We had our share of strange folks in and out of the Sea Gull. Cat Woman (see Eleanor Cooney’s excellent article on p. 64-5 at this link), Mat-head, Radio Man, and a flasher who always arrived wearing a black trench coat and sat in a booth in the back of the dining room where he would expose himself to the waitress when she arrived to take his order. It was a shock for the new girls who were always sent out as a practical joke by the others. These were just a few that I remember.
There were the totally crazy, the simply bizarre and eccentric, the sad elderly a few years past their shelf date, those irredeemably gone to substance abuse, those pretending to be nuts just to get a laugh or a free meal, and the ubiquitous Mendocino trust babies, brains split between privilege and guilt, driven toward a life of abnormality and worthy of a study like Thorsten Veblen’s Theory of the Leisure Class. One local customer remarked shortly after Governor Reagan released large numbers of the mentally ill from institutional care: “California is the largest open air asylum in the world.” (Apparently not all the blame falls on Reagan.)
Negotiating these odd characters required a certain tact that I came by naturally given the bountiful supply of naiveté toward the real world I had acquired after eight years of college. I seldom lost my temper, smiled a lot as if I were just like those I was dealing with, never argued, and tried to find some common ground. There’s always common ground if you bother to look.
One particular lost soul was Bruce Knott, called B-Not by everyone who knew him. B-Not was a drunk. He was not a particularly obnoxious drunk. There were times when he was funny, even entertaining. But he had a habit of wearing out his welcome especially with the waitresses who quickly tired of his antics. He spent most of his time in the dark corners outside the restaurant drinking from a bottle and communicating with the spirits that came to him when he was drunk. He came in only occasionally to get warm or to have a bowl of soup if he could afford one or to beg one from anyone whose eyes projected a guilty conscience.
One night around eight, the restaurant crowd still humming, I was over at the house hoping for a rare quiet night when the phone rang destroying my equanimity.
“You better get over here. B-Not just came in bleeding. He fell onto a beer bottle. It broke and cut him. It’s serious.”
I was out the door in a flash. Luckily the cook that night, Carol, was a licensed nurse in addition to cooking part-time at the Sea Gull. Many people working at the restaurant had other jobs or interests. By the time I arrived, Carol had stopped the bleeding and managed to patch up B-Not with some sterile dressings and tape from our medical supply kit. My first thought was not, I’m ashamed, for B-Not but about what the customers must have been thinking when they saw this circus unfolding around them.
“This is just a temporary fix. He needs to go to the hospital.”
B-Not was dumbfounded. He was pretty drunk and not sure about what was going on. There was no one else to take him, so I volunteered. I went home to get the keys to my orange Datsun truck. This truck was the vehicle I drove with my wife to San Francisco for our honeymoon, but that’s a different story. I will say, however, that they wouldn’t take us at the Mark Hopkins when they saw the truck so I drove over to the Saint Francis where they were more than accommodating.
I pulled around to the front door and the dishwasher helped me get him into the passenger seat. It was finally beginning to register that something big had happened to him. That seemed to sober him up.
“Yur my best fren, man, my best fren.”
The fumes emanating from his mouth were disturbingly toxic. I opened the window all the way even though it was a very cold winter night.
“Yur great tae do this for me man, just great.”
“No problem B-Not. You okay?”
His eyes darted left and right as if he were suddenly afraid.
“Where you takin’ me? Where we goin’?”
“No worries B-Not. I’m taking you to the hospital. That cut needs attention. You don’t want an infection or internal bleeding or anything like that.”
“Not to the police station?”
“No, to the hospital.”
He settled down. I asked him a few questions. He was from the East coast where he had family but “I ain’t been in contact with them for years.” He had MediCal. He lived “around” with “friends and such” and was “getting along alright.”
I drove into the small parking lot next to the Emergency Room. I helped him out of the truck leaving the windows open to air things out, and we walked inside. We were the only ones in the waiting room. I explained to the receptionist what had happened and she asked him for his identification and MediCal card. While she checked him in, I sat in a chair by the wall wondering how long this might take.
When he was all set, he joined me and we both waited. It wasn’t long before they called for him.
“Hey, hold on to this for me, man.” He gave me his wallet and went through the door leading to the observation rooms. I thought about rifling through his wallet to see if I could find out anything about his life, but I decided that was too intrusive. I put the thought out of my mind.
It was three long, boring hours before he came out. I kept looking at his wallet, but I didn’t go there. When he finally came out, he had a smile on his face. His hand was bandaged. I put his wallet in the good hand and we left. He told me there was no serious injury and said his stomach was tapped up. He would have to go back to see if it was healing properly, but he could get there on his own.
I drove back to the restaurant. It was closed. I took him inside and gave him some soup and some bread.
“You know what, man? Yur my best friend. Really. I’m gonna tell all my friends to come to the Sea Gull. You guys here are great. You saved my life.”
“Thanks B-Not, but you said the injury wasn’t serious. I’m happy the doctor patched you up. Don’t forget to go back so the doctor can see how you’re healing. As for all those friends, you know, let’s not tell them about this. Heck, I couldn’t deal with all those extra customers. Let’s just keep this between ourselves.”
“Okay man, if that’s what you want. But if you ever need anything, you just ask, okay?”
“Okay B-Not. Take care of yourself.”
B-Not came back around a few times. I heard he stopped drinking. After awhile, he stopped coming. I never found out what happened to him. Someone said they heard he was related to the famous Knotts Berry Farm family, but I tend to think that was a false rumor. He told me he had relatives on the East coast. Who knows? Sometimes I wish I had looked through that wallet of his. Maybe there would have been some answers.