I like to sit in the Cellar Bar after my shift and drink a beer. Sometimes it’s quiet. Sometimes it’s busy. Tonight’s it’s in-between.
Big Tony comes in with his girlfriend Darlene. Big Tony has a bushy beard, a head shaped like a pineapple with fat cheeks and hairy arms as strong as timber prongs. I heard Big Tony challenged Hawley Martin to a pissing contest back when Hawley owned the place. Hawley’s a big guy too. Not as big as Tony, but big. They both stood on Lansing Street late one night and pissed downhill. Afterword they both passed out. They’ve been arguing ever since about who won. It’s the only time Big Tony was known to pass out. He drinks Southern Comfort and Coke. Darlene drinks Kahlua and cream. I’ve seen them down ten or twelve drinks without oven going to the bathroom and then come back the next night and do the same.
Big Tony is what the musicians call a roadie. He sets up the gear for a local band called Crazy Legs. The musicians here, they change groups all the time. They can be intimidating when they come into the bar in a group but they don’t cause trouble. They’re just a bunch of skinny longhaired kids who like to play rock ‘n’ roll. Some of them even work here like Jim Noyes and Peter White who play in a band called Colors. They play at places like Toad Hall, Azalea Acres and Slades. They don’t play in the Cellar Bar because it’s too small and close for their kind of music.
Daryl and Eileen sit at the other end of the bar. They’re old time locals. CC and soda, CC and seven. She works at Mendosas grocery store. He works at the mill. On the wall above them by the back door is a lamp made out of a puffer fish with all the spines sticking out. The customers love it. The Cellar Bar is just like the coffee shop in that both straights and hips hang out together without any problems.
People sit at the bar to talk. The bartenders know the regulars and how to deal with them. Everybody’s different. One poor guy named Donny is madly in love with one of the waitresses. The relationship is up and down. When it’s down Donny comes in early Saturday mornings after getting drunk on Friday night crying and asking for a Fernet Branca. Any locals in the bar try to console him. Everyone gets along unless someone gets too drunk. Then the bartender has to step in and set things right. The boss tends bar tonight. He’s getting a little tired of it. I think he will get someone to replace him soon.
Across from the bar stools there are two large oil paintings of the Pied Piper and Cinderella. That’s where the writers hangout. Blake something-or-other is there now. He’s the senior member of the writer group. The young aspiring writers look up to him in awe. His first book was a big hit but he hasn’t done much of note since. Right now he’s going on and on about making Northern California a separate state. I don’t have any opinion on that. He’s all for it but it’s been a hard sell. “If at first you don’t sucede,” he says. He thinks he’s funny.
The boss looks my way.
“Hey Mac. Go upstairs and get me some more half & half. Darlene’s run through a whole quart already. And, while you’re at it, bring down another gallon of red wine.”
“Sure boss,” I say. It’s what I always say when he asks me something.
I go out the back door of the bar and up the stairs. The bar is a real cellar. It’s underground. Outside the back door there is an ice machine. There is also a sump pump that pumps the waste water from the bar up to the sewer line. Sometimes it doesn’t work and I have to fix it.
Micah is in the kitchen using a grill brick to clean the grill. He looks up when I walk into the kitchen. We don’t talk. He’s very focused on the job.
When I go back to the bar, I see the boss’s girlfriend Brin sitting alone at a table. She’s a local. She worked at the Frolic when she was going to college. She’s a teacher now up in Fort Bragg. She’s friendly but I remember what Rafan told me so I’m careful what I say and how I act with her. She drinks Vodka Collins. She says a distant cousin of hers owed the property where the firehouse is now. The same family owned the house behind the Frolic where the boss lives. Her family goes way back. They lived in a town called Pine Grove where her great great grandfather owned a racetrack and a brewery or something like that. I don’t remember exactly because of what she said next. What she said was a couple of shady looking guys had been around asking questions about the old family house which was still there, right at the end of Point Cabrillo Drive. That’s real close to where the Frolic ship went down. She said the guys spoke about someone they’d come up the coast with who talked about something maybe buried around there but that he went missing. Brin says she didn’t know anything about that, that her grandfather never mentioned it. Pine Grove is gone now but she still lives out there and her family still owns the property.
Brin smiles at me and I smile back but I’m feeling strange about all this and I need to get out of the bar and think. I finish my beer.
“I’m going up to my room boss,” I say. The bar is gonna get busy later and I need to be alone to sort out all I just heard.
There’s a wood-burning fireplace in the bar surrounded by a couch and two overstuffed chairs. There are six fancy wooden swivel chairs around the bar. All the rest of the seating is on benches along the walls. The benches are covered with oriental carpets and round brass cocktail tables are spaced along the benches. When the bar gets full, as it often does, most people stand in the open spaces between the benches and the fireplace. It’s hard to believe but that bar is sometimes packed with fifty people or more.
The bar is almost always filled with locals but there are tourists too who wait for dinner upstairs or just check out the scene. Sometimes famous people hang out there. Most of the time I like to stay in my upstairs room away from all the noise and smoke but sometimes I get drug into it. Tonight is one of those nights.
I’m up in my room thinking about what Brin said when I get a call from the boss.
“It’s crazy busy down here Mac. People are lined up three deep. D.C. has been drinking for a while and he’s getting drunk and abusive. I cut him off but he won’t leave and he’s threatening to fight. I need some help with this. Get down here quick.”
The boss knows I’m pretty good at defusing situations like this. I’m not sure why but people seem to respond well to me.
I hurry down the stairs from my room and down the back stairs to the bar. I can hear the noisy crowd inside. There are so many people inside that when I open the door, a man falls out and almost knocks me down.
It sure is busy, but everyone is having a good time. Everyone except D.C. I push my way through the sweaty bodies toward him. He’s standing behind the row of barstools with a look of anger, frustration and bewilderment. When he sees me he smiles like I’m his best friend.
“Hey, Mac,” he says. “Your boss won’t give me a drink. I been drinkin’ here, havin’ a good time, and I’m not done yet. I spend a lot a money in this place. Your boss doesn’t seem to get that.
“Good to see you D.C.,” I say. The boss is busy. You know, it’s so damn loud in here, I can’t hear a thing you’re saying.” I’m hatching a plan in my head as I speak.
He yells: “YOUR GOD DAMN BOSS WON’T GIVE ME A DRINK!”
“What are you drinking,” I ask.
“Jack,” he says impatiently.
The boss is busy making drinks, but his eyes and ears are focused on me. I lean over the customers on the barstools and yell to the boss.
“Hey boss, give me a bottle of Jack and two glasses.”
“He’s drunk,” says the boss.
“I know, just give me the bottle,” I say with a look that tells him I know what I’m doing.
“I ain’t drunk!” says D.C. “Your boss just doesn’t like me. He’s embarrassing me in front of all my friends.”
D.C. leans on me and stares at the boss. The boss hands over a bottle of Jack and two glasses with an angry look on his face.
“Don’t worry boss, I got it,” I whisper to the boss.
“You know, I can’t even hear myself think in here D.C. This is crazy. Come with me. Let’s have a drink together and talk this over.”
The sight of the bottle and glasses cools D.C. down. He follows me like a little dog.
“Where we goin’,” he asks.
“I’m taking you to my special place,” I say.
We go up to my room and sit on the bed. I pour us each a glass.
“You okay, D.C.?”
“Yeah, I’m good. But I wasn’t drunk though,” he says.
“I know you weren’t,” I say. “My boss has a big job to do. It’s a hard job especially when the bar is full like it is tonight. He didn’t mean no disrespect.”
“Yeah, I know,” says D.C. “Hey, this is a neat little spot. You live here?”
D.C.’s wife M. books music gigs at the Frolic sometimes, sings and plays piano. She’s booked for the next weekend.
“So, is M. ready for her gig next week? I really like her music,” I say.
“She’s always ready,” says D.C. “How do you sleep up here? Must be really noisy with the restaurant and all.”
The restaurant’s not the half of it. You should be here when the fire siren goes off. It’s pointed right at my roof.”
“Sheit, I bet it’s a loud MoFo.”
“Right. First time I heard it, I blew outta bed. You want another drink D.C.?”
“Sure,” he says.
I pour two more. It’s getting late. I’m tired, but I need to see this through for the boss.
“So, how’s life in Comptche?” I ask.
“Hell, just like life anywhere I guess. It’s tough. Workin’ in the woods every day is hard. It’s beautiful though. Up on the hills you can see every star in the sky, other galaxies, everything.”
“Why do you drink so much D.C.?”
“I dunno. Why not? It’s fun,” says D.C.
“What about all those stars? What purpose do they serve if you’re too drunk to enjoy them?”
“I ain’t drunk.”
“I didn’t say you were,” I say.
He swills the rest of his glass and stands up.
“Sheit! I gotta drive home. I gotta big day tomorrow. Purpose? There ain’t no purpose Mac, just stars,” says D.C.
“Are you okay to drive?” asks Mac.
“Hell yes I’m okay!”
We walk back down to the bar. It’s empty now. D.C. walks through the bar looking around. There’s no one to see him, to see he’s still there, to see he hasn’t been kicked out.”
“Thanks for the drinks, Mac. Tell your boss I’ll let it go this time but it better not happen again.”
D.C. walks up the front stairs and across the street to his truck at a steady gait. I hear he is back in the bar a few days later. There is never another problem, or if there is, I don’t hear about it.
Back in my room I focus on those two guys Brin talked about. Some more of my memories surface. Yeah, they’re the guys who picked me up when I was hitchhiking north from San Francisco. I had to jump out of the car and run because they were gonna to mess with me. I got away, but barely. Lost my wallet and all my stuff. Fell down a cliff and hit my head on a rock and passed out. I wake up, walk and end up at Roy’s. There’s still a lot I don’t know but it’s coming back. Maybe.