Locke is my favorite place in California, with the possible exception of San Francisco, and maybe San Diego, plus possibly Big Sur, Yosemite, Sequoia and maybe Carmel when I’m in an uppity mood.
Anyway, we’re outside Al the Wop’s bar in Locke and the guy there starts his conversation talking about the vaginal infection his dog -- conveniently nearby on a leash -- once had. Now, there’s an icebreaker. I wander off, leaving Kathleen and sister-in-law Darla to deal with the dude and his formerly afflicted dog. It’s not much of a wander -- Locke is about two blocks long and two blocks wide, a decrepit town in the California delta founded by Chinese workers and, by the looks of things, mostly ready to topple over.
Al the Wop’s is fantastic. Inside, the floor slopes away from the front door and there are dollar bills sticking to the ceiling. Here’s how they do it -- you take a dollar bill, push a thumbtack through the nose of George Washington, wrap a silver dollar inside it, and toss it hard toward the ceiling. Skillful players will achieve sticking the dollar bill to the ceiling while the silver dollar falls back to the ground. We did not actually witness this, but we were told, in all sincerity, that it was done this way. Al the Wop's, by the way, has a little to go before it can graduate to seedy.
The condiments on the bar include an open jar of Jiffy peanut butter and some kind of homemade jelly. We did not eat any food, sticking to the more familiar Jack Daniel’s and boxed chardonnay.
Later, while I'm loitering at an ancient picnic table generously located at the end of the street in the middle of an open space only partially covered in weeds, the dude with the formerly afflicted dog asks me if I've seen two Japanese kids. He says he brought them and now he's misplaced them (this in a town that is four square blocks). I say that I saw them awhile ago, but not recently. He moseys along, formerly afflicted dog trailing behind.
Down the street, I walk into a used book, record and clothing store and the proprietor (a nice middle-aged lady with ink-black hair from a bottle) asks me if I remember “Oui” magazine. “You misread me,” I say, and everyone immediately thinks I’m very funny. A customer finds an old Bob Dylan vinyl record and asks Ms. Very Black Hair if she has a turntable.
“Yes, but it sometimes takes awhile for it to remember what it’s supposed to do,” she replies.
“Sounds like me,” I say too loudly, and everyone, once again, thinks I’m very funny.
Soon, Dylan is playing from the ancient turntable, but the record is spinning a bit too fast.
“He sounds better this way,” says I. You know the rest.
I eventually depart the place and run into a nice fellow in a ball cap and overalls who says he supplies the store with its used books. Kathleen and Darla join us soon, and it becomes all too clear that Ball Cap and Overalls is a lonely man desiring conversation in the worst way. He recommends Wimpy’s over in Walnut Grove for dinner, but we have our hearts set on Chinese food in Stockton and, when he’s distracted for the slightest moment, we make our escape.
The very pretty bartender at Al the Wop’s, by the way, says they take the dollar bills down once a year and use them for a “liver feed.” That, says I, is pretty darn appropriate for a place that has undoubtedly killed a few livers in its time.
You know the rest.