Early that afternoon Al was disturbed by an insistent knocking on the door of his room.
“Wake up, Al!” hollered BJ. “I damn near forgot!”
“Forgot what?” muttered Al sleepily, for after the events of the previous night and morning, he had only just gotten to sleep.
“Clothes, man!” replied BJ. “We’ve got to get you some clothes. Can’t have you working at a classy joint like The Last Resort looking like a street person. What will the customers think? Fortunately there’s a little uniform shop just up the street where we can get you fixed up for practically nothing. Guy that owns the place owes me a favor.”
“Oh, all right!” Al reluctantly dressed in his old clothes and allowed BJ to lead him where he would.
So it was that when Al and BJ returned to the bar at about three that afternoon, Al was attired properly yet resplendently in a white dress shirt, tight black pants, polished black leather shoes, and a little red bow tie (which BJ had insisted upon).
“Now then,” began BJ, when he had made sure that Al was dressed to his satisfaction. “We open the bar at four in the afternoon and close at two in the morning. Can’t stay open later than that, it’s the law. All you have to do is serve the drinks, wash the glasses, bus the tables and booths, keep the bar polished, empty the ashtrays, and in your spare time make sparkling, witty conversation with the customers (though God knows the people we’ve been getting lately wouldn’t know wit from shit).” He took a deep breath and proceeded before Al could say a word. “I’ll stay with you for a couple of hours to make sure you’ve got the hang of things. I’ve also got to teach you how to hook up a keg and get it to drawin’ good.” He looked Al up and down. “With your build you should have no trouble wrestlin’ the kegs out from the back and hookin’ ‘em up. Other than that, just keep the bar stocked with liquor and bottled beer. And no smokin’ or drinkin’ on duty (at least till I know you better).” He ducked down under the bar and came up with a large hardbound book. “And, oh yes, just in case some bozo brings in a fancy broad who wants one o’ those trendy mixed drinks, here’s the bartender’s friend, The Complete Guide to Making Popular Mixed Drinks.” He handed it to Al. “I’ll come back at eight or nine and give you an hour’s dinner break, and then it’s all yours until one forty-five when you give last call.”
He paused again for breath, then nudged Al slyly in the ribs. “You do remember the Cry of the Wounded Innkeeper, don’t you Al?”
“You Don’t Have to Go Home, But You Can’t Stay Here,” intoned Al with a straight face.
“Fantastic!” enthused BJ. “Then just kick out the rowdies at two o’clock sharp or the ABC—that’s the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board to you—will have my ass. Any questions?”
“I don’t think so,” replied Al thoughtfully. “It all seems quite logical—serve the drinks, serve the customers, and you will serve the bar.”
“That’s what I like to hear, Al!” exclaimed BJ, jovially clapping him on the back. “Now let’s go crank up the security gate and let the lost souls in. I’ve got to warn you, some of these guys are pretty far-gone alkies, so don’t serve ‘em if they’ve obviously had enough. We can get in trouble for that. And if they start any trouble, don’t fuck around. Get rid of ‘em. Do what you have to do but remember, callin’ the cops is absolutely the last resort. Remember, if we leave the cops alone, they’ll leave us alone.”
With that warning, BJ went to the front of the bar, Al following. He then took a couple of keys from a large key ring and unlocked and rolled up the security gate. He gave the key ring to Al and told him to go back behind the bar. When Al had positioned himself, BJ called out loudly to the crowd of middle-aged men gathered outside. “First call for alcohol! First man up to the bar gets his first drink on the house, seein’ as I’m in a good mood today!”
Instantly some six or eight seedily-dressed alkies made a mad rush for the bar, nearly trampling BJ in the process, pushing and shoving their way inside the swinging saloon doors like a bunch of housewives at the opening of a Macy’s White Flower Day sale.
“Who won, Al?” asked BJ when the dust had finally settled.
“I believe it was this gentleman,” said Al, pointing to a small man in a grimy sleeveless undershirt with a naked lady tattooed on one hairy shoulder.
“Ah, Shorty,” said BJ approvingly. “Haven’t lost none of your cunning, have you?”
“Not when there’s a free drink at stake,” replied that worthy. “I goes atween their legs afore they can make a move.”
Everyone laughed as BJ ceremonially poured Shorty his free drink—a boilermaker—and then Al took drink orders from the rest of them while BJ bade him farewell for now, saying he would return at about eight. Al surveyed the six serious drinkers seated around the bar and sighed. “All right,” he offered. “I’m Al. Let’s get acquainted.”
During the next few hours Al had made the acquaintance of Shorty McPugh, ex part-time night watchman now full-time tippler, and more of his ilk. By the time BJ returned, Al had listened to enough of their hard-luck stories to give him food for thought on his dinner break.
About the time Al was being so rudely awakened by BJ, Simona Wing was lying languorously abed in her room at The Madhouse, the artists’ commune at Page and Fillmore. She herself was just beginning to awaken and contemplate the possibilities of the day ahead after the rigors of the night before.
“Phew!” she thought to herself, gingerly twisting her neck one way and then the other. “I could sure use a good massage to work out the kinks. Dancing déshabille for a bunch of crazed frat boys is no bed of roses! But how else could a girl like me make a month’s income in three or four nights?”
Suddenly there was a loud knocking at the door.
“Simona!” cried out an agitated voice. “Are you in there? Are you awake yet?”
“I am now!” she retorted with some irritation. “Tim, is that you? Then get the hell in here and make yourself useful!”
The door opened hesitantly and Tim slowly walked in. He was big, but somewhat too soft and fleshy for a man only in his early 30’s. At six-foot two he towered nearly a foot over Simona, but his manner toward her was conciliatory, almost subservient.
He sat down heavily on the bed and let Simona run her fingers through his thinning blonde hair.
“Uh-uh,” she said, pressing a finger to his lips. “Don’t say a word, at least not yet. You may massage me here and here.” She pointed to her shoulders and back as she began slipping off the delicate oriental nightgown which was her only garment. As Tim began gently but firmly massaging her shoulders with his large but sensitive hands, Simona began to moan and squirm with pleasure.
“Ah,” she breathed. “That’s more like it! Now, why did you come over here so early anyway? You know I had an engagement last night.”
“I know,” said Tim contritely, “and I wouldn’t have bothered you, but I’ve got problems.” He stopped abruptly and looked at her questioningly, as if wondering how best to proceed.
“Well, go on, then,” she encouraged him.
“OK, it’s like this.” Determination clouded his face. “You remember that lighting design I did for the Fault Line Theater in September? For that West Coast premier that was supposed to be such a blockbuster? Well, the show bombed and now the theater is in the throes of ‘administrative reorganization’. I can’t even find out if the Artistic Director still works there because nobody’s returning my calls. Consequently, I haven’t been paid and consequently I’m short of the rent. Today’s the second day of the month and that bastard realty company that manages my building starts charging interest on the third. Ten percent per day. I figured that since you worked last night you…”
“Tim, Tim, Tim.” Simona shook her head. “I’m disappointed in you. If I’ve told you once I’ve told you a thousand times—get the money up front, at least part of it. How many times have you been stiffed this year?”
Tim hung his head. “I’ve lost count, Simona. But it’s not all my fault. Designing is the only thing I’m really good at, but jobs are hard to come by even in the best of times. And now that these arts budget cutbacks are getting really serious, it would be professional suicide to lose a job over something as petty as mere money.”
“And real suicide to be without ‘mere money’,” mused Simona. She turned to him and said with an air of resignation, “All right, Tim, how much this time?”
“If you could just let me have a hundred I’d be all squared away,” said Tim, now starting to work on her lower back. “That is, if you can spare it. How did you do last night?”
“Oh, it was wild!” she said with a lascivious grin. “You wouldn’t believe some of the things they wanted me to do. And me just a poor naïve little girl from Minneapolis. Why, one of the guys, I think he was the captain of the football team…”
“Spare me the details.” Tim groaned and clapped his hands over his ears. “I don’t want to hear about it. Just tell me, did you make any money?”
“Of course I did, silly, and I was thinking about you the whole time. It’s the only thing that keeps me sane. So yes, I can spare a hundred.” She turned around and looked him in the eye. “But you’ve got to do something for me in return.”
“Anything, Simona. You know your wish is my command,” he said with relief, now starting to massage other parts of her as well.
“Not there!” giggled Simona, again squirming under his touch. “But on second thought, now that you’ve brought up the subject, so to speak, it wouldn’t be such a bad idea. But first things first,” she said seriously. “I’ve also got something to tell you. Last night, or rather early this morning, when I got home, who did I see standing out in front of The Madhouse deep in conversation but Rick and Wanda! You remember them, don’t you? Rick the Relic, world’s oldest hippie, and Wanda, winner of fine wet tee-shirt contests everywhere? I wonder what they see in each other. But anyway, Wanda started dishing the dirt about what’s going on at Rick’s favorite downtown dive, The Last Resort. It seems they’ve got a new bartender who’s not only so hunky you wouldn’t believe it, but also some kind of mystery man as well. Rick seems to think he’s some sort of guru. And Wanda, well, she’s in love again! So I told her I’d meet her down there this evening and I want you to drive me down in that big stupid car of yours. Then we’ll all go to the bar and have a few drinks. That’ll give you the opportunity to scope him out and talk to him sort of guy-to-guy. Then later you can give me the man’s opinion. Obviously, Rick’s doesn’t count. So, will you do it?”
“Sure, I’ll drive you down. I’ll even talk to the guy, what can it hurt? But do me two favors, Simona.” There was a hurt look on his face.
“What?” she responded, a little surprised at his reaction.
“First, don’t insult my car. I know it’s big, but I can’t fit in a Honda.”
“Oh, OK,” she said grudgingly. “I was half-kidding anyway.”
“And second,” he continued. “Don’t go flirting with this guy, you know how it makes me feel.”
“Don’t worry, Tim. Wanda’s got him all staked out. But it never hurts to look, does it?”
“Come on, don’t you know when I’m kidding?” She turned to him with closed eyes and pursed her lips. “You may kiss me now, you fool!”
And Tim did, without another word, and they both fell giggling onto the bed and didn’t get up for a long, long while.
By the time Al had returned from his dinner break and relieved BJ for the night, he had made a decision. He looked around the bar in dismay. BJ had been right about the quality of his customers. Through a thick haze of cigarette smoke he could see twenty or thirty people, mostly men, middle aged or older. Most were conversing halfheartedly to one or two of their companions at the dozen or so tables and booths scattered around the large single room that comprised the public area of The Last Resort. The tone was predominantly that of depression and impotent, unfocused complaint. Though it was only a little after nine, a few of the older and drunker were already face down on the table, having given up on reality for the night.
He quickly put on his apron, walked behind the bar and began clearing away the empties. The six barstools were filled by the same customers who had rushed in at the opening of the bar five hours ago. They were clearly there for the long haul. “Listen up, gentlemen,” he addressed them briskly. They looked up in surprise and immediately fell silent. “No matter what happens in the next few minutes, I want you to remain in your seats.” As they mumbled their agreement, Al came out from behind the bar and walked purposefully in the direction of the swinging saloon doors where a nondescript man was just entering. Without hesitation, Al walked up to him and whispered something in the man’s ear. As Al walked back toward the bar, the man began to speak in a loud voice.
“Hey, you bums!” he harangued the crowd. “What are you doin’ in this crummy rat hole? C’mon with me, they got a place at Sixth and Mission just opened up. Clean and comfortable and they got a grand opening special—two for one all night! What do you guys say, are ya with me?”
A loud cheer arose from the bar’s denizens. Within a couple of minutes even the unconscious patrons had been awakened by their compadres, and the bar had completely emptied out except for Al and his six regulars seated at the bar.
Without a word, Al walked over to the entrance, lowered the steel security gate and locked it from within. As he returned to the bar, the six men looked at him with apprehension.
“Uh, what’s goin’ on here, Al?” ventured a fat balding man whose name was Louie. He was wiping his perspiring face with a dirty handkerchief.
“Never mind that,” said Al dismissively. “Gentlemen, if you will listen to me for ten minutes, your next drink will be on the house.”
In spite of themselves, the men all cheered this announcement, for no matter what was going to happen, a free drink was, after all, a free drink.
After all the drinks had been poured, Al stood up on a stool behind the bar. When he had their complete attention he began. “Gentlemen, I want you all to think about why you are here tonight, why you are here every night, and what your lives would be like if you used all this time and money to your advantage, instead of wasting it here on things that only depress you further.”
No one spoke. The men sat sipping their drinks with various expressions of disbelief and horror on their faces. As they sipped, Al continued. “Each one of you has had some disappointment, some tragedy in his life that has brought him to this place and time. I want each of you to go home and decide what to do with your life. Then come back at four o’clock tomorrow afternoon and tell me your plans. Your reward will be two drinks for the price of one. But you will receive two and only two. Then you will leave this place and do something with your lives for the rest of the evening and the following day. This policy will be in effect every day from four until six o’clock. We will call it ‘Attitude Adjustment Hour’. A sort of club, if you will.”
“But Al,” pointed out Shorty. “Some of us guys haven’t drawed a sober breath in years. How do you know we won’t just go to another bar? There’s a whole mess of ‘em in this town, you know.”
Al looked at Shorty pointedly. “But you won’t. And it will be worth the sacrifice. Trust me,” he said, looking each man in the eye in turn. “Are there any more questions?” he concluded as he went over to the door and unlocked and raised the steel security gate.
They all shook their heads, finished their drinks, and filed out into the night. It was only ten o’clock and The Last Resort had never seemed so empty. Al calmly took off his apron and walked out the door, locking the steel gate behind him. He stood on the sidewalk for a moment listening to the sounds of the City at night.
“And now comes the tricky part,” he mused to himself. “Where can I find some younger paying customers who know how to have fun?”
He started walking up Howard Street toward the heart of the fashionable SoMa district. He entered every restaurant, nightclub, and bar in the vicinity, saying mysteriously to the first few people he saw: “Just opened. The Last Resort. First and Howard. Exotic drinks. Fabulous fun. Pass it on!”
And they did, too, all wanting to be one of the first to discover a new SoMa hot spot. So by the time Al got back to The Last Resort, about an hour later, a crowd of trendy fun addicts had already gathered around the place, peering in the windows and looking around anxiously for the doorman. Al pushed his way through the crowd, unlocked the security gate and rolled it up, revealing the old-fashioned wooden swinging saloon doors.
“Ooh!” squealed the crowd in unison, rushing inside. The fashionably dressed thrillseekers milled around the bar, closely examining the bare wooden tables and chairs, the red leather upholstered booths, and the scarred antique finish and polished brass rails of the bar itself.
“Oh, look,” exclaimed one spiky-haired leather-clad woman to her date. “How clever to decorate a bar with unfinished wood. It must be a new trend! Hey, there,” she called out to Al, who had just taken his place behind the bar and begun to serve drinks. “What do you call this style of décor?”
“I believe, madam,” said Al formally, “that the correct term is ‘nouveau-retro’.”
“Nouveau-retro?” she said with a puzzled look on her face. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of that before.”
Al looked her in the eye. “Trust me,” he said simply.
Her face cleared and she gave him an impish smile. “Then I just need two things. A margarita…and your phone number.”
© Cantara Christopher 2001, 2022