Tag Archives: Morro Bay

Raped in her own backyard

Don’t let this incident rob you of your self-worth. You fought for your life, and you’re here, and you won. It took a lot of guts to fight that guy off.

Don’t let this incident rob you of your self-worth. You fought for your life, and you’re here, and you won. It took a lot of guts to fight that guy off.

by Dell Franklin

I just get to work at 4 in the afternoon and I’m sent downtown to wait for a lawyer to lead somebody to my cab from the courthouse across the street from the old art deco Fremont Theater. I park in front of the Fremont. There’s activity here: lawyers in double-breasted suits carrying brief cases and talking on cell phones; secretaries in fetching outfits talking on cell phones; a flow going in and out of the coffee house beside the Fremont and the Italian eatery and rib joint on the corner—San Luis Obispo’s beehive.

I keep my eyes on the city hall building. I wait 5 minutes. I do not like to wait. I do not like lawyers. I get out and pace, malevolently eyeing the bee hive. Finally, a short fire-plug of a man, around 35, who fills out a beautiful suit like a weightlifter, scampers across Monterey Street from the courthouse and signals me. We meet on the sidewalk beside my cab.

“Sorry to keep you waiting,” he says right off, taking in my sneakers, thrift store shorts and faded Harvard Business School T-shirt. He offers a hand, introducing himself as Larry. “It’s just that I have a hysterical client. Somebody tried to rape her in Los Osos. She was at the police station. I’m her family lawyer. She’s still in the courthouse. Be patient, please. I’ll take good care of you.”

Please be kind to this lady, ey? She’s been through hell. Right now the police are trying to find the bastard who attacked her. She’s in a lot of distress. She’s very fragile.

I say okay and he hustles back across the street, obviously a one-time high school football fullback. I’ll usually run the meter when I have to wait for somebody, demanding the fare pay for my time, but I’m not going to press a rape victim. Five minutes later he leads her across the street, an attractive but ragged-looking thirty-something woman with long mussed honey-colored hair, dressed in work shorts, and a man’s baggy T-shirt.

The lawyer introduces her to me as Gail. She is still in an extreme state of agitation and perhaps shock and does not look at me as the lawyer helps her into the shotgun seat and continues counseling her. I wait for him on the sidewalk. When he is finished comforting the woman, he hands me his card.

“I don’t have any cash on me right now. Can you come to my office up the street when you get back to town?” Los Osos is 12 miles away.

“Well, we’re not supposed to go out of town without collecting first. And I don’t like coming across town when I can be at the airport. But I also don’t like conducting myself like an asshole, so I guess I have to trust you. If I can’t, maybe I can hire you to sue yourself.”

He chuckles, but he’s not quite sure of me. Still, he says, “I can go down the street to the ATM if you want.”

“Nah, I’ve decided you’re a good lawyer, a very extinct breed.”

“Thanks, pal. Please be kind to this lady, ey? She’s been through hell. Right now the police are trying to find the bastard who attacked her. She’s in a lot of distress. She’s very fragile.”

“I’ll take good care of her. That’s a promise.”

“Thanks.” We shake hands. I get back in the cab. I plow through the beginning of rush-hour traffic, headed for the highway leading to Los Osos. I decide not to initiate conversation with the sniffling figure beside me, who is curled into the side of the door, as if trying to make herself smaller. I fiddle with the radio, find NPR. Once on the highway, we ooze into a 50 mph flow of traffic. I glance at her, offer a reassuring smile, as if saying: “I know it’s tough, but you’ll live through it.”

“Thanks for taking me home,” she says in a wee voice. “I don’t know what I would’ve done without my lawyer. He’s such a great guy.”

“I liked him right off.” She sits up a trifle. “So, you live in Los Osos…you like it?”

“Well, I do…I mean, I’ve lived there a while. I guess I like it, but after today, I don’t know.”

“You look familiar. I used to tend bar at Happy Jack’s in Morro Bay. You ever in there?”

“Uh-huh. I used to go there to dance before I met my husband. I don’t go to bars anymore. My husband doesn’t like them.”

“That’s probably where I saw you.”

She sits up a little and replaces her handkerchief in her purse. “Somebody tried to rape me,” she says. “I was out in the back yard tending to my gardens. I have a really nice yard and garden. I grow tomatoes and peppers and we have an avocado tree and a lemon tree. I love working in the yard. My husband really likes the way I keep things so beautiful and tidy. I was watering my plants, and out of nowhere this guy jumped the fence and threw me down and put his hand over my mouth and tried to rape me! He slapped me and punched me and said he’d kill me if I screamed. Oh God…”

“What did you do?”

Her voice cracks with a slight sob. “I fought him. I fought for my life. I kicked him. I bit him. I scratched his face. I fought and fought. He ripped my clothes off. I punched and scratched at him and I screamed…I didn’t care if he killed me. There was nobody around, everybody at work. I was crying so hard, and fighting so hard, and screaming so loud, he just took off.”

I glance at the scratches and bruises on her face and the discoloring from bruises on her arms and legs. She starts to cry again, quietly, holding her face.

“Go ahead and cry,” I tell her. “It’s good for you. You need to cry it out.”

We are cutting through the bucolic serenity of green farm and ranch land with shadowed foothills on either side, homes and barns nestled into crevices under trees.

“I’m so worried about my husband.” She sobs louder, looking out the window away from me.


“What if he doesn’t believe me?” She’s looking at me, near hysterical.

“What do you mean—doesn’t believe you? There’s a police report, right? You went to the hospital. Look at your bruises and scratches.”

“I know, but maybe he’ll think, well, that I…invited it.”

“Why would he think that?”

“I don’t know. He might, though, think I ASKED for it.”

“No way. What kind of man is he?”

“He’s real macho. He’s a contractor. I’m just so ashamed, so worried he won’t believe me.”

“Look, what you do is you don’t try and convince him of anything. You direct him straight to your lawyer and the police.”

“He’s already talked to my lawyer by phone.”

“Have you talked to your husband?”

She nods, sniffles. “On the phone. I don’t think he believes me. I don’t know what to do.”

I was watering my plants, and out of nowhere this guy jumped the fence and threw me down and put his hand over my mouth.

We approach Los Osos, a swale adjoining Morro Bay Estuary. Big generic shopping center on our right. No main drag. A notoriously scrumptious bakery emitting hellacious aromas every morning to counter the miasma of a thousand septic tanks and sumps. At one time Los Osos was a low-rent encampment of biker types and plenty of meth, but since real estate went crazy in the ‘90s it’s become somewhat gentrified, with a scattering of holdouts intimidating Cal Poly professors and suburban retirees tooling its rutted curb-less side-streets and driving to San Luis Obispo for trendy shops, Trader Joe’s and Costco.

“What you need is a drink,” I say.

“Yes, I think so. I’m not much of a drinker these days.”

“Just get a half pint, enough to take off the edge, and relax you a little. What do you usually drink when you do drink?”

“Bourbon, I guess.”

“What do you like to mix with it?”

“Seven-Up, or Coke.”

“Okay, we’ll find a liquor store. You get a half pint of bourbon and a Seven-Up. Go into your living room, lock up the house, turn on the TV, and have a quiet drink or two, and wait for your husband.”

“If he doesn’t believe me I don’t know what I’ll do,” she wails.

“If he doesn’t believe you, leave him,” I say. “I know it’s none of my business, but how the hell can you have a relationship if your husband doesn’t trust you and he’s not even here after what you’ve been through?”

“I’m so screwed up,” she admits, as we pull into a liquor store parking lot. She sniffles. “I just wanna die.”

“Listen,” I say. “You’ve just been through a traumatic ordeal and you’re not thinking clearly. You’ve been violated and humiliated and made to feel dirty…by some animal, a criminal. It is NOT your fault. Don’t let this incident rob you of your self-worth. You fought for your life, and you’re here, and you won. It took a lot of guts to fight that guy off. You’re a victim. Your husband will understand. Now go in there and get yourself a bottle to calm your nerves and don’t worry about your husband. Everything’ll be okay. I’m positive.”

Still shaky, she enters the liquor store. A few minutes later she returns with a package. I drive through neighborhoods to her modest house. The front yard is tidy with rows of flowers in full bloom and hedges edged sharp as razors.

“I wish I had money to tip you,” she says.

”You owe me nothing. Go on in there and relax. You didn’t invite this. You’re a nice gal. Have faith in yourself. It’s been a bad, nasty day, and things’ll be rough for a week or two, but then you’ll be thankful to be alive and have good days. Hang in there. Good luck. Now go in there, and make your first drink the biggest one.”

She starts to leave. “Look at my yard…isn’t it beautiful?”

“Very much so.”

She looks at me, her red-rimmed eyes well up and register utter despair, almost terror. “I won’t be able to go out there anymore! My back yard, it’s my favorite place in all the world…and I’m afraid to go out there now!”

“Listen, that was a one-shot deal. He’ll never come back. All this will pass.”

She faces me, trembling, leans toward me, ever so slightly, and I take both her hands in mine, give them a little squeeze. Her shapely knees are grass-stained and scratched raw. “Hang tough, kid—sometimes that’s all we can do. It’s not the end of the world. That’s what my mother always tells me, and it’s true.”

I let go of her hands. She gets out of the cab and opens the gate of the short, white picket fence and walks past a cat and up to the porch and front door, opens it, shivers, turns and waves at me, then disappears into the house, the cat right behind her. The door slams shut.

When I get back into town I pull up to her lawyer’s office and get out of my cab. I hear somebody shout, turn to look out onto Marsh Street and see the lawyer, who is encased in a white baggy outfit of the kind of plastic material a vermin exterminator or astronaut might wear. He is heading toward me on a skateboard, sneakers having replaced his Oxfords, his knotted tie the only trace of his former attire. He pulls up to me in a sideway skid and grins. He hands me three twenties for a $36 fare and tells me to keep the change.

“This is therapy, man,” he explains. “How’d it go?”

“I got her to do some talking. She’s still in a panicky state.”

He nods. “Thanks for your trouble. I appreciate it.”

“Well, I hope she’ll be okay.”

He shrugs, rolling his eyes in a helpless manner. “We do the best we can, man.” Then he smiles and we shake hands and he zooms off on his skateboard, expertly gauging traffic on the street, like a teenager. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur, a very needy chocolate lab. He writes of his years as a cabbie, bartender and athelte on his website, dellfranklin.com.

Central Coast assholes

A day in the life of a retired cab driver

CITY LIFE.crazy_old_man

This area, slow and tranquil as it is, can be deceiving. There are pockets of hermits, social outcasts, borderline outlaws, and anarchists living in sheds, motor homes and old dilapidated ranch cabins a few miles inland from the beach.

by Dell Franklin

I was cruising along the frontage road in north Morro Bay, bordering Highway 1, around 10 in the morning, having just hit the tennis ball for over an hour with a friend, and headed toward Spencer’s Supermarket, on my way home to Cayucos, when a very big Army green military-type van was suddenly coming up fast on me, and hugged my tail with an over-sized, rather menacing looking bumper. Driving a 13-year-old Toyota, I glimpsed in my rearview mirror at the driver, who owned a large, bulbous face and wild grey hair sprouting in various directions, like a nest of snakes. He was so close I feared he was going to ram me, and I was driving close to the speed limit—40mph.

He seemed pissed off, and I figured it was my KEEP PORTLAND WEIRD and GREENPEACE bumper stickers that had him riled. I’m pretty sure he saw me eyeing him in my rearview mirror, and he was kind of snarling, his mouth crooked, teeth flashing like some sort of carnivorous feral animal on the prowl. I guessed him to be around 55 or 60.

I kept my eye on him all the way down the road, slowing to 35 the last quarter mile, because I was not about to be intimidated by a bully, and he stayed right on my ass as I turned right into Spencer’s massive parking lot beside Taco Temple Restaurant and tooled slowly toward some parking spots while the van veered past me and then cut in front of me and wove between gaps of parked cars and halted in a spot. I took my time and parked a row over and sat and watched him get out of his car and head in long strides toward the market, eyeing me the whole time as I sat in my car with an extremely malignant, nodding, knowing glower. He wore black Army boots like those we wore in the 1960s, cut-off cargo pants with multi pockets, and a tank-top. He looked work strong, probably three inches taller and 25 pounds heavier and 10 years younger than me, and he was still twisting his big head of shoulder-length snakes in my direction as he ducked into the market.

There were big canisters on his vehicle, meaning he was probably some kind of survivalist living in the hills, growing crops and weed and sitting on a porch with a vicious guard dog and a rifle, and shooting anything that moved when he wasn’t hunting wild pigs to barbecue and share with his beast. This area, slow and tranquil as it is, can be deceiving. There are pockets of hermits, social outcasts, borderline outlaws, and anarchists living in sheds, motor homes and old dilapidated ranch cabins a few miles inland from the beach, who come in every week or so for provisions.

I walked toward the market, holding a biscuit for a dog named Cinnamon who sat mornings with a bunch of ancient military veterans wearing ball caps signifying their outfits when they were in wars and gave the biscuit to the dog before entering. Inside, I headed straight to the bakery to secure a muffin to have with my coffee and LA Times when I got home to my dog, Wilbur. After securing my muffin, I wandered toward the deli section, looking for something special in case I wasn’t in the mood to cook, and ran into Cloyd, an old pal who used to frequent Happy Jack’s Saloon, where I tended bar for eight years back in the 1990s.

Pudgy and grey, Cloyd has clerked in a Morro Bay liquor store for 25 years at least, lives frugally in a mobile home, takes a walk on the beach every other day, and otherwise lives a life of quiet, cautious contentedness. We exchanged greetings and questions as to our health, and he was telling me how it’s cheaper to get his blood pressure medicine through the VA than Medicare when the driver of the Army-mobile was suddenly directly in my face, inches away, as Cloyd, not a swift-reacting person, quickly moved away to a safe position.

The snake-head held a small basket for his purchases, while I held my cloth grocery bag. Up close, as he gazed into my eyes, I recognized crazed hostility. He tilted his head this way and that, as if to further appraise me. Cloyd peered at me in a manner questioning what was going on between us. Shoppers skirted us, aroused, concerned.

The guy’s eyes seemed to glitter and scoured every pore in my face, and then, shaking his head sadly, as if dealing with a hopeless idiot, he said, loud enough for Cloyd and everybody in the vicinity to hear, “You cut me off.” Before I could retort, he said, “You’re an asshole.” He flashed me one last look of disgust and contempt and walked off in those long strides.

Cloyd stepped over. “What was THAT all about?

“Hell if I know.”

I headed for the meat section. He was down there, too, looking over the burger meat. When he finished, I got my burger meat and some American cheese and frozen French fries. I spotted him heading to the check-out line. I was done, but I waited until he was out the door, then checked my stuff and walked toward my car, saw him standing arms-folded against his dusty, dirt-encrusted Army-mobile, waiting, watching me.

I got in my car. I took my time. He stared at me—ugly person out of an Appalachian horror movie. I started up. I drove slowly, in a crawl, turned down the lane where he stood against his Army-mobile, watched him straighten up as I approached. I slowed almost to a stop, rolled down my window, and issued him the finger, making sure to thrust it at him with conviction and hold it a few seconds to make my point, and rolled slowly away at a snail’s pace.

He came unglued, shook his fists and cursed me violently, spittle flying from his trap. He challenged me to get out and fight, ran after me in an awkward, unathletic gait as I cruised away staying just ahead of him while he foamed at the mouth and threatened my life. I pulled away very slowly, my finger still out the window, gazing at him in my side mirror as he finally halted, obviously winded.

He was waving his arms at me and delivering the finger like a madman as I turned onto the frontage road, my finger still out the window. Soon as I was out of view, I hit the gas. §

Dell Franklin also puts his fingers to good use as a writer, blogger and commentator from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog Wilbur. For more of Dell’s original writing, visit his website, dellfranklin.com, where this article first appeared.

Mecca of narcissism

After 40 minutes, her lovely face was still craned to within inches from the mirror, with pencil in hand, as she inspected herself.

After 40 minutes, her lovely face was still craned within inches from the mirror, with pencil in hand, as she inspected herself.

by Dell Franklin

I had an appointment today to get my hair cut by Toni, the wife of my tennis partner Fosdick, who is 18 years younger than I. She called early in the morning to remind me, no doubt figuring that, at 72, I am forgetful, especially when it comes to getting my hair cut, or, as she would put it, styled. I still have a full head of hair that is naturally wavy and partially grey. I usually get my hair cut every four months or so, when it becomes unmanageable and my sideburns sprout straight out an inch-and-a-half in grey and make me look like a stupid clown, according to Miranda, my woman of 26 years. Before my last haircut, I went nearly 20 months without doing anything to my hair and she became increasingly agitated at what she claimed was the ugliness of my being and claimed I looked like an old, old homeless bum and urged me in near hysterical terms to get a goddamn haircut, but the more she urged the more I resisted, until it finally came to the point where I gazed at my drivers license picture in horror and was sick of washing it and have it tangle up in my mouth and get caught in my teeth when I was sleeping, as well as watching people who did not know me cross the street when they saw me coming.

For years, I went to standard male barbers down south in Manhattan Beach and in San Luis Obispo when I moved up here in 1986. This one guy in San Luis did a very good job and I always tipped him well because I’ve been a bartender most of my life; but all this changed when Fosdick set me up with Toni, who is a “hair stylist” and known throughout the Morro Bay and Cayucos area and beyond as THE best. She has a large clientele of mostly women of all ages and styles and fussy men finicky about their hair.

‘That pretty young girl with the nice ass, is she O-C-D? She keeps doing the same thing over and over again and looking at herself and doing it over again. What’s wrong with her?’

I walked into the salon on time. Three young girls, all new stylists, and a slender kid around 22 named Aaron, who is flamboyantly gay but personable, stood or sat around between appointments. Toni, a petite woman who, like Fosdick, is a yoga fanatic and hiking zealot and looks 15 years younger than her age at 55, greeted me with the usual uneasiness most people do and washed my hair before seating me in a position where I did not have to look in the mirror and see my sagging, rumpled, withered puss that had once been called handsome by ladies of the very dark, very late nights.

Toni does not drink, eats primarily organic, and refuses to ingest anything even minutely unhealthy and coerces Fosdick to yoga retreats for only the most limber and non averse to torture.

Facing away from the mirror, I was pleased to have a perfect view of the cute and fetching young female stylists in their tight jeans and stylish blouses and accouterments, though none of them moved with the feminine flourish of Aaron, who wore skinny-type tight jeans and a sort of midriff blouse exposing his belly. Aaron is always stylish and friendly.

As Toni snipped, these girls and Aaron were all giggling and repeatedly glancing in mirrors and kibitzing, though one was studying and wiggling her fingers upon a flat object in total engrossment. I whispered, “Why aren’t those girls working? Are they bad hair stylists?”

“No,” Toni whispered back in a manner belying her embarrassment at me fingering her fellow associates. “Shhh!”

Just then a voluptuous woman around 40 approached Aaron’s chair directly across from me. He received her with a big warm hug and oozed sincere flattery and a fool could see the kid had real rapport with ladies. I recognized this woman as an employee at the gym in town I go to, and called out her name “Gwen!” loud enough to break up the clique of idle stylists.

She was now seated in Aaron’s chair and a bit stunned but then smiled and I said in a voice that I guess is too naturally loud and always embarrasses Miranda, “Hey, good lookin’. How yah doin’, Gwen?”

She could not help but grin. “Oh Dell, you are such a flirt.” She sized me up. “You look good.”

“Thanks, Gwen. I wish Miranda felt the same way.”

Aaron spun Gwen, who has no idea who Miranda is, around and put an apron on her and I asked Toni what Aaron was going to do with this woman and she whispered, “A dye job.”

I whispered back. “Aaron does a lot of the ladies working at the gym and when he walks around shaking his ass all the old latents on their workout machines make mean faces to give themselves away.”


Toni snipped for a while and I began to really notice one of the young stylists as she groomed herself in the mirror of her station. She did this for about five minutes and I whispered to Toni, “Why are these girls idle—because they’re bad stylists?”

“No!” she whispered harshly. “They’re young, just building up clientele. They’re doing fine. They have their regulars.”

“But not like you.”

“No…but, I’ve been here a while.”

I knew this was false modesty but let it go. Another five minutes passed and the girl, very pretty, with a short haircut like Aaron’s, continued primping her hair, shaking it out by whinnying, then combed it and looked at it and whinnied. Then she began applying eyeliner. She stepped back, gazed at herself, applied more, gazed at herself, picked up another instrument and continued grooming her face. At the 20-minute mark, as Toni snipped, I whispered, “That pretty young girl with the nice ass, is she O-C-D? She keeps doing the same thing over and over again and looking at herself and doing it over again. What’s wrong with her? I mean, nobody can look perfect.”

“All the young girls do that,” she whispered back. “Now stop it, Dell.”

I found this mild chastisement a bit hypocritical being that Fosdick, at our after-tennis bull sessions at the coffee house, relates a lot of the juicy, delicious gossip Toni collects from these women whose hair she cuts. Toni’s no angel in my book. These clients tell her everything, even deeply personal, totally bizarre stuff, according to Fosdick’s reports.

Into the 30-minute mark, while Aaron conferred amiably with the gym lady, the young girl continued her process of grooming. She now had bowls of powder out and swished them around with a brush; all this after applying several instruments to her face and doing the identical same thing to her hair over and over again and reappraising her face. Soon she was indulging in some intense powdering of cheeks, chin and forehead.

I whispered to Toni, who was closing in on my new image. “I have never seen anybody do what that pretty young thing is doing in the mirror that long, Toni. In my book, it’s a record.”


“She’s so pretty,” I said, not in a whisper, but loud enough for everybody to hear. “She doesn’t need all that make up.”

Only the girl did not react to my outburst, so obsessed was she with applying and reapplying powder to her face and then whinnying and roughing her hair and gazing with disappointment at her image and re-powdering.

Toni called out to her, “Kyla!” Kyla turned around, licking at her enameled lips, eyes far away, not exactly vacant. “Dell here thinks you’re so beautiful you don’t need to use make-up.”

Kyla turned and seemed to be looking at me, but maybe she wasn’t. “The way it is,” she said sassily. “Live with it.” She turned back to the mirror and continued her grooming.

That ended by inquisition in this mecca of narcissism. Toni finished, swiveled me around so I could look at my improved image. “Excellent,” I said.

Nobody else said anything.

“Let’s trim your eye brows and nose hairs,” Toni suggested in a manner indicating I needed help.


As I walked to the counter up front, the young stylist, at the 40-minute mark, was bent over, lovely face craned to within inches from the mirror with pencil in hand as she inspected herself, her blessed little ass jutted out just ripe enough for me to want to goose it. But all I did was look, even after passing her and paying at the desk as an older lady with white hair immediately sat down in Toni’s chair. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur. He’s the author of The Ball Player’s Son, a memoir about his father, Murray Franklin, and the early days of big league baseball. Visit his website: dellfranklin.com

Wilbur and The Pirate

city life.wilbur&pirateby Dell Franklin

Randy Crozier, or “The Crow,” or “The Pirate,” does 98 percent of his drinking in Schooner’s Wharf, a restaurant bar overlooking the beach and pier in downtown Cayucos, population approximately 2,500. Crozier is short and round as he is tall, sturdy legged, bushy-bearded, neon-eyed, red-cheeked, hair straggling out from under sweat-stained ballcap, and known to emerge from hangovers so monstrous most people would be hooked up to an IV in a hospital room and go straight to work after his first cigarette and securing his coffee and roll at the local coffee den, where he has been observed indulging in such terrifying coughing fits some have suggested calling an ambulance.

The Crow is a stonemason/plasterer/framer/commercial fisherman/hunting guide/farmer and bass player with his own band, the Motowners, which plays in the town’s popular annual 4th of July parade and various ragged festivals in Big Sur. A brass plate on a wooden stool at a particular corner of the bar at Schooner’s Wharf has his name etched on it. He is always clad in sweat shirt with arms torn off, Levi’s faded and frayed with legitimate holes at the knees, drinking sneakers, and ballcap. He keeps a “pirate’s” treasure chest on hand in the bar to supply kids in the restaurant candy, and every half hour allows a girl to occupy his stool while he goes downstairs to stand in the alley across from the sea wall and beach to smoke, cough, and check his cell phone.

Lately Wilbur’s been in the habit of running down trucks with diesel engines and I must apologize to people who are forced to stop in fear of running him over

Photos by Stacey Warde

Photos by Stacey Warde

Until recently, before moving out into the back hills of town, the Crow lived four doors down from me on G Street, where he parked his truck, a 35-year-old wonder that sounds like a tractor and rattles without hitting bumps in the road. The paint job is peeled off, though “Pirate Plastering” is printed on the passenger door that does not completely close and sometimes flies open when he turns a corner. The bed of this truck is as cramped as the passenger seat with tools and debris that Crozier claims, “Only a lunatic would steal.” The spot where he parked for years at a hovel connected to a main house run by Tag Morely, local Everyman, is permanently oiled. To get to this particular spot, the Crow usually passed my large, railed patio before turning right. Wilbur, my 10-year-old, 90-pound Chocolate Lab, who has eaten rubber and wood and cost me hundreds of dollars in vet’s bills, can hear Crozier’s jalopy several blocks away.

The second Wilbur hears it—usually around 3 in the afternoon when the Crow knocks off and is in the process of getting ready for his drinking—he is up and scrambling to the patio, where he paces as the truck gets louder and louder. He paces in circles, then back and forth along the railing, and a touch of drool drips from the side of his mouth, since he lacks front teeth on that side. He spots the truck. He nudges up against the railing and stares as Crozier pulls up. Crozier, at 55, and looking and showing every year of it, takes a while to get out. Wilbur paces some more. By the time Crozier emerges from his truck with a couple of super-sized biscuits from a package from the Dollar Store in Morro Bay, a long strip of drool slings back and forth from Wilbur’s lips as his eyes keen in on the Pirate.

Crozier cackles and points: “Look at Wilbur drool….” He laughs like Santa Claus, and with the same glee he relishes when buying somebody a drink at the bar, he hurls the biscuits up onto the deck, where Wilbur scrabbles and devours both within seconds and returns to the railing to watch Crozier drive off.

Sometimes, in the morning, or even afternoons, I’ll have Wilbur on the street below, ready to walk him, when he hears Crozier’s truck growling toward us. He tears straight at it, blocking the driver at the grill in a frenzy, makes him stop, then lunges at the broken door, drooling. Crozier chuckles and feeds him and moves on, and I must leash Wilbur or he will chase the Crow’s truck down the street.

Lately Wilbur’s been in the habit of running down trucks with diesel engines and I must apologize to people who are forced to stop in fear of running him over and rearing back as he lunges through the window and scratches up doors with paws as he drools for a biscuit. If he sees Crozier’s truck parked anywhere he goes into a frenzy, and I must leash him as he cries. When I go to Schooner’s Wharf and sidle up beside Crozier, I always order him a beer, and he grins and laughs and coughs and says, “Wilbur…I love it when he starts drooling….”

As always, we spend the first 15 minutes or so talking about Wilbur, and laughing. §

Dell Franklin writes from his home in Cayucos, Calif., where he lives with his rescue dog, Wilbur, who the vet recently discovered had eaten an old rubber tire and gotten sick. He’s recovering well and still hunger’s for the Pirate’s biscuits. Visit dellfranklin.com for more of Dell’s work.

Embrace the shining sea

CITY LIFE.COPS.SMILEY FACEEditor’s Note: In the wake of several instances of police brutality and the militarization of law enforcement in the U.S., as reported in the news recently, we decided to revisit Steven Bird’s essay about brutality of a similar sort here on the Central Coast, this from our own Morro Bay Police Department. Abusive police actions are not just a big city problem. This essay originally appeared in the July, 2008, print edition of The Rogue Voice.

By Steven Bird

You can’t see the open ocean from inside the harbor behind the windblown peninsula of sand dunes. You don’t see it until you’re already making way into the humping turbulence of the bar at the harbor entrance — between the rock jetties — and there it is, the shining sea spread like eternity opened to receive you. You head her into the swell both hands tight on the tiller surrendering your connections to dense land, afloat, at the mercy of the sparkling vicious loving void, indefinite rhythms, foam, angles of sun…yet all seems secretly well. And perhaps this is how we are received in death. Or maybe, the way we enter into living. Ah well. There it is.

The boat rocks gently, tied against the north T-pier.

Take care of the boat and the boat’ll take care of you. Been fishing hard all week and, well, stink accumulates — soon as I’m done cleaning the boat and squaring the gear away for the next go-round I’m out of here. 8:30 already. Hate to say it but my ass is dragging. Would’ve been done an hour ago except for the four Fish and Game cops waiting over at the receiver dock when I unloaded my fish. They’re checking every day lately. More of them than there are fishermen, really. You barely have time to fish you’re so busy being boarded and checked out — Coast Guard, Fish and Game, Homeland Defense, MPA cops…as if commercial fishing, regardless how innocuous the method, is somehow a nefarious activity…and these guys aren’t your old-fashion, pipe-smoking, friendly ranger game wardens in green Smokey Bear suits. Nossir. They’re the new breed: slit-lipped, stone-faced, black and blue S.W.A.T. uniforms, pants tucked into their boots, guns that look like Uzzis, radios, belts, bulletproof vests…all business. Held me up for an hour while they checked the fish, the boat, my paperwork…just like they did yesterday, and the day before that. Oh, I know their names; they know mine, they’ve talked to me a hundred times but always act like they never saw me before, demanding to see the same paperwork…I guess it’s a way to create jobs. But it smells like warfare. I don’t know who’s really behind it, or what it’s for, but it feels like I’m going down, no question.

‘My pickup truck is well used and unavoidably rusty, the bed filled with fishing junk, and I know this makes me a target for the cops who profile scruffy characters driving older vehicles.’

A chill breeze courses from the northwest; flags on the moored boats snap in full salute.

The Harbor Folly cruises by, a fake riverboat, artificial stem wheel churning the oily bay. Tourists sipping wine on the top deck, realizing that this is no tropical cruise, pull sweaters over their Hawaiian shirts. I bet they wish they’d worn long pants. (Utopian Cali is a land of denial and delusions. Weather Denial is a tradition. And a favorite delusion is that coastal California has a climate similar to Hawaii.) The usual crowd strolls the pier and embarcadero, mostly apple-shaped women from Fresno and Bakersfield, laconic husbands in tow. A local mermaid wiggles through the pokey couples, a different species, almost. Just folks enjoying themselves ordered and behaved.

You don’t see people raising hell in this town. People come here to fuck in the motels and dawdle through the bayside shops—you know, the usual beach town tourist stuff. It’s 8:45 p.m., I’m just about finished with the boat.

A patrol car slides down the embarcadero. Up on the pier a fat kid sporting a black T-shirt advertising MEGADEATH throws French fries into an agitated mob of seagulls. Another squad car slips by the kite shop at the entrance to the pier.

Nine o’clock straight up, and the cops are getting busy…looks like the town’s entire fleet of patrol cars swarming the waterfront street, cruising like bat rays, chrome flashing shifting shapes. I wonder what’s going down.

The atmosphere distorts the light coming into the world—the dying red sun flattens against the seaward dunes beyond the harbor. Gulls call from a purple sky, lift on the hysterical breeze, heads tilting, alert for scraps.

I have to drive through the dragnet to get home. Though legally operative, my pickup truck is well used and unavoidably rusty, the bed filled with fishing junk, and I know this makes me a target for the cops who profile scruffy characters driving older vehicles. I’m extra cautious, don’t want to give them the slightest excuse—I pull up to the one stop sign I have to get through on my way out of the kill zone, and stop, while signaling a left turn.

A patrol car pulls up to the stop facing me. Another unit pulls up behind me.

The farthest thing from my mind is the idea of running the stop sign. Only a moron would run the stop with the cops right there watching. I know that there is a three-second interval that one must be stopped for. I give it a five-count just to be sure. Light a smoke—and okay, here we go—put the rig in gear and proceed through, around the corner and up the hill leading away from the bay—

God I am hungry

The unit facing me at the stop lights up and comes after me. The cruiser behind me lights up too, swerves by in full-tilt pursuit of somebody else while I pull over to the curb.

The searchlight trained on the rear window lights up the cab bright as an operating room. I roll the window down….

‘The cop rips at me like a jackal trying to extract a turtle from its shell.’

“Good evening sir, see your license and registration please.”

Young guy, shaved head, seems friendly, “perky” you might say—he leans in close, sniffing while I hand him my license and insurance proof. “Sir have you had anything to drink tonight?”

“I don’t drink. Just got off my boat from fishing—and, ah, by the way, uh, what’d you stop me for?”

He stiffens, “Sir you ran that stop back there.” He pins me with his eyes making sure I’m on the hook, turns and marches back to his car with my papers to check for warrants. While he’s back there he writes me a ticket for running the stop—

He hands it too me, wants me to sign it—“Waitaminit! You and I both know I didn’t run that stop sign…I know you’re fishing for drunks and need an excuse to make the stop, I’m cool with that…you can see I haven’t been drinking…so why do you have to write me a bogus ticket, anyway?”

He counters, presents an inarguable logic—“I stopped a guy going 100 miles an hour last night. How would you like it if I hadn’t got him off the road…?”

I can’t stop myself—“What has that got to do with our situation? And you lying?” I hear myself saying, trying to remain pragmatic, and believing I will prevail because Truth is on my side.

“You don’t like the police…do you? I think you have a problem with the police,” he tells me. His hand in the window frame squeezing the top of my door is tight and wary and ready to spring.

“No,” I say, “I don’t have a problem with the police. But I do have a problem with you abusing your function as a civil servant.

One hand clenches, unclenches, close to his gun.

I’ve heard stories recently about a cop in town who entertains a fondness for squirting his mace can in folk’s faces at the slightest perceived provocation…. In addition to hungry, dirty, tired, on another level I’m feeling profiled, disenfranchised, disappointed, disrespected, desperate, mad and about to go off like a fuck you machine gun and martyr myself for the cause.

My family, my friends, they probably wouldn’t want me to martyr myself…their mournful angelic faces attend me.

But the inertia of events is too compelling, too intriguing, too exhilarating, I have broken free of my mooring—“This is bullshit.” And I can’t stop the emphasis—“Fuck you. I’m not signin’ this.”

“ALLRIGHT SIR GET OUT OF THE VEHICLE!” He yells at me taking a step back releasing the safety snap on his holster.

“I don’t think so,” I say, holding the ticket book out the window, blithely opening my fingers—it hits the pavement with a sad rustling sound. I don’t know what I plan to do now….

He charges the door—it’s locked, but the window’s rolled down—he can’t get the door open so he reaches through the window, grabs me and he’s trying to rip me out of the truck through the window—I resist, struggle, kick the ashtray out of the dashboard—he’s got his arm around my throat trying to pull my head and shoulders through, bending me while twisting my head, he’s trying to break my neck—I’m holding on to the door frame—he frees one hand to pull something from a holder on his service belt—

At pointblank range a cool mist wets my face, eyes, mouth, soothing, like rain, or a gentle friend applying a healing unguent—something explodes—an agonizing red curtain falls—a molten death mask clings to my face—my face is burning—the cop rips at me like a jackal trying to extract a turtle from its shell—the nice hooded sweatshirt Ariel gave me for Christmas catches on something, tears open—the ridges along my spine saw against the window frame on the ride through—I hook my knees over the door—he jerks harder—I straighten my legs, come loose right when he jerks—he loses his balance, stumbles backwards and we go down on the pavement together. We lay in odd juxtaposition. I’m blind. He’s got me in a choke hold. His heart’s pounding against my back. H’e’s afraid. Relax…he’s tensing…here comes the flip…the pavement…. He is wheezing with fear—his knee grinding into the center of my back—furious fingers dig the back of my headhe’s forcing my face into the asphalt…merciless gravel teeth of blacktop…. The pavement under my face tastes warm, wet, salty.

Lights. Peripheral RED WHITE BLUE flashes, doors opening, metal jangling, radios, shouts, shoes scraping—sounds like two units…must be four cops…here they come…the boots—my buddy already has my top half covered, they work on what’s exposed—feet, legs, knees, thighs, lower ribs, they keep kicking me in the kidneys—there is a curious rhythm to the kicking, the guys are in sync—one cop chanting….

ASSHOLE ASSHOLE ASSHOLE…A couple of the other cops take up the chant, they’ve got the rhythm going—kicking and chanting—and it’s going down. The kicks produce a numbness, I feel the weight of the boots’ impacts but not the pain, and 0 that there would be pain to shield me from this sickness of heart, this raging and howling desolation of spirit more terrifying than pain—I pray—I pray…0 God…help me…help me make it through the kicking…if l can just make it through the kicking…if I can just make it through…0 God where is the thundering iron shield of your love…?

The cop on my back yells “GIVE ME YOUR ARM!” He’s got a hold of it, I don’t feel myself resisting, but that is not enough, he wants me to give it to him while he is in the process of trying to twist it off—a flurry of kicks comes hard and fast—the rhythm again….

They bend my arms to an impossible angle and put the cuffs on. Now the cop sitting on me starts yelling, “GET UP! SIR?…GET UP! SIR?…YOU GONNA GET UP MOTHERFUCKER…?” But he’s sitting on me. I can’t respond. His body turns to stone…he throws an astounding punch to the side of my head—I can’t protect my ear from the blow—the watery burst inside my head heralds a vision of verdant fields of changing shapes…like flowers within flowers, within flowers…there is a faint buzz…a bee…a bee coming to pollinate the flowers…the volume increases to a despairing roar setting the synaptic flowers atremble in the forlorn gardens.

I regain consciousness down at county. I’m alive. Somebody is trying to take my thumb print, but I can’t make my body work to do what the moving mouth is requesting. Moving Mouth punches me in the face—the cops pile on me—must be three or four cops—they’re hitting each other in the frenzy to get me—the souls have vacated their flesh—their eyes glisten, fierce, delighted—0 sorrow of their eyes—couple of detectives come running from their desks—savage smiles—they get their licks in—shirts and ties mixed with the uniforms—they break something—I hear laughter—something inside of me is broken—I don’t feel it like regular pain.

They throw me in a small concrete holding cell.

I lay on the rigid floor in the void gray cell. A subtle vibration resonates through the concrete. Machinery throbs somewhere. The walls and ceiling are the color of fog. The floor is the same gun barrel blue as the sea after a storm. I like the cool floor, let it receive my watery cheek. My swollen eyes shed a continuous flow of tears from the mace. I sight down the silver rivulet beginning to form a lonely stream flowing away from my face seeking a path of least resistance, this way, that way, as nuances of concrete surface dictate, until the tear stream becomes lost in the shining expanse. There are no walls, no edges, only clean distance. Light comes from all angles. The surface shimmers, turned to water. Ocean of serenity, joyous sun, I commit myself to you. I embrace the shining sea surrendering. I head my boat into the wind and swell. §

Steven Bird writes from his home in Morro Bay where he can avoid the clutches of rogue cops.

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.