The boss and Brin got married today at the fancy church in town. Mac stands outside the entrance to the Cellar Bar where the reception takes place. It’s Mac’s job to screen everyone who tries to get in to make sure they’ve been invited. He tells the regulars the bar will be open for business a little late.
Mac thinks the boss made a good choice with Brin. Four generations on the Mendocino coast. Her family dates back almost to the wreck of the Frolic, to the time of his great great grandfather. This is a bond between Mac and Brin that only he knows. He keeps his thoughts private. Hardly anyone speaks of that wreck anymore, not even the old timers. People think the name of the café refers to the frolicking good time they have there.
Mac’s business is to know everyone else’s business—who’s screwing who, who drinks what, which drugs are in. These are things the boss needs to know.
Sometimes Mac sees the drug boys come into the bar. They bring moldy hundred dollar bills that smell of being buried in coffee cans for months. If the harvest is good, they buy drinks all around. Everyone is happy. Mac also sees the drug boys down near the berry vines below the church where they sell to the high school kids. He doesn’t think that’s right.
Growing weed is a good business but risky. One guy Mac knows was doing well. He kept a low-keyed approach. One day his wife fell and hurt herself. He called 911 and the fire truck came. One of the fire guys was a real straight-arrow kind of guy. The kind you don’t want around your greenhouse. This guy sees the plants through the window and calls the cops after he leaves. The cops come, bust the guy and haul him off to jail. He loses everything. The guy says he was growing to sell to legal outlets but the cops don’t care. They put the guy in jail and let the attorneys sort it out. Mac hears a lot of stories like this. The growers can’t trust anyone. They have to learn to deal with their own emergencies. This causes problems. Mac tells the boss what he sees and hears, but only if the boss wants to know. The boss doesn’t want to know everything.
The drug guys are not invited to the reception. Except Rob. It’s complicated.
The big dealers do very well and Rob is the biggest. They are practically untouchable. Rob lives across the river in a fancy stone house on the hill. Mac hears the stories in the Cellar Bar about the girls who party there. Wild. Lurid. Rob’s got a swimming pool in his house. He also has a tunnel that goes down to the river. Some say it’s an escape route. Rob works hard to keep up his nice guy image. He marries a local girl whose parents own a fancy resort. The boss tells Mac her parents say they’ve never seen so much loose money. And they’re rich themselves.
The boss comes outside to see Mac. The boss has a son from an earlier marriage. The boss says his son and Rob’s son are friends.
“Rob takes me aside one day in the restaurant,” says the boss. “He says I probably hear stories about drugs and stuff but none of that is true. He says he doesn’t want those lies to interfere with our sons’ friendship. Well, I tell Rob I don’t want that either. My son’s not hanging out with you, I say, he’s hanging out with your boy. My kid says your wife’s real nice to him, cooks for him, lets him swim in your pool. My kid says he’s even seen that tunnel you dug.”
The boss laughs. “Rob didn’t look too happy when I mentioned the tunnel thing, but our sons are still friends. So, I had to invite him today. You know how it is.”
Yeah, I know.
“Here, have a glass of champagne,” says the boss and hands over a plastic cup. “Any trouble out here?”
“No trouble boss,” says Mac. “It’s the vices that hold this town together, boss.”
“What do you mean?” asks the boss.
“You know. The rednecks put up with the hippies because they want to screw the hippie chicks,” laughs Mac.
“Not just the hippie chicks,” says the boss. “There’s a steady stream back and forth from the coffee shop to those apartments across the street. We both know what’s going on over there.”
“Yeah,” says Mac. He knows one girl who always gets guys to buy her drinks. It’s obvious how. Lots of nights she gets so drunk she’s totally passed out at closing time. If the bartender can’t wake her up, he just carries her out the front door and leaves her on the stairs. Doesn’t seem to bother her. She’s always back a day or two later. She lives in one of those apartments.
“Everyone puts up with everyone else. How they live or their politics doesn’t matter. They all want to eat and drink and party and this is where the action is,” says the boss. “It’s good for me because there’s always a carpenter, plumber, or electrician in the coffee shop. I can always get someone when something goes wrong. It’s good for the other business guys too because they can always find someone around here to work cheaply I don’t mind most things but there’s got to be controls.”
“When I first started here boss,” says Mac, “everyone smoked dope. I even smoked a joint now and then.”
“As long as it doesn’t get out of hand,” says the boss who rolls his brown eyes.
“It doesn’t,” says Mac. “Cocaine is another story though. It’s taking over fast. That’s kinda scary.”
“Yes, it is,” says the boss. “Is it true one of the cooks snorts that shit when he’s on break? The kitchen is hot and intense but that’s going too far. I don’t want that going on here.”
“Don’t worry boss. It’s only one cook that I know of and he works better when he’s high. I don’t know how he does it but he does. I’ll let you know if it gets outta hand.”
“Make sure you do. I have to go back in. Enjoy the champagne Mac.”
Mac doesn’t mind that the boss puts so much weight on him. It’s the job. It makes him feel appreciated. Take a load off Fanny. Mac sees more and more bar customers who snort cocaine. It must have something to do with the mood of the times. Micah and Rafan say they see the tell tale signs in the bathrooms when they clean up at night. It goes with the scene. Couples go in the bathroom to snort and have sex. Sex, drugs, rock ‘n roll. Good for business as long as it doesn’t spin out of control like the boss says. It’s up to Mac to see that doesn’t happen.
The boss and Brin, who Mac guesses is a boss now too, take a long weekend for a honeymoon in San Francisco. They’re back soon. The summer season is here. No time to kick back now.
After the reception, after the boss and Brin leave, Mac walks around town alone. He needs this quiet time. He can’t depend on others to find out who he is. He shares a solidarity with Myrna, Micah, Rafan, Brin and the boss, but what he needs is solitude. Time to listen to the stories, the day-to-day stories that roll around in his head. That’s where the answers are. People live out their lives in front of you. You live out your life inside.
James is one of the most popular bartenders. He’s a gay man with a bushy beard who hangs out with the art crowd when he’s not bartending. He’s also a drunk. As Odd Bob says, talk about the fox guarding the chickens. One night James moves to the other side of the bar after his shift. He proceeds to get so drunk he falls off the stool and passes out on the floor. It’s busy so no one pays much attention to him. He comes to eventually and climbs back up on his bar stool and asks the bartender Jackie for a drink. She refuses. “Why?” he asks. She tells him he passed out and fell off the stool. “I did?” he says. “Well, I wouldn’t serve myself either then,” he says and goes home. You gotta draw the line somewhere Mac says to himself as he walks along.
James has a knack for business. That’s what counts in the end. He advertised the Cellar Bar in some popular gay magazines. That brought in a whole new crowd. The regulars took it all in stride. That’s what makes the Frolic the Frolic.
Music is good for business too. Sex, drugs and rock ‘n roll.
Mac repeats the boss’s words: “I don’t wanna know about it … as long as it doesn’t get out of hand.” That’s the key that makes things work. Mac stops dwelling on the past and goes back to work.
It isn’t long until the boss stops bartending. Mac isn’t surprised. The boss is married now. He has other responsibilities.
The bar’s too small for loud music. They only book acoustic and rarely at that. The bartender plays the old vinyl turntable. Under the bar top close to the back door is a stash of records and an old turntable. The records are a mix—Miles Davis’ Sketches of Spain, Jimmy Buffett’s Let’s Get Drunk And Screw. When the place is hopping, loud music increases the number of strange occurrences. Like when Wiley gets stuck in the spiral staircase that leads from the Cellar to the restaurant upstairs.
Rick is bartending. Wiley is a big boy, about six feet six and just shy of three hundred pounds. The spiral staircase is small and treacherous. Many a waitress has sprained an ankle running up and down with trays of drinks and food. Wiley heads down the stairway to the cellar bar. The staircase does not oblige. Under the staircase there’s a makeshift room enclosed by a hanging Persian carpet attached to the stairs. The carpet is caked with dust from years of traffic up and down the stairs. Behind the carpet is a refrigerator filled with extra beer and wine, olives, cherries, and the like. The refrigerator is padlocked to prevent customers from pilfering the booze. Wiley slips on the stairs. One leg gets lodged between the stairs and the refrigerator. Wiley howls in pain. As the boss says, “there’s always a carpenter, plumber or electrician around when needed.” In this case it’s a party of drunk sheet rockers led by Dale who came to Wiley’s rescue. Dale has the powdery complexion of a sheet rocker and true to those in his trade, including painters, when he starts drinking he loses all track of time. Unlike Tinker Bell, he has no magic wand to extricate Wiley. But he does have three partners and a lot of good karma.
Speaking of karma, I tell the boss about Jack or Jacques as he likes to be called. Jack is the town’s Elmer Fudd conservative. “He’s vewwy careful to avoid indiscretions,” I tell the boss.
Jack writes a gossip column in the local paper. The coffee shop crowd feeds him whatever’s going around at the time and he spits it back out in his Thursday column with his redneck political twist. Once, when he eats a piece of pie in the coffee shop, he is served with a dirty fork. He takes it to the house where the boss lives and shows it to the boss.
“The hygiene at this place has gone straight down hill when you let in all the hippies,” he says.
The boss tells him: “Take a hike Jack and don’t put that in your column or you’ll get a visit from my attorney.” He didn’t.
“You know Carl who rents from Jack,” I say to the boss.
“Yeah,” says the boss. “He likes weed brownies.”
“Well, listen up,” I say. “Jack arrives at Carl’s to collect the rent just as Carl’s wife pulls a tray of doctored brownies out of the oven. Good ole squeaky-clean Jacques sits at the table and immediately helps himself to a brownie. Then another. Then another. Carl’s wife winks at Carl. Carl says Jacques slumped lower and lower in his chair as ate. Carl is pretty sure Jacques knew what was in those brownies. He’d done this before, more than once.”
The boss laughs. “Yep, Jack’s a hypocrite like all folks who take their religion or politics too seriously.”
“You think old Jacques pushed his wife in her wheelchair over the edge of the cliff?” says the boss. “You think he tripped on the rung of that ladder like he said and fell into his well? Maybe he’s just loaded half the time.”
“I wonder if he had a bellyache after all those brownies,” laughs Mac.