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Camaraderie, Perversity and a Small Tavern Crowd

February 04, 1993|T. Jefferson Parker | T. Jefferson Parker is a novelist and writer who lives in Orange County. His column appears in OC Live! the first three Thursdays of every month.

It had been a bad week. The 10th inch of rain was rushing down from a black sky like something biblical; Laguna Canyon Road was closed northbound from El Toro for flooding; a fallen power pole had closed it downtown for the better part of the night; a young man spurned by his lover was rumored to have set himself on fire at Main Beach; kids had beaten a gay man half to death just a click south; my beloved dog had speared his eye on a cactus spine and was now oozing, half-blind and depressed; my neighbor's back yard collapsed and dumped 100 tons of mud onto the road.

All of which conspired by differing degrees to land me in the Marine Room Tavern in Laguna Beach, unable to get home past the roadblocks, stunned by life's not infrequent trick of concentrating a lot of misery into a short period of time, and desperately in need of more than one drink.

Just as rain keeps most people home, disaster brings some people together, so there was a spirit of camaraderie amid the dinky bar crowd--a feeling that no matter what plagues awaited us outside the walls of this place, inside, at least, we were immune.

LOCAL MALE NO. 1 (moderately drunk): Hey it's the writer. I read your columns, but I keep waiting for the other shoe to fall. I mean, where's your sense of perversity?

WRITER: I haven't felt that way, lately. Exactly what kind did you have in mind?

LOCAL MALE NO. 1: You know, like the idea that Orange County's on the cutting edge of perversity, that everyone comes here offering their worst. Thieves, swindlers, morons--stuff like that.

WRITER: I don't think we're on the cutting of perversity at all. I mean, what about Berlin, or Bangkok or Miami?

LOCAL MALE NO. 2 (Moderately drunk): Let's see. What should I have? Bartender, I've got $20. Give me as much alcohol as you can for $20, please.

SILENT WOMAN AT END OF BAR looks calmly at everyone.

WRITER: It's not that I don't like perversity. I was in a gas station downtown last week. The guy in front of me ordered $20 of supreme, a pack of Marlboro Lights and a pair of handcuffs. The clerk didn't bat an eyelash--just took a box from a stack next to the register and put it on the counter. Handcuffs? They were an impulse buy, right there by the Tic-Tacs and troll doll key chains. I tried to pick up a pair for myself a couple of days later, but the guy said they'd be out until Tuesday.

LOCAL MALE NO. 1: There you have it.

LOCAL MALE NO. 2: Man, listen to that rain out there.

WRITER: I wonder if any horses have washed down to Main Beach.

LOCAL WOMAN: When was that? '82?

LOCAL MALE NO. 1: I think so. I watched a Volkswagen float down the creek that year.

WRITER: Friend of mine was in the last car they let through the canyon a couple of days ago. He said he looked down at the asphalt and saw fish swimming across the road.

LOCAL WOMAN: Sounds like something you'd make up.

WRITER: He swore. His name is Greg Nicols and I've never known him to exaggerate, even a little.

BARTENDER: Anyone here dumb enough to bet on the Bills?

WRITER: Dallas.

LOCAL MALE NO. 2: Who cares?

LOCAL WOMAN: I was thinking the same thing.

LOCAL MALE NO. 1: Well, at least it only happens once a year. Maybe the Rose Bowl will wash away and we won't have to watch another lousy game with a bunch of stupid beer and shoe commercials.

LOCAL WOMAN: Last year, they were the highlight. Hey look, they got country-Western dance lessons in here on Wednesday nights.

WRITER: You dance?

LOCAL WOMAN: I've got two left feet.

WRITER: Must be hard to find shoes. I've got two right ones.

LOCAL MALE NO. 1: I don't think I can hack a barroom full of cowboy hats. They look funny enough in Montana or Texas.

BARTENDER (lighting writer's cigarette): Those things will kill you, you know.

WRITER: I know. I'm gonna get the patch.

LOCAL MALE NO. 1: You'll probably get hit by a truck the day you quit.

LOCAL MALE NO. 2: They work. Those patches, I mean.

LOCAL WOMAN: They ought to have them for other things--you know, like a patch for alcohol, so you don't have to drink; a patch for PMS, and one that keeps you away from fudge.

SILENT WOMAN AT END OF BAR lights up a large cigar. She puffs it slowly, rotates it, her face diminishing in a cloud of pale blue smoke. She looks at everyone again, then gets up and leaves. The rain accelerates.

WRITER: Give me a Sam and a shot of Jack. I can't get home. Let's find some Dire Straits on that juke box.

LOCAL WOMAN: I think one of the hardest things about being a writer would be trying to make sense of things.

WRITER: It can't be done.

LOCAL MALE NO. 1: No, it can be done. You're just not perverse enough.

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