Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Don’t Tell Me I Can’t Fight in Here


by Daddy X

1980 was the beginning of a long-awaited “Golden Age” for Momma X and me. By the late 70’s her chronic illness, requiring twelve major surgeries over more than a decade, had finally abated to a point where we could both work. Her grandmother passed away, leaving enough, combined with our meager savings, for a down payment on what was possibly the least expensive house in Marin County, Ca. If we didn’t first dribble it away on BS.  

We bought the place we’re still living in, surviving on peanut butter sandwiches the first year, counting every dollar until tax write-offs from the various mortgages caught up. Our monthly payments, including 14.75% interest (yes, that’s how it was in 1981) came to $1500. Our rent-controlled apartment in San Francisco had cost us $275 a month.

Momma and I worked our asses off, limiting ourselves to $1.25 day apiece for ‘pocket money’. She had a production position at a small but prestigious publishing house in the city, requiring a three hour commute, five days a week. Me, at cooking and bartending jobs, sometimes juggling three gigs at once. I’d arrive at 8, prep and work the lunch rush, run home, take a nap, then go behind some bar till 2 A.M. I did that until settling into a “lounge” manager job at a bowling alley.

And what a lounge that was. Wow. I had already worked in North Beach San Francisco, thought I knew the ropes, but wasn’t ready for what I encountered at the bowl. Several motels in the area virtually rented by the hour. The sleeveless leather vest was de rigueur for both men and women. On weekends, some wore shirts underneath. I applied for the job at age 38, older than most of the clientele. The owner asked if my five-eight 160 pounds could handle such a wild, tough bunch.

I came back with something hubristic like: “I used to work North Beach! I’m smarter than these assholes. I’ll talk my way out of shit.” Two weeks later, I found myself carting a kicking, screaming nut case out the door over my shoulder. The owner still tells that story. I broke another guy’s ribs. 

A stranger to all, lots of them tried me at first. Some thought I was an undercover agent and had no reservations about telling me exactly what would happen if that were the case.

In a place like that, one has to be open to elusive standards of values. I met one guy who’d spent most of his life behind bars. He told me: “All the good people are in prison, man. People in prison will do anything for you. They'll kill somebody for you.” I met another, just released after years inside for shooting his best friend. A local kid named “Spider”. He’d lurk in a dark corner with a beer and stare at people, not speaking to anyone. No one who’d known him from before trusted him. Another guy told me when he was bored in Nam, he and his buddies would pick off old men from a rise above a path. I told him to leave.

Not long after starting, I verbally broke up a fight. One of the participants turned on me. He must have gone at least 260, six foot three. He placed both hands on the bar, towering over me, looked straight in my eye and said: “Nobody tells me I can’t fight in here. I been fightin’ in here since I been eighteen. Nobody tells me I can’t fight in here. They like it when I fight in here. They tell me to fight.”

That evening, we talked. He wasn’t very bright. We became quite good friends.

Previous bartenders would stir up bullshit just so this heavyweight would blow his top and put on a show. They’d rile the poor guy up, then get off watching him clean somebody’s clock. Usually it was a Mexican or black guy. After we got to know each other, he admitted he didn’t like the way things went at the place, but I’m sure it made him feel in some way liked and useful.

The mix at the bowl was about 1/3 Mexican, 1/3 African-American, and 1/3 poor white trash. The whites (coupled with a strident racism) caused the most trouble. Bowlers out in the lanes were, for the most part reasonable, law-abiding folks. Very few would set foot in that bar. A security guard was essential in the parking lot, as well as in the building.

The daytime bartender hated Mexicans. Time after time, I told him he was going to get hurt. He needed to get on board with these guys. They were a big part of our business. He’d say, “Those fuckers? They’re scared of Immigration. They wouldn’t dare fuck with me.” He’d constantly insult the men coming in after work for a beer, assuming they didn’t speak English. I’d see him baiting them when I came on shift, offering not a lick of respect. One night after work he said goodbye to most of his teeth.

Within six months of taking over, the bar morphed into a much safer place, where I stayed for twelve years. I had business cards printed up: “Saloon Tamer”. Of course, nothing’s perfect, especially in that neighborhood. Incidents came and went for the duration.

Crack was a factor in the 80’s. I’d see young kids—girls—come on the scene, fifteen, sixteen years old. Fresh-faced and bouncy at first—burned out, selling blowjobs on the corner within a few months.  

I told the police about one obviously pregnant teenager. She was being pimped by a pimply fuck I wouldn’t allow in the bar. I asked a cop if he could do anything for her—she was so pitiful—maybe seventeen, looking forty. Cop said, “That cunt? Fuck her. Let her die out there for all I care.” Needless to say, these people weren’t on the cops’ priority list.

As the 80’s progressed, Momma and I made the best of our gradually improving wages. She made lots more than I in those years, enabling us to gamble on an antiques business in the latter part of the decade—working on my new career during the day, driving to trade shows on weekends—still doing week nights behind the plank. I finally quit the bar scene in ‘94 to deal in ancient and tribal art full-time. In 2000, I opened a gallery.

If the 80’s sound not all that “Golden”, considering where I worked, the difference was in Momma’s health. Aside from recurring ups and downs, it’s been pretty stable. That’s the difference. If we have our health, we have much to be grateful for.

We do what we need to do.


15 comments:

  1. Daddy:
    this seems like a real life version of the bar in Star Wars. People don't remember when interest rates were double digit. I had a double digit job on the first house I bought in 1978. Jeez. I think you prove the old thing about a bar tender being a practical and more effective psychotherapist. I often wonder what happened to the high flying people I met in Scottsdale in the 80's. Seems you've lived a good life an limited means-yes doing what you have to do.

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    1. In many cases, it's how we deal with life's ups and downs that makes the difference. Man is the *adaptable* animal.

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  2. "Saloon Tamer"! Great title for a story!

    How come I've never read anything by you set in that bowling alley? You've really brought it to life in this post.

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    1. Good question. Good suggestion. But I'll bet my characters Hank & Delbert hoisted a few there. ;>)

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    2. I'd be writing "Saloon Tamer" after my name for the rest of my life!

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  3. Daddy, I think you take the trophy for Most Colorful Life Lived! What experiences - my life seems so tame after reading your post.!

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    1. Considering your life in music, on the stage and cruise ships, your history sounds pretty swell to me!!!

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  4. Sounds like a great setting for a movie. I'm wondering who would play you, Daddy X. Jeff Bridges is too old now for an 80s version of you.

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    1. Well, he did do "The Big Lebowski" at a bowling alley. :>)

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    2. Yep, that's just what I was thinking of. But he's our age now, and looks it, which still makes for interesting movie work.

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  5. Sounds like you and Mama X are well-suited to each other. You've seen each other through all kinds of shit, and neither of you ran...you stayed. I'm always thrilled to talk to anyone who's been married longer than our 30 years. Gives me hope that this isn't a dream I'll wake up from some day, to find he's left me for 2 25-year olds.

    And wow! From food service, to bar-tending, to being a manager at a bowling alley, to owning your own art gallery? Like I said before, the folks on this site need to write their memoirs. You are an eclectic mix, but somehow all of you together works very well.

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    1. Thanks, Fiona. It's been a ride fer sher!

      As a matter of fact, we did live apart on two occasions. Once for year and a half. Neither of us had any time to be single because we've been together since high school. She ran off to New York with the director of a film she was working on. I went wild.

      If you'd like to see the types of things I handled in the gallery, check out the very last OGG post of 2013.

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  6. It's really interesting to consider the complicated calculations that had to have been involved in deciding when to talk and when to fight. It's also interesting what makes people declare someone "good" or not. The guy who told you all the good people were in jail was clearly thinking of goodness in terms of loyalty and favors, not in terms of having the value of not causing harm to others.

    I laughed out loud at the comment about this sounding like an Earth version of the Mos Eisley Cantina from Star Wars. Totally agree!

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    1. Reading people can be a fine art, especially when one has to react in the moment. I still can't eat at a restaurant in a seat where I can't see the door. Back to the wall. I need to see what's coming at me.

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  7. Daddy X, your posts about your life are always entertaining. I agree -- you need to continue writing,a nd someone needs to make a movie about your life.

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