Dreams. Stories. A boat. A shipwreck. A beach.
A man leads a group through a dense forest. They hunt and forage for food. They walk great distances to find shallow spots to cross the rivers. They have no weapons to defend against wild animals and unfriendly natives. They are foreigners with dark skin. The few settlers they find along the way do not welcome them.
When they reach Santo Francisco or Yerba Buena as the Mexicans call it they are desperate and filthy. Mariano trades the silver he salvaged after the shipwreck for clean clothes and food and temporary lodgings. They cannot find the shipping company. They will not be paid the wages that are due. They are on their own.
Some of the men head to the gold fields. The rest fall in with sailors who belong to other vessels and ship out in hope of finding their way back home to Panjim. Mariano stays. He meets Moreno, an old lascar who owns a pulqueria in Yerba Buena. The adobe building is like the mud buildings Mariano knows back home. The West India goods, fruits and foodstuffs that Moreno sells in his shop are familiar. Mariano is not a drinker but he sees there is money to be made selling liquor to the gold miners and sailors who pass through. Gold fever is in the air. Mariano’s hard work and honesty earns Moreno’s respect.
Nessa is the illegitimate daughter of a lascar sailor who abandons her and returns to India. Her mother is a mysterious white woman who disappears after Nessa is born. Moreno and his wife take her in and raise her. She is light-skinned for a lascar, like Mariano. Mariano is tall and handsome and a good worker. He catches Nessa’s eye. Working together in the same small space, Nessa and Mariano see each other every day. It’s obvious to Moreno that a match between these two young people makes sense for everyone. Moreno and his wife agree. They are growing old. They have saved enough and are ready to retire. Moreno tells Mariano he will sell the shop on generous terms if Mariano agrees to marry Nessa.
Mac wakes to Myrna’s steady breathing in the bed next to him. He dreamed the same dream again. He doesn’t know how true these dreams are. He washes and puts on his clothes and walks across the street to the Frolic. Myrna sleeps soundly as he leaves.
Micah is in the coffee shop with someone Mac has never seen.
“Hi Mac. Come join us. I want you to meet a friend,” says Micah.
Mac gets a cup of coffee. He joins Micah and the stranger.
“Mac, this is Flash. He’s gonna help clean at nights. Things are getting busy around here. I can’t handle it alone anymore,” says Micah.
“Hello Mac,” says Flash. “A pleasure to meet you.” Flash has one of those booming voices, mellow, deep and thick like honey.
“Happy to meet you,” says Mac. “Have I heard you on the radio?”
“Nope,” says Flash. “But, I’m flattered you think you have.”
“Your voice is familiar,” says Mac.
“I was born like this,” says Flash matter-of-factly. “I had no choice. I was born with the gift of a golden voice.” Flash tips his brown wool fisherman’s cap to Mac.
Mac gives Flash a quizzical look.
“It’s a Leonard Cohen line,” laughs Micah.
“Who?” says Mac.
“The poet,” says Flash.
“You’re a poet?” asks Mac.
“I’m working on it,” says Flash. “Leonard Cohen is a poet.”
“Turns out Leonard Cohen passed through the Frolic yesterday,” says Micah. “Cheryl told us. He gave her a signed book of his poems.”
“Cheryl,” says Mac. “Oh, you mean the flirty waitress?”
“Yeah, that’s her,” says Micah.
“I woke up from a dream this morning,” says Mac. “I have the same dream all the time.”
“Oh yes, a repeated dream!” says Flash energetically. “The only relief is to awaken and laugh in the morning.”
“What was it about,” asks Micah.
“I’d rather not say yet,” says Mac who finishes his coffee. “I’m off, got to work tonight. Good to meet you Flash. Welcome to the crew.”
Flash tips his hat again as Mac leaves.
“Who is he?” asks Flash.
“We don’t really know,” says Micah. “He just showed up one day and he’s been washing dishes ever since. He keeps asking questions about the Frolic shipwreck but he won’t say why.”
“The shipwreck?” says Flash.
“You know, the famous shipwreck in the middle of the last century. Hawley named the café after it. Mac’s fixated on it. No one knows why. I asked Myrna who’s shacked up with him. She says it’s something to do with his family going way back.”
“Well, family is family, as the poet says. I can understand his hesitance to speak about it. I wouldn’t want to speak about mine,” says Flash.
Later that night Mac washes dishes. It’s a slow night at the café. There are only two tables occupied in the dining room. Mac takes a tray of coffee cups and saucers to the coffee shop, puts them away under the counter. There is only one woman in the coffee shop. She sits at the counter. When Mac stands up after stacking the cups and saucers, he sees the woman is naked. Her clothes are all over the floor. He walks into the kitchen and tells Marla and Dolly.
“That woman who lives in her car outside is in the coffee shop again. She’s taking her clothes off this time. I’m not going to deal with her,” says Mac. He goes back to the dishwasher.
Marla and Dolly go to the coffee shop. They speak to the woman and help her get dressed. Marla calls the sheriff. The sheriff arrives and takes the woman to Ukiah. They can only hold her for 48 hours without charges but at least this will give the poor lady a safe place for awhile, safer than her car.
“Why do so many eccentric people hang out at the Frolic?” Mac asks Marla.
“Ever since Governor Reagan kicked the mentally ill out of the state hospitals, California has been the largest open-air asylum in the country,” she says. “Cat Lady for example. Her real name is Nellie McGillicuddy. That’s what I’ve heard. She lives with her marmalade cat in an old car. She looks a fright with mascara and lipstick smeared all over her face. And, she smells. We can’t let her in the restaurant but the boss lets her stand by the door and order food to go. We all feel sorry for her.”
“Yeah,” says Mac. I’ve seen her around town.”
“She bathes sometimes at the beach and gives the school kids quite a view if they happen to be walking by,” laughs Marla. “They say she’s much better on her meds but I wouldn’t know.”
“What about that guy who walks around town with the grocery cart with his radio blaring?” asks Mac.
“Yes,” says Marla, “Radio Man is another town character. His shopping cart is full of junk and the stuffing is falling out of his coat from all the rips and tears. Then there’s Matt Head, another indigent man who wanders the streets with his wild, matted hair. His real name is Jim Taylor. There’s a rumor he’s an heir to some big company that makes refrigeration equipment, Taylor Manufacturing or something. Can you believe it? He doesn’t cause any problems but he almost burned the Inn down once when he made a fire in a coffee can that fell over after he went to sleep on the front porch.”
“The strangest people are sometimes the most interesting,” says Mac.
“True,” says Marla, “but sometimes they really can be dangerous. Charlie Manson passed through Mendocino once with his girls who some here call The Witches of Mendocino. The girls waltzed around Mendosas half dressed and while everyone stared goo-goo eyed at them, Manson stole the place blind. One local guy said Manson stared him in the face and it was like seeing pure evil.”
Marla was street smart in a way Mac admired. He was always looking for the good in people, something he liked about Roy. But, there’s a danger there. Guys like Tree Frog Johnson who molests little kids sometimes show up. Marla reminds him of the need to be skeptical.
“I understand,” says Mac. “I feel sorry for Trench Coat but he can’t go around exposing himself like he does. The problem is what to do with people like that.”
“We put up with eccentrics if they aren’t completely wacko,” says Marla. “Alan Graham, known as Captain Fathom around here, can be a real pain in the ass. I’m sure you’ve run into him. But, when his mother visits from New York, he cleans up. I think she gives him money. So, he’s got his sane moments. People put up with him. Bruce Knott is another harmless drunk who comes into the Frolic just to get warm and slurp his soup. We all call him B-Not. He can be a smartass and very unlikable at times but he’s not dangerous. Once he fell on a glass beer bottle and cut himself. One of the cooks who also’s a part time nurse patched him up and the boss drove him to the hospital. If you’re going to last in this business you’ve got to learn how to separate the wheat from the chaff as they say.”
No wonder the boss has Marla deal with the difficult situations at the café. One of the bartenders, Cory, he’s gone now, told Mac “she can send two tough guys whimpering home like chastised little boys, I only had to call her once and it was worth it seeing her work!”
What Marla did for that woman in the coffee shop was the right thing. A few days afterward her car was gone and so was she. “I wish her well,” says Marla, “but we can’t be responsible for every stray cat that walks in.”
One night Marla’s husband Gerald is bartending when a threatening man comes into the bar. Gerald sees the guy is trouble right away but unlike Marla, Gerald is easily intimidated. He avoids the guy who looks around, sees no one to hassle, and goes upstairs. Gerald pages Marla over the intercom and tells her to get Mac. Mac sees the guy come up the spiral staircase and walk behind the large wine barrels that divide the dining room. Suddenly there’s a crash. The barrels topple over with everything on top of them including the beautiful carved chess scene. The pieces lay scattered on the floor. Mac watches as the man walks up to a table where a local musician, Arrigo d’Albert, sits with his broken leg in a cast stretched out over an adjoining chair. Arrigo is a Swiss goldsmith, hurdy-gurdy player and town character. The man and Arrigo stare at each other. The man smashes a dinner knife on the table, then looks at Arrigo’s leg then back at Arrido. He doesn’t utter a word. Everyone freezes in place, even Marla. Mac holds his breath. Quietly, the man smiles then walks out the front door and down the street. Marla calls the sheriff but the sheriff can take an hour or more to arrive. You’re on your own when these things happen. Best be prepared, thinks Mac, even though he’s not sure what he should have done. At least the man’s gone and Arrigo is okay.
On another night the cook, Peter, throws a tantrum because the cracker crumbs are not ground finely enough. Lots of things get breaded with cracker crumbs, the fish, the sweetbreads, the Chicken Kiev. The crumbs won’t stick properly if they’re not ground fine like powder. Peter grabs a chef’s knife in a rage and charges the prep cook who happens to be his brother, Jon. Poor Jon runs outside behind the Inn right into the middle of a large blackberry patch just like Br’er Rabbit. Mac calms down Peter who goes back into the kitchen. Marla calls in Aimee to do the cracker crumbs. Poor Jon shakes in fear as Mac coaxes him out of the blackberry patch. He has scratches all over his face and arms. Mac helps clean him up and sends him home. When the boss finds out he says he’ll take care of it. The Frolic is scheduled to close for a few days for a big cleanup. The boss tells Peter the Frolic won’t need him to cook after they reopen. “It’s slowing down,” the boss tells him. Sometimes you have to cut your losses.
When they reopen, Matt Head surprises everyone. He walks into the restaurant in a plaid sports coat smoking a pipe. His hair is cut. He enters the dining room with a noticeable stoop. Lorna takes him a menu. He stands and recites a poem.
It’s in the water
It’s in the air
It’s in the food
He sits down and orders lunch.
“A fine piece, well composed and presented,” says Flash who’s sitting at a front window table with Micah. Everyone stares in amazement.
Mac has the day off. He walks out to the headlands. Living with Myrna has its ups and downs. The sex is good. He appreciates the feel and smell of a woman. But he knows the relationship can’t last even if he wishes it could.
Sex is the glue that holds everything together. The men in the coffee shop hustle the waitresses who seem to like it or at least get a good laugh. The vegetable man Calvin is in love the Dolly, the first waitress Mac met, the one who gave him his first Frolic hamburger. Calvin is married but that doesn’t stop him. He and his wife come in for dinner once or twice a month. Old Taylor and soda, Green Hungarian Wine, Chicken Kiev. They always request Dolly’s section.
The female customers seduce the bartenders. The male customers are on the prowl for anything in a skirt. People call the Cellar Bar the butcher shop. Mac knows Skipper makes out with the sous chef, Claudia, in the walk-in box. It’s no surprise to Mac when they get married.
The Farmer Brothers deliveryman, Rich, is shy and handsome. The waitresses swoon over him. He’s aware and he loves it but he holds them at bay. Mac watches the subtle sexual dance and laughs to himself. Paul from Thanksgiving Coffee, a local company, has been after the boss to offer their coffee at the Frolic but the boss is tied to Farmer Brothers because of all the free equipment they provide—stainless steel counters and shelves and coffee machines. The boss finally agrees to put in Thanksgiving Coffee as a second choice. Rich is so caught up in the dance with the waitresses he doesn’t even notice. Mac figures the Frolic sells so much coffee it probably doesn’t matter.
One of the bartenders tells Mac: “My girlfriend leaves me for another boy. One night she walks into the Cellar and I can’t breathe. Tears burst out of my eyes. I have to leave the bar for the backyard. Things are very intense. But, it all changes. I get a new girlfriend, I father a child, do a rock ‘n roll show on the radio and take weekly cello lessons in Santa Rosa. I make friends with every last person my age. Sooner or later everyone comes into the Frolic and their life changes.”
The boss marries Brin. There’s no reason for Mac to feel guilty about Myrna. She’s free to do what she wants. He doesn’t keep her under lock and key. He’s trying to figure things out. She’s good company. That’s all.
One afternoon Alan Graham or Captain Fathom as they call him around town walks through the restaurant and out the back door. He doesn’t return. Marla tells Mac to see if he left, so Mac goes out the back door. Alan is outside by the stairs leaning against the fence between the restaurant and the Fire Department. Mac thinks maybe he’s passed out so he shakes him. No response. Mac goes to get Carol in the kitchen. She’s a trained nurse. She tries to revive Alan but without success. She holds open one of his eyes and waves her finger up and down very close to his eye. No response. In desperation we call the Fire Department. A few firemen show up and work on Alan who remains in a comatose state for several more minutes. He suddenly wakes up and asks “What’s going on?” When we tell him we were afraid he was ill or injured so we called the Fire Department. “Fire Department!” he says. “I was just meditating.” He thanks us and leaves out the back while we just shake our heads. It’s a typical Mendocino afternoon at the Frolic.