jacks or better

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cypress johnny had been a bartender at ‘jacks or better’ since the place had opened some 30 plus years ago. he worked various shifts in an effort to keep boredom at bay and hang out with different crowds. sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. say, like several months ago when he worked his last night shift run.

‘jacks or better’ had once been in a decent part of downtown ontario, calif. it was on one of the main east west drags and just a block east of the main north south drag. all in all a pretty good location. but not as good a location as say, 80 years ago. not that cypress johnny had been around then.

times change and not always for the better or that seems to be the case in any number of things. downtown ontario, once a lively place even into the 60’s had gone to seed, greed, stupidity, and illegal aliens. it had become a place where most folks tried to avoid. though downtown had never been a wonderland. the greed of the people the local yokels elected often surprised said yokels but by the time it became apparent it was usually too late. the damage having been done. so they tossed out the old crowd and elected another batch of greed heads. starting the process yet again.

cypress johnny was fond of saying it was a vicious circle. a circle no one ever seemed to pick up on with exception of a few old hands that were crazy or stupid enough to still be hanging around in the city where they lived as children. that’s how cypress johnny had acquired his name. he was one of the crazy or stupid. and he had attended cypress elementary school way south of the tracks back in the early 50’s.

years ago johnny managed to lose his last name. he became simply, cypress johnny. most folks didn’t even know his last name. if it came up in conversation he’d change the subject or ignore it until it went away. not that he was ashamed of his name but the moniker, cypress johnny, just seemed to work better on numerous levels for him. but i digress.

cypress johnny had been behind the bar handling drink orders for an hour or two on a slow midweek mid-fall evening. the roar of several motorcycles outside at the curb got everyone’s attention. cypress johnny in particular. the sound of several motorcycles outside at the curb always got his attention. he slid open a door underneath the bar and lightly touched his fingers to a loaded .357 magnum.

for johnny and the other bartenders the pistol was the unspoken peacemaker of ‘jacks or better’. they were the only people who knew it was there. not even the owner, julio ravel, knew of the hidden gun. julio owned the joint but he he lived in silverlake near downtown l.a. in a home that had a spectacular view of the lake /reservoir. he also owned another bar on 3rd st in the downtown area. julio paid the bills but rarely made it out to ontario and ‘jacks or better’. for a time many years ago julio had lived in the area. up in upland on grove and ninth. the still sort of stately home was now a semi nursery. more veering.

cypress johnny left the little door under the bar open. he had both hands on the bar as the front door opened and four bikers walked in. long dirty hair and equally dirty levis, vests, boots, chains, along with way to many jail tattoos. outlaws. this might be one of those nights ran through cypress johnny’s head. he was glad he had the door open and the pistol was still there. with both hands still on the bar he greeted the newcomers.

evening, gentlemen. what can i get you?

three beers. tiny can’t drink these days.

the largest of the three said.

he never could.

the three all laughed at the joke. the smallest of them didn’t laugh or say a word.

three beers and a coke.

we’ve got the usual on tap. as for bottles, this month we have sierra nevada ale from up north and longboard lager from hawaii.

julio let johnny stock the bar with a couple of different bottled beers every month. another idea of cypress johnny to stem the tide of boredom.

hawaiian, eh? two of those and an ale.

coming up.

cypress johnny set about the order as the four grungy men settled into their bar stools. cypress johnny sat the three beers and coke on the bar top and said.

$3.50 each for the beers and $1.50 for the coke.

put it on our tab.

ah, yeah. thing is gentlemen, i’ve never seen you gents before and we don’t run tabs here for folks we don’t know. sorry. house rules.

the smallest of the four smiled and reached for his wallet that was chained to a belt loop. he pulled out a twenty and said.

no offense taken. ya’ll keep the change.

thanks, gentlemen.

the three bikers each pulled deeply on their drinks. the other customers in the bar were silent or talking quietly among themselves while keeping an eye on the new comers. cypress johnny was beginning to think the bikers were either hell’s angels or mongols. it was just a feeling. an itch. though none of the four were flying colors.

the angels at one point long ago were a force to be reckoned with in the area. a number of years ago the group had a large home and presence in the sage brush and rocks above the local community college in alta loma. they lived there semi peacefully for a few years until the sheriffs department raided the house and found a large cache of drugs along with automatic weapons. the raid sent a good sized contingent of them to jail and that in itself pretty much ended the bikers reign in the area. though they did manage to hang on in other parts of the state for a number of years. the mongols had taken over the biker vacuum a few years later after the arrests and several skirmishes with their rivals the vandals.

cypress johnny was taking orders from the usual crowd and as he began to wipe the bar down when one of the bikers spoke.

there’s a game tonight, right?

game? no college ball tonight. tomorrow. no nba or baseball either tonight.

no, a game, man.

oh shit. here we go. thought cypress johnny.



4 thoughts on “jacks or better

    mike kamradt said:
    July 11, 2011 at 7:44 am

    I went in to a bar near here a few years ago, and there was one patron passed out at the other end of the bar. I noted to the bar keep how quiet it was and he beamed that his clientell’d just doubled and he was happy about it.

    johnhauge responded:
    July 11, 2011 at 8:26 am

    that’s funny. i bet he was surprised when you ordered a soda. thanks, mike.

    Cheryl Timmons said:
    July 13, 2011 at 4:15 pm

    I love it so far, John. I can hardly wait to see what happens. Hope you know you will forever more be cypress johnny…

    johnhauge responded:
    July 13, 2011 at 6:14 pm

    thanks, cheryl. most appreciated. haha. yeah well…..

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