Thirty-two years ago, a girl walked into a bar. This is not a joke.
That was my one-liner from my Farewell to the Moon party last night. It contained two minor falsities. I actually arrived in late September, 1985, and at age 42, I was hardly a girl. But moving on – there wasn’t much more I came prepared to say. Once I started digging into the memory files, there was a good chance the band would just have to go sit down. And nobody, not even me, would have been happy at that.
So since, using my favorite excuse, I am better in prose, I thought I would write a little bit about the Blue Moon Tavern in Seattle in these pages. The Blue Moon is a crucible through which I passed in mid-life, and whoever I was when I arrived, that passage has shaped into the woman I am now.
Therein lie more than a few tales.
I was introduced to the Moon on my first night back in town – I had lived in Seattle for a year or so before, but knew nothing of the Moon at that time. An old friend from Green Bay scooped me up and took me. The bartender had long, graying hair and a cowboy hat, and my first thought was, well, if they’ll hire him, I think I could get along in this bar. The topper came a couple of hours later when some crazy man behind me started yelling, “Famous Irish toasts! Nom de plume! Nom de plume!”
I later pinned it down to one Pat Cleary, born on St. Patrick’s Day, who a couple of months later told me, in a hushed voice, that he’d been keeping an eye on me (this was in the way of cloak and dagger, not stalking), that he’d had his best men on the case. “And what have you discovered?” I asked. “Well,” said he, drawing it out a little. “You’re all right.”
And I was all right. The Moon was a place where folks delighted in absurdities, where my sometimes inappropriate sense of humor felt right at home. Where we could be ourselves – whatever self we felt like being on any particular night.
My memories of the Blue Moon from the seven to ten years when it was my daily living room are a little like those of the early days of Saturday Night Live. The days of John Belushi, Gilda Radnor, Laraine Newman, Jane Curtin, Dan Aykroyd, Garrett Morris, and Chevy Chase. As in, there will never be another era like it.
Bill Heintzelman, the playwright bartender, who wrote one of my favorite lines in a play about some prisoners who take over the prison. “Doncha miss the hopelessness?”
Richard the Weight Lifter bartender, a sweetheart of a guy who you were happy to have on your side.
Chuck the Classics Scholar bartender, who wrote graffiti in Latin and Ancient Greek on the men’s room walls.
Maggie the Biker bartender, who closed out Grateful Dead Night with John Phillips Souza and Stars and Stripes Forever, yelling, “Have you no homes? Have you no stereos?”
Sheelah, a fellow Deadhead, who organized the party last night, and who, on one hot summer’s night, when a customer knocked the small bartender fan on the floor in front of her, looked down and deadpanned, without missing a beat, “And another fan falls at my feet.”
And of course Cowboy Dave. Still a legendary bartender. We tried a couple of times, but it never really took. I should have known it was doomed when he told me right off the bat that his favorite movie was “A Boy and His Dog.” He’s in Panama now, howling with the monkeys.
There were years when I would pull into the parking lot, fluff my hair, and head into the Moon muttering, “Showtime!”
Because we were all characters in search of an author.
Ross Lavrov, the Russian translater, who translated for Gorbachev and once brought a bevy of Russian sailors into the bar who demanded sanctuary – not from America but from the Blue Moon.
Ulrich my Favorite Nazi might take some explaining, but I don’t have time. Suffice it to say that he loved it when some sweet freshmen from the University wandered into the bar so that he could lay his “Hitler wasn’t that bad” spiel on them and watch them freak out. Seventh heaven for Ulrich. His scorn for home-grown Nazi youth knew no boundaries. Besides, one of his best friends was Harry, a black guy. Nobody could really put Ulrich in a box.
Rudy Russell, the Mayor of Volunteer Park, who wore every left wing political button he could put his hands on – I think his jacket was probably bullet proof with them.
Fernando, the artist, who loved the women. Who said to me once that he could fall in love with me, but I was too skinny. He liked his women wall-to-wall. To which I responded that life sometimes worked out perfectly, because we would never break each other’s hearts.
Robert E. Lee, who made candles and sold them in the Moon. $5 each. I had about 15 at one time. I think I’m down to one that I’m taking east with me. Someone once asked him if anybody ever called him Bob. “No.” Sheelah and I went to his funeral some years back.
G.G., who drank burgundy and shuffled around the bar. He finally moved to somewhere in the Caribbean and survived a hurricane, I disremember which one. He came back once for a visit – turned out he was a very talented keyboardist. So many things you never know.
Paris Fletcher, who when asked what he was going to do with his dog, Merlin, when he went to the bar, replied, "Oh, he comes with me."
"They let dogs in?" he was asked. "What do they do about the smell?" "Well," Paris drawled. "The dogs will just have to get used to it."
Baker Bob, Coffee Paul, Burgundy Bob – an old friend of mine who has since disappeared told me once that he wanted to be known as 4 Bong-Hits and a Six-Pack Joe.
Most of them are gone, now. But their ghosts remain. In a good way. In some other universe, Pat Cleary is still declaring, “I don’t like anybody, I never did like anybody, I never will like anybody.” Kevin Cunningham is wandering in with some plastic grapes he just picked up at a yard sale and ordering a corn dog. The Racoons are meeting tonight (Monday), shaking the tails of their long hair instead of a coon skin hat.
And yes, there are a few literary fellas in the front booth, arguing over one thing or another. Tom Robbins drank here. Theodore Roethke drank here. It is said that upon learning of his Pulitzer, he turned and said to his class at the University of Washington, “To the Moon!” The alley behind the moon is now officially called Roethke Mews.
I could go on and on, but this is too long already. I’ve left out lots of my best friends, most of whom have either come from the Moon or been introduced by Mooners.
I won’t find another such place in this life. There are many things for which I am grateful, and a few of which I am proud. I am both grateful and proud to have earned the title of Blue Mooner. A place that will continue to shine with its own light.