From Abracadabra to Zombies
She nearly died and my life flashed before my eyes
Note: I started this piece three years ago but, for reasons given below, did not finish or post it then.
May 27, 2008. By now, many of you have heard about the two scuba divers who were rescued after spending 19 hours in the ocean after their charter boat to the Great Barrier Reef left for shore without them. They were "lucky to be alive" said the BBC. It was a 'miracle' read the headline in the Sacramento Bee.
The rescue operation involved seven helicopters, three planes, and six boats. A follow-up story by the BBC two days after the original posting of the dramatic rescue claimed that the divers, American Allyson Dalton and Briton Richard Neely, had an agent and had sold their story to the Sunday Mirror for more than $1m (£533,000). [Neely told NBC's Matt Lauer on the Today show that he and Dalton were approached by a representative of an Australian newspaper, who offered to buy the exclusive rights to their story for less than $10,000 Australian.] There have been calls from Australian authorities, including Queensland's premier Anna Bligh, that since the couple was receiving large interview fees, they should pay for the cost of their rescue. Their agent says that their insurance will cover those costs.
Neely told the Mirror that he had seen the 2003 film Open Water about an American couple left behind by their charter boat in the same waters. That couple was never found and it is presumed that they either drowned or were eaten by sharks or both.
It wasn't until I read the Bee article that I realized that the woman who had been rescued was the daughter of Bill and Denise Dalton, former owners of a pub and restaurant in Sacramento that I used to visit with some regularity in my younger days. As I lay in bed last night I could not get to sleep because scene after scene in the Fox & Goose kept playing in the theater of my mind. I haven't frequented "the Goose" for some fifteen years, but in the decade beginning in the mid-1980s there was rarely a Friday afternoon that I didn't have lunch there, along with a pint of Guinness or two or three or four. I was often joined by Les Read, my good friend and colleague in the philosophy department at Sacramento City College, whose life was cut short by a cerebral hemorrhage in 1992 at the age of 48. In those days, I knew the names of the cook and all the waitresses and waiters. Malcolm, a Brit with the looks and body build of Charlie Chaplin, was tending bar when I started my tenure at the Goose and it wasn't long before he'd start drawing my pint as soon as he saw me walk in. Malcolm eventually left for greener pastures selling plumbing fixtures. Then John the Scot took over. John had come to America from Glasgow as a professional soccer player. An injury cut his career short but he managed to get a green card as soccer players were a privileged profession in this country. He was a great conversationalist, who cast a wry eye on the affairs of the world and the pubgoers. When he was diagnosed with cancer the Sacramento Irish American Club, of which we were both members, had a benefit to help pay some of his medical bills. If memory serves, we had the benefit in a church hall. He told me he planned to use the money to go to Lourdes. He never made it. He died a few weeks after the benefit.
I got to know Bill Dalton, as did most of the regulars. He greeted everyone, put names on the waiting list, and led the customers to their tables, chatting them up all the while. When things quieted down after the closing of the lunch serving at 2 pm, he'd slide into your booth and jump into the conversation like he was your best friend. I usually took my lunch standing at the bar and on long afternoons Bill would hang out there, drinking soda water or iced tea until it was time for him to take his money bag to the bank. When I met Allyson, she was in her twenties and finishing up college. Her parents eventually sold the Goose to her and she still owns the pub, but I gather from the news articles about her recent near-death experience that she is an adventurer who travels the world and leaves managing the business to somebody else.
I can't imagine how Allyson and her diving partner felt when they realized they'd been left 20 or 30 miles from shore in shark-infested waters. I've been to the outer reef and did my first snorkeling there. I know how long it takes for a boat to get there, but at least where I was there were boats coming in every day to the same spot. Allyson and her partner were apparently in a current and drifting. (They were found nine miles from where they entered the water.) What a horrible feeling it must have been to watch the boat leaving, getting smaller and smaller as it made its way back to safer waters. While Allyson and Richard were adrift at sea, the other divers spent a restless night on the boat, concerned that they'd never see the pair alive again. [I later saw this account in the Daily Telegraph: Doubts over Richard Neely and Allyson Dalton's dive 'miracle'. The pair were accused of pulling a stunt for money. Suspicions were raised by several things, including the fact that the rescued couple left Sydney for the US with celebrity agent Max Markson by their side only a day or two after the rescue. "It's preposterous for anybody to suggest that we planned this on purpose," said Neely. "I'm sure that most decent people in the whole world realise that is completely untrue." OzSail, the Australian dive boat operator from whose vessel the two divers separated was charged with a breach of safety regulations. AP Vessel Management Pty Ltd was fined nearly $30,000 Australian for failure to follow safety rules.]
March 5, 2009. For some reason, I couldn't bring myself to finish this piece. I kept dredging up memories of friends and acquaintances, some of whom are dead. Last night, I watched the Dateline show on the Dalton/Neely ordeal. My wife recorded it months ago, but for some reason I kept putting off watching it. I decided it was time to finish this piece.
The Australian misadventure of Ally and Richard kept reminding me of one of the most unusual and wonderful persons I've ever met. I was in my forties when I met Angela Kinkead in 1988 in the Fox & Goose on a Friday afternoon. She was 75. Her husband, Robin, was eighty-two and was dying of emphysema. We were introduced by Bill Dalton, who thought we might have some things in common. Never has a man been so right.
Our first conversations were about literature. Soon, we were talking about Irish literature, politics, religion, whatever. We were on the same page about most things. She was raised Catholic and was now an atheist. So was I. She had marched in Mississippi during the civil rights movement. I watched it on TV but had the same disgust for rednecks and racists. She and Robin had lived in San Francisco during the days of the Bohemians and the Beats, then moved to Bolinas, a very isolated artists' community where they were misfits. Their son, also named Robin, told me that they had moved from San Francisco to Bolinas to escape the crowds in the city and to save money. They'd bought a house in Bolinas some years before, but as they aged and needed to be nearer doctors, they decided to move again. Anyway, even though they were life-long left-wing bohemians, they didn't fit into "The Peoples' Republic of Bolinas." The Kinkeads were thought too "right-wing" for that culture. They moved to Sacramento so her husband Robin could help their grandson with his high-school foreign language studies. I don't want to badmouth the city I live near, but it's not San Francisco, and it is understandable why the Kinkeads didn't like Sacramento all that much.
Robin had a facility with languages. He was studying Hebrew when I met him. Yes, he was 82 and trying to learn Hebrew. I spoke with Robin only a few times before he died. He had graduated from Stanford in 1929. I understand that he had been quite a swimmer while there. He then took off with his brother David for Europe. They worked their way to Europe on a tanker ship that left from San Franciso. According to son Robin:
They wound up in Paris, but there was little work there during the Depression. So in 1930 they both went to Russia where there was a need for English teachers. They knew no Russian at all but dad picked it up and became quite fluent; David had good working Russian but soon went home. After teaching English for a bit Dad fell in with the New York Times guy in Moscow, Walter Duranty. [Duranty was the Moscow bureau chief of the New York Times from 1922-1936.] After a year with Duranty, he got the Reuter's job. After a year or so of that he got hired by CBS to do broadcasts and be their guy in Moscow. Finding the Soviet Union to be really depressing, he came back to the US in 1934, got a job managing the WPA writer's group in SF, and met mom there. They married in 1935. I came along in late 38.
Angela had shown me a copy of a book for the WPA that Robin has worked on. She had also shown me a copy of an NYT front page article by Robin on a famine in Russia. I didn't realize it at the time, but Robin's description of the famine as real despite Stalin's denial, was contradicted by Duranty who had maintained that stories of famine were "malignant propaganda." Robin was right. There was mass starvation going on in the Ukraine in the 1930s, despite what Stalin or Duranty said.
While working for Reuters in Moscow, Robin was sent a new guy and told to show him the ropes. The new guy was Ian Fleming. Yes, that Ian Fleming. (Steven Beckingham played Robin in Ian Fleming: Bondmaker) Where do you think he got all those ideas about Russians and the KGB? From books? Anyway, unbeknownst to Robin, Fleming was sent to Moscow by the British Secret Intelligence Service (SIS) to monitor developments in the "espionage/sabotage" Metro-Vickers trial. For more on Fleming's work for British intelligence, see Nigel West's Historical Dictionary of Ian Fleming's World of Intelligence: Fact and Fiction. West writes:
Fleming’s SIS connections dated back to his first assignment for Reuters, when he traveled to Moscow by train in April 1933 to cover the famous Metropolitan-Vickers trial in which a British engineer, Allan Monkhouse, and six other Britons were accused of sabotage and espionage. Metro-Vickers had secured a contract to design and build a power grid across Russia to assist in Joseph Stalin’s economic plan to industrialize the country, but the group of British engineers were suspected of having links to British intelligence and of having engaged in sabotage.
Monkhouse, who had served as an intelligence officer on the Archangel Expedition in World War I, was convicted of bribery and deported, an event reported to London faster by Fleming than by his other rivals, representing his first newspaper scoop. SIS was particularly concerned about the prosecution because Monkhouse was indeed a valued SIS source, and the organization had set great store on what was termed “natural cover,” or utilizing people who had a genuine reason for visiting the Soviet Union. The Metro-Vickers arrests were not just an embarrassing disincentive for others to cooperate with SIS, but the whole episode was likely to inhibit their employers from participating in what was presented as a patriotic and relatively risk-free activity. Much depended upon what evidence of espionage emerged during the trial, so SIS sponsored Fleming’s visit to Moscow to monitor developments on its behalf.
Back in the U.S., in addition to the writer's project for the WPA, Robin worked for the U.S. Office of War Information and then for Pan Am press relations from 1949 to his retirement in 1971. He was involved with the landing arrangments for the Beatles when they arrived in San Franciso. On one of my visits with Angela, I saw a signed photo of John, Paul, George, and Ringo standing by the door of their plane with the Pan Am logo clearly on display. The photo may have been taken when the Beatles landed in New York on Pan Am flight 101 in 1964.
Robin was too ill to go to the pub for Friday lunch, so I found myself spending many an afternoon moving from my standing space at the bar to the first booth across from the bar—the one with the curved glass back—to talk with Angela. She didn't drive, so she'd take a taxi to the Goose. I began giving her a lift home and sitting in her darkened "parlor." You've heard of Tuesdays with Morrie? Well I could write a book about Fridays with Angela. For about the last year of her life, she was too feeble to go to the pub, so I'd skip the Goose and go directly to Angela's home when I finished teaching my classes for the week. Our weekly meetings went on for several years, until she died at age 80.
In the short time that I got to talk to Robin, I found out that his favorite book was War and Peace and that his papers had been given to the University of Wyoming. When I asked why Wyoming, he said, "because they asked for them."
Angela had outlived or was estranged from most of her friends and relatives, so in her last years the company of her daughter, Melanie, myself, and some of the waitresses and waiters at the Goose were her main companions. She read incessantly, mostly biographies. We'd sit for a couple of hours in her parlor, she sipping on a Bordeaux or Rhone red, me sipping on Sierra Nevada Pale Ale. She loved to reminisce about her years on Montgomery Street and the "Monkey Block," her secretarial stints at the P & O (Pacific and Orient) and the California School of Fine Arts, Henri Lenoir's Vesuvio Cafe, her house on Green Street, and the writers and artists who had visited them. She knew Steinbeck's wife and Saroyan, and referred to one of the writers on the Third Reich (I can't recall which one) as a "cad."
Son Robin relates the following, which should be of interest to those who have lionized Ronald Reagan:
She and dad were founding members of the SF newspaper guild. I remember our house on Green St. was Helen Gahagan Douglas's local Senatorial campaign HQ or something similar, with Ms. Douglas talking about the head of the Screen Actors Guild, a B-movie actor named Reagan, who wanted to support her against Nixon. "Sorry, Ronnie, you're too pink!" was Douglas's reaction. Imagine. But Reagan WAS way left, then. Odd how the Republicans seem to have missed that.
I spent many hours listening to Angela talk about her life during the Depression when she was a young redheaded journalist living on peanuts and water and thought dogs were animals that found their own food. She described the characters who would frequent the legendary Moose's in the old days. [Ed Moose's first restaurant was called the Washington Square Bar and Grill.] Moose's is on Washington Square in San Francisco. I ate there once, when Willie Brown was mayor of the city. His party was on the other side of the room that day. The only other time I was in the same place as Willie Brown was in a church where we both eulogized Chris Humes, who had worked for Willie and was one of my dearest friends. I met Chris in high school and am godfather to one of his sons, Sean. Chris was 46 when he died of cancer. When I got the news of Chris's death, I stopped by Angela's. That day I told all the stories and she listened. Usually, it was the other way around. For good reason. She had also been there for me when my friend Les Read died five days before my father-in-law died of melanoma. That was a rough week. I lost the two most important men in my life in just a few days. Within a year, Angela would be gone as well. I've always traveled in a small circle, but that circle became significantly smaller in a very short time and I wasn't even 50 yet.
Angela and Robin had traveled many places around the world, had met many interesting people, and had lived an extraordinary life together. There didn't seem to be too many places they hadn't been. She was hell bent on visiting Israel when I met her, but fortunately nothing came of it. Not only was she too old and feeble for such a trip, Israel was not the safest place in the world for a traveler in the 1980s. (Yes, I realize how stupid that statement sounds.) There was not a time I was with Angela that she did not make Robin come to life in a story. The details of many of these stories are lost to me now, but the love she felt for her husband of more than 50 years still fills me with awe. If any of the stories were not true, I didn't want to know about it.
When my wife and I were in Dublin on one of several trips to Ireland, we had to have a drink at Wynn's before going to the Abbey Theatre because Angela advised us to. After all, it was there she met Brendan Behan's wife. When we were in Venice last year, we had to have a drink at a cafe on St. Mark's square because Angela had given me a postcard of such a place with the advice that I should go there someday.
Most of us go through life without meeting too many people who are genuinely glad to see us arrive and sad to see us leave. I've been lucky. My grandson once cried because I had to go teach my classes and couldn't spend the day with him. And Angela always beamed with delight when she saw me through the little glass window in her front door. She must have been very lonely those last years without Robin. This was partly her own doing but I won't go there. Suffice it to say that there were many times during our relationship when I wondered why she had not given me the boot.
Angela was good for my ego. If I tightened a screw in a loose doorknob, she'd praise me as if I had designed the Parthenon. I helped her out a little here and there with minor fix-it jobs, a trip to the grocery store or the doctor's office, or a visit in the hospital. The only machine she was comfortable with was an old typewriter. She probably wrote a thousand letters to various editors on that old machine. I complained to her once that I used to write letters to the editor but I quit out of disgust with the editorial habit of deleting any reasons I gave for my opinions. They'd print the opinion, but never the reasons. Her only advice was to keep my letters short. So I tried one more time and wrote a two-sentence letter. One sentence stated my opinion and the other stated my reason. That was my only one-sentence letter ever published.
Though Angela was old enough to be my mother, we didn't have a mother-son relationship. We were friends, best of friends. She did not make friends easily, I was to learn. Nor do I. She was blunt, opinionated, and outspoken. I, on the other hand, am usually pretty quiet when I meet people and rarely express offense with them even when I'm offended. She could not abide racism, anti-Semitism, religious fanatics, conservatives (she called herself an FDR Democrat), Germans, or pretentiousness of any kind. There were other things she could not abide that seemed completely irrational to me. I never could understand them and wasted many hours trying to get her to see how wrong she was. When it came time to meet my wife, she got a grave look on her face and told me she was worried. I asked her if she was worried my wife wouldn't like her. "Oh, no," she said. "I'm afraid I won't like her." Fortunately, my wife passed whatever test Angela was giving that day and they, too, became great friends. They spent many hours talking on the phone. My wife also tried to get Angela to see how wrong she was about certain things, but to no avail. I had reached the limits of my pay grade in trying to persuade Angela of the error her ways. Understanding why she persisted, in what to me was clearly irrational and cruel, was something I deemed as beyond my abilities.
Not all the stories were of romantic bohemians and exotic travels. Angela and Robin had had their share of tragedy.
August 30, 2011. I have no idea why I stopped writing this piece. I suspect it had to do with realizing that these memories would not be of much interest to anyone but me and those close to me or Angela. Or, I may have stopped when I could not write about the time Angela took me into her bedroom. Robin was alive but very sick in another bedroom. She showed me a large photograph on a wall of a young girl. I met Shelley through Angela's retelling of a former age when parents were advised to give up their babies with Down's syndrome. I don't recall Angela telling me about regretting anything except that act. Angela had many stories about doctors and other experts who gave bad advice, but none as tragic as this one. (There was Dr. Graves, whose name she found most amusing and appropriate for an MD, a "medical divinity" in her words. He felt a lump on her throat and told her "it's probably cancer." It wasn't.) Shelley died at age nine, I believe, but she was still alive in Angela every moment of her life. I remember after she showed me the picture and told me the story of Shelley and the guilt she still felt, we went to see Robin in his sick bed and she said to Robin, "I told Bob about Shelley." I don't recall his reaction, but in my mind he was glad she did. That kind of burden always becomes lighter when others can help carry just a tiny bit for you.
Anyway, this morning there was a piece in the newspaper about Allyson Dalton and the Fox and Goose. She has plans for a multimillion dollar expansion and renovation of the pub. The story says the place was founded in 1975. We moved to this area in 1976 and first went to the Goose to hear Dick Gaughan in '76 or '77. I sensed that it wouldn't be my last visit there. I especially loved the fact that it did not change much in all the years I took my lunch and libations there. Soon, I take it from the news story, I won't be able to recognize the place.
The building was owned by Fred David, dead now, but still a vital lovely little man (literally) who ran David Candy Co. when I met him. He would take his coffee at the bar. I never saw him take a drink of the alcoholic kind. He used to own a baseball team called the Sacramento Solons and kept some bleacher seats in the building somewhere from the days of the demolition of their stadium. The man had stories but they were of people and times long before my day and I don't remember any of the names or details. But they were similar to a story that ran in the Sacramento Bee last week about Sam Kanelos, owner of Old Ironsides, a bar a block away from the the Goose. (John, the soccer player and Goose bartender, worked the bar at Old Ironsides before taking up his place at our bar.) The story was about Don Larson, the man who pitched a perfect game for the Yankees against the Dodgers in the fifth game of the 1957 World Series. Kanelos and Larson are old friends. Larson was in town and would be at Old Ironsides signing autographs. I was 12 years old when Larson accomplished his rare feat and remember the excitement and the specialness of the moment, having seen the jubilant scene of Yogi Berra jumping into Larson's arms several times over the years. It was those kinds of stories that I heard nearly every time I went to the Goose.
Several times over the years Sam came into the Goose when John was tending bar. He always bought the house a drink and came with some interesting character from the past, but not my past. Sam obviously had something to do with the baseball world, but I never figured it out. Fred, on the other hand, was an amazing man. He was in his eighties when I met him and was 100 when he died in 2009. He did sell candy to stores, but mostly he sold cigarettes. Tons of cigarettes. He didn't have a store, but a warehouse. The loading dock is now going to be transformed into an outside eating area. That's the fashion these days even in places like Sacramento where it is usually too hot in the summer and too cold and wet in the winter to enjoy eating outside. I loved the pub most in the winter on wet days. Who wouldn't?
Fred called his warehouse The Building, and in addition to the Goose and David Candy Co., there were also a few small retail shops that occupied the former space of the Fuller paint company. Bill the jeweler came to the bar for a bottle of Budweiser nearly every time I was there. I visited him in the hospital shortly before he died of some sort of cancer. Colm Keenan from Swanlinbar, on the border of county Cavan and The North, ran a little Irish import shop. My wife and I visited Swanlinbar once, on our way to Florence Court in the The North. All I remember is rain and more rain. I gave Colm a framed saying in Gaelic that I'd picked up on one of our trips to Ireland. He game me a Donegal tie. I bought a few presents from him before he moved on. He introduced me to the jazz piano playing of Jessica Williams, a friend of his who was living in Sacramento at the time. Colm played guitar, wrote songs, and told me that Williams told him he should pursue his music. The last I heard of Colm he was moving to Nashville to do just that. I hope he found some happiness there.
There were lots of interesting people who frequented the Goose in those days but none became a close friend like Angela. She haunts my memory in a pleasant way. One of her favorite stories was about the time she and Robin took their grandson to Ireland. Josh was a U.S. Marine when I met him. She would be pleased to know that my wife and I took our grandchildren to Ireland two years ago. It, too, was the time of our lives. Watching them climb in and out of medieval castle ruins triggered a memory of a photograph Angela showed me of Josh climbing some monument in Dublin.
The oddest things trigger recollections of moments in Angela's "parlor," as she called her living room. Oatmeal brings back McCann's Oatmeal (her uncle, whom she disliked, created it). Anything Australian, especially anything having to do with koala's, brings back a memory of the story about how she was involved in getting the first koalas to the San Francisco zoo. (They later went to the San Diego zoo, where my wife and I had spent many days with our children when they were growing up.) When I got my iPhone and found out I could use voice commands to call people, I thought of the time Angela showed me a framed sheet of paper hanging on a wall in the parlor. It was one of the first printouts from voice recognition software that her son, Robin, had sent her. Angela never owned a computer and didn't know exactly what her son did, but she knew it was complicated and special. (He was on a team of engineers that developed the first voice recognition software and hardware.) I met her son briefly at his father's wake, held, most appropriately, at the Goose, and we still correspond occasionally.
The new Fox and Goose may not be recognizable to those of us who were there for the 20th anniversary party or for any of the insane St. Patrick's Day celebrations. There are plans for office space, conference rooms, and lofts. Angela saw many changes in her 80 years on the planet and I don't think she would have cared much about all the renovations as long as the first booth with the curved glass side across from the bar is left unchanged.