Marlene Hall, the previous owner of the Sea Gull Restaurant, once told me that God protects drunkards, fools, and babies. Or, maybe it was my friend Judy Johnson. Actually, I think they’ve both used the phrase in my presence. A little googling revealed that a similar phrase, my title for this essay, was probably used by Otto von Bismarck. For those of you who don’t know Bismarck, he was the original author of Obamacare. It was probably also Bismarck who said “laws are like sausages: it’s better not to see them being made”. He may have said neither of these things, but his name is widely associated with them.
Bismarck was a political genius. He created the first welfare state in the modern world including universal healthcare with the goal of gaining working class support that might otherwise go to his socialist enemies.
Both quotes are being played out in real time today. With all the angst, fear, anger and revolt going on after the U.S. presidential election, it’s good to remember that the odds are high that life will go on. None other than the Teddy Bear of investors, Warren Buffett (a staunch Hillary Clinton supporter), made this point recently in an interview on Yahoo Finance and CNN.
The media and professional pollsters have egg on their faces. The coastal elites are like deer caught in the headlights. After my stint in the restaurant business, I became a financial advisor, and I got this question all the time: “If you’re so smart, why aren’t you rich?” Well, any person with basic common sense knows that smart and rich don’t go together, not always anyway. Just look around. And maybe, just maybe, getting rich isn’t the purpose of life despite Deng Xiaoping’s famous dictum “to get rich is glorious” which apparently he never actually said. The experts are often wrong but that doesn’t mean we should throw out the baby with the bathwater. (That is another German expression associated with Bismarck.)
There is a tale from the Sea Gull that demonstrates how wrong the experts can be. Music in the Sea Gull Cellar Bar varied between rock & roll, jazz, Celtic, folk, country, and even classical. One night I had scheduled a wonderful Canadian singer to perform, Margaret Christl. She sang songs from an album that I still have and play on occasion. The lyrics from one of those songs, Aragon Mill, could easily have been written during the recent election. Aragon Mill was written by Si Kahn in the 70s.
(music and lyrics by Si Kahn)
At the east end of town, at the foot
of the hill
Stands a chimney so tall that says
But there’s no smoke at all coming out
of the stack
For the mill has shut down and it ain’t
And the only tune I hear
Is the sound of the wind
As it blows through the town
Weave and spin
Weave and spin
Now I’m too old to work and I’m too
young to die
And there’s no place to go for my old
man and I
And the children have gone from the
narrow empty streets
Now the looms have shut down, it’s so
quiet I can’t sleep
Now the mill has shut down, it’s the
only life I know
Tell me where will I go, tell me where
will I go
Maggie Christl’s version is not available on youtube but there is a version by Si Kahn who wrote and first performed the song AT THIS LINK.
Just as Maggie Christl was hitting her stride and winning over the audience, four locals whom I’d never seen in the Cellar Bar before staggered loudly in through the swinging doors. Conservative Mendocino oldtimers, they were like fish out of water. Eddie Matthews and Ken Shrode, both from Mendocino, and King Oakie with a friend whose name escapes me came into the bar clearly inebriated and ready to party. (If you know this story and the name of the fourth man in the group, put it in a comment and I’ll give you a FREE life’s subscription to Think in the Morning.)
I don’t recall the bartender’s name that night (another FREE subscription opportunity), but I could immediately see he was horrified when the four sat at the bar and began to laugh and joke raucously, ignoring the music and everyone around them. Poor Maggie Christl and those trying to listen to her music were flustered and began turning their heads toward the bar and making threatening hisses and shhhs.
There was no way I could just sit and watch. Something had to be done. I walked up to the four men at the bar and greeted them with a genuine “Hi guys, what brings you to the Cellar Bar?”
Before they could answer I suggested we move to a table near the swinging doors away from the music stage so we could talk “quietly” among ourselves. They were happy to agree especially when I told the bartender, who was reluctant to serve them in their condition, to comp their drinks. That seemed to calm them down a bit.
This was their story. They had all gone out to the Mendocino Hotel for drinks to celebrate Eddie’s bad news. It seems Eddie had been to the doctor and that he was diagnosed with cancer and given only 6 months to live. They all decided to get drunk. While at the Hotel, the bartender grew impatient with them, probably for the same reason that I was nervous when I saw them come in. They were, well, LOUD. When the bartender told them he wouldn’t serve them anymore and that he would call the cops if they didn’t leave, it only egged them on.
[See THIS to understand how these things can turn out]
They bantered back and forth with the bartender (“a young whipper snapper still wet behind the ears”) until the young man lost his patience and actually called the cops. As you might expect, this didn’t phase the Four Musketeers in the least. The bartender, knowing that the sheriff was always slow to respond and fearing for his life, served them another drink hoping to settle them down. They finished their drinks, paid, and walked out. “Let’s get out of here, its too damn boring. Let’s go over to the Sea Gull for another drink.”
As they were walking down Main Street toward Lansing, the sheriff pulled around the corner. They flagged him down. Of course, they all knew each other well.
“What’s up guys? You celebrating something?”
“Yea. Eddie found out he’s only got a few months to live.”
“Oh Gosh, that’s terrible. I’m so sorry to hear that. I wish you the best, Eddie. Maybe your doctor got it wrong.”
“No, I don’t think so. I’ve got the big “C” you know. Terminal. No way around it.”
“Well, that’s awful, just awful. Look, I’d like to talk for awhile but I’ve got to go on down to the Hotel. There’s some loud drunks in there that won’t leave. I got to restore the peace if you know what I mean.”
“Well, thanks for stopping sheriff. Good luck with those drunks.”
The sheriff proceeded to the Hotel and the group, laughing loudly, walked on to the Sea Gull.
After they related that story, the guys finished their drinks and decided it was best to leave. I dodged a bullet on that one. Soon the bar was back to normal and Maggie Christl was singing her songs and everyone was happy again.
Mothers, Daughters, Wives
(music and lyrics by Judy Small)
The first time it was fathers, the last
time it was sons
And in between your husbands marched
away with drums and guns
And you never stopped to question, you
just went on with your lives
‘Cause all they taught you who to be was
mothers, daughters, wives
And you can only just remember the tears
your mothers shed
As they sat and read the papers through
the lists and lists of dead
And the gold frames held the photographs
that mothers held each night
And the door frames held the shocked and
silent strangers from the fight
It was twenty-one years later with children
of your own
And the trumpets sounded once again and
the soldier boys were gone
And you drove their trucks and made their
guns and tended to their wounds
And at night you’d kiss the photographs
and pray for safe returns
And when it was over you had to
To be just wives and mothers when you’d
done the work of men
So you worked to help the needy and you
never trod on toes
And the photos on the piano struck a
happy family pose
Now your daughters have grown to
women and your little boys to men
And you prayed that you were dreaming
when the call-up came again
But you bravely smiled and held your tears
as you sadly waved goodbye
And the photos on the mantlepieces
always made you cry
And now you’re getting older and in
time the photos fade
And in widowhood you sit back and
reflect on the parade
Of the passing of your memories, as your
daughters change our lives
Seeing more to our existence than just
mothers, daughters, wives
Oh, I almost forgot to mention, Eddie lived another twenty-five years. Yep, the Doc was wrong. Sometimes even the experts make mistakes.
David, Wonderful writing.
Thanks for this a shining moment during our history on being awoken at home.
Now, sorry to be a pill, but it twern’t me what did that opening napkin with the flag it was Jack Haye. I remember as we were at the table when it was made.
So good to see them all again.
Yikes ! Even I make mistakes. Noted and corrected and thanks for the comment. David
Nice, King David.
Heard Steven Ross, Yale Prof and of Cox, Ross Options Pricing Model fame, say at a conference how he replies to statement, “If you are so smart, why aren’t you rich” with “If you are so rich, why aren’t you smart.” Loved it.
I’ll second that! Great writing, David. I love these stories that involve the Sea Gull in particular. Sadly, I was only there once but you and Cathy were so very hospitable. We very much enjoyed our stay with you.
The napkin art is great and I like the way you sprinkle them throughout the story. Do you keep these treasures yourself or is it located elsewhere?
Too bad I missed Margaret Christl. I enjoyed listening to what little exists on YouTube. You couldn’t book The Dead while Marcia and I were there?
For you, mi primo, I would have booked the Red Army Chorus singing the Volga Boat Song!
Wonderful blog, David. I loved it. You do write well although your politics are suspect.
Yes, I have a habit of going off the reservation.
Thank you for this ….
Eddie lived a long time ,,, and Clyde is still handing in there, but they moved her to Texas .
We even took Eddie food , From firedept BBQ’s during Fire dept event , when he could not get out anymore .
But the best stories are about Clyde ,, she once said to me ” don’t let your self go ”
Stay fit and keep your appearance tidy ……
I loved Clyde…..
She always serves us coffee and pastries at 10 am and cookie and coffee at 2pm….
Those are the ways of the old days , when people were kind to each other .
Much love ,
So true! Clytie is an example and inspiration for all of us.
Hello: Has it really been 45 years – yes folks I still sing and play and write songs, got one song published in Sing Out magazine, probably singing just as good as ever, if I practise. haha. This year I celebrated my 70th, went swimming in the mighty St. Lawrence river, takes 2 days to immigrate down that river, yep, it was cold, but I did it to remind myself of what a great country Canada is and all the wonderful folk I met over the years.
Maggie Christl from Toronto sends all the best to all her fans out there still kickin!!!
Nicely done again David. And what a great subject, an endless stream of stories about all of us in your Cellar Bar. Thank you!