Tag Archives: Happy Jack’s

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: ‘Two-Beer’

IMG_6070by Dell Franklin

Bob ‘Two-Beer’ Bullnair refuses to listen to reason, especially if he’s into his third beer. Two-Beer works exclusively for Rafe Monk. He is around my height, six feet, but at least 200 beans of non-defined farm-boy strength that is the awe of fellow fishermen, for Two-Beer will outwork, outlift and outlast anybody on the waterfront. His Midwestern pie-face owns tiny black eyes that are pathetically sincere, especially when he hits on women before his second beer. He is totally honest, trustworthy and earnest, will do anything for anybody, is intelligent and has a degree in engineering from the University of Iowa, and yet here he is, a deckhand in Morro Bay, California, living in a windowless shack and unable to get laid and avoid beatings.

On this Sunday evening Two-Beer’s button eyes are pinpricks inviting disaster. He wants a beer but I know we’ll all be in big trouble if I serve him one, and so, for the twentieth time, to distract him, I ask him why he ended up fishing in Morro Bay when he could be a serious person with a high-paying job in the grown-up tech world.

“I don’t wanna be like other people and do what other people do,” he tells me. “I do what I wanna do. And don’t you go mentioning my college degree again. Fuck the degree! I want people to think I’m stupid, but you know I’m not. You probly think you’re smarter than me, ‘cuz you’re a wise-ass, and you write for that shitty paper, but you’re not as smart as me. All you can do is tend bar and write shit. Otherwise, you’re good for nothin’.”

“I drove a cab.”

“Anybody can drive a cab.”

“Not everybody can drive a cab. It’s a harder job than you think.”

“Bullshit. If you can do it, anybody can do it.”

“You couldn’t do it. You couldn’t tend bar, either.”

“I could so. Anybody can tend bar.”

“Not you. A bartender needs diplomatic skills. You argue with everybody. You have no social amenities. You can’t be around booze without drinking, and you’re an idiot of a drunk. And you can’t fight.”

“Bullshit. I’ll kick your ass. I was on the high school wrestling team and won my matches, went to the state championships. The Midwest is wrestling country. I’d squeeze you into a pretzel.”

“You only fight when you’re drunk. Two beers and you’re helpless. You have no idea how many times I’ve saved you from a beating, but you never remember, because three beers and you black out. Rafe, Farraday…, they all have to watch you like hawks when you go up the coast. You go in bars like this, where nobody knows you, somebody’s gonna beat your ass into a bloody pulp.”

“I’ll have my second beer now, Mr. Know-it-all.”

“I’m not gonna serve you a second beer. Know why? There’s women in here, and women are always your natural enemy. Especially after two beers. I mean, you might even get laid in this dive if you had just one beer, or smoked a little weed.”

“Who are you? My social director? My shrink?”

“I’m your bartender, an important person in your milieu. I’m also your friend. I look out for you. I’m sick of seeing you get beaten senseless by people who have no business beating you senseless, and I’m sick of hearing about people beating you senseless. Somebody’s got to protect you from yourself. I care.”

“I know you do, but that doesn’t mean I hafta accept your protection or you caring about me. I’m my own man. I’m not a boy. I’m thirty-two years old. Besides, I’m unimpaired, and indestructible. I can take more punishment than you’d ever take, Mr. Know-it-all-tell-everybody-their-business bartender. Now gimme that beer, if you don’t mind, sir!”

“What are you gonna do if I don’t give it to you?”

He cracks his innocent Howdy Doody/Alfred E. Newman grin. “You know I’d never hurt you. You know the second beer I’m okay. It’s the third one I run into trouble.”

“My guess is you’ve had more than one in your dump or in other bars before coming down here.”

“I want my second beer, Franklin!” He’s becoming angry, pushing.

“I saw you coming out of Legend’s.”

“They wouldn’t serve me. I’m eighty-sixed.”

“I’m absolutely positive you’ve been nipping.”

“Fuck you! Gimme my fucking beer, man!”

“Go away, Two-Beer!”

“Don’t call me Two-Beer! I hate that name. It demeans me. I’m an educated person and I deserve dignity, you arrogant fucker. My name’s Bob Bullnair. Serve me!”

I walk away. Two-Beer looks especially persecuted, tells Homer Carp and Joe Farraday, who are sitting nearby, he’s being picked on because he’s a proud Native American. (He’s only ¼ Osage). Finally, he’s at the front door. He hisses at me, scrooches up his face to show his revulsion at the mere sight of me, and gives me the finger in a very exaggerated, menacing manner, and shouts, “I’m goin’ down to the wharf where they respect me, asshole. Fuck YOU-U-U-U!” He storms out through the swinging doors. Homer, at the end of the bar, flashes his grin, which looks like his teeth are a bunch of misshapen nails protruding from his lips. Farraday, who sits beside Weasel Frazier, displays his grin, which resembles a dog sneering.

Beer Can Bessie shows up and takes her usual stool up front and as far away from the crowd as possible and orders a bottle of beer and we exchange the usual hugs. I light her cigarette with our bar matches, which have no logo on the cover. It’s raining hard outside and she has on her overcoat and hat and doesn’t bother to remove them. She just got off work as an RN at the emergency room at a hospital in San Luis Obispo. Vera, Carp’s live-in woman, diminutive but known for her ferocious manner as “The Wolverine,” comes in through the back door, walks around Homer without acknowledging him or his friends and sits beside Bessie as I draw her a beer and light her cigarette. I sip a shot of top-shelf vodka while they talk. I fetch and devour a burrito from down the street. I’m savoring a cup of coffee with Kahlua when John, who manages the Pizza Palace two blocks down, calls.

The Pizza Palace has a rustic dining room and an enclosed patio with tables and serves pitchers of beer, and evidently Two-Beer came in claiming I’d sent him down. John served him a pitcher of beer and he began bothering some gal who was with a framer called Ortho, and when Two-Beer hissed and insulted his girl and got his pitcher dumped on his head and then got slaughtered before a few regulars pulled Ortho away, John and the crew threw him into the street.

Bessie and the Wolverine turn to see Two-Beer stagger through the front doors looking like he stuck his face in a garbage disposal. His T-shirt is torn half off his body and his hair is soggy with beer as he sidles up to the bar while I hold the phone, his eyes little nasty lasers.

“Do me a favor, Franklin,” says John, on whose Pizza Palace sponsored basketball team I once played point guard and helped lead them to their only city league championship and lone trophy. “Don’t ever send that mongoloid lunatic down here again, okay?”

“I didn’t send him down there, John. I wouldn’t sick the crazy bastard on my worst enemy.”

“He said you told him I’d serve him because we’re big hoop buddies.”

“I never said any of that, John. I’d never pawn the puke off on you.”

Two-Beer yells at me, “GIMME A BEER, YOU GODDAMN BUNION!”

“Oh, I see you got the moron now, huh? He ran everybody out of here. I’m talking families with kids. Thanks a lot, pal. Maybe I’ll send one of my blacked-out drunks to your place, huh?”

“That’s all I got, John.”


“He called one of my waitresses, a high school girl, a wart, a bunion, and a cunt, and hissed at her, and she ran out of here crying hysterically.”

“I’m sorry, John, I really am, but I’m telling yah, man, I NEVER sent the puke down there.”

“I gotta go, Dell. I got a mess to clean up. Thanks for sending that crazy person to my establishment and ruining our good name, I really appreciate it.”

After hanging up, Two-Beer is sort of draped over the bar, eyeing me up with persecuted malevolence, blood dripping from his nose and swollen, cut lips, face slack. “How about some coffee, Bob?” I say to him.

“How about some cawww-fee?” he mocks sneeringly. “Don’t try an’ schmooze me. Don’t try an’ outsmart me, cuz yah can’t, yah bunion.”

“Why you calling me, of all things, a bunion, Bob?”

“A boil, a wart, a …pus-tule.”

“Why you callin’ me those awful names, Bob? I’m on your side. I’m your friend.” I pour myself out a vodka, sniff it.

“Fuck you, I got no frenz…damn you, pus-face, I want my fuckin’ BEER!”

“You settle your dumb, sorry ass down,” Bessie says quietly.

Still draped over the bar, his head turns like a turtle’s toward Bessie. “Who the fuck are you?”

“You don’t wanna know, dipshit.”

“Who you callin’ a dipshit?” he says defensively.

Bessie calmly appraises him. “When’s the last time you got laid, stupid?”

Two-Beer’s trying to focus now. “None-a yer bizness, bitch.”

“You haven’t been laid in years. You gotta pay for it, like a beggar, though I doubt even the most desperate, drug-ridden hooker’d have you. You’re uncouth. A loser.” She takes out a new cigarette and I light it. She blows out smoke. “Poor stupid fisherman. Eat your poor lonely heart out.” She takes a slug of her beer. Turns back to me. “Give him a beer. I’ll take charge.” Two-Beer gazes at me, mouth agape, horribly bloodshot eyes terribly confused. I draw him a draft. He looks at it.

“Go ahead, drink your beer, stupid ape,” Bessie says. “Dig your own grave. You’re just about the stupidest, lamest male hide and pair of balls in creation, goddamn drooling, slobbering yokel, you’re like somebody’s abandoned goddamn St. Bernard.”

Two-Beer mutters, “My name’s Bob Bullnair and you can kiss my white ass.”

“Oh, that’s real intelligent. You’re a scholar as well as a boor.”

Two-Beer takes a swig of his beer—half of it trickles down his throat. Everybody’s looking on. I turn down the jukebox. Freshen up my shot. Lean back against the bar. These are golden moments, make the job worthwhile.

“Intelligent? I got a diploma from the University of Iowa, white-trash bitch. Whatta you got? Look like a homeless wench t’ me.”

Bessie looks him over. “So you’re gay, huh? A homo?”

“I ain’t a damn queer! Fuck you! I’m a man!”

Bessie snuffs out her cigarette. Finishes off half a bottle of beer, puts it down, studies Two-Beer, who gapes at her, licking his bloody, sliced, swollen lips. “I guess we’ll have to see about that,” she says. She tosses some bills on the bar, squeezes the Wolverine’s arm, stands and walks over to Two-Beer. She withdraws a hanky from her purse and dabs at his face. Two-Beer watches her, half standing now. She looks him up and down. Puts her hanky away. “Look,” she says “if you just shut your trap and follow me out the door like a good dog trying to please his master, you might just get lucky. You up to it, dipshit?”

Two-Beer straightens, teeters. He nods. He swigs his beer, most of it streaming down his neck. He flashes his Howdy Doody/Alfred E. Newman grin. Bessie snags him by his torn T-shirt and tows him lurching out the door while everybody cheers and claps. I lift my shot and bolt it. §

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.


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.


Night Life in Happy Jack’s: AN INSTANT LOBOTOMY


“Hey, watch yer mouth, dude! I live there, and I don’t like nobody tellin’ me I live in a fuckin’ kennel. I ain’t no dog.”

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.


Night Life in Happy Jack’s: El Niño’s coming! El Niño’s coming!

IMG_6070by Dell Franklin

Monday evening happy hour in notorious Happy Jack’s in Morro Bay and the usual crew along the bar—detached from the poolroom regulars and those scattered up front—and the topic of discussion is “El Niño,” the storm that pounded the area with a touch of disaster a few years back.

“No use stickin’ around here when El Niño hits,” states Eugene, a fisherman, “Cuz there ain’t gonna be no fishing. Might as well take a vacation—or go work at somethin’ else.”

“This El Niño’s supposed to be three times worse than the one in ’83,” claims Maggie, a 50ish woman with excess heft in her ass and bosom. “And IT damn near wiped us out.”

Chubby Estelle, Maggie’s fellow chain-smoker and best friend, says, “Don’t I remember! It rained 58 straight days, didn’t it?”

“I wouldn’t go that far,” says Ed Stone, who lives with Estelle and has been on the wagon for months due to almost dying of alcohol poisoning and sips soda with lime and gazes at the Keno screen even though he’s a broke gambling addict helping to pay rent collecting cans. “I believe it wiped out the Cayucos pier and damaged some piers up and down the coast. I believe Cayucos was flooded, if I remember.”

Maggie nods. “Main drag was closed off, businesses flooded out.”

“I might go to Florida, try and fish there,” Eugene muses, holding up his empty mug. “Maybe try the Keys.”

“The Keys is nothin’ but a buncha goddamn queers,” offers Rafe Monk, known as One-eyed Pitbull, who hunkers over his chain of numerous keys, cigarettes, ash tray, change from a hundred dollar-bill, and a Stoli driver in a bucket.

“You can’t escape El Niño in Flor-uh-duh,” says Estelle. “El Niño’s got the whole world by the balls.”

You got that right,” Maggie says sourly.

Estelle giggles, grins, holds up her empty shot glass. She’s already survived a bout with cancer and started breeding at around 14 back in some hollow in Kentucky. Her kids are institutional parasites.

“I’ll tell yah one thing,” says Eugene, a strapping, rumpled man with swollen, enflamed eyes. “Fishin’s all haywire. Water’s so damn warm the albacore are only a mile off shore. Half the fleet’s down from Oregon and Washington pullin’ ‘em out like minnows. Hell, they’re half jumpin’ into yer boat. All those tuna fisherman out in the middle of the Pacific, they’re scrapin’ to survive.”

“Whole world’s cock-eyed,” agrees Maggie, squashing out another butt. I light her a new one. She coughs. “Goddamn pollution and the ozone layer,” she mutters, and coughs.

Estelle nods gravely. “Global warmin’, they call it, love.”

Stone nods, too, filling out a Keno card. “We’re gettin’ our comeuppance, it seems. Maybe we destroyed the goose laid the golden egg. Bad karma after hoggin’ all the resources on the planet and attacking dirt-poor, third-world countries.”

“Awh bullshit,” grouses Monk, a shrimper. Lacking front teeth, his incisors are formidable and his one eye flashes like a laser in a thick, mash-nosed mug topped off by a watch cap. “All them little bastards been leeching off us for years. Fuck ‘em.”

“I’ll tell yah one thing about tuna,” says Eugene. “That is one gnarly fish. You pull one of ‘em up and he’ll look yah right in the eye and tell yah it ain’t gonna be no picnic, he’ll kick yer ass. I gotta lotta respect for that fish.”

“There ain’t gonna be many of the poor fishies left the way this El Niño is going,” laments Estelle.

“Water’s so warm,” nods Maggie. “It’s killin’ ‘em all off.”

“I feel sorry for them poor people live up north on the Russian River, the way THEY get flooded out every year, with just a little bitty rain. They might be run out to sea.”

“Serves “em right,” says Walt, a fisherman at the corner of the bar, hunched over a draft. “There’s just a bunch-a queers up there anyhow. All them Frisco fags got the AIDS. It’s God’s way at getting’ back at ‘em for doin’ things ass-backwards and spreadin’ disease to normal folks.”

Monk, on perhaps his third pack of non-filter Camels, spits tobacco shreds off his tongue, and nods. “I laugh my ass off every time those butt-stuffers get flooded out.”

“You catchin’ any fish lately, Walt?” asks Eugene.

“Hell no. Boat’s down. I’m just drinkin.’”

Sheila, around 30, and only a little jiggly and nubile and fair-skinned like a Botticeli painting, always broke and looking for a job but picky about taking one, says, “I remember El Niño. It rained so hard every day we got washed out of our house. We got evacuated and had to live with my aunt in Atascadero.” She makes a glum face. “Atascadero sucks.”

“I’ll tell yah one thing,” Eugene says, holding up his empty beer mug and glancing down at Walt. “There’s no rush like hookin’ onto a 30-pound tuna and fightin’ that sonofabitch. He’ll come right out of the water and half onto your boat and look you in the eyeball and tell yah it’s gonna be hell to pay. He’ll tear you apart.”

Walt grunts. “Yeh yeh.”

“Whyn’t yah come out with me and do some real work and make some real bank, Eugene? I’m about fed up to the gills with One-Trip Dick and Weasel Frazier and his so-called shot-off dick. Been lookin’ for both of ‘em for two days. I can’t pay ‘em more than half their wages or I won’t see ‘em for a week, they might end up in jail.”

“I’m doin’ okay down at Virgil’s, Rafe. Make decent tips baiting up the tourists. Plus, I score a woman time to time.”

“Suit yourself.”

“I hear El Niño’s bobbing on the equator and takes up a third of the world,” Maggie states. “It’s like this monster jellyfish of hot gas, just comin’ at us!”

“I bet we get washed out,” Sheila says, appearing personally aggrieved. She loves drama. She had a relationship with this maggot named Jerome who sat in with certain bands as some sort of guitarist and tried to get on here as a bartender before I sabotaged his chances with the owner. He dealt drugs, was one minute deeply in love with Sheila and the next being a playboy, so she broke up with him and paraded this dullard named Marvin in front of him, reportedly the first guy Sheila dated in ages with a real job. This dork never had a woman devour him like Sheila, and when Jerome got jealous and wooed her back, this dork went crazy, broke into the pad Sheila and Jerome shared and beat Jerome up and set his long precious curly hair on fire and disappeared from Morro Bay. The whole ordeal was on the local TV news, with Sheila putting on a good show of emotion. “I hope I don’t hafta move back to Atascadero. They only got two bars and thirty-five churches.”

I keep mixing drinks and pouring beer and pushing Keno cards and emptying ash trays and mopping down the bar. “And the waves!” spouts Estelle, gloomy. “They’ll be like…tidal waves.”

“Tsunamis,” Stone corrects.

“…They’ll wash all our itty bitty houses off the beach. If it flooded Cayucos in ’83, how’s it gonna be if it’s three times worse?”

“What I hear is it’s five to ten times worse,” Eugene says. “It’ll be so rough at sea, nobody’ll try and fish.”

“Who gives a shit,” Walt says. “Christ, I’ve survived worse. It’s only a goddamn storm.”

“We had three feet of water in our house,” Sheila is telling Estelle and Maggie, who sort of look after her, though Maggie, unlike Estelle, will not loan her money or buy her a drink or put her up for a night and castigates Estelle in private for doing so. Sheila, after more ups and downs with the maggot Jerome, actually married a Mexican immigrant who held three jobs and ran off with him to Las Vegas and came back a year later skinny as a rail and claiming she had a mysterious disease no doctor had ever heard of or cured. “Everything I owned was ruined or destroyed. I had to start all over.”

“I hope it’s not like what you see on TV when all them rivers overflow, like the Mississippi,” Estelle says. “All them doggies and kitties on rooftops and volunteers savin’ the poor, scared little things, and everybody’s house underwater and all their treasures ruined. That’s so sad.” Near tears, she holds up her empty shot glass, and I fill it with her usual—cinnamon Schnapps. I pat her hand. “Wouldn’t that be terrible if it happened to US? It always happens to THEM, but I don’t want it to happen to us, because we’re all friends and we LOVE each other.”

“Them goddamn queers up in Frisco gonna be scurryin’ like a pack of rats,” says Walt, managing his first corroded smile. “I got a good notion to go on up there and pick a few of ‘em off with my Remington. Damn El Niño’s probly gonna cost me huntin’ season anyhow. Shit.”

“I’ll tell yah another thing,” says Eugene. “You go up to Alaska and fish salmon, those big bastards’ll pull yer ass right on outta the goddamn boat! They’ll come right on outta the water and give you the evil eye like that goddamn man-eating monster in that movie, JAWS. I ain’t bullshittin’ about that.”

“Settle down for Chrissake,” Monk grouses out of the side of his mouth. “That goddamn movie was bullshit anyway.”

“Hollywood faggots don’t know doodly squat about the goddamn fishin’ industry,” Walt tells Monk. Before getting his own boat, Walt worked for Monk but couldn’t take it, joining a long list of deck hands who couldn’t deal with Rafe’s hard-bitten and tyrannical ways. He lifts his empty mug and scratches the ears of his majestic and powerful Chesapeake who is beloved on the waterfront and known to dive to the deepest of depths to fetch anything Walt desires. “Movies are bullshit anyway. I ain’t gone to one in thirty years.”

Monk motions to Sheila, who’s a few stools down. “Come on over here, doll.” Sheila raises off her stool and wiggles that tender ass and places her hands across her ample chest like a helpless little girl. He hands her a sawbuck. “Get me another pack of Camels and have one yourself.” She pecks him on the cheek, takes the bill and heads for the cigarette machine beside the video games. “Give her a shot and a beer,” Monk tells me. “And gimme a refill.” I mix his drink, pour out a shot of Jack and a beer for Sheila, and when she returns with his cigarettes, monk hands her another sawbuck. “Go play somethin’ on the juke, somethin’ to drown out the bullshit in this shit-hole.” He flashes his incisors. She bolts her shot like a longshoreman and heads to the juke.

While Sheila pumps the juke, an apparition materializes through the back door in the person of long, lanky, heavy-bearded Joe Farraday, in his usual pea coat and watch cap. Monk glances at him with venom, sips his drink, turns away as Farraday sidles up beside Walt, who motions me to give Farraday a beer. Farraday pets Hugo, the Chesapeake, who’s up on his hind legs licking his face, and flashes me a smile that’s more like a dog either sneering or growling before attacking. He has worked on and off for Monk for years, been fired at least twenty times, has actually fought Monk here in Happy Jack’s and on his boat.

After I serve Farraday, who shakes my hand and addresses me as “honey,” I wander down to Monk, who’s waved me over.

“Give the worthless rotten prick a shot of Jack,” he says, still not looking in his direction. “Think he’s been in jail. Probly the best accommodations he’s had in years.” He puffs his cigarette. “He’ll end up eating his own shit.”

I lean against the bar holding a shot of chilled vodka and watch Estelle and Sheila fairly swoon as they attached themselves to Farraday with huge, warm hugs. §

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.

Night Life in Happy Jack’s: Beer Can Bessie

by Dell Franklin

Around 1993

Beer Can Bessie’s in the house. She only comes in on my shifts because she hates our three female bartenders and hates 98 percent of the crowd who drink in Happy Jack’s. Bessie is a formidable woman, the sister of four NFL lineman-sized brothers incapable of holding a civil conversation. Bessie is vituperative. She always sits at the first stool by the front swinging doors away from everybody and vituperates our clientele.

Before I could take my first sip of beer, she said, “Who the fuck are you, asshole?”

Before I could take my first sip of beer, she said, “Who the fuck are you, asshole?”

I first met Bessie at the saloon in Cayucos, where I live, and seven miles north of Morro Bay, where I work at Happy Jack’s. At one time Bessie lived with a ponderous, ornery, beer-guzzling, animal-shooting, profane cowboy named Hog Simmons, who had a prodigious gut and the largest forearms in creation and drove a dirt-encrusted pickup with an unfriendly cattle dog pacing in the bed. He wore the same sweat-stained outfit coated with dust days at a time and God knows why Bessie, a fastidious woman, a registered nurse, was with him, but then one day after tongue-lashing Hog she smashed her beer can on his soiled salt-stained 10-gallon hat and knocked it off and squashed his beer can against his skull and stormed out.

I’d met her a year or so before she throttled Hog Simmons in front of everybody in the Cayucos Tavern. I’d only recently moved to Cayucos and sat down beside her on the only available stool up front, facing the long bar during a busy happy hour, and right off felt the unfriendliness and animosity in the woman, and, before I could take my first sip of beer, she said, “Who the fuck are you, asshole?”

“I’m Dell,” I told her. “Who are you?”

“None of your goddamn business. Who said you could sit down beside me and think yer hot shit, huh?”

“I don’t think I’m hot shit. And this is the only remaining stool in the bar. Besides, it’s a free country, last time I heard, so I can sit where I want.”

“Oh, so you’re a cocky little struttin’ peacock, huh?”

“I wouldn’t go that far.”

“You don’t look like much of a man to me. You look like a poor excuse for a man, from what I can see. You don’t look like you’ve done a real day’s work in your life. I bet you can’t catch a fish or ride a horse or skin a deer, can yah?”

“No.” I drank my beer.

“I thought so. A pussy. Not a hair on your ass.” She took out a cigarette. I grabbed a book of matches from a nearby basket and tried to light her cigarette, but she ignored my flame and lit her own with a Bic. “I bet you’re one of those lonely selfish slimy begging bachelors who can’t get a woman and can’t get laid, huh?”


I decided to cease trying to defend myself or reason with her. It was a bad time for me anyway.

“I’m not slimy.”

“Probably beat yer tiny little pud every night and cry yerself to sleep because women can’t stand you.”

I drank my beer.

“I can see why. You’re a pathetic excuse for a real man. I bet yer a faggot. You a faggot?”

“Not that I know of.”

“I say yer a faggot. What do you think about that?”

“I think you’re entitled to your opinion, lady, but you really don’t know me well enough to accuse me of being a homosexual. After all, you’ve just met me.”

“I can spot a faggot a mile off, in a second. One look at you and I know no woman’d have a thing to do with you and you had no choice but to be a faggot even if you didn’t wanna be, but you wanna be, I know what I see, and yer a damn queer.”

“What proof do you have?” I drank my beer.

“I don’t need proof. I think you can’t get it up with women. Yer a dogdick. I say yer a penis-puffer. Yer the most unmanly man in this squalid bar, and believe me, the competiton for unmanliness is big. In fact, yer like a girl. Drink yer beer, little girl, ha ha ha.”

Everybody along the bar was watching, enjoying the vituperation I was absorbing. She didn’t let up. I decided to cease trying to defend myself or reason with her. It was a bad time for me anyway. I’d been fired from the cab company after accumulating too many speeding tickets and getting into a fender-bender, was indeed womanless after striking out with the few available women in town, had no real friends in town, and Bessie sensed my vulnerability and pounced on me like a hungry animal.

When she finally wore down and stood to go, I quickly jumped up, grabbed her coat off her stool and held it open for her. She was reluctant to slip into it, but what could she do, especially when I was smiling at her in a manner indicating my understanding of her soul and appreciation of her vituperative skills? I waved the coat like a matador waving a cape in an inviting flourish, and she had no choice but to slip into it. I made sure she was very snug and bowed and said, “A pleasure to have made your acquaintance, madam. Hope to meet you again and continue our meaningful conversation.”

She was momentarily at a loss. “Yeh, that’ll be the day, bozo,” she grumbled, and hurried out. Then, after she 86’d the Cayucos Tavern, because they discontinued beer cans and Hog Simmons passed away, dying on his horse on the range of a heart attack due to eating meat every day of his life, morning, noon and night, she showed up at Happy Jack’s and did a double-take at the sight of me behind the bar.

“You’re the gentleman helped me into my coat,” she said.

“I’m not much of a gentleman,” I assured her. “But I am capable of old-fashioned courtliness when I run across a worthy and exceptional lady.”

So now we’re pals. I’m her adopted bartender through attrition. She sits down, says, “I’ll have a can of Bud, Dell.”

“We only have bottles, unless you buy a six-pack or case to go from the cooler, but you can’t drink ‘em in here.”

“A shit-hole like this has bottles? I’m impressed. Go ahead, gimme a goddamn bottle of Bud!”

I get her a bottle. “Bess, you sure are a vituperative woman.”

“You KNOW I know what that word means, don’tcha?” When I nod, she says, “Most of the dumb-asses in this snake pit, and that includes the bitches, have no clue what vituperative means.”

“Well, since you have no peer as a vituperator, it makes sense you of all people would know what vituperative means.”

“What I like about you, Dell, is you’re an intelligent man. I’ve known a few intelligent men, but they were wise-asses and punks. So I shit-canned ‘em. What I like about you, so far, is yer just a friend and I don’t have to find out what a wise-ass punk you are and shit-can you. What I don’t like about you is you work in this hell-hole of a dive that doesn’t have cans of Bud.”

She takes out a cigarette, lets me light it with our matches. She blows out some smoke, surveys the crowd, which is composed of many fishermen here in Morro Bay and their coteries. Bessie has a grating voice that carries. “Yah know, Dell,” she says, “in a sea of worthless dogdicks and pathetic losers, a buncha latent macho homos, a crew of unemployable misfits, you don’t come off too badly. Don’t ever lose this job, cuz it’ll probably be your last.” §

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.




Al has unpaid tabs at bars and liquor stores all over Morro Bay, where Happy Jack’s is. Water color: Wheelhouse by Steve Santmyer: www.californiawatercolor.com/collections/steve-santmyer

by Dell Franklin

Around noon of a Saturday, Junkyard Al shows up in his rattling, rumbling, grease-smudged 20-year-old, four-door Buick bomber with wife and child to put in a water pump and radiator from the yard where he plies his trade, free of charge. Since Al is banned for life from every bar in the county but I allow him to drink in Happy Jack’s where I tend bar, he feels obligated to be my personal mechanic. He is also interested in reviving my non-operational ’76 Olds Cutlass and ’50 Chevy pick-up, which have collected dust in my driveway for over a year. I feel Al has his eye on both beasts. Al manages the largest junkyard in San Luis Obispo and takes advantage of every broke, desperate wretch who comes looking for a deal on parts. An ace mechanic, Al knows everything about every car ever manufactured in the world.

The fastest talker I’ve ever known, Al is wearing his usual filthy T-shirt, crusted Levi’s and boots. His coal-black hair is greasy and he needs a shave. He is stocky, with a gut at around 40. Having observed Al in Happy Jack’s, he seems to size everybody up as a potential enemy to fight or a schnook to scam. He cannot fight a lick. He incited a brawl in Happy Jack’s with some hopped-up young white supremists and was knocked semi-conscious with one punch and hid under a table while I took on three of them with a bar stool.

His heap is parked behind my ‘79 bumperless Chrysler Cordoba on the street. I’ve lived here on what can be determined in this beach burg of Cayucos’ Riviera for a couple years now and my neighbors across the street at the beach access, a retired dentist and retired CEO of a department store, and their wives, are not happy with my existence in one of the last one-bedroom beach cottages on the Riviera. The dentist, with his gray Marine hairdo, has accused me of single-handedly lowering real estate values and turning the neighborhood into a Third World trash heap.

Al peers at my crackerbox. “Swank pad, dude,” he observes. His wife, who resembles an overfed bullfrog, sits in the Buick with child. “How you afford this pad workin’ at the bar?”

“I know how to manage my finances, Al.” I leer at him, because Al has unpaid tabs at bars and liquor stores all over Morro Bay, where Happy Jack’s is, and Cayucos, and has currently moved to a rundown motel in San Luis Obispo on a weekly basis.

Al has his extensive tool collection out, along with a Styrofoam cooler, into which he reaches and takes out a beer, guzzling half of it down.

“Why you drinkin’ light beer, Al?” I ask. “That stuff’s for sorority girls in San Luis.”

Al ignores me and punches the back window of the Buick. “Go down to the beach, Sara, and take the kid!” he hollers.

They get out, hunched and glum. “Can I have some money for the store?” asks the wife, solicitous.

Al withdraws a crumpled greasy wad and hands her a ten and turns around to me. “What’s with the duct-tape on yer jalopies? You can plug those cancer holes real easy. I can do it for yah.”

“I prefer duct-tape, Al. If it disintegrates, I can always replace it with more duct-tape.”

He peers at me dubiously, knows that, among other deficiencies, I am a mechanical moron. “Whatever.” He swigs, watches his wife and kid tootle the few blocks to the little local market. He puts his beer down and withdraws a boom box from his trunk, slips in a tape, turns it on, and an explosion of shrieking, grating rock rents the quiet, golden afternoon. He places the boom box on the hood of his beast and goes to my Cordoba and yanks open the hood and peers in. “This thing’s pretty clean,” he remarks. “Compared to the outside.”

“I get it lubed every three thousand miles.”

“You can go four easy with synthetic oil.”

His music jangles my senses. The professors next door, who teach at the college in San Luis Obispo and are friendly with me because we have cats, peer over, for the violent sounds are ripping into their favorite—Mahler. Both play the piano. They appear pinched and drawn and frazzled at the discordance of Junkyard Al’s music. I ask Al to please turn it down. He gazes at me, disgruntled, but turns it down a notch or two. “Okay?” he asks, very sarcastic.

His hands are permanently grimed. Already there are two empty beer cans on my lawn. I take a seat on my sofa out front of the cottage and start the difficult LA Times Saturday crossword puzzle. Halfway through it—a real grind—the wife and kids return with a grocery bag of goodies and approach Al, whose head is deep in the well of my Cordoba. He withdraws his head like a turtle and yells at them to stop pestering him while he’s at work. He tramps angrily to the trunk of the Buick and tosses them a blanket, pail, shovel, beach ball, and orders them to the beach. They comply, straggling hangdog past the CEO and dentist, both clad in off-the-links golf apparel, and their wives on their terraces, and down the beach access stairway.

Al changes a tape. More shrieking calamity. “Mind if I turn it up?”

“I think not, Al.”

“Suit yerself. Wanna beer?”

“Nah, gotta go to work at five.

“So? Yer gonna get drunk back there anyway. What the fuck?”

Al’s got the radiator and water pump out. He is skilled. Often, his wife and child linger at the doorway of Happy Jack’s during Al’s drinking hours in the poolroom, the child restless, crying, the wife long-suffering. She will come in and beg him to leave, but Al will snap at her to cease fucking with his “reward for working all goddamn day to feed your stupid asses.” Al supposedly owned a junkyard in Modesto. But I never know if I should believe half of what Al says. For instance, he claims to be a decorated Vietnam vet, but he’s far too young, at least ten years younger than I. He claims to have lied his age and gone in at 15. Al carries a pistol on his ankle. He works really fast.

I finish the crossword. Takes me around an hour. There are six cans on the lawn. The wife and kid return, the kid gnawing on licorice. The kid’s always eating, face smeared. When the wife timidly approaches Al with some sort of question, he explodes, tells her to get the fuck out of his sight. “I told yah t’ go to the goddamn beach! I told yah t’ STAY on the goddamn beach til I’m done. Do I look like I’m done? Huh? Go back to the beach!” Al orders.

“But the sun burns us, daddy,” the kid whines.

Clearly annoyed, Al tramps to the Buick, opens the door, withdraws a ball cap with SLO JUNK on the crown and shoves it down over the kid’s ears. He tosses his wife a mangled straw hat and orders them to the beach, and they straggle across the street, the retirees now on their terraces and on the pathway, hands on hips, stern and miffed.

I sit back on my sofa. I’ve got a book, but Al’s antics make it impossible to concentrate. Al pops open another beer and returns to the Coredoba, muttering about the trials and tribulations of husbandry and fatherhood.

“Don’t fucking marry the bitches,” he warns me out of the side of his mouth as he goes wrenching in the engine well.

“Never have, never will, Al. Confirmed bachelor.”

“Don’t knock ‘em up, dude.”

“I’ll try not to, Al. So far, so good.”

“You got it knocked, man. Me, I got nothin’ but wall-to-wall grief with that squaw and that munchkin. Why you think I’m in hock up to my ass? I could be a cool swingin’ dick like you, man, if I didn’t hafta support ‘em.”

“Know what Somerset Maugham said, Al?”


“Somerset Maugham. Great English writer.”

“Never heard of him.”

“He said, ‘There’s no object more deserving of pity than the married bachelor.’ That’s my anthem, Al.”

“Dell, I got some hosing in my trunk. You need new hoses. Can’t be usin’ duct-tape on every fuckin’ thing, man. I’ll put ‘em in.”

Al continues working and drinking. I do a load of laundry. Come back out. Al’s wrapping things up. He’s drank a 12 pack. I ask if he wants a shot of Jack. Hell yes he does. We do a shot on the porch. Then: “Where the fuck’s my fuckin’ family? I tole ‘em I wanted ‘em fuckin’ back, goddammit!”

He starts across the street, swinging his shoulders and arms, springing up on his toes, legs splayed outward, head bobbing. The retirees back away as he stands at the top of the stairway, cups his hands to his mouth, and bellows, “GET YOUR GODDAM ASSES THE FUCK UP HERE NOW!” Then he starts back. The ex-Marine dentist barks something at him, as does the ex CEO, but Al, without dignifying their presence or lowering himself to their standards, says nothing, merely flips both of them a quick no-look double-barrel finger as he continues along the pathway and across the street.

The wife and kid tootle up and obediently climb into the back seat of the Buick. Al gets behind the wheel. It won’t start. Groans and groans. Al gets out and kicks the side of the car. I get up and start my Cordoba and pull it alongside the Buick, and Al’s out with the jumper cables, yelling at his wife to turn the fucking key to the engine, and she does, and it catches instantly. Al disengages the cables and tosses them in the trunk and slams the trunk hard and jumps in the Buick, waves to me and rumbles off, leaving a dark smoke plume in his wake.

Al’s absence leaves a mesmerizing silence. Birds chirp, my cats come out of hiding. I collect beer cans. With the exception of myself, I can’t think of a single person in Happy Jack’s who can stand Junkyard Al. §

Dell Franklin worked many years as a bartender at Happy Jack’s in Morro Bay, once considered one of the roughest fishermen’s bars on the West Coast. He’s the founding publisher of The Rogue Voice, and author of The Ball Player’s Son.