Mac is in the bar with Rick. Rick used to be a dishwasher. Now he’s a bartender.
“I can’t believe how quiet it is down here,” says Mac.
“Yeah, it’s quiet and dark and cool during the day compared to the crowd upstairs,” says Rick. “A great place to hide. There are times when you can hear a pin drop in here. Then, in a matter of minutes, it can heat up to the point where you can’t even hear the drink orders, especially over the intercom which is the way we communicate from downstairs to upstairs. Usually it’s Marla or the boss or Brin upstairs. I say ‘Wiley’s stuck in the spiral staircase … was that a Bloody Mary?’ and they say ‘What?’ And we go back and forth until we get it worked out.”
“Is the dinner rush the busiest time down here?” asks Mac.
“There’s a second rush late at night,” says Rick. “At eleven o’clock the gals from the Heritage House get off and they come in. Then a show at the Art Center gets out and the place is wall to wall and I’m the only guy working. I don’t know what the occupancy rating is here but I’m sure we go way over it when it gets busy.”
“You must hear a lot of secrets down here when folks have a few drinks and let loose,” says Mac.
“You mean like the rest of the story?” laughs Rick. “The Cellar is an unofficial office for some of the town’s professionals. The Judge up at Ten Mile says it’s a good place to meet witnesses and community members during the day when it’s fairly deserted. Folks can freeze in public and have a hard time getting up in court but they can talk freely down here where no one is listening.”
“No one,” laughs Mac.
“Well, I’m not gonna say I spy on their conversations but sometimes I do overhear a word or two,” says Rick. “What’s funny to me is how the story changes over time. The school board members come in before the meeting to have a glass of wine. They talk about the issues to be discussed later at the meeting. Sometimes they make deals like I’ll support you on this if you support me on that. Later, when the meeting’s over, they come back and have a few more glasses of wine and talk about what happened at the meeting. What happened is completely different from what they said earlier. Then the whole thing is reported in the Beacon the next day and it’s yet another story. Who knows what the truth is?”
“Maybe truth is like beauty, it depends on your point of view,” says Mac. “Then again, maybe the truth changes over time.”
“Oh, it changes all right,” says Rick, “especially when you’re drunk. And I don’t just mean drunk on booze. People can get drunk on lots of things. Power. Fame. Whatever. People believe what they think they see but they don’t always see what they think they see.”
Rick tells the boss Happy Hour is a way to boost business. The boss says let’s try it. It works. Teachers come in when school gets out. Shopkeepers come in as soon as they can close up. Attorneys, judges, carpenters, sheet-rockers, loggers, musicians—just about everybody comes in sooner or later. Even the Catholic priest. Free snacks and cheap booze is a popular combination.
“I guess the boss is happy with the way Happy Hour is turning out,” says Mac.
“It’s good for business, that’s for sure,” says Rick. “It’s kind of fun, kind of crazy, sometimes total mayhem. Sure, there’s a group of people who come in just for that which does test your skills a little bit, as far as A: keeping up with them and B: making sure that, ‘Okay, that’s enough.’ You kinda end up babysitting these people sometimes.”
“You mean like with D.C.,” says Mac.
“Exactly like with D.C. That was pretty cool how you handled him, Mac. You oughta think about being a bartender,” says Rick.
“I’m in my groove washing dishes,” says Mac. “Washing dishes gives me a Micah-like Zen satisfaction. I couldn’t deal with everything that goes on down here. With D.C. I just got lucky.”
“It’s not all that bad,” says Rick. “Kinda crazy sometimes but also fun. People come in to watch the scene or to join in. They get off on it. It gets a little wild keeping up with all the orders when it’s busy but the main thing is, it’s okay, everyone’s pretty cool about it. It’s not a beer and bloody nose situation like when those Hell’s Angels came in the other day.”
“Yeah, we dodged a bullet that time,” says Mac. “Joyce saved the day. If the boss had gone out there to dicker with the Hell’s Angels, I’m not sure we would have had the same result.”
“You’re right,” says Rick. “Sometimes the better part of valor is discretion.”
“Where did you hear that,” says Mac.
“Some drunk,” says Rick.
Marla emerges from the spiral staircase. She joins Mac at the bar. It’s just about time to open.
“So, how’s it going with Myrna, Mac,” says Marla with a smile. “I hear you two are moving in together.”
“You don’t miss a thing, do you,” says Mac a little red in the face. “You’re right. She got Warren and Marnie’s apartment across the street. They’re moving. Myrna wants me to move in so I guess I will. I’m sure the boss can put my upstairs room to better use.”
“Their little boy’s so cute, that Richie,” says Marla. “I’m at the register and he looks me right in the eye and says: ‘My daddy’s moving us to Alaska to seek our fortune.’ I try not to laugh. ‘That’s great Richie,’ I say. ‘I sure hope you find it.’ Richie stands there smiling from ear to ear.”
“Finding one’s fortune is a dream we all have,” says Mac.
“What about the burl table business Warren started with Bruce?” asks Rick.
“Bruce is gonna leave,” says Marla, “quit bartending and leave. Says he’s going to be an airline pilot.”
“His harem of waitresses will miss him,” says Rick rolling his eyes. “I think he’s slept with about half the girls around here. You know what Henrietta’s daughter Esther says about him? She says the thing about Bruce is that Bruce can fuck–nine times a day.”
“Who’s gonna pick up his bartending shift?” asks Rick.
Marla turns red in the face but tries to act as if she isn’t bothered by Rick’s comment. “I don’t know yet,” she says. “The boss is gonna pick it up for now.”
“That won’t last long,” says Mac.
“Customers like it when the boss tends bar,” says Rick. “He’s an easy mark. But pity the bartender who follows him. He always puts on Why Don’t We Get Drunk And Screw by Jimmy Buffett just before he leaves then sits on the other side of the bar and watches the pandemonium unfold.”
Bill Bradd sneaks in quietly through the back door.
“Hi guys,” says Bill. “Thought I’d get my place at the bar before Happy Hour starts so I can keep up onl the gossip–real estate deals, construction plans, who’s sleeping with who … you know. Hope you don’t mind if I join in.”
“Not at all,” says Marla. “We were just talking about Bruce leaving. You don’t want to come back for a few shifts do you?”
“Bruce is leaving? Hm. Well, you know I love this place,” says Bill. “All the junk in here is real junk. In the harsh light of day this bar is absolutely grotty-cobwebs, nicotine stains on the walls, that awful blowfish lamp that I plotted against daily when I was tending bar. The dried alligator skin, those happy pictures of Cinderella’s Ball behind the fireplace. There are fifty-seven of the most uncomfortable seats in Christendom, the Persian rugs, the hanging crystal lamps so stained with nicotine no one would ever suspect they were originally clear glass. None of this would make sense anywhere else. I absolutely love it. But, I’ve had my fill of bartending.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” says Marla. “You were good at it.”
“Everyone at the Frolic eventually moves on and does something else,” says Rick. I’m going to work for Clayton and learn how to build houses. I’ve talked with him. He says I have to wait a year. He’s not ready to take me on yet. But, my time will come as it does for everyone. So, I’m here a bit longer. Hey, Marla, your shift’s done, right?”
“Yes,” says Marla. “The night crew’s just arrived. The boss is moving me out of the kitchen for good to the front desk. I’ll be managing the floor staff. But, I’ve got tonight off.”
“Good, you can have a drink then,” says Rick. He glances at Mac and Bill and winks.
“Well, I shouldn’t really. The place is gonna fill up pretty soon. I don’t want people to see me drinking if I end up being the one who has to throw them out,” says Marla.
“Yeah,” says Rick. “But not tonight, so have a drink on me.”
“You are indisputably the pro at removing problem drinkers Marla. What’s your trick?” asks Bill.
“I never have any problems with anybody. I just say ‘you guys gotta leave and it’s time to go right now’ and they leave. Take Philip. He starts drinking and people get intimidated by him. But when I tell him to leave, he just gets up and goes out the door, maybe mumbles, but leaves. I don’t know if they’re just shocked to be confronted by a woman, I don’t know what these guys think, they probably think, ‘oh God, what a bitch, I can see why she’s doing this.’ Actually, I’m not but that’s my job, you know? That’s my job and I really don’t mind it because it makes the Frolic work. I think everybody respects me. It doesn’t matter how mad they get at me, they always listen and afterward they come back.”
“Nobody’s going to care if you have a drink Marla. I want you guys to test out this new concoction I invented for Happy Hour. I need your honest opinion.” Rick pulls out a stainless steel canister and gives it a few shakes. He put three cocktail glasses, the tall straight ones, in front of Bill, Mac and Marla. He fills them with a creamy mixture.
“We’re gonna call these things Dirty Birds after the seagulls that poop all over town. We’ll sell them for a buck fifty,” says Rick.
“Tastes like a liquored up chocolate milkshake,” says Mac.
“Wow, this is good,” says Marla. “What’s in it?”
“Tequila, vodka, Kahlua and cream blended with ice,” says Rick. “But, don’t tell anyone. It’s a Frolic secret.”
Bill sips his with a strange look on his face.
“So Marla,” says Mac. “Tell me again about those sports divers that discovered the Frolic and how Hawley came to name this place after the shipwreck.”
“Why are you so into that shipwreck story Mac?” asks Marla.
“Just tell me,” says Mac.
“Well, Pollard built the dining room. Hawley suggested a cellar underneath to get the maximum use out of the space. I think it was 65 or 66, somewhere in there. This cellar was alotta things before it became a bar. It was a pool hall, it was a health food store, it was an antique shop. Gosh, I don’t think I can remember all the things it was.”
Marla took a big sip of her drink.
“Terry and Judy had just moved up here. They have an accounting service now but they used to work as a bartender/hostess combination. One weekend Terry, Judy, Hawley, Shirley, Gerald and I went to San Francisco to gather ideas. We visited the Marrakesh Restaurant and decided that was a good way to decorate a bar. So Hawley turned the cellar into a bar and bought all the stuff you see down here at an auction when the Snow Museum in Oakland closed.”
“Damn, this drink is good,” says Marla. “I shouldn’t but I think I’ll have another.”
Rick looks at Bill who catches on to the charade.
“Where was I,” says Marla whose voice raises an octave. “Oh yeah, the first customers to come into the Cellar Bar were a couple of sports divers. Hawley was bartending. They told him they’d found old pieces of chinaware, iron anchors, bits and pieces of all sorts of paraphernalia, a few coins and even an old cannon. Someone told them a brig called the Frolic wrecked there. So … Hawley decided to call his new restaurant the Frolic Café.”
Toward the end of her story Marla starts to slur her words. Suddenly she blurts out: “Good God! How’m I gonna get home?
Rick and Bill laugh.
“Oh my God! You guys. What have you done to me? What will I tell Gerald?”
“Don’t worry Marla,” laughs Rick with his Cheshire eyes, one focused on Marla and the other one on Bill who walks around the bar looking at the walls. “Gerald’s in on it. He will be by to pick you up when he closes. All good.”
“Every time those cowbells on the front door rang,”says Bill, “I used to think here comes someone with expectations or there goes someone with disappointment. Such is the way of the world. So many odd things have happened down here, I do miss working here in a way.”
“When you deal with the public,” says Marla, “you never know who’s going to come in. In a small town you know everybody. You know what they’re going to eat, you know what they’re going to drink, who’s gonna laugh and who’s gonna complain and you hear everything like, for example, your place or mine or forget it.”
Mac takes it all in. He’s invisible. He eases back from the bar and quietly escapes up the back stairs to the garden. His memory stirs–stories from his great great grandfather, Mariano, about working on a boat called the Frolic. Did he really hear these stories? From whom? How? When?