, but we’re not trash, YOU’RE TRASH!”
“Lowlife scum,” Trudie adds. She is skeletal of face with a knobby concave body in baggy duds. She was once relatively appealing when young, but crank has rotted her teeth and flaked her skin. Tanya, in shin-high black pants and sweatshirt draped over bowling ball breasts, curls her lips up in a sneer. She has a pocked moon face, round mouth and a long needle nose and brown too-close-together eyes brimming with persecution, beneath which are black smudges.
“I don’t think you’re trash,” I say, stacking bottles beside Buford. “I think you’re skunks.”
“You think WE’RE skunks, when you work in the Turd? Ha ha ha.”
“At least I don’t live in a kennel, arf arf.”
“Hey, watch yer mouth, dude,” Buford warns. “I live there, and I don’t like nobody tellin’ me I live in a fuckin’ kennel. I ain’t no dog.”
I ignore him, return to the pool room for more bottles and glasses and stack them near Buford and Hubie. Buford glances at me as I go behind the bar and begin pulling bottles and glasses off the bar. “Those are my friends out there. I don’t like nobody callin’ ‘em skunks.” As he eyes me up, the girls watch from the doorway. “Who you think you are, eighty-sixin’ them gals, when they ain’t done shit? You think yer God?”
“I’m the bartender here. That makes me God.”
“Fuck you are.”
Hubie, white-haired and red-faced, filthy rich through investments and in love with this dive and conversing with his image in the back bar mirror, shoves up his empty mug. He pays with two singles and rolls up two singles like airplanes for my toke jar. Sometimes, for a surprise, he’ll roll up a five or ten. Occasionally, if he’s hungry, he’ll buy us both burgers I’ll fetch from next the diner next door, or a pizza delivered for the house. He never forgets my birthday and brings me sweatshirts. If he’s here at closing, I’ll drive him three blocks to his apartment. After serving him his draft, I thank him for his arrow-shaped tips and place them in my jar. Tanya, watching, places a defiant foot in the bar.
“You always accuse US of moochin’ off Hubie, but you’re the biggest mooch. You want Hubie all to yourself, pig.”
“Get your goddamn foot out of the door,” I snap.
She stubbornly keeps her foot where it is while Hubie stands, points to the mirror. “Rick is Hubie’s friend,” he announces. “Hubie likes Rick. Rick takes care of Hubie.”
He points a stern finger at himself in the mirror. “Rick likes Hubie.” He smiles at this thought.
“You’re such a phony,” Tanya squawks at me.
“Get your goddamn foot out of here. I don’t want a single inch or ounce of your loathsome being in this bar.”
“Hey dude, lay off!” Buford warns. He is fairly new to the Kennel, a drifter/transient with shifty prison eyes that seem to glow. He turns to Hubie. “Hey, old man, gimme twenty bucks for my frenz Trudie and Tanya. Yer a rich dude, givin’ that prick behind the bar bread for pourin’ fuckin’ beer, so give some of it to my frenz, you crazy ole fucker.”
Hubie looks quickly to me, fear in his eyes. “Lay off,” I tell Buford, my gorge rising. His eyes are green neon.
“Fuck you. This bar sucks long as yer in it. You can kiss my white ass.” He turns to Hubie with a sickeningly vulpine grin. “Gimme some-a that cash, ole crazy motherfucker. My frenz need-a eat. Hand it over, ole talkin’-to-yerself-loony-goddamn bedbug.”
Hubie is terrified. I step forward. “That’s enough, Buford. You’re cut off. I want you out-a here.” He grabs Hubie’s mug and hurls it at me, bouncing it off my chest and soaking my face, neck and shirt. Before I can react he hurls an empty bottle at me and then picks up every bottle in the vicinity and has me ducking as he fires one after another at me. One bounces off my forehead and another shatters a bottle of Jameson’s and then Buford flips me the finger and starts for the back door, but not before I am out from behind the bar and on him, the lead-bottomed bottle of Galliano in hand. Just as he reaches the back door I brain him across the side of the forehead and send him careening out onto the sidewalk, Trudie and Tanya jumping out of the way.
When the girls scream at me I lift the bottle menacingly and they flee down the sidewalk. Everybody pours out of the bar onto the sidewalk, where Buford wobbles like a punch-drunk boxer who’s just been bludgeoned by George Foreman, then backs up against the side of Happy Jack’s and slowly sinks to the sidewalk and sits there, eyes blank, mouth hung open, like he’s had an instant lobotomy.
I drop the bottle. A couple cranksters from the pool room pat my back with admiration and awe. “Nice goin’, Rick. Out-a fuckin’ sight, man.”
Buford rises slowly, eyes far, far away. “Wanna fight?” he blubbers, weakly raising his fists.
I fold my arms. His eyes refuse to focus. The bump on the side of his forehead has grown from a jawbreaker to a golf ball. He sinks back down, eyes staring sightlessly. Nobody bothers to call the cops or medics and Tanya and Trudie do not come back for him and will not because they have warrants and are despised by local police.
When I return to the bar, while cranksters all celebrate my braining of Buford, Hubie, the only person not to vacate the bar, says, smiling into the mirror, “May Hubie please have a beer, Rick? Hubie needs a beer from his friend Rick. Rick is Hubie’s friend. Hubie likes Rick.”
Half an hour later I check on Buford just in time to see him wobbling down the middle of the main drag with a tennis ball sticking out of his forehead while drivers honk and steer slowly around him. §
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.