Who at this point wants to talk about the coronavirus and the politics and the rest of the goop surrounding our current predicament in America, which is miserable enough without baseball or the NBA playoffs, and the normal nonsense and small town intrigue usually taking place here in Cayucos?
Fact is, I’m thirsty for some really nasty gossip, and, as a former bartender in Morro Bay, I understand just how important gossip is to long-entrenched locals residing in small towns where scandals, large and small, have a hard time hiding from those who feast on them.
None of the people I come across in my only outings—walking Wilbur down on the beach and visiting a few associates along the seawall and running into others in masks at markets—have much to say about anything except how they’re adjusting to the misery.
Thus, I was so pleased to run into my oldest friend in town, the resplendent Tag Morley, who for years has been known unofficially as the real mayor of Cayucos, and during that time has had his hand in many functions, and actually considers himself indispensable.
Where I find Tag indispensable is his unrivaled resourcefulness in securing the juiciest gossip, as well as his detail and eloquence in delivering it. Tag has lived in Cayucos for over four decades, and during his early years, was a bartender at the Cayucos Tavern — which gave him special inroads to almost everybody’s business, and especially those hoping to keep secure their respectable image.
When I ran across Tag, he was washing his new high-end car, a far cry from some of the jalopies he drove years back. A former local Mr. Fix-It in town, he now has a lucrative out-of-town job during the week. As I hung near while he applied the usual fastidious attack on his auto, he asked, knowing I was one of his many key sources, “Any new dirt?”
“No. Absolutely nothing. Things are dead.”
“This coronavirus is ruining everything,” he complained.
“Yeh,” I nodded. “None of these goofs are up to no good because they’re all in hiding.”
“The biggest disappointment is there’s absolutely no shred of information on adultery.”
“Not a peep,” I agreed.
He clamped his hose and placed it on the ground while I held Wilbur on his leash. “You know, you’re the one person I depend on to come up with some really nasty poop on these bozos while I’m out of town all week” He shot me a doubtful squint. “You slipping up?”
“Tag,” I said defensively. “Even Audry (a middle-aged, still attractive local businesswoman who’s divorced, had her fill of shiftless, worthless, undeserving male hides, and knows everything) doesn’t know anything. With the bars closed, and especially the Schooner’s Wharf, there’s nothing to see or hear unless you go around prodding people.”
Tag is possibly one of the most popular people ever to drink in Schooner’s Wharf. People flock to him, especially women. They tell him everything. In two hours, he can exchange filth with ten to fifteen people before he leaves.
“Remember the old days, Tag, back in the nineties, when you worked at the Tavern?”
He laughed. “Oh yeh. Those were the days.”
“Creatures like those, well, they don’t exist in Cayucos anymore. You got these old, careful up-tight rich people terrified of getting into trouble.”
At this point, Tag brought up a feisty woman who was married to an important member of officialdom in town, and would sneak off to Morro Bay while he was at work and bed down this alcoholic varmint named Boiler-head; and have frantic sex with him in the back of the old Circle Inn (now Legends) while I was working across the street at Happy Jack’s.
We had a laugh. Then I brought up Joe Polk.
“Oh God, what a puke,” Tag said.
The first time I came across Joe Polk was around 1989, when I first moved here and went in for a happy hour drink at the Tavern and sat down beside Joe, who didn’t know me. One of the meanest looking and acting little gals I’ve ever laid eyes, on tongue-lashed him brutally and stormed out. Joe Polk was so enraged, he stood and pounded on the bar with his fists until they were bruised and bloody. When he finally glanced at me, face deep red, he said, “What the fuck do you want?”
I noticed one of his front teeth was missing, and said, “Nothing. Sorry to see a fellow male get the business like you did, pal. Makes me thankful they’re scorning me these days”
“I just paid for her fucking TEETH!” he shouted. “Two thousand bucks. I cook for her, buy her anything she wants. Work my fucking ass off framing houses, and all she does is bitch, bitch, bitch at my white ass! Goddamn wench!”
While this was going on, a young Tag drew me a beer and winked. This was before Tag’s second marriage–to a bar patron–which I’d warned him about, for no bartender in his right mind gets married while surrounded by women who consider him a kind of rock star.
Anyway, I calmed Joe down and we actually became bar pals, and over the years he kept teaming up with one angry, deranged woman after another, getting taken for new teeth and whatever else they could squeeze out of him until it boiled over, and Joe Polk went crazy and got in fights, and finally was run out of town and now lives in Cambria — a place he always considered snooty.
Tag, of course, has himself been in the middle of scandals, two of which I warned him about. Tag, while a bartender at the Tavern, had his pick of women waiting for him after nearly every shift, went ahead while at this job and married a needful woman half his age, who after a year of being bossed around, showed up while he was working and called him a bastard and asshole before a packed room of admirers and stormed out.
This news reached me almost immediately while I was behind the bar at Happy Jack’s in Morro Bay, but did not compare with his third marriage to a gorgeous, sexy she-devil who actually came in the Tavern while he was at work, and made passionate kissy-face with a handsome young man ten years her junior. Immediately after this horribleness, I got the news in person at Happy Jack’s from Joe Polk, his eyes gleaming with triumph and mischief.
“Those were the days, ey, Tag? How many times did I warn you not to marry when you’re a local bartender. It’s suicide. I never did, and I still took it on the nose many times over the years, with former lovers humiliating me in front of a large crowd, and deservedly so.”
“That was a lotta stress in those days,” Tag admitted, shaking his head slowly at the wonder of it all. “I’ve never been happier away from all that.”
“Me, too. The fact that no woman has wanted much to do with either of us for years, besides exchanging gossip, and would never trust us under any circumstances, is almost peaceful.”
“I think I’ll call up Audry,” Tag said. “She’s bound to tell me something she won’t give you because you’re a writer and vicious. Nobody trusts you.”
“Maybe you can get her liquored up, Tag. You’re really good at that.”
Looking sly, and smug, Tag leered. “Oh yeah. If I get anything good, I’ll let you know.”