Our Town -- The Other One
The sun hasn't shone its face for what seems like months. Most folks round here have given up, spiritually, choosing to spend their time indoors smoking pot, drinking and watching movies. Billy Bob, the head barkeep at the Earwax Bar & Lounge, recently was laid off, things have been that bad. Except on the weekends when it's mandatory, socializing has dropped away to nothing. A few cedar thieves had considered bank robbery as a distraction, but their plans were muddled by alcohol, so they never got beyond discussing what they would do with the money.
Last I heard, Frank Righetti was still driving his old pick-up back and forth on the beach road, no destination intended. He told everyone he was looking for something and will know it when he sees it. People nodded solemnly, trying their damnedest to see wisdom. But the effort to keep a straight face proved too much for most and so they ended up avoiding Frank altogether. His reputation as a notorious binger was his only saving grace, and that's what folks figured he was really doing on the beach road. Driving, drinking, and hanging out with his dog, a black lab named Mud, who, apparently, liked Frank. Even Hitler had a dog. He lives off an army disability check from his time during the Viet Nam war. A firefight left him with one kidney and head injuries, so people give him a lot of slack. He prefers being outside with plenty of open space around. Indoors, he doesn't do so well; keeps looking out the windows, waiting for something.
Margaret McCalister owns a shop downtown selling art of all kinds and especially jewelry made by local artists on consignment. She tips the scale at 300 pounds and has forearms the size of a bear's. As the story goes, a drifter tried to rob her shop one day, thinking a woman would be no problem. He was rushed to the emergency room in serious condition with fractured ribs and multiple contusions. Maggie communicates with rocks, she said, and wears a small flat grey pebble on a silver chain around her ample neck, a companion of sorts. "Rock Consciouseness," she insists, would bring peace and love to all the world, if we but listened. Her daughter works two jobs trying to save enough money to leave town and visit her aunt in San Francisco. When confronted, she's denied being related to or even knowing her mother. No one has the heart to tell her that San Francisco will likely make what goes on here supremely normal by comparison.
Big Jim Helfrich doesn't say much, even when there's something to talk about. Sweatpants are the only pants anyone's ever seen him wear. He played football in high school a million years ago back in Mississippi, his claim to fame, so he saw himself as an athlete. His only sport now is seeing how much whiskey and downers he can ingest before passing out. He totalled three cars in the last year and walked away from every one; he saw it as an athletic accomplishment -- competitive drunk driving. The others in the tiny community call him Big Jim, but only to his face. In private, they call him "Double-Knot," he's wrapped that tight. What he sees as resolute self-determination and inner strength, they see as anal retentive behaviour and abject petty stubbornness. It was a split decision either way. Nobody gave it much thought. When you enter the bar he's likely to offer you the seat next to him, like he's doing you a favor. It's best to ignore him; after a few minutes, he'll forget you're even there.
Maryann Doherty works as a waitress at The Lost Horizon Cafe near the edge of town. Though the owner was pleased with the choice of name, it unfortunately opened itself up to endless jokes. The coffee is good and strong, and, with few exceptions, most items on the menu are just fine. The lead cook, Pete Kevorkian, smokes pot during his shift which, nonetheless, doesn't seem to affect his vertuoso cooking skills; he can handle several orders simultaneously without missing a beat. In fact, his condition tends to enhance his creativity, although, under full disclosure, he does occasionally lose track. Moreover, for some reason -- secret ingredients? -- the pancakes are the best in town as are the homemade hashbrowns, and that's what fills the place up on sunday mornings, Maryann's shift. She's five-foot-six and weighs only about 100 pounds, but can carry plates of food all day long without complaint. Where she gets the strength is a genuine mystery. Tips are adequate during the winter, blossoming with the tourists in the summer. In mid-spring, however, it can go either way. During the weekdays locals living on coffee and conversation hang out for hours. Not the greatest tippers, but, Maryann enjoys their company, and, being a farm girl from Minnesota, that's all that matters to her. Or so she says.
Bruce "the Moose" Williams is a part-time shrimper and full-time pothead. When he meets you on the street his usual greeting is, "Smoke-a-bowl?" He's a large robust man with long black hair, a big nose and a constant smile. He kneels in prayer twice a day facing Amsterdam; one can only guess what he's praying for. He's sincere and industrious in an ethically transparent way. Scamming is his art form, like poaching trees off state land to sell for firewood, or building rustic porches from pallets stolen from the cannery. Sometimes he'll sit at the bar drawing plans in a notebook, like designs for trapping shrews with the idea of skinning and tanning their hides to make gloves and such. He drives cab in the off-season when the hilly roads are snow-covered. No one else has the guts. The apartment complex set aside for the elderly is at the top of the highest hill in town, a sick joke by the town planners, if there are any. He rides them downhill, sliding all over the road, to the grocery store on Main street. It's the highlight of their day, they love it and always tip as well as they can. He'd be stoned to the gills, of course, and always came into the bar afterwards for a nerve-settling shot of whiskey, his face lit up like a Christmas tree with adrenaline.
Rosie Fitzpatrick came to town under mysterious circumstances, a private person she refused to say much about her past. One night, however, during some long ago week between Christmas and New Years, she was sitting around with the few friends she had, drinking wine and watching the snow fall on her front porch, when she let it slip that she used to be a nun -- the Sisters of Perpetual Misery, in fact. Prior to that revelation, she was known as the quiet librarian who stayed after hours to put books away. But since, she can be found most friday and saturday nights dancing her ass off at the Bucket Of Blood saloon, one of two places to dance in town. One night last spring my truck broke down in the parking lot across the street, so I went into the saloon to assess the situation. About an hour later, Rosie did a strip on the bartop to Pink Cadillac on the jukebox. I could've missed it. Rosie, the librarian, curly red hair down to her waist, deep blue eyes, quiet, demure, making up for lost time, as the pendulum swings.
Tommy Geneva lives in a bus about two miles out of town on the north road. He stepped off the grid some time ago and intends to stay off, far off. Around his neck he wears a chinese coin believing it gives him good luck at sea, he's a fisherman. He rubs it twixt thumb and forefinger when the water gets hairy. And before leaving port, he'll walk the sandy beaches looking for a special stone or shell to take with him, a piece that catches his eye, to throw back on the same beach upon returning. He tries to make sense of his world, and so, for better or worse, he has his own rules. His favorite drink is Wild Turkey and coke on the rocks. Tommy's been arrested several times in bars for disturbing the peace, not an easy thing to accomplish in our town. His self-involvement extends outward, however. I remember one winter he'd walk six miles down the airport road out of town to help a pregnant woman keep firewood in, her husband being in jail at the time. According to Tex Brewster, the county mailman, the federal government -- the military and the IRS -- were trying to get in touch with Tommy. He never talked about it to any of us, however, and nobody's ever pried. If we did know, we wouldn't say.
Rebecca Morningstar embraced artistry as her lifestyle rather than as a means to an end, like money. Art called; she graciously acquiesced. She dabbles in water colors -- small but discernable -- light poetry, and stories. The interesting ones concerned such plots as how she was managing to outfox several different credit card companies and how the bank was trying to steal property she owned [she said] and how she was countering. Becky's cat ran away, so she got another she takes with her everywhere on a leash. She's determined not to have it happen again. In her car she has a litter box and food and water. You try to pet the cat, she'll scratch you. She's pissed and seriously neurotic; the cat, I mean. It's not another creature with whom she's having a relationship, it's a thing she must control. From time to time Becky'll rent a shop, trying to make a go of selling hats she makes. Offering space to other artists to display their work, whatever it may be, she does so with the intention of trying to talk them into watching the store while she runs around town. It's only fair. A free sales staff. Becky in a nutshell [and I do mean nutshell]: Self-absorption mixed with dashes of sincerity and a curious disposition towards missing the point.
Antoine Glovich claims descendence from Vlad Tepes, more infamously known as Vlad the Impaler. Celebrity status is hard to come by in our town, so whatever you can grab ahold of, you grab. A picture of Peter the Great hangs on a wall of his guitar-repair shop, a table underneath holds bowls of flower petals and an open notebook for visitors to sign, though no one but lost tourists ever do. Nobody who knows has ever bothered to tell him it isn't dear old Vlad in the picture, why ruin it? A favorite pursuit is walking on North Beach on winter days, stopping every so often to face the Strait, arms outstretched, and yelling Viking oathes, witnesses have attested. During Christmas he often volunteers at the retirement home to help with decorations and snow shoveling. At other times, after consuming a copious amount of vodka, the spirit of Vlad surfaces. He's from New Jersey, so fantasy and reality mesh together, with considerable overlap. Of course, nobody actually believes Vlad is his ancestor, but he does, and in this town, that's enough.
Debbie Horowitz announced last week that she wanted everyone to call her Scheherazade. She's tall and skinny with short brown hair and thick glasses. She read about her in One Thousand and One Nights and became infatuated. Debbie works at the used-book store and changes her name from time to time, usually after mythological figures, like Selene, goddess of the moon, and Hera, goddess of life and love. This latest, however, is a bit of a mouthful. But you can't find a nicer person in town, so everyone humors her as much as possible. Her main passion is gardening, each flower receiving all the attention that any man could ever want. Occasionaly, after drinking a glass or two of wine, she'll talk about everything she's been learning at the book store, which seems to be considerable. The toughest guys in town melt at her smile and guilelessness, the sister they never had. However, Scheherzade wound up getting shortened to Sherry, which, from her perspective, simply won't do. Next week we can all expect another one, shorter this time, no doubt.
Joe Fleming is an underwater welder. He made a small fortune on the Exxon Valdez oil spill and bought a house on returning home. During a time when jobs were scarce, his wife left him. But now, she wanted back. The house needed work, but Joe is a man of many trades and talents; he's also smart as hell. The second floor of his house is 60 feet by 30. We, his friends and helpers, discussed plans over pizza and beer, his buy. Some thought a few interior walls to make separate rooms was in order. But Joe liked the openness, the living room on the south end, the kitchen on the north, and nothing but space in between to create stage settings, he called them. A desk and chair, a small round table with a lamp on it, right in the middle, for one. Nothing too elaborate, quiet and simple, like Joe. He bought a couple of those hinged, expandable Japanese walls you can put anywhere to break up space. They were beautiful. And he built, with my help, I might add, a long planked rough-surfaced table he thinks of as a Viking feasting table, where we all sit a lot, eating, smoking grass and drinking -- feasting. He's the town's undisputed 'Go' master; if you're unfamiliar, it's a chinese game that has to do with taking and occupying territory. He's a natural; clever, devious and predatory, like a cat. Joe's ex kept calling; and he kept hanging up; still does, far as I know. Haven't seen him for a couple of weeks.
Dusty, last name unknown, has a marvelous marble collection, which she's proud to display. I had occasion to be at her house awhile back to do carpentry repairs. She's also amassed several doll heads with the idea of making puppets some day. Studying bee keeping and tarot card reading have become her latest passions. She came here from somewhere in California with her boyfriend and eight cats in an old step-van. After about a year, they split up. He lost his mind and ruined a good thing running around with other women. He went to Alaska and she, well, nobody sees her much, not being a bar person. She works at the restaurant at the end of Union wharf waitressing. That's where I usually see her; once in awhile I'll bump into her on the street. She's always friendly, but with effort. We talk sometimes when she's on break about her latest projects. She seems haunted. I heard through the grapevine her former boyfriend killed himself up north, don't know how, can only guess why.
Well, that's my last glass of Sheraz. Getting towards dusk; rain's still coming down; not hard, just relentless as in neverending. It's been a quiet day, a melancholy haze hangs in the air that I can't shake. Before you showed up, I was reminiscing over past times with friends, some of whom have passed on or moved away. We went through a lot of shit together, life-threatening shit in some cases. I could sit here and brood, I suppose, but there'll be time enough for that after I'm dead. Right now, I think I'll go to the store to get another bottle of wine and some cheese and French bread, maybe even a peach, what the hell. Cabin fever and memories and dark red wine. Talk to ya' later.