A Morro Bay tavern lobotomy

Dell Franklin behind the bar in the 90s

Editor’s Note: The following series of tales from behind the bar, “Happy Jacks Saloon: The Last Morro Bay Fisherman’s Dive,” to be posted bi-weekly includes the notes, thoughts, and opinions of an original American voice: author Dell Franklin. The following snippet from the past was written in the 90s, years before the politically correct atmosphere of today.


Tanya and Trudie lurk just outside the back door of cavernous, sewage-reeking Happy Jack’s, leveling me with malevolent eyes and at the same time trying to get Hubie’s attention along the bar. I have 86’d these two permanently on my shifts for mooching.

Like so many of our customers, they reside in “The Kennel,” a block long pre-war, wooden, added-on, two-story dilapidated eyesore a few blocks from the bar in Morro Bay.

Because so many Kennel residents have been 86’d for weeks, months or life from all other bars in Morro Bay, they come to Happy Jack’s, where you have to behave unimaginably vile or infuriate me to get 86’d.

The local politicians have been trying to close down Happy Jack’s for years, but our owner, Dave Tope, a fine golfer at 79 and war veteran, has continually held them off with promises to renovate and clean it up.

The Kennel is scheduled for demolition and to be replaced by luxury condos for the rapid gentrification of Morro Bay and its influx of wealthy retirees from throughout the state now that our fishing industry is dying. It has to be appalling when these prospective condo buyers cruise the residential streets of Morro Bay and discover the monstrous Kennel with its open garage slots and oily driveways of squat flat-tired and block- supported heaps, as well as smoke-spewing, clanging four-door behemoths, lopsided pickups and rusted vans.

If a prospective buyer idles past the Kennel in daylight hours, there will be little sign of life, almost as if the place is a ghost town or leper colony.

However, at night, the jarring, hideous laughter, vile threats, grating music, aimless and endless arguments and senseless, profane blather wails on into the wee hours, and often until dawn. It is not uncommon for neighbors to call the police, and, at 5 in the morning, watch the swirl of squad car lights while a weary cop orders one of the zombies to hold down the noise.

Every time Tanya and Trudie catch my eye, I make shooing gestures, as if they’re flies. They are trying to get Hubie’s attention and coax him off his stool (which is almost impossible) and outside so they can propose oral sex for drug money.

I’ve got a fairly busy weekday evening after happy hour. The poolroom is clogged with some loud, young, low-rider progeny who, when not spinning around on crank, tiptoe around me, not sure I am to be trusted. They drink bottled beer and down shots of tequila.

They have part-time jobs—landscaping, framing, house painting, etc. They’re all aware I’ve shit-canned Tanya and Trudie and seem okay with it, but a guy named Buford from the Kennel who sits at the elbow beside Hubie has urged me several times to reinstate them, and is not happy with my ignoring him. A rangy, stringy auto mechanic with a mop of blond hair tucked under a beanie, he’s been off his stool twice to consort with the two harridans at the door.

I go out to collect bottles and glasses, and as I pass the door, Tanya hisses at me. “Asshole, everybody hates you.”

“Good. I like being hated. It simplifies things.”

“You treat us like trash, but we’re not trash. You’re trash!”

“Lowlife scum,” Trudie adds. She is skeletal of face with a knobby concave body in baggy duds. She was once relatively appealing when young, but crank has rotted her teeth and flaked her skin. Tanya, in shin-high black pants and sweatshirt draped over bowling ball breasts, curls her lips up in a sneer. She has a pocked moon face, round mouth, a long needle nose and brown too-close-together eyes brimming with persecution, beneath which are black smudges.

“At least I don’t live in a kennel,” I retort. “Arf, arf.”

“Hey, watch yer mouth, dude,” Buford warns. “I live there, and I don’t like nobody tellin’ me I live in a fuckin’ kennel. I ain’t no dog.”

I ignore him, return to the poolroom for more bottles and glasses, and stack them near Buford and Hubie. Buford glances at me as I go behind the bar and begin pulling bottles and glasses off the bar. “Those are my friends out there. I don’t like nobody callin’ ’em dogs.” As he eyes me up, the girls watch from the doorway. “Who you think you are, eighty-sixin’ them gals when they ain’t done shit? You think yer God?”

“I’m the bartender here. That makes me God.”

“Fuck you are.”

Hubie, who is white-haired and red-faced, wealthy through investments and in love with this dive, and is conversing with his image in the back bar mirror, shoves up his empty mug. He pays with two singles, and rolls up two singles like airplanes for my toke jar.

Sometimes, for a surprise, he’ll roll up a $5 or s $10. Occasionally, if he’s hungry, he’ll buy us both burgers I’ll fetch from the diner next door, or a pizza delivered for the house. He never forgets my birthday and brings me sweatshirts. If he’s here at closing, I’ll drive him three blocks to his apartment.

After serving him his draft, I thank him for his arrow-shaped tips and place them in my jar. Tanya, watching, places a defiant foot in the bar.

“You always accuse us of moochin’ off Hubie, but you’re the biggest mooch. You want Hubie all to yourself, pig.”

“Get your goddam foot out of the door,” I snap.

She stubbornly keeps her foot where it is, while Hubie stands and points to the mirror.

“Dell is Hubie’s friend,” he announces. “Hubie likes Dell. Dell takes care of Hubie.”

He points a stern finger at himself in the mirror. “Dell likes Hubie.” He smiles at this thought.

“You’re such a phony,” Tanya squawks at me.

“Get your goddam foot out of here. I don’t want a single inch or ounce of your loathsome being in this bar.”

“Fuck youuuuu!”

“Hey dude, lay off!” Buford warns. He is fairly new to the Kennel, a drifter/transient with shifty prison eyes that seem to glow. He turns to Hubie. “Hey, old man, gimme 20 bucks for my frenz Trudie and Tanya. Yer a rich dude, givin’ that prick behind the bar bread for pourin’ fuckin’ beer, so give some of it to my frenz, you crazy ole fucker.”

Hubie looks quickly at me. There is fear in his eyes.

“Lay off,” I tell Buford, my gorge rising. His eyes are green neon.

“Fuck you. This bar sucks long as yer in it. You can kiss my white ass.” He turns to Hubie with a sickeningly vulpine grin. “Gimme some-a that cash, ole crazy motherfucker. My frenz need-a eat. Hand it over, ole talkin’-to-yerself-loony-goddam bedbug.”

Hubie is terrified. I step forward. “That’s enough, Buford. You’re cut off. I want you out-a here.”

He grabs Hubie’s mug and hurls it at me, bouncing it off my chest and soaking my face, neck and shirt. Before I can react, he hurls an empty bottle at me, and then picks up every bottle in the vicinity and has me ducking as he fires one after another at me.

One bounces off my forehead and another shatters a bottle of Jameson’s, and then Buford flips me the finger and starts for the back door, but not before I am out from behind the bar and on him, the lead-bottomed bottle of Galliano in hand.

Just as he reaches the back door, I brain him across the side of the forehead and send him careening out onto the sidewalk. Trudie and Tanya jump out of the way. When the girls scream at me, I lift the bottle menacingly and they flee down the sidewalk.

Everybody pours out of the bar onto the sidewalk, where Buford wobbles like a punch-drunk boxer who’s just been bludgeoned by George Foreman, then backs up against the side of the building and slowly sinks to the sidewalk and sits there, eyes blank, mouth hung open, like he’s had an instant lobotomy.

I drop the bottle. A couple tweakers from the poolroom pat my back with admiration and awed respect. “Nice goin’, dude. Out-a fuckin’ sight, man.”

Buford stands slowly, his knees swaying, eyes far, far away. “Wanna fight?” he blubbers, weakly raising his fists.

I fold my arms. His eyes refuse to focus. The bump on the side of his forehead has grown from a jawbreaker to a golf ball. He sinks back down, eyes staring, sightless. Nobody bothers to call the cops or medics, and Tanya and Trudie do not come back for him and will not because they have warrants and are despised by local police.

When I return to the bar, the cranked-out tweakers celebrate my braining of the Kennel jail-bait. Hubie, the only person not to vacate the bar, smiles into the mirror, his smile silly, like a child’s, almost giddy.

“May Hubie please have a beer, Dell,” he says to the mirror. “Hubie needs a beer from his friend Dell. Dell is Hubie’s friend. Hubie likes Dell. Dell always takes care of Hubie.”

Half an hour later I check on Buford just in time to see him wobbling down the middle of the main drag with a tennis ball jutting out of his forehead, while drivers honk and steer slowly around him.

Nobody ever saw him again.