The Rogue Voice


March 01, 2007


McCarthy’s, a small, durable antique, is a microcosm of all that comprises a happy bar, and one which brings joy to a community of serious drinkers

By Dell Franklin

I have a love affair with bars, am a connoisseur of bars, have drank in the bowels of New York City and Chicago and everywhere in San Francisco, and in Dublin and small towns in Ireland, in London and Edinburgh and in country inns and pubs, in rousing beer houses in Munich, murky jazz and juke joints in Amsterdam, brothels in Barcelona, and in bistros in Paris and in small hamlets in Brittany and Normandy, and I have hit small town beer bars and snakepits and honkytonks throughout America, can smell out a good bar and a good crowd like a bloodhound sniffing after a wounded deer, and it also helps that I spent some 25 years bartending in privately owned street bars in Manhattan Beach and Morro Bay.
So, from experience, and this fondness of bars, of these care facilities for lost souls, unpaid storytellers and philosophers, wounded lovers and washed up jocks, and general partakers of the golden glow, I can state with sadness that possibly the best bar in San Luis Obispo is moving out of its beloved and strategic stronghold in the heart of downtown.
McCarthy’s, a small, durable antique, is a microcosm of all that comprises a happy bar, and one which brings joy to a community of serious drinkers. McCarthy’s appeals to every social strata, and plays no favorites. Lawyers, nearby city hall employees, business owners, manual laborers and students commingle in McCarthy’s in total harmony and are pleased to accept this institution as part of their everyday ritual and heritage. It is every man’s and every woman’s bar.
There is nothing fancy about McCarthy’s. It is small enough to never seem empty or forbidding, yet large enough to compress a literal throng into an unparalleled coziness. It is a basic bar, a wooden bar lined with stools visible from the front door, so that, when one walks in, one can scope out its entirety instantly to see if friends are there, or interesting women, or interesting people. Always an eclectic crowd.
In general, almost all bars in San Luis are devoid of interesting people and personalities. Sorry. Most college students are not yet interesting. Not enough hard knocks. But the college students who flock to McCarthy’s at night, who mingle with locals, are a different breed than the supergeeks on the conveyor belt running continuously through the cold, corporate campus at Cal Poly. They like nothing better than to nudge up against serious rascals in McCarthy’s and sample some authenticity, perhaps allowing some rascality to rub off on themselves.
The bartenders at McCarthy’s have always seemed supremely mature and gifted in handling drunks, and trouble, of which there is usually very little. There is no snobbism among them. A bottom feeder gets the same respect and service as big spender. These bartenders are content to be part of an establishment that could be placed on the main street of any small town in Ireland, as well as downtown Dublin. There is a certain pride and tradition to be maintained at McCarthy’s. Bartenders stay for decades (old Duffy stayed until his eighties) because working at McCarthy’s seems, to these bartenders, not a job, or even an occupation, but a passion, a way of life, like owning your own bar and working to protect and maintain its general welfare while at the helm.
Shortly after St. Patrick’s Day, McCarthy’s will move to a new location. The tripling of its rent after the retrofitting of its current building is driving them off. Nestled beside what was once a parking lot but is now a chichi corner hive of Abercrombie & Fitch, Banana Republic, etc. (ala Santa Barbara), McCarthy’s will relocate a block or so off the beaten track. Everything will move, seemingly, but the walls, floor, ceiling the ridiculous restroom, and, of course, the particular aroma and character that filters in and inundates the confines with a trademark pungency, like, say, Wrigley Field or Fenway Park, or any structure that becomes a legacy to a city or small town after a half century or century of nonstop business.
You cannot move history.
There is, of course, the philosophy that everything changes, so go with the flow, and adjust. I say hogwash to that. You can move books into a new bookstore, clothes into a new building, even food into a new restaurant, but a bar is different. A bar is a landmark, a congregation, a romance, a personality, a bad habit and a good habit, headquarters for celebrations and reunions. I have worked in bars like McCarthy’s where marriages were started and lifelong bonds established.
Driving a cab in San Luis Obispo, I have picked up people who have ordered me to take them to McCarthy’s, where they “drank 30 years ago while a student at Cal Poly.” The world famous Welsh Choir (dozens of them) were lined up at the Holiday Inn, requesting our line of cabs take them to McCarthy’s after doing their act at the Performing Arts Center.
There is a bar like McCarthy’s in almost every small town or big city neighborhood in America, and when such a bar dies, something in the town dies. So now, with McCarthy’s moving to a new location, it does not mean this bar will die. But something else far more valuable is dying with its move—San Luis Obispo.
Down in Manhattan Beach, I saw numerous bars like McCarthy’s die, until a funky old party town was transformed eventually into a gated community without gates, the new drinking establishments meathouses with fancy themes catering to throngs, the music so loud no one can think. Gimmick bars. Body exchanges. Corporate owned. No sense of intimacy. A frantic grab-bag for money and sex and the asinine. A place to get lost in and feel lonely, left out, or besotted with overkill. Gone from the old beach town were the serious drinkers, the characters, the personalities, the storytellers, the philosophers, the idiots, the losers, the bottom feeders, the hilarity.
Look out San Luis Obispo—it's not McCarthy’s we’re worrying about. It will live another day in another part of town, perhaps, some day, as the last durable antique, while the rest of the community takes on the trappings of a gated community without gates. §

Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at

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    Life in the cage: Jailhouse lawyers

    ‘You got taken, my brotha. This mothafucka filed some bullshit. I can do a better job than he can.’

    How to obtain legal counsel for a jar of coffee

    By David Valdez

    When my father and I entered the California prison system, I heard gossip from fellow convicts about a great attorney who fought for prisoners’ rights. He was a true renegade, a fighter. He offered free consultations. So I had my mom set up an appointment with him. After obtaining the transcripts from our trial and reviewing them, Attorney Richard Dangler came to visit me at Tehachapi Prison, a Level IV maximum security joint, in early 1996.
    “Mr. Valdez, hello. I am Richard Dangler. I am here to help get you out of prison,” he said, shaking my hand with a firm grip.
    He looked like a liberal activist from the ‘60s: white, early 50s, clean-shaven, wearing a Hawaiian dress shirt, khaki pants, smelling of Mennen aftershave. His voice was as smooth as a seasoned car salesman. His dark hair had white streaks in it, giving him an air of celebrity like George Clooney.
    “So, Mr. Dangler,” I said, “after reading the trial transcripts, what can you do for us?”
    “Well, it looks like a clear case of entrapment, a setup using a paid snitch. The FBI wanted you in prison for some reason. I have had much success filing writs for prisoners across the state. My reputation speaks for itself. I am the most inexpensive appeals attorney in the state. I don’t rely on government money to run my practice. For eleven-thousand dollars I’ll take both your dad’s and your case.”
    I had already done some research. Most attorneys I contacted charged a minimum of $20,000 just to file one writ of habeas corpus in state court. After some thought, I took him up on the offer.
    Two days later, my mother sent an $11,000 cashier’s check to Richard Dangler’s office in Sacramento. I felt confident in him. He had spent three hours on his visit with me, discussing legal strategies and issues he would file on appeal. He convinced me he had a full understanding of the case, and that he really believed in my innocence.
    Pretty soon, though, I began to worry. Every time I called Dangler’s office collect, using the only fifteen-minute call I had per week, the receptionist would accept the call, but he was never there to talk to me personally. I wrote letters to him, and he never replied. One year after we retained him, I finally received in the mail a copy of the writ he filed in the Superior Court of Norwalk.
    When I showed a fellow inmate named Richie, a jailhouse lawyer, he balked.
    “You got taken, my brotha. This mothafucka filed some bullshit. I can do a better job than he can. You gots to see my writs. I show it to you. He arguing shit that is outdated, old case law. Looks like he gots a computer program and just fill in the blanks with your information.” He laughed as he continued to read each page.
    Inmate Richie was an African American in his mid-40s. He wore long dreadlocks, probably a Rastafarian, a fixture in the law library. Many inmates highly recommended him because he was not afraid of filing grievances against prison staff. He had already received numerous disciplinary write-ups for abuse of the administrative appeals process.
    “Huh, what do you mean, ‘outdated’?” I asked him.
    “Look at page five, line twenty-five…this case ain’t good law anymore. You watch. Judge going to deny you, fo’ sho!”
    Sure enough, just one week later, I received the one-page denial from the court. A rubber stamp imprinted “DENIED” upon the page with no explanation.

    One year passed, and in 1998, Dangler mailed me a copy of the writ he filed in the California Court of Appeals. It was the same writ, except with a different cover page. I went to the jailhouse lawyer again to get his feedback.
    “This mothafucka is crazy, a crook. What you say his name was? Dangler? I been hearing stories about him, taking peoples’ money and doing nothing. You gots to file a complaint against his mothafuckin’ ass with the State Bar. Homie, I gots the forms right here in my folder. I can do it for you, the whole complaint, for two jars of Folgers Coffee. You dig?” he said, smiling, his two front upper teeth missing.
    I had no trust in this convict. After a cursory glance of the writs he showed me, I noticed that he couldn’t even spell. His sentence structure and legal arguments made no sense. I could picture law clerks and judges laughing at his writs, and all prisoner-filed writs.
    I waited to see what would happen. The writ came back “DENIED,” no explanation. One year later, I received another copy; the writ was filed in the California Supreme Court. Months later, also denied, no explanation.
    I started looking for another appellate lawyer to take our appeal to the federal courts.
    Unfortunately, the retainer fees were the same—$20,000 or more. To preserve my rights, I had no choice but to retain Dangler again, this time for $13,500 for my father and me—a package deal. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Anti-Terrorist Effective Death Penalty Act [AEDPA], shortly after the Oklahoma City bombing. The act sought to limit the amount of appeals being filed by prisoners nationwide, making it mandatory that a prisoner shall file a habeas petition in federal court within one year of denial in the California Supreme Court.
    I asked Dangler about the AEDPA deadline and he said he would file on time. He also assured me he would answer letters and phone calls this time around. He appeared to be drunk, but I didn’t say anything.
    He lied. In mid-2000, Dangler filed our federal writs in the U.S. District Court. A year later, the judge ruled that Dangler filed our appeals 280 days past the one-year AEDPA deadline, denying us with prejudice. Dangler assured me by telephone that the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals would offer us relief. He lied. Both the 9th Circuit Court and U.S. Supreme Court in late 2001 upheld the decision. We were procedurally barred forever from presenting our claims in federal court. A total of $24,500 from 1996 to 2001 went down the drain.

    From 2000 to 2002, while I was housed at California Mens Colony in San Luis Obispo, I became a published writer. In July 2002, after several articles of mine were published in New Times about prison issues, I was awakened by prison guards at 6 a.m., strip-searched, handcuffed, and personally escorted across the prison yard in just boxers, directly to Receiving and Release Department, given an orange prison jumpsuit to wear, and transferred to CTF in Soledad in a van, by myself, with three armed guards.
    Like an “enemy combatant,” I was given no reasons or paperwork for my transfer. Normally, prisoners are given advanced notice and are moved in a bus with other inmates along with their personal property. My personal property was sent to me by mail three weeks later.
    After exhausting all administrative appeals, where CMC officials justified the transfer as “administrative,” I filed my very first writ in Monterey Superior Court. The judge agreed that the transfer appeared “retaliatory” in nature in response to the articles I had written, an exercise of my First Amendment rights.
    I dropped the legal suit because I did not know the law. I did not have funds to hire a lawyer and I did not trust jailhouse lawyers. I was immediately assigned to a prison job, and no longer had access to the prison law library to study.

    I felt powerless, having been shafted by the system, by private attorneys, by prison officials. I finally changed prison jobs and started going to the law library again everyday. I decided to fight back.
    It was there that I met “Bandit,” a tall lanky 51-year-old white lifer from Alabama, who spoke with a Southern accent. Convicts respected him because he actually won cases. He rarely went to the prison yard; he was always in the law library. I sat next to him one day while he was typing a writ on a beat-up state-issued law library typewriter.
    “Hey Bandit, I’d like to talk to you about my case.”
    He stopped typing, unperturbed by my inquiry, and turned to me smiling, swirling a toothpick in his mouth, saying, “Sure, tell me about it.”
    After a lengthy conversation, we agreed that for one jar of coffee he would read the entire trial transcripts and legal briefs and give me his opinion. One week later, we met up again at the law library.
    “Dave, this attorney, Dangler, really screwed up your appeal. You have no way back into the federal court. However, I did find one legal loophole.”
    Bandit explained the loophole—the judge’s denial during a Marsden Hearing of my request to hire new counsel—describing it as “an error of constitutional magnitude, enough to get you back into court.”
    For $500, he added, “I can litigate you back into state court.”
    Still feeling burned from the previous jailhouse lawyer I declined his offer, but asked him to teach me the law, paying him $20 a month for one year. I figured that it’s my life and I’d rather be responsible for my own fate, than to put it in the hands of another man. I met with him every afternoon in the law library, watched him closely to see how he won cases.
    Access to most of California’s prison law libraries is limited because of severe overcrowding, holding a maximum of only 20 to 25 inmates at a time for an average prison population of 2,500 inmates. The library usually contains only two to five old worn-out typewriters, and is missing law books. Or the law books that are available are missing pages. Additionally, during prison lockdowns there is absolutely no law library access. Thus, legal research is done piecemeal, an hour or two a day. On top of this, state and federal courts are backlogged with cases, where 70 percent of their caseload consists of prisoner-filed writs of habeas corpus or prisoners’ lawsuits. The wheels of justice turn slowly. No wonder it can take up to 20 years for an innocent prisoner to be released, even when, by most accounts, they are clearly innocent.
    The jailhouse lawyer, facing such obstacles, learns how to cut corners, to manipulate the system, to make it work.
    “Dave, I’m going to teach you how to reduce your costs when litigating. You see this writ I finished typing? There are one thousand pages, including exhibits. The CDCR charges us ten cents a copy using the law library copier. That is one hundred dollars copying costs.”
    “How do you get it done cheaper?”
    “Hillbilly Bob sitting over there next to typewriter one, he is indigent, has no family that sends him money anymore. He has been down twenty-five years, only lives for his coffee and tobacco. I’ll give him a jar of coffee to make all these copies on his account.”
    “You can do that? If he has no money, who pays for it?”
    “The state pays for the copies. Inmates have a constitutional right to access to the courts. They can’t deny access to file writs or lawsuits to inmates who are poor.”
    Hillbilly Bob, a mid-50s white convict, who looked like a homeless bum, took the stack of copies and gave it to the librarian. Within minutes, he brought back 1,000 copies of the originals. He was delighted to help. Anything for the “cause.”
    The next day, Bandit showed me more game.
    “I’ve got fifteen boxes of Swintec state typewriter ribbons in my legal folder. I need to take them back to the wing.”
    “What do you use them for, do they even fit in your personal typewriter?”
    “The state ribbon cartridge doesn’t fit. But I can take the ribbons out of the cartridge and rethread them through my own cartridge, only takes two minutes apiece. I’ve got a Brother typewriter; it’s about on its last leg from all the typing I do. I save a lot of money doing this.”
    “How much?”
    “Well, in the vendor catalog, it costs five dollars for a Brother ribbon. You get only twenty pages out of it. Takes about two months to arrive. I get the state ribbons from the education clerk, fifteen for a jar of coffee. About six dollars for all fifteen ribbons.”
    “How do you plan to get them back to the cellblock? Your folder is bulging out, and Officer Jackson is working today. He searches everyone going into C-Wing.”
    “I’ve been here twenty years. I know how to get around him. You’ll see. Walk with me.”
    Bandit got permission from the librarian, Ms. Jones, an overweight mid-40s white woman, to use the institutional phone to call his counselor.
    “Is the green frog in his garden?” he asked, pausing momentarily for an answer. “Alright, Bandit is headed eastbound at 2:45 p.m. Make sure the green frog is chasing flies.” He hung up the phone.
    At about 2:40 p.m., we walked eastbound down a long corridor, about four football fields long, passing by Officer Jackson’s post. He was not there.
    “Wow, where is Jackson?” I asked.
    “Look over there…in the chapel.”
    Jackson was searching inmates coming out of the chapel. The chapel clerk, inmate Rogers, closed the chapel early as a distraction. Jackson got on his walkie-talkie to other guards, saying, “Send the inmates at West Gate this way. Eastbound traffic is open.”
    I began to see Bandit not as a hustling opportunistic convict, but as a human being. I too developed respect for his fighting spirit, his ability to overcome all obstacles, his honesty.
    He had a caseload of more than 20 inmates’ legal cases. Like a real lawyer each inmate had a file, pages were paginated, everything was organized in a two-hole-punch folder. His specialty was challenging the Board of Prison Terms denials of parole to inmates who clearly deserved to be paroled.
    I decided to ask him about his conviction one day.
    “Bandit, what are you in for?”
    “A robbery gone bad. Me and a crime partner, when we were 18 years old, robbed a grocery market. Being high on PCP, we shot the mother, father, and son—execution style—to leave no witnesses. It was a horrible crime, which I feel truly remorseful about. I accept full responsibility for my actions. I spent seven long years on death row at San Quentin. Then my sentence was commuted to seven years-to-life when the U.S. Supreme Court found the death penalty to be unconstitutional.”
    “So, do you have any chances to get out someday?”
    “A very good chance,” he said, smiling. “In 1979, the parole board gave me a parole date of June 1992, premised on the fact that if I stayed disciplinary free, I would get out in 1992. I lived up to my end of the deal. However, Gov. Pete Wilson and then Gov. Gray Davis refused to let me out due to their illegal ‘no parole’ policy. I’ve got a writ right now in court challenging their recision of my date, and if the court agrees my Fourteenth Amendment rights to due process were violated, I’ll be a free man this year.”
    I really wanted to believe Bandit. But I couldn’t see any hope for him. Guys with only one murder (or no murder like me), are still doing time, being denied parole, even after 30 years of hard time, when they are clearly suitable for parole. I felt he would never get out of prison. He was living on a pipe dream, like most lifers whose committed offense was cold and callous.
    From 2002 to 2003, Bandit showed me more tricks to his trade.
    “I have to get this state typewriter back to my cell. My personal typewriter finally burned out. Law library will be closed during the holidays for about two weeks so I need it really bad.”
    “How will you get past Officer Jackson, you got another way to distract him?”
    Bandit smiled, flicking around the toothpick in his mouth, using the institutional phone in the library. I listened with curiosity.
    “This is Bandit. Is the green frog in his pond?” he asked, pressing for an answer. He hung up and called another number.
    “All right, roto-rooter, Bandit here. Need to make a house call, regular spot at 2:40 p.m.,” he said, hanging up the phone.
    As we exited the law library at 2:37 p.m., an inmate plumber pushing a plumbing cart met us and Bandit gave him the state typewriter, which he placed inside his cart. Together we walked eastbound toward C-wing, Officer Jackson in our sight. As we approached Jackson, the plumber, inmate Rubio, a 30-year-old Mexican national who spoke clear English, brought up a conversation about sports with him.
    “Hey man, who do you think is going to the Super Bowl in two months?”
    Officer Jackson responded, “Rubio, I’m putting a thousand bucks this year on the Saints. They better not let me down. Who you betting your canteen on?” he asked jokingly. Jackson was an African American officer in his early thirties who took his job too seriously, always searching inmates, writing up inmates for contraband. Many blacks disliked him because he was an out of control rogue officer. He could be friendly with you one minute and a conniving asshole the next.
    As Rubio slid the cart into the wing, still speaking with Jackson, Bandit opened the cart door and grabbed the typewriter, taking it up to his cell. I went back to E-wing where my cell was located.

    In 12 months Bandit taught me how to do legal research and type motions. He always joked with me, smiling, “You know, when I get out this year, you are going to have to take over my caseload.”
    I always smiled with him to give him hope, as one would do with someone who is terminally ill. Hope is the only thing that keeps men in prison from hanging themselves.
    When the holidays were over, I didn’t see Bandit at his usual table, where he litigated everyday. I asked the librarian what had happened to Bandit.
    “Ms. Jones, did something happen to Bandit? He never misses a day of law library.”
    “You didn’t hear the news?”
    “No, what happened?”
    “Bandit got out of prison last night. The 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ordered his immediate release.”
    Thinking that he may have been transferred as a retaliatory action, as I was back in 2002, I asked, “Can you check the Daily Movement Sheet. Make sure that he didn’t just get transferred?”
    “I already checked. I’ll show you.” She grabbed the DMS report, showing me the proof that Bandit was released.
    A week later, the 9th Circuit Court opinion on Bandit’s case was published in the latest law books. The court explained how his rights were violated. All jailhouse lawyers were in shock; amazed he had accomplished what no one could have ever thought possible. Not surprisingly, there were no media reports on his release. No one wanted to be responsible for letting out a man convicted and sentenced to die for triple murder after serving 35 years. Fortunately in his case, the justices—who are appointed for life, not elected—applied the law without allowing politics to interfere with their ethical duty.
    Today Bandit works for a law firm as a paralegal. He concentrates exclusively on prisoners’ rights cases. He is living a crime-free life, managed to marry a prison pen pal from Brazil. He charges about $10,000 to file a writ. People do pay; his services are in demand.
    His release in 2003 gave prisoners statewide, including myself, hope that no matter what the obstacles, any lifer has the potential to get out of prison.
    In 2006, in a United States Supreme Court case, U.S. versus Gonzales-Lopez, the court re-emphasized a defendant’s “right to counsel” of choice, stressing that such a denial of counsel is automatic grounds for reversal of conviction, with no test for prejudice.
    Bandit may have been right: This could be my legal loophole out of here….

    Editor’s Note: In 2003, Valdez filed a complaint with the State Bar against Attorney Richard Dangler. In December 2006, the State Bar awarded Valdez a full reimbursement of $24,350 for retainer fees lost. Dangler resigned with charges pending.

    Tito David Valdez Jr. resides at and writes from the minimum security Correctional Facility in Soledad, Calif. Listen to his radio segments on prison life on the nationally syndicated program, “The Adam Carolla Show.” For times, visit Tito can be reached by email at, or by mail: Tito David Valdez Jr. J-52660, CTF Central E Wing Cell 126, P.O. Box 689, Soledad, Calif., 93960-0689. Read more of his "Life in the Cage" series here:
  • Mischief in the prison chapel
  • Jailhouse pruno
  • A momentary breath of freedom
  • Breakfast Club
  • Trapped
  • Institutialized
  • Evening dayroom
  • Destination ASH
  • Sleepless in Soledad

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    Trash Talk

    I like looking a person in the eye, even if he wants to pummel me, when he tells me how pathetic I am.

    Photo by Stacey Warde

    Trash talk

    The quickest way to ruin a community

    By Stacey Warde

    The things people say behind your back, or even to your face.
    No good lowlife. No job. No money. Can’t dance. Can’t keep time or a woman.
    “What are you doing with a loser like him?” someone asked my girlfriend.
    No reason, really. Sure, he’s an asshole and he’s no sugar daddy but he’s good in bed, and always ready.
    Turns out the plaintiff had come under the demon influence of someone who doesn’t think I’m worthy. Thinks I’m a loser. Can’t imagine why. Word gets around. And pretty soon people start to believe it.
    “Hey, I heard you’re a loser. That true?”
    “Well, I can’t pay my bills. I hate working. My car’s a wreck and I can’t afford to buy a house. I like to smoke pot and fuck a lot. I love to sit around the house all day and read and listen to music…yeah, I guess you could say that.”
    You don’t score points being a loser in this town.
    That’s OK. There’re worse things in life. Worse than being a loser any way. Like being a gossip, or a backbiter.
    Still, it’s tough to swallow trash talk that goes on behind your back, even if some of it’s true, especially when someone’s trying to convince your closest ally to leave you.
    Mom always said, “If you don’t have anything nice to say about someone, don’t say anything at all.” I used to hate it when she’d say that because I wanted to talk trash about some people. But she’s right. What’s the point of dragging someone’s name through the mud?

    It’s all here—the good, the bad and the ugly—in our beloved Cayucos, which could stand to use a little more compassion and love. I understand why slander and malicious gossip can be so ruinous. It destroys a community.
    Think about it. Talk poorly of someone. What does it do for them? What does it do for you? Most people I know need a lift not a putdown.
    The in-your-face stuff, like God-hater and pathetic excuse for a human being, is easier to take for some reason. I have more respect for a plaintiff who addresses me directly and has the courage to say whatever he wants to my face than one who whispers behind my back.
    I like looking a person in the eye, even if he wants to pummel me, when he tells me how pathetic I am. That way, at least, I have the option to respond.
    “You know, you’re right. I never looked at it that way.”
    In either case, trash talk cuts deep. It got so bad last month I started having murderous fantasies. “I’ll kill the sonofabitch!” I said in a burst of rage over the final insult, the one that put me over the top.
    I’d heard it all last month: “You’re a loser.” “You just don’t have it.” “You’re a pathetic excuse for a human being.”
    A friend, concerned for my unbalanced emotional state, put things in perspective: “You never know what sets people off. Maybe the guy was molested as a child.”
    That helped. I never thought about it, but suppose it’s true, which would explain how someone could be so messed up that they would say mean, nasty things about someone, whether they were true or not. It put a damper on my anger and frustration over people who don’t know what they’re saying or doing.
    It’s an awful thing, murderous rage, to be so angry you’d want to hurt someone. I felt it in high measure after a week of putdowns and unwelcome epithets. I wanted to strike back and make someone suffer for it.
    And sure enough, I blew my stack. Tossed some dishes on the floor and made a mess. I felt stupid afterwards, ashamed, tired and sapped of life’s juices. I need to get some more rest, I realized. A vacation maybe.
    And then, while cleaning up my mess, I felt glad that I hadn’t struck out at the guy who crossed me at my boiling point earlier in the day. How stupid would I have felt then? Sitting in a squad car? Going to jail? Hiring an attorney?
    I’m not a pacifist. I’ll fight for my family, my friends, my life. Yet, I’ll take negotiation over violence any day. It’s those who refuse to negotiate, who turn their backs on people and resort to name-calling and obfuscation, who create wars and destroy relationships and communities.
    It’s tough to stand in the gap, to confront our own hypocrisies, endure conflict, and speak the truth in love. We’re better at pointing out the faults of others, creating conflict and bashing people over the head when telling the truth or otherwise maligning them with our falsehoods.
    I’m learning that the superior man speaks directly without violence or malice. He forgives an offense and watches out for the interests of others as well as his own.

    I’ve heard some things, for sure, not just about me but a whole lot of people and situations in Cayucos. I’ve heard things that, if they ever got back to the person they were about, would cause enormous pain.
    Crack whores. Tavern dalliances. Con artists. Floozies. Molesters. Threesomes. Unwelcome advances. Unhappy wives. Miserable husbands. Failed loves. All this in a town of less than 5,000 people.
    There’s plenty here to talk shit about.
    But you never know when someone’s going to die, or never show up for work or booty call again. I figure it’s best to be good to people and keep my mouth shut if I can’t think of anything good to say about them. §

    Stacey Warde is editor of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at

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    Cabby's corner: Old blind Lizzie

    Dragging her purse, she cried and shrilled, ‘You’ll be back, you desperate prick.’

    ‘I’m Lizzie’s son,’ he said, looking tough. ‘And I’m a government agent.’

    St. Patrick’s Day, 1989

    Old blind Lizzie

    And her son, the ‘government agent’

    By Dell Franklin
    During the winter months following the holidays, unless it’s raining, the cab business in San Luis Obispo is dead. You sit all day reading and working crosswords. You jump when your radio crackles with the dispatcher’s voice. The pickin’s are so slim you’ll take anybody in your cab, endure odious behavior, feel your gorge rise at the degradation of it all. On a bad day, you’ll go along, and go along, until finally, as a human being, you revolt.
    A month before St. Patrick’s Day I eighty-sixed a woman around 65 from my cab. She lived in a trailer park and drank at the Gaslight, which was about a mile from her compound. Lizzie described herself in a witch-cackling voice as a “bitch on wheels,” and boasted of burying three “worthless husbands— a cook, a house painter, and a soldier I met during the war when I was an Army nurse.” Lizzie was white-haired, wiry, slightly bent, with a long, pink needle nose and beady eyes that blazed when the juice drove her into diatribes.
    “It’s all a bunch of shit,” she always started out, when I’d pick her up in the morning to transport her to the Gaslight.
    “Yeh, Lizzie, it sure is when you gotta drive a cab for a living.”
    “You don’t know hard times, bub. One of my husbands, the Army bum, he drove a cab after his discharge. They fired him for driving drunk. He was a real prick, useless as any man ever lived, but oh boy, could he bullshit, a real know-it-all-do-nothin’, and when I called him on it the bastard beat me, and I gave it back, took a bat to him…the sonofabitch!”
    I was always a tiny bit thankful to get Lizzie in the morning, when she was merely musty and sour from hangover and could get into the cab by herself. Afternoons and early evenings involved going into the smoky bar and listening to the insults and wisecracks from the dingy mopes and prying Lizzie off her stool, leading her out by the arm and helping her into the front seat of the cab where she’d wet herself, and I’d smell her urine on the vinyl seat which always sizzled from the sun beating through the untinted windows. No AC.
    “They’re all pricks….” she’d grumble, half-drooling, listing in her seat. “This asshole’s butterin’ me up…well, he ain’t gettin’ shit from me, bub, the nasty ol’ four-flusher. He ain’t got a dime to his name. I made my way, supported bums for husbands, and nobody’s gonna get my money or my meat.”
    “Good. You tell ‘em, Lizzie.”
    “You’re a wise ass. Like all the rest.”
    “Damn right. I’m worse.”
    “You gotta girl?”
    “Hell no. All the good ones left me, and then the bad ones left me, and now all I got is a cat who tolerates me.”
    “Well, you got what you deserved, bub.”

    The last time I drove her home she accused me for the umpteenth time of cheating her, and taking advantage of her poor eyesight. The fare was always $4.80, and she usually quibbled over the 20 cents change, sometimes giving it to me, sometimes not, about once a month giving me a dollar. Sometimes she insisted she’d given me a ten instead of a five. “You greedy cabbies can cheat and steal from the company…I don’t give a damn about that…but yah can’t cheat old blind Lizzie, no sir!”
    All this after I open her door, lift her out of the cab, half carry her up the short stairway, take her key and open the door, steer her inside and help her into her cushioned rocking chair, fetch her a beer, turn on the TV, and scurry from the musty room to wipe the piss off the front seat before discarding the soggy paper towels into her trash can.
    Well, finally one day I’d had it. We were sitting in the cab, and she started with her grumbling.
    “That’s it!” I bellowed, startling the poor woman. “I’ve had it with you, Lizzie. You’re eighty-sixed from my cab. Let the other saps take your abuse. Get out of this goddamn cab!”
    “Good. Hell with you. Don’t need yer help.” She struggled with the door, fell into the street, spent a minute or two trying to stand, then began crawling up the brief stairway while I mopped up her urine. Dragging her purse, she cried and shrilled, “You'll be back, you desperate prick.” She lay on her back, wedged against the door, fumbling in her purse for a key. “All you cabbies are losers, an’ bums, an’ failures, you’ll be back…”
    I drove off and informed the dispatcher I was finished with her. Lizzie called in later to complain, but there was nothing she could do, and soon the other cabbies agreed to eighty-six her, and so Lizzie was flat out of luck, had to mooch rides from bar drunks, most of whom lacked cars, driver’s licenses or the wherewithal to get them.

    Then came St. Patrick’s Day. A hectic day for cabbies, and one in which I’d picked up an attractive thirtyish brunette at a garage where her car was being worked on and drove her to work. Office girl. We hit it off and agreed to meet in a downtown bar for an after-work toddy. I worked helter-skelter nonstop from 7 a.m. until after 5 p.m., and was on my way back to the compound when the dispatcher called and asked me to pick up one more—at the Gaslight.
    “It better not be Lizzie.”
    “No. It’s a guy.”
    Carl? I knew of no Carl. The Gaslight at this time had some real unwholesome characters, young and old, and one young guy, with cocaine smeared all over his inflamed nostrils, actually lunged suddenly across the seat and planted a kiss on my neck after ravenously eyeing me up. I backhanded him across the face and quickly deposited him on the curb, Could he be Carl?
    It was almost 6 p.m., so I stopped downtown at the bar where I was to meet my date and found her surrounded by drunken men hitting on her. She decided to come with me for my last ride of the day. She sat in the front seat as I pulled up to the Gaslight’s tiny parking area, which is situated on the corner of one of the town’s busiest intersections. I went inside and saw Lizzie listing at the end of the crowded bar, beer can in one hand, cigarette in the other.
    “There he is!” she yammered. “Rotten bastard…”
    “There he is!” somebody else yelled. “The rotten no-good prick!”
    “We’re Lizzie’s friends,” announced a burly construction guy from the poolroom, as he waved a cue menacingly. “We don’t like you, boy.”
    I gazed at the bartender, a gal. “Who needs a ride?”
    She shrugged.
    A heavyset mussed up unshaven guy in a tight T-shirt came over.
    “I’m Lizzie’s son,” he said, looking tough. “And I’m a government agent.”
    “By God, I got friends,” Lizzie yammered. “I don’t need the prick.”
    “Yeah, we’re Lizzie's friends.”
    Everybody in the packed bar seemed to be growling at me, closing in, telling me they were Lizzie’s friends. I turned and started out. The son tapped my shoulder. I turned back around, prepared.
    “I’m ordering you to take my mother home,” he said grimly.
    “Take her home yourself,” I said, turning and starting for the door. He jumped around into my path, leveling a finger in my face. I stepped around him and hurried through the door, out into the still warm afternoon. Traffic was lined up. The brunette sat in my cab looking on as I headed toward her, the entire bar, minus Lizzie, spilling out into the parking lot and sidewalk.
    “I’m a government agent,” the son yelled again, confronting me at the door of my cab. “I’m ORDERING you to take my mother home.”
    “Government agent? You look like a drunk to me.”
    His finger was again in my face. “I could kick your ass, bub, if I want, but I can’t, ‘cuz I’m not allowed to ‘cuz I’m a government agent, and we’re not allowed to fight scum like you.”
    “Hit him, Carl!” somebody yelled. “Kick his ass!”
    I ripped off my Irish drinking cap and flipped it into the cab where my date was huddled up against the door, quailing. I’d been driving for more than ten hours, nonstop, back and forth, up and down the same old streets, fighting traffic, clocking over 200 city miles, sweating, salivating, hemorrhoids itching and burning, head throbbing, putting up with drunks, wanting only to end this hell and get into a cool bar and slug down a merciful shot of Jack and chase it with an ice cold beer.
    “Go ahead!” I cried, stepping up chest-to-chest with the agent. “You motherfucker, HIT ME! I give you permission. You cocksucker, I’m begging you—take your best shot!”
    Now the crazy bastard stepped back and commenced kicking the front tire of my cab.
    “That’s Yellow Cab property!” I hollered, moving toward him. “You government piece of shit, you kick that goddamn tire one more time I’ll call the cops for destroying private property.”
    My date, looking terribly distressed, motioned frantically for me to get back in the cab. I ignored her, turned to the crowd. “All of you!” I hollered. “You think Lizzie’s so great? Then YOU take her home! Let her piss in your car, you drunken sonsofbitches!” I pointed to her son, who’d retreated a few paces. "Go clean your mother’s piss off her barstool, or else take your best shot. Make up your mind.”
    He backed up, leveling a finger at me. “You’re in trouble,” he said. “You’re gonna be reported. You’ll pay for this. I’ll have your job, asshole.”
    “Job!” I shouted, moving toward him. “You want my fucking job? Any of you scumbags want my fucking job?” I was hoarse by now as a din of honking horns accompanied my tirade. “Take my fucking job! Go ahead. I’ll take the girl. You motherfuckers can have the cab.” I waved my arms around, frothing at the mouth. “It’s yours, take it!”
    They filed back into the bar, Carl among them, and the cacophony of horns seized as traffic restarted, a couple people yelling encouragement to me from their cars and giving me the thumbs up sign, I got into my cab, heart pumping, fingers trembling, gulping for breath, reeking of adrenalin, gnashing my teeth. My date was wringing her hands, biting her lips.
    “My God,” she cried, near tears, “what kind of job is this? How can you…how can you do it?”
    “I’ll tell you all about it over a few beers, kid. It’s not all bad. There’s some good out there. Hang with me.”
    We drove out to the cab yard and while she got into my jalopy I went into the dispatch office to see Tammy, my dispatcher.
    “That was Lizzie’s son at the Gaslight,” I cried. “Goddammit, he says he’s a government agent and he tried to fight me.”
    “Government agent?” she said, then laughed. “He’s no government agent. He got fired from the post office in Santa Barbara. You know how hard it is to get fired as a mailman? You’ve got to be the biggest screw-up and idiot on earth.”
    The brunette and I hit all the bars until closing time and got on famously, forged a yearlong relationship before it ended. §

    Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at Read more of the Cabby's corner series, here:
  • Ode to Tobias Wolff
  • Sisters from South Central
  • A soldier's story
  • First fare (hair of the dog)
  • The good lawyer
  • Mr. Headphones
  • Little Miss Sunshine
  • A rainy New Year's Eve in the 'A' cab
  • The mayoral candidate

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    Lydia Lee Sanchez

    Dad explained to me several years ago that mother was a vital woman. I already knew that from going to the beach with her or grocery shopping. Her wiggle wasn’t vital but mythic. More than one man told me that she had the best ass in Morro Bay.

    Photo by Stacey Warde

    By M. Frias May

    Around Tehachapi, mother spoke to me for the first time in an hour. Up until now, she’d been looking out her window and writing in her journal.
    “I don’t want you to call me mother for the rest of the trip.”
    I glanced at her and she was serious.
    “You okay with that?” she asked.
    “Sure,” I said.
    A long silence passed between us. I swerved to miss a tumbleweed, and mother said, “You can call me, D.”
    “Okay, D.”
    The “D” made a little sense. Her name was Lydia and dad often called her Dia. Shortening it to D didn’t seem weird, but why now, on our way to Vegas, did she want distance from me?
    I didn’t ask. I was her driver. Dad called the trip a sabbatical for Lydia Lee Sanchez, the writer. She’d been complaining about stagnation and dad suggested she spend a few nights in Steinbeck country. She said she was sick of the coast and piped up with her idea about Vegas. Dad turned white. He wasn’t going to let her roam around sin city by herself and mother latched onto the word “let” and a big old argument started that lasted for a week.
    I became the compromise, and mother said she had no problem with that. When they came to me with the plan, I pretended I hadn’t heard anything and said, “Why not?”
    I’m an only child and have gotten everything I wanted—except peace between them. They are the ones that need watching. They’re in their late 30s, opposite as light and dark, and you can already guess who the dark is.
    About an hour into our drive, mother asked me what I thought about the rash of domestic disputes this past weekend in Cayucos. She had her shoes off and her toes were resting on a paper bag that held a sequined jumpsuit she smuggled out of the house.
    “Virus,” I ventured, and mother didn’t answer. She tugged off her beanie and I could hear her fingers snapping loose knots in her thick black hair. I knew she wasn’t ignoring me. She pulled down the visor and checked her face in the mirror. She was islander pretty with plump lips and gray eyes. She said, “I think it’s paranoia, seasonal paranoia.”
    I knew she was referring to the men because the women in her books aren’t afraid of anything.
    “What are they afraid of?”
    Mother flipped up the visor. “Each other,” she said. “Men know what they’re like when they’re together and when they’re not they get scared.”
    “Oh,” I said. “Great. Fear and anger. That’s what I get to look forward to.”
    She reached out and touched my arm. “You’re different.”
    “You mean I’m more like you than dad.”
    She pinched me and laughed. “Of course,” she said. “What seventeen-year -old would go on a road trip with his mother?”
    She let it hang there and I was glad. I didn’t want to get into a critical discussion. I preferred her writing and silence to her analysis and cures. But when she told me to call her D, I got a little worried, and afraid.

    When we approached the town of Mojave, she said, “I could live here.” She’d been sitting cross-legged since Wasco, writing, sketching, sighing, anything but talking to me. She was now restless and I remember what dad told me before we left. “Don’t let her out of your sight. She’s a little off right now and you know what I mean. Let her have her way but be there when she’s having it, understand?”
    He handed me five hundred dollars.
    “She doesn’t know you have this. Only use it if you need it.”
    “Of course,” I said.
    “Call me when you get there.”
    “I will.”
    “She might see something and want to change the plan but don’t let her. Stay on course.”
    It was a bizarre exchange while mother was in the bathroom. Dad left me by the door and drove off to his job as restaurant manager. I didn’t think about his talk until she said, “Let’s stop.”
    She was brushing her hair, arching her spine.
    “Are you hungry?” I asked.
    “I want to explore a little.”
    “Explore what? Used cars and bars, I mean, I was hoping we’d get to Vegas by dark.”
    “Look at that,” she said, pointing to Casa de Gasa. “Where in the world you going to find a gas station named that. We got stories here.”
    “There’s plenty of stories in Vegas,” I said, trying not to look at her because she was hyper and ready. “It’ll be fun,” she said.
    I looked at the stretch of buildings on my left, one-story highway places with winter weary locals coming and going, and knew Mojave was trouble. I lowered my voice. “It doesn’t look fun.”
    “You have no imagination, mi’jo.”
    Oh, God, Spanish. Whenever she spiced a line with a Spanish word, pouting was coming. She broke her pencil, found a pen in the glove compartment and started writing again. I felt bad denying her a few minutes of walking around but dad’s talk was fresh in my head. And her wanting me to call her D didn’t bolster my sense of trust. It was too early to stray.
    “On the way back we can stop if you want,” I said, but mother was silent. I shifted in my seat, preparing myself for a long thorny silence. A sameness of landscape cropped up, flat and parched under a weak winter sky. I counted a dozen Wal-Mart trucks. I asked her if she thought the people in Boron were boring but she stayed aloof and busy with her pen.
    The deeper we drove in the desert, the more I understood what she was getting at. In Tehachapi, there were windmills dotted along the rocky hills. It was pretty and unusual but you didn’t have to walk up to one to figure that out. Mohave’s charm was its isolation and sense that the government thought it a perfect location for an air force base. Who lived here and why were questions that had to be asked face-to-face and Lydia Lee Sanchez was the woman who could ask them without being nosy or intrusive. She’d just say to a waitress, “Where can I play bingo?” and off they’d go like reunion girlfriends, talking and talking.
    As we neared Barstow, I was feeling guilty. She was cleaning her nails, looking tired and bored. This had to end.
    “Now, I could live here,” I said, knowing she’d either clam up until Vegas or hear what roundabout apology I’d give.
    She looked to the north where new stucco developments were fitted into old stucco sprawl. “Barstow,” she said with disgust.
    “Yeah, Barstow,” I said. “I bet in the summer all the girls wear cutoffs and crunch ice cubes and I bet all the old coots drive Riveras.”
    A smile twitched on her face. “And I bet they got long silvery ear hairs and have emphysema and eczema.”
    Her smile was widening.
    “And they’re pissed about the Dodgers,” I said. “And they’re pissed about Wayne Newton getting nookie and the Jenny Rose Diner serving shit on a shingle again.”
    She touched my shoulder with her head. “I’m not mad,” she said, “but next time we do what I say.”

    We reached Vegas around eight. I think D drank an airline bottle of something at a station near Baker. She made me drive by the World’s Tallest Thermometer at Bob’s Big Boy. I didn’t argue. We’d been pretty chummy since Barstow and I didn’t want to ruin it. Besides, she was letting me push the Lexus to a hundred without saying anything and that was fun.
    Dad had booked us into the Venetian, a billion-dollar hotel on the strip. The valets were in red-striped shirts and black pants and inside it looked like Michelangelo and his crew worked on the flooring and fountain.
    I did the checking in and was told most of the shows were blacked out the week before Christmas. This wasn’t good. I hadn’t considered making plans. I glanced over at mother. She still had her sunglasses on and three Asian men in suits were watching her take off her coat.
    I got a couple card keys and joined her.
    “Well, what do you think?”
    “I don’t,” she said. “I’m tired. I’ll tell you after a nap.”
    We strolled down an ornate palace-sized hallway to the casino, which was noisy with slots going off. My stomach pitched a little. I could get used to this.
    Our room was on the 14th floor and we could see the Stratosphere needle and the dark craggy hills in the distance. Mother wandered away from the window and plopped face down on a king-sized bed. “There’s a tip in my purse for the porter,” she said.
    Her calling the bellboy a porter was a clue I missed and shouldn’t have. He showed up with jelled hair and white teeth. He pushed in the cart far enough to get a look at D on the bed. Her bulbous Spandex fanny was almost stuck in the air. When she was really exhausted, she slept this way and it didn’t seem strange to me, or the porter. He was talking to me but staring at her butt. “You need anything,” he said, “ask for Raul.”
    He wouldn’t take the tip.
    “Aye yie yie,” he said, soaking in D’s hiney for a few more seconds before he left.
    I didn’t get mad or protective. Dad explained to me several years ago that mother was a vital woman. I already knew that from going to the beach with her or grocery shopping. Her wiggle wasn’t vital but mythic. More than one man told me that she had the best ass in Morro Bay.
    I made sure she was asleep before I phoned dad.
    “He’s not here,” said Louise, the bartender.
    “Just tell him we’re here and safe and we love him.”
    “That you, Bear?”
    I hated the nickname. I was big and prematurely hairy and I hated to be reminded about it. “It’s me.”
    “Where are you?”
    “What are you doin’ there?”
    “Looking for the muse.” There was a long pause on Louise’s end. “Mother’s here. It’s her sabbatical.”
    “Oh,” Louise said. “I don’t know where he is. He left about an hour ago but if he comes back I’ll have him ring you.”
    I took at peek at Mother. She was snoring and undulating a little. “Dad didn’t say anything about us being out of town?”
    Louise hemmed. “He might’ve. You know me—all boobs and no brain. He could have. He probably did.”
    I felt uneasy after I hung up. I’d caught dad a couple times playing patty cake with a waitress or divorcée. He’s Nordic looking, ski-bum handsome and almost sickeningly nice to everyone. Not a woman in town doesn’t know him and his looks and his manners. But where was he?
    The marquee lights weren’t giving me any answers but I stared at them anyway. I settled into the sofa, looking at the grinning Circus Circus clown. I closed my eyes, wondering what dad was doing.

    I woke up with a stiff neck. There was a note on my king-sized bed.
    “I went out for some air. Be back soon. D.”
    I could smell perfume in the room. Her suitcase was still in the closet and the ironing board was out. The brown bag was ripped open and her sequined jump suit was gone. She and dad had an argument about the jumpsuit. He said it was a bit much for a mother to be wearing with her son. Now she was in it and I had no idea where she’d go to get the air she needed.
    I phoned down to the front desk and asked for Raul to bring up a bottle of champagne. He arrived in about five minutes, toothy and sly.
    “A party for when she returns, bueno.”
    “When did you see her last, Raul?”
    Raul placed the champagne on a table by the window. He was being evasive. “Oh, 9:45, 10.” He was sweating. I held up a twenty-dollar bill.
    “Do you know where she’s at, Raul?”
    “I think…”
    “I’m not going to get mad. I just want to find her.” My strained voice was intimidating him. “Raul, it’s important.”
    I’d seen my dad deal with dishwashers and busboys and screaming wasn’t a motivational tool that got patrone respect.
    “I need my job,” he said, wiping his lips.
    “I won’t say anything.”
    “Those nagels.” Raul steepled his fingers, kissed them and groaned. “They talked to me.”
    I pretended I’d taken a Valium. “They talk to everyone, Raul.”
    “She spoke to me in Spanish.”
    “What did she say?”
    He looked down at the floor for the first time. He was man raised with some shame and was showing it. “She said I was prettier than Kits and she said every pretty man has one great poem in him.”
    He puffed up from the memory and looked me in the eye. “Who is this Kits?”
    “Keats,” I said. “He’s a poet who wrote great and died young.”
    Raul shivered. “She went to the Bellagio to watch the water.”

    I had Raul as a willing lookout if mother showed up before me. I skipped the taxi, figuring she’d seen the waterworks and might be on her way back. It was chilly and crowded on the strip. I couldn’t enjoy the lights or the characters with mother out here being D. I only hoped for some luck and more champagne.
    I’d already had a tantrum after Raul left. I kicked a hole in the TV, drank the champagne and ate most of the chocolate out of the honor bar. I took a shower, jerked off, and got angry again. This whole scene wasn’t right. It was unbelievable. It was like I’d lost free will and then was ordered to protect the person who took it from me. It wasn’t fair but fairness wasn’t going to get D back in the room.
    At the Excalibur, I turned around and decided to do a little interior work, even though I doubted her gambling tendencies. Games we played focussed on vocabulary or strategy, not odds and alcohol, but that was mother and D was different.
    In about an hour, I covered the insides of New York, New York, Caesar’s and the Mirage but I wasn’t sensing her among the bleary-eyed gamblers and drinkers. The car ride didn’t offer up any clues about who D might be. Except for the incident in Mohave, mother was workmanlike in filling up the pages of her journal. The only true odd thing was the jumpsuit she kept on the floor by her feet. I’d seen her wear it on New Year’s Eve last year. It clung and sparkled on her body. She looked like every man’s woman for a night. I remembered dad returning late in the morning, with mother draped over his shoulder. “She had fun,” he said.
    Back at the Venetian, I lingered in the casino, pulling slots and looking for Raul. I drank a Bloody Mary and struck up a conversation with Patty, the cocktail waitress. She was working on her master’s in Urban Lit at UNLV. She was tall and tired. I thought, why not, and said, “You ever hear of Lydia Lee Sanchez.”
    “You got to be kidding.”
    “No,” I said.
    “She’s a diva.”
    Mother had published a couple of novellas at a small press in LA. One was about women urinating in public and the other dealt with hitchhiking whores. Patty asked, “You’ve read her?”
    “Sure.” Patty had an overbite but her teeth were straight and her smile inviting.
    “I don’t meet many people who read, at least here.”
    She touched my arm. “You want to get some coffee after I get off?”

    We agreed to meet at Denny’s in an hour. I had mixed feelings. I felt obligated to hang around the room and wait but I don’t get many invitations from leggy girls who want to discuss my mother’s work. Could be just plain crap but I couldn’t pass up the kismet I was feeling.
    I stuck in the card key and entered the room. What I saw was Raul, jumping off the bed and sputtering, “Oh, Señor Bear, it’s nothing, I swear.”
    Mother was lying on her stomach, clothed but dazed. “That you, honey?”
    Raul was trying to hide his arousal and compete with my menacing stare.
    “Where you been, D?”
    Mother ignored me. “Raul, you have the hands of a baker.”
    “D,” I said, louder.
    “Here and there,” she said, “getting my air like I said in the note.”
    “That’s specific.”
    “I’m not accountable.”
    “I see. And Raul?”
    She rolled onto her side, giving Raul his view while she talked to me. “Raul told me a story he never told anyone and I told him I was going to use it and he, clever little man he is, asked for payment. I said, ‘how much?’ And he said, ‘how long can I rub your nagles for the story?’ I said, ‘the jumpsuit stays on’ and he agreed.”
    I peered at Raul.
    “Forty minutes,” he said, “I have twenty left. A deal is a deal.”
    I could have easily pitched Raul out the window. I was strong enough but not mad enough. She was home and seemed fine.
    “Raul,” I said, “I’m not paying for the TV or missing chocolate.”
    “No problema. I switch it out with the one next door.”
    Raul lunged toward Mother’s ass and I grabbed his arm. “Now, señor.”
    He unplugged the TV and I held open the door while he lugged it out. Mother said, “You going to let him back in?”
    She was sitting up, playing with her hair. I didn’t feel like her son. I said, “Why should I?”
    “Because he told me a story that will probably win me a prize.”
    Her blandness got to me. “Don’t you think any of this is strange?”
    “Of course, I do,” she said. “I should be in an institution but is that going to help you any?”
    “No, but is it going to help you?”
    “I’m getting a great story and my nagles rubbed. What do you think?”
    Raul was knocking on the door. I was losing patience. Mother said, “I told Raul that you tore the ears off the last man that disrespected me. He’s horribly afraid of you but horribly obsessed with my nagles. He won’t try anything beyond the rubbing and kneading. I own him and if you don’t believe me, have a seat.”
    “I can’t,” I said, “I have a date.”
    She jumped off the bed, alarmed. “With who?”
    “A student over at UNLV. Patty. She works in the casino.”
    “Where you going?” She was getting huffy and I was enjoying it.
    “Denny’s. It’s about a block from here.”
    “You going to introduce her to me.”
    “Sure, I’ll bring her up while Raul is patty pattin’ your behind.”
    “That’s not funny.”
    “I don’t get it. I walk into something bizarre and am expected to deal with it. Yet, you can’t seem to deal with something that’s normal. What does that mean?”
    Her hands were on her hips. “It means I’m your mother and…”
    “Oh,” I interrupted, “I thought you were D.”
    Raul was pounding now. Mother tore away from my smirking face and flung open the door. Raul was frantic and mother said to him, “I won’t use the part about the parrot, so we’re done.” She slammed the door in his face. When she looked at me, she was livid and wagging her finger.
    “I want to know who she is.”
    “I don’t know. I just met her.”
    “You have protection?”
    I laughed.
    “It’s not funny,” she said.
    “I’m going to have coffee and conversation. That’s it.”
    We stared at each other. She looked like a spoiled mahogany princess who was losing her pet. “Promise?” she said.
    “I promise.”
    “When are you going to be back?”
    “Depends on what she says.”
    Mother didn’t like that answer. “Estimate.”
    “I’ll be waiting,” she said.

    I was uptight leaving mother alone. I didn’t see Raul or the TV around. I figured he was feeling gypped and obsessed and his desperation could lead to anything. Mother promised to not answer the door, providing I was home by three. Mother had to know what it feels like to be with a stranger in Vegas and I could tell she didn’t want me experiencing it.
    I met Patty outside of Denny’s. She wore an overcoat and was eating a candy bar. We went in and found a secluded booth by the bathrooms.
    “I don’t do this all the time,” she said. “I just want you to know.”
    She was putting cream in her coffee and I couldn’t tell if she was being sarcastic or not. She had dry skin and looked like a woman who’d grown up in the water. She had a swimmer’s build and short blonde hair. She was playing cool and wise, saying, “I think anybody who’s read Lydia Lee Sanchez is worth a risk.”
    “Isn’t that one of her themes,” I said, “taking risks?”
    Patty acted like I whispered in her ear. She leaned toward me. “What kind of woman do you think she is?”
    I could feel my nostrils widening and my face reddening. Patty didn’t deserve the truth because I couldn’t explain it clearly or accurately. “Difficult to say,” I said. “She is writing fiction.”
    “How do you know?”
    Again, I flushed. “Well, her stories take place in LA but she lives in Morro Bay. Has been for 15 or so years.”
    Patty eyed me shrewdly. “Do you know her?” She didn’t expect my answer.
    “Yes, she’s my mother.”
    Her laugh stirred an Asian man I’d been glancing at ever since we sat down. In his drained face I could read his pity for me, and his disgust for Patty’s wheezing and coughing.
    She reached for the water and I pulled it away. Her laughter was hurting her and I could see panic in her eyes. I let her giggle her way out of panic, which took about five minutes and a visit from the manager, a pasty, dandruffed man in his 50s, who said, “I’m sorry but you have to keep it down or leave because there’s nothing that funny, ma’am.”
    Patty was upset after he left. She kept touching her hair, her collarbone, and the fork on the table. “Why you’d take the water from me?”
    “You would have choked,” I said.
    She was pissed. “You’re not really a Sanchez, are you?” My silence unsettled her and she started tearing her napkin. “I’m sorry,” she said, “if I insulted you but what are the odds…?” I remained unblinking and silent and she fidgeted and ripped at the napkin, thinking, no doubt, that she was screwing up an opportunity. She said, “I knew Lydia lived on the Central Coast but I couldn’t locate her real name.”
    “Smith,” I said, “Lydia Smith. She’s here, in Vegas, waiting for me to return and I can tell you she’s not writing. She’s risking.”
    Patty repeated the word.
    “It’s how she gets ready to write,” I said. “She does something risky like letting in a stranger named Raul.”
    Patty repeated his name.
    “Bellboy at the Venetian. He’s in love with my mother’s nagles.”
    My blandness undid her. She put her chapped hands flat on the table. She was angry again. “Are you making fun of me?”

    Getting Patty up to the room wasn’t easy. My oddness and size seemed to undermine her confidence. My being nice made it worse. She said she had to go home and I said, “Patty, this is real. I’m her son. And she’s here and I’m sure she’ll talk to you.”
    About what, I couldn’t guarantee, and Patty seemed to sense it and the possible danger. She showed her pepper spray and in her overcoat pocket was a handgun. She walked three steps behind me, saying, “If this is no joke, then I’m sorry I’m acting like this and I am grateful for you giving me a chance to talk to her but I swear, if it is, I will hurt you first.”
    Her loud voice didn’t bother anyone on the street. It was bright and cold and the sun wouldn’t be up for a while. For a moment, I considered a call to mother’s room, giving her a “howdy do, I’m bringing home a psycho like you.” But what was the point. It would be less dangerous to introduce them, saying, “Patty, Lydia Lee Sanchez, my mother.”
    And that’s exactly what I did. And mother’s reaction was the best. She stared at Patty like she was sour cheesecake. “My God,” Patty said, “I am the biggest fan, I mean, I am that and I am also a critic who thinks you are as important as Toni Morrison.”
    “Come in,” mother said, “I want you to hear this.”
    Raul stood by the window that let in the light of Vegas.
    “Que Pasa, Raul,” I said, and he tightened up.
    “That’s enough,” mother said.
    Patty sat on the sofa near the window and I sat next to her. Mother joined Raul. His hand went to her ass and he squeezed it. In his glaring eyes, he was telling me he would die for the flesh he was rubbing.
    “I just talked to your father and told him it was over and he said he knew that when he couldn’t find the jumpsuit.”
    “It’s here,” Raul said, and he growled a little. I had a hard time disliking Raul’s fever. It was so flattering to mother.
    “I’m going to write my next book at Raul’s,” she announced.
    Patty couldn’t contain herself. She brought her trembling hands together. “If there’s anything, call me, please, I want to be part of the first draft.”
    Mother’s jumpsuit was sparkling. Her beauty was fierce and her words stung me.
    “You don’t have a say in this.”
    “I know,” I said, remembering the five hundred bucks dad had given me, which I knew was cash to get home. “Is there anything else?”
    My voice was dry and disappointed. Mother had tears in her eyes and I couldn’t tell if she was feeling sorry for me or relieved because of her decision. I got tears in my eyes and so did Raul. The silence was that long and strange.
    “I hope there’s more,” Patty whispered, and I took her hand and squeezed it. §

    M. Frias May writes from his home in Cambria. He can be reached at

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    Washing windows across America: A bug you can't see

    Who ever heard of a bug you can’t see? It had to be a Texas myth. I locate the pinching pain and watch as a slight pinkish bump emerges then blooms into a red dot. The itching comes on fiercely and I oblige it with my nails. I was no longer in denial about the noseeums.

    Photo illustration by Stacey Warde

    Noseeum mayhem in an Austin downpour
    (episode 18)

    By Ben Leroux

    The October drizzle in Cedar Park, Texas, begins so harmlessly that I, and the furniture storeowner whose windows I clean, shrug it off.
    While she is outside paying me, I reach down and scratch at three pin-sized lesions I’d been working on for a few days. They itched like crazy. I show them to her and ask her what they might be about.
    “They might be fleas,” she says examining my sandaled feet. “Or mites of some kind–chiggers possibly. Have you checked for fleas?”
    “I know what a flea looks like,” I tell her. “And I haven’t seen any fleas in my car. These are different from fleabites, though I admit there are similarities.”
    “Uh-oh,” she says.
    “It might be noseeums.”
    The drizzle picks up and I look out into the parking lot where the Plymouth’s windows are down. I take my money and run through the heavy gray mist.
    “Noseeums, you say?” I yell from the Plymouth.
    “Yes,” she yells. “A noseeum is a bug you cain’t see!”
    It’s a 10-minute drive into Austin. I was looking forward to Austin. It was supposed to be a Texas oasis of diversity and liberalism filled with freethinking, pot-smoking musicians and college students. Though I couldn’t complain about the syrupy politeness of the Texas panhandle, it had, like syrup does, gotten sticky.
    Just inside the Austin city limits, the drizzle becomes a warm slashing rain, and fog spreads across the inside of the windows, making the only thing visible a Target parking lot to my left. For refuge, I turn in. Inside, the air is cool and dry and there’s a Starbuck’s.
    Paying for coffee, I reach down to scratch my bites, leaving red tracks flaring from the bloody little specks. I count five now–two on the right foot, one on the right ankle, and two more on the left shin.
    “Are you familiar with the noseeums?” I ask the barista. “I’m not from around here.”
    “Where’re you from?” she asks.
    “California.” I reach down for another irresistible clawing.
    “Just a minute.” She waits on the next person in line.
    I take my coffee out to a table. I figure I’ll sit down and make my window-washing plans for when the rain cleared, which should be any minute. My experience in Texas had been that rain never lasted long.
    The barista comes out and heads directly for my table.
    “Seriously, have you ever heard of these things?” I say, tearing at the misery once more.
    “Did you know Houston is the dirtiest city in the United States?” she says. “The whole yew-ni-ted-states.” She looks nauseated. “It’s his own damn city, you know.”
    “Whose?” I say, groaning and raking and digging in between sips.
    “Whose do you think? Our so-called president. I don’t even like to say his name, I hate ‘im so much.” She leaves me and waits on another customer.
    I drink quickly, wondering why she had come on to me so strong about Bush then remember I had mentioned California.
    “Can you tell me how he lets his own city become the filthiest in the country? Can you tell me that?” She is standing over me again.
    I don’t have an answer for her. I mainly wanted to know about the noseeums. She walks away in a dudgeon.
    The itching starts to abate as I finish my coffee. I head for the door, expecting clear skies. There was still time to go deeper into Austin, make some money, eat Texas chili, then find some live music to listen to, Austin being the live music capital of the world.
    But when the automatic doors slide open, a scalding gust of wet air is there. The rain has become a hot, tropical downpour and the asphalt hisses with a rising white vapor. I spot the Plymouth out at the far edge of the parking lot, and make a run for it.
    Out in the Plymouth I lay back and try to dry off while counting the minutes and window-washing dollars tick away. Even though it was early afternoon, I could still probably make about 80 dollars once I got into the city.
    The rain though never lets up.
    Instead, it steadies throughout the afternoon and evening and builds with a doom that seeps into every pore of Austin.
    More troubling, additional bites surface every hour or so—angry red dots in various stages of mayhem. At times I try to inspect the foot of my bedding for fleas, chiggers, or mites, but such efforts result only in profuse perspiration. It’s better to just lay back, let the things eat away, and hope for a breeze.

    I rise into a flood of my own sweat, as the nonstop downpour hammers the Plymouth and drowns the Target parking lot. The air is hotter and danker than yesterday. I give the bites a vigorous scratching. There are new ripe ones. The old ones are open sores now. I have a good set on both legs–six or more on each, trios on each forearm, and a single one on the back of the right hand.
    I feel a nibble coming on, and bring my ankle up to my eyes. I hold it there in a yoga posture and observe. Who ever heard of a bug you can’t see? It had to be a Texas myth. I locate the pinching pain and watch as a slight pinkish bump emerges then blooms into a red dot. The itching comes on fiercely and I oblige it with my nails. I was no longer in denial about the noseeums.
    There’s some clatter outside, so I wipe away a looking-hole on the fogged glass.
    A few feet away, over a salvo of manic curses, a Target employee fights with a stream of shopping carts. This far out, he probably thinks he is alone. He obviously doesn’t know anyone is in the old fogged-up Plymouth.
    Violently, this kid, who looks about 17, tries to force stubborn carts into the back ends of others. If he just lined them up, he could probably slide them in, but it is clear he hates the carts and that his foremost intentions toward them are abusive.
    For the next five minutes I watch the kid do battle with the plastic-metal carts. Between half-hearted attempts to fit them together, he heinously batters them. He turns them on their sides and kicks them. He jumps atop them and drives his heels into them. He sends them hydroplaning through dirty puddles toward curbs where they jump over into grassy sloughs. Ankle-deep in murk, he rescues them. I get a good look at the kid. He has uneasy dark eyes covered by wet, black bangs. The nametag under his clear poncho says KYLE. Kyle’s not like the other kids in Texas.
    He continues the beating. He rams the carts into steel poles at different angles. He does all this with a flat, malicious grin. He laughs at the scorching rain that fires into his eyes and mouth. He stops only when he hears the creak of the Plymouth drivers-side door.
    “What’s up?” I say, standing outside the Plymouth. I nod at him.
    Kyle’s black eyes glare me down. He lifts his upper lip in a hateful snarl. I look away and walk widely around him on my way to the store.
    The bites cool as I walk the aisles of Target. I try to forget about the rain, the bites, the weekend ahead. I wonder about Kyle. I kind of liked him. His hatred for the carts was inspiring. He probably also hated his job, and conformity in general. If his relationship with the carts was any indication, he might actually go through life as an individual. He probably wouldn’t make it through the week at Target though.
    When I get back outside, Kyle is under the storefront shelter with a supervisor. The supervisor has a hand on Kyle’s shoulder, and is counseling him. Kyle hides his eyes under his dripping bangs and looks down. Surely he is being fired.
    But no, Kyle’s been given another chance. He sprints out ahead of me and into the rain and with civility, begins gathering carts. The supervisor stands under the shelter, arms folded, watching.

    The rain continues to bludgeon Austin, or at least the square quarter-mile of gray, wet muddlement nature had sequestered me to. It’s while exploring this area, venturing blindly across the highway, that I find a Barnes & Noble bookstore. It’s a serendipitous discovery to say the least–a place I can now lounge around in reading and forgetting about my thinning pockets and my impending starvation if the rain doesn’t quit soon. But it’s also where I make a grim mistake.
    I pick up a magazine from a coffee table. I read a couple pages. Some futuristic foolishness about how robotics will soon be making our human lives easier, safer, and healthier, along with warnings that we were becoming overly dependent on technology. It was your basic science-geek reading material.
    I guess I read a little too much. I guess I look at one too many photos. I don’t know what happens, but I get carried away. I find myself amongst the geeks and nerds, ransacking the aisles of Science and Technology, in the throes of something resembling an anxiety attack.
    Near closing time, I stand inside the front door of Barnes & Noble and look out. I look out into the black rain, searching for the Plymouth, searching for a perspective, trying to climb out of a canyon of existential despair. The future looked bad. The reading had gotten to me.
    Outside, the obtuse darkness pelts me with savage gushes of steamy Texas rain–the hardest yet.
    I find that I’ve left the front passenger window down. The carpet and the foot of the bed are sodden marshes now. For the noseeums, who evidently thrived in such conditions, it was something to be happy about–it was their day again.

    You couldn’t really predict that one day we’d become robots, because that one day was already here. It was already in motion. There were already artificial limbs and organs, and there was cosmetic surgery. It was already possible to move human limbs with computer keystrokes, and to manipulate computers with human thought. Observed as a species, we behaved and consumed tastelessly and robotically, with communication devices affixed to the ears and thumbs. Soon there would be a chip in the iris or the skull to take their place. Something like the Internet would be on that chip. They say the change is coming on so rapidly that we won’t survive it. It seems we’ve done ourselves in with our hard-on for immortality. We’ve fucked ourselves, basically. I can’t say I’m sad about it, just disappointed that we will go down to the robots. I always thought we’d go down in some fiery cataclysmic blaze.
    In the steamy Plymouth I sit and picture our last days. I’m too depressed to go back to Barnes & Noble, though I know I will later on.
    I try for a nap. But with the sluggish humidity, it is a waste of time. I have a jar of dill pickles, some slices of processed cheese, and packets of Burger King ranch dressing.
    I wrap a cheese slice around a pickle and squirt ranch dressing onto it. It’s not so bad, but I’m down to about three pickles, so I ration, and lay back with my shirt off, eating, and watching the constellations of stinging red beacons spread across the forelegs.
    They have a nice home now, the noseeums. The swamp at foot of the bed will be there for a while. Warmth and moisture and blood appear to be the ideal environment for their breeding and gnashing.
    Desperate for cool air, I get out and head for Target. Maybe I hadn’t looked down all the aisles. Maybe there were some things I could look at longer, like candles or fishing gear or stereos or office supplies or bathroom fixtures or party favors. I wonder if Target security is suspicious about me.
    I spot Kyle up near the front. He is going apeshit on another shopping cart. He is whirling it in circles like an Olympic hammer-thrower. When he gets a good circular force up, he releases it and watches it skid across the slimy asphalt. He does this dangerously close to cars and I can’t help but think that today is Kyle’s last day at Target. Kyle could not be reformed.
    With a twinkle in his eyes, Kyle watches the cars dodge him and rush swiftly away.
    One of the carts slides to a halt in front of a moving car and the driver lays on the horn, waiting for Kyle to come clear the way. Kyle goes and stands next to his slain cart and faces the driver. He sticks his neck out in a challenging gesture and waits for the driver to make the next move.

    As the rain continues to saturate Austin, I move on to advanced books on the future. I’m looking for a silver lining to the uprising of robots and the demise of us humans as we and they become one.
    There’s the photo of the mutant with wires coursing through his translucent goldfish-orange skull. The wires look chillingly similar human veins. There’s the chrome-plated robot constructing its own human face using human tools. Next are miniature computers the size of dust mites–tiny noseeums of computers, if you will, capable of floating invisibly in clouds and monitoring the whereabouts of anything anywhere anytime.
    Book after book, I search for a good ending—a “but.” But there were no “buts,” as far as I could tell. It all makes me want to go back to the sweltering Plymouth.
    Then some life. A young coed in a burnt orange Texas Longhorn T-shirt and blue jeans takes the chair beside me and drops an armload of 20 fashion magazines on the floor. She slips off her flip-flops and tucks her legs under her butt. She has cute nubby brown toes with hot-pink nails. With each page she turns, she sends me whiffs of her perfume and the sweet, grape bubble gum she chews.
    She scans through the stack in about 15 minutes, slips back on the flip-flops, smiles at me, and leaves. I look at her pile of used magazines and scratch my bites.

    Feeling catatonic. A possible breakdown. Hard to breathe. Days spent transporting myself and the noseeums from Target to Barnes & Noble and back. The rain bombards now in big sloppy, schizophrenic cupfulls. Rolled-up windows are suicide. I lay back and let the water splatter me and the inside of the Plymouth. I have no feelings about it. In a few minutes I’ll drive to the highway, point the Plymouth toward Barnes & Noble, wait until I think there’s no cars coming, and gun it into the gray and hope I make it.

    The last of the pickle-cheese wraps are gone. They are also good with ketchup or taco sauce. I’m now officially out of non-perishables but I have 60 cents left.
    It’s also been two days since I’ve seen Kyle. He’s been fired, I’m sure. Congratulations, Kyle. Use the time wisely. Read Bukowski, smoke weed, sit under a tree and write poetry, fuck girls, buy a squeegee or a paint-roller or a lawnmower or something–but never ever come back to this fucking Target.
    I wish I’d been more like you when I was your age. But they got to me early, hooked me into the machine. It wasn’t until my thirties that the bullshit started to clear. There’s hope for you though, Kyle. There’s hope.

    Delirium. A bag of potato chips (sour cream and onion). Rain constant. Bad Dreams. Trying to find enough breath to sleep. So what if I couldn’t? I wonder if Willie Nelson is performing in Austin.
    As far as the passing of man into robot, it was starting to make perfect evolutionary sense to me. All any creature wanted was to live forever, and soon we would. Souls and nerves replaced with chips and wires. No more angst, no more delusions of afterlife. A technological rapture would be our salvation. Even the noseeums wanted their turn on the ladder. Look how ferociously they ate and multiplied–getting stronger, bigger, shooting for the top. Why shouldn’t they?

    I wake with an unexplained inner peace, though nothing about the weather had changed, and the noseeums nibbled away like never before. I guess I’d accepted them as hungry little traveling companions. I’m not sweating, and the grumbling in my stomach is gone. I sit for a couple hours in sublime tranquility. Maybe it would all end here at the Austin Target.
    What snaps me out of it is a warm breeze that’s been blowing through the Plymouth for some time, and the absence of the sound of falling rain.
    I get out into the sauna-like conditions and shake out my soggy bedding. Except for my returning hunger, and a need to urinate, the ordeal was over. I make one last hike toward Target.
    Up ahead I see Kyle. His supervisor is showing him how to work a remote control for a contraption on wheels that fits into the back of the line of shopping carts.
    As the short black box chugs the carts along, Kyle runs up ahead and guides them toward the front door.
    “Like this?” I hear him say to his supervisor, his face bright with a ghostly luster. His bangs are shorter.
    “Yes, that’s it,” says his supervisor. “That’s the way, Kyle.”
    At the front door, Kyle looks up from his carts and smiles at me, and with clear eyes and pure white teeth says: “Good morning sir, welcome to Target.” §

    Ben Leroux writes from a motel room in Morro Bay, and still plies his trade as a window washer. He can be reached by email at Read more of his "Washing Windows Across America" series here:

  • Evicted From Wal-Mart (episode 9)
  • Santa Fe Pride (episode 10)
  • Leaving Las Vegas (episode 11)
  • Tucumcari: End of the mother road (episode 12)
  • Clovis ain't Texas (episode13)
  • Welcome to Muleshoe (episode 14)
  • Dry times in Lubbock (episode 15)
  • Zen and the art of messing with Texas (episode 16)
  • Directions from Texas (episode 17)

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    Rogue of the month: Long John Gallagher

    The black Irish smoldered in his dark eyes, a scary sight indeed, and I braced myself for his coming over the bar. Instead, his eyes clouded over, his face went slack, and he collapsed to the floor.

    Photo by Stacey Warde

    Like a barnacle He worked the high seas and the docks when Morro Bay was a thriving fishing port, and hung out in Happy Jack’s Saloon with a crew of roughnecks.

    Long John Gallagher: Beached pirate

    By Dell Franklin

    Long John Gallagher, who doesn’t wear a ring in his ear, and doesn’t carry a cutlass but looks like he should, worked as a deckhand for many a fishing captain in Morro Bay for many a year. He had, and still has, the aura of a crusty old sea dog, though the fishing industry that once employed him is all but dried up. He worked the high seas and the docks when Morro Bay was a thriving fishing port, and hung out in Happy Jack’s Saloon with a crew of roughnecks with names like “Dirty Ernie,” “Badass Van,” “Two-Beer,” and Ray “One-eyed Pitbull” Stanley, for whom he once worked.
    Stanley’s policy and strategy with John, was to make sure he “lived” on the boat so he was assured John would be there in the morning to go back out to sea after a brutal binge during which close to a grand was blown, and his hangover was a death rattle. Stanley, who was usually hung over, too, and in Happy Jack’s with John, but slept in a nearby motel had no mercy for hung over deckhands.
    Now, if the captain didn’t keep Long John on the boat, there was no telling where he might end up. On Pancho the Pool Player’s floor? In Sally the Sea Hag’s bed? On the floor of somebody else’s motel room?
    Under an upside-down dingy on the beach? Or, goddammit, on the pool table in Happy Jack’s, where the owner, Dave Tope, found him when arriving at eight in the morning to count last night’s receipts?
    “Get up, John, and make us some coffee!” Mr. Tope would say. “And try not to break anything back there.”
    “OK, boss.”
    “You didn't kill anybody last night, did you, John?”
    “No, boss. Not that I know of.”
    “Did somebody try to kill you? You don’t look so hot.”
    John, rubbing his teeth, checking his face, would usually say, “Maybe somebody tried, boss. Or maybe I tried.”
    Later on, after checking his empty pockets, and serving Dave coffee in his office, he hit him up for a twenty, and Dave always gave it to him, because John was good for it, and a man had to eat.

    I first met Mr. Gallagher as a bartender at Happy Jack’s—last of the Pier 6 fishermen’s dives on the West Coast. I worked there from 1991 until 1999. I met Mr. Gallagher in 1991, early on. He’d just come off a trip. It was very late of a weeknight. He and a fellow deckhand were very drunk. They wore pea coats, watch caps, dungarees, smelly boots. They held each other up. I’d been warned about Gallagher. He was built tall and lanky like Clint Eastwood, and had the facial intimidation of Jack Palance.
    “Gimme a goddamn drink!” he demanded.
    “I don't think so. You’ve been over-served, pal.”
    “Over-served. Bullshit! I’ll come back there and kick your ass. Now gimme a goddamn drink!”
    The black Irish smoldered in his dark eyes, a scary sight indeed, and I braced myself for his coming over the bar. Instead, his eyes clouded over, his face went slack, and he collapsed to the floor. I ran around the bar. His burly pal and I lifted him to his feet and settled him on a stool.
    “You can’t fight me if you’re passed out,” I said.
    “I didn’t pass out. I got a bum knee.”
    “Bullshit. You blacked out, fell down.”
    He tried to stand, but began listing, so we sat him back down. He flashed a mean, conniving grin. “I’d still like that drink.”
    “OK, we’ll do one together.”

    Gallagher was more than a regular. When he wasn’t fishing, Happy Jack’s was his home, central headquarters, his social life. He used the pay phone, ate his meals from various Mexican restaurants, a burger joint, and the nearby liquor store, in the bar. When he had money, he loaned it out liberally, and when he was broke, he borrowed. He had many friends and acquaintances in the fishing fraternity from Morro Bay to the Pacific Northwest. Fishermen take care of each other, and they quarrel. Gallagher kept getting in fights. I got weary of dealing with him. One night somebody blindsided him and cracked him up pretty good. The paramedics came, and then the police. Gallagher, who’d done serious prison time, and had the tattoos to show for it, is not a friend of cops, though he tried to be. He refused that night to go to the emergency room in San Luis Obispo for stitches and an X-ray to see if he had any brain cells left. And he wouldn’t press charges.
    “But the guy hit you in the head with a pool cue and brained you with a pool ball,” the cop said. “That’s an attack with a deadly weapon, Mr. Gallagher.”
    Gallagher shrugged while the paramedics worked on him. Finally, they all left. “Why didn’t you press charges?” I asked John. “The guy could’ve killed you.”
    “Fisherman’s code,” he explained, matter-of-fact. “I’ll get the sonofabitch back, when he least expects it. I’ve done the same to guys, and got revenged back. Fisherman's code…hey, gimme a drink!”
    I finally found the right solution to control Gallagher. I made him doorman on all my shifts. The sense of responsibility possessed him. I paid him off in beer and shots of Jack. I had to rein him in a little or he’d drink the bar dry. When I did so he acted like a little boy whose mother scolded him for failing to take out the trash.
    “Look, John, if you do a good job, I promise to reward you at the end of the night.”
    “What kind of reward?” he inquired suspiciously.
    “I'll kiss you, honey.”
    The mean grin, not so conniving. “OK, darlin’.”

    One evening the bar was packed and we had Gallagher helping out washing glasses and serving draft beer. Both of us drunk. One thing led to another, and the next thing, we were fighting. During a lull, I said, “John, you’re too drunk to hurt me without a weapon, and I’m too drunk to hurt you without a weapon, so get the fuck out from be-hind this bar before I take the Galleano bottle to you.”
    He was thoroughly understanding of the situation, as was the fleet of fishermen in the bar, and later, after closing, in the wee hours, everybody gone, we talked it over, I think, did some shots and brews, among other items, a final bonding of rogue outlaws. Both of us were unmarked from the fisticuffs.

    John’s social skills as doorman were something to behold. Five years in prison for grand theft, burglary and possession gave him a keen insight into violent troublemakers, an ability to persuade instead of confront, a propensity to win the confidence of and make friends with the worst perpetrators. He could talk down a serial killer.
    Fishermen from as far away as Washington came all the way to Happy Jack’s with the specific purpose of getting in a fight, perhaps going to jail, because they’d been in fights in every fisherman’s dive bar from San Diego to Alaska. He shook their hands, talked fishing, steered them to girls. John knew all the girls—the biker molls, sea hags, the occasional looker, the random hooker. He never paid. To the most woebegone and downtrodden of female, he was big brother buddy, shrink, sometime bunk-mate.
    “What about marriage, John?”
    “Nah. Tried it long ago. Didn’t work. Unfixed tomcats shouldn’t get married.”
    “You never fight over the girls, do you?"
    “Nah, they fight over me. Only time I fight over women is when somebody fucks with them.”
    “A gentleman pirate, then?”
    “Yeah, I like that.”
    “You started out in a white neighborhood down south…then went to prison…how’d you survive as a twenty-year-old?”
    “I hung with the right crowd. I didn’t necessarily agree with them, but it was a matter of race, and in prison, that’s protection.”
    “You’ve come a long way from the white suburbs. Think, if you’d stuck around, you might be selling real estate and living in a faux mansion of sorts?”
    The mean, conniving grin. “That would be boring.”
    “Are you rehabilitated?”
    “Hell no. I probably should’ve gone back to jail a few times, but I was lucky, and smart, and now I’m finished with the drinking and the other bullshit. I’m a gentleman ranch hand, living a quiet life in the back country of Morro Bay. Things are good.”
    “What about your favorite bar, Happy Jack’s?”
    “Too clean for me now. And all my buddies are gone. A whole bunch of them died at sea, or drank themselves to death. Me, I’m like a goddamn barnacle. They just can’t get rid of me.” §

    Dell Franklin is publisher of The Rogue Voice. He can be reached at Meet some of our previously featured "rogues" here:
  • Mandy Davis
  • Casimir Pulaski
  • Jim Ruddell
  • Steve Tross
  • Lori Lynn Melton

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