A few patrons and some of the staff referred to the Sea Gull Cellar Bar as The Meat Market or The Butcher Shop. This was a variant of the Mendocino Shuffle itself “a pun on the rather open sex life of many free-love folks at the time” and the inspiration for at least two local bands (Mendocino Shuffle and Philo Hayward and the Shuffle Band).
I owned the Sea Gull during parts of four Presidential administrations (Nixon, Ford, Carter, and Reagan). Of these four Presidents, only Carter addressed lust openly. Perhaps indiscreetly his admission was made in an interview with Playboy Magazine.
“I’ve looked on a lot of women with lust. I’ve committed adultery in my heart many times. This is something that God recognizes that I will do–and I have done it–and God forgives me for it. But that doesn’t mean that I condemn someone who not only looks on a woman with lust but who leaves his wife and shacks up with somebody out of wedlock. Christ says, don’t consider yourself better than someone else because one guy screws a whole bunch of women while the other guy is loyal to his wife … ” don’t think I would ever take on the same frame of mind that Nixon or Johnson did–lying, cheating and distorting the truth. . . I think that my religious beliefs alone would prevent that from happening to me. I have that confidence. I hope it’s justified.”
The typical American press focused on his comments about sex and ignored his damning comments on Nixon and Johnson. I remember reading that interview at the time and thinking “how refreshing.” Carter was a better President and a greater man than many give him credit for. I knew a bit of Ronald Reagan and was not nearly as impressed as many who fawn over his Presidency. My uncle directed him in several movies that can be found here. I remember uncle Lew telling me that Reagan’s first wife, Jane Wyman, divorced him because he talked too much. No surprise there. I didn’t know Johnson, Nixon, or Ford but Carter thought the first two were guilty of “lying, cheating and distorting the truth” although he later recanted and apologized to Lady Bird Johnson.
I ask you, what is worse, lies that lead us into war where millions lose their lives or the honest admission that we have lustful thoughts and some of us act on them?
In it’s heyday (mid-70s to mid-80s) the Cellar Bar atmosphere was no doubt sexually charged but in a way that seems innocent by today’s standards. Fill a room with hormones, pheromones, testosterones or any other “nones” circling around like flying ants, and the obvious happens, the merry-go-round starts.
Things happened but there wasn’t much talk about it at the time.
Some things are private and decent people respect that. However, war, discrimination, environmental degradation, poverty, greed–these things are public and we should speak out. In those days in the Cellar Bar, people did speak out.
I want you to know that what happened in the Cellar Bar wasn’t all sex, not by a long shot (no pun intended). There were poets ferreting out a suspected traitor in their midst (see Wanda, The Fort Bragg Bag Lady, Chapter 5, in Don Foster’s Author Unknown, On the Trail of Anonymous or the painstakingly compiled Letters of Wanda Tinasky edited by TR Factor), there were artists collaborating and doodling with their napkin art and planning out larger projects—there was rock & roll and jazz and bee-bop, Betty & Carla with their silly hat and song routine, an honest to God Gong Show—and drugs, yes they were there too but seldom out of control.
Change was coming. Henley’s and Hornsby’s End of the Innocence was just around the corner. No famous writer has chronicled those halcyon days on the Mendocino coast, not yet, no T.C. Boyle, no Tom Wolfe, no Joan Didion, no Steinbeck or Norris or London.
Michael Conn, musician, bartender, summed up the time with his simple, heartfelt verse that I’ve kept framed for these past forty years:
The seagull flies
On the winds of love
Carrying a hope
That we’re all dreaming of
The Cellar Bar was no ordinary place to hang-out and drink—James Maxwell’s 12 life-size oil paintings of fairy tales with local characters, Kelley’s massive wood sculpture Tritogenea, Sandra Lindstrom’s fairies dancing in the redwoods by the moonlight, Philip O’leno’s exquisitely crafted bar, tables, stools, and room dividers—every nook and cranny spoke to you even if you were completely sober.
I had a chance recently to reminisce about these times with an old friend who told me that the Sea Gull was born and died organically. I’d never thought of it like that, but he was right. Like all living organisms, the time came, we grasped at the moment, then it was gone. I don’t think it could happen again. Something equally wonderful can and will happen, but not the same thing that happened then.
Notwithstanding Proust, nostalgia is almost by definition a province of the elderly. Yes, there are young people, even children, who relish reliving a happy moment, but the most nostalgic tend to be old people who can’t help themselves from relating their memories of a golden age to those around them. Alas, there was no golden age. I’m afraid God put a worm at the core of human nature.
Two William Blake poems express these thoughts clearly.
By William Blake
Ah Sun-flower! weary of time,
Who countest the steps of the Sun:
Seeking after that sweet golden clime
Where the travellers journey is done.
Where the Youth pined away with desire,
And the pale Virgin shrouded in snow:
Arise from their graves and aspire,
Where my Sun-flower wishes to go.
The Sick Rose
By William Blake
O Rose thou art sick.
The invisible worm,
That flies in the night
In the howling storm:
Has found out thy bed
Of crimson joy:
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy.
Yes, we dwell on the past we wanted not always the past we had. But, indulging in a little nostalgia isn’t the worst thing one can do at a time like the present when America’s wheels are coming off the tracks. The Meat Market, The Butcher Shop, The Mendocino Shuffle—whatever you call those carefree moments we had between beers in the Sea Gull Cellar Bar, I will remember them fondly. And, I’ll wager I’ve got some friends out there who feel the same way.