Through the Looking Glass at Smiley’s Saloon

If you find your photo taped to the mirror behind the bar at Smiley’s Saloon, chances are that you may be dead. The long mirror inside the 152 year old bar is often the barometer for comings and goings – mainly the goings – of many in the community.

It’s been a helluva year with regard to members of the community passing away. Since November 2003, Bolinas has lost Carolyn Brown, Russ Riviere, Jill Whitcroft, Patrick Holland, Pat Haines, Peter Allen, Bill Spessard, and “Pearl,” among others. In recent days, another passing: Tyrone Jamito of Stinson Beach, a Bolinas School alumnus, a classmate, and fellow lost soul. In a tiny, somewhat insular community like ours, these losses are huge, like losing several of your favorite friends, aunts, uncles, cousins, in one fell swoop.

Making it all the harder is that two has been death by hanging — suicides. Many from the town have found ourselves scratching our heads…”Didn’t they know we loved them?”
As a friend reminds me: “Sure they knew…It’s just that no matter how hard they tried, these two didn’t have a lot of love for themselves, when it came right down to it.”

In front of Smiley’s Saloon the other day, street person Rick Klaes lamented the passing of some of his friends. “It feels like a war zone around here. What are we in, Iraq?” Klaes has lived on the streets and hillsides since coming to town more than two decades ago. Because of his drinking habits, the man is barred, or “86′d,” from entering most establishments. Things are tough, but Klaes said that suicide is not an option for him.

“I’m trying to kill myself the slow way,” he says.

Inside Smiley’s, the bartender, who happens to be my youngest sister, Mary, calls what is happening in Bolinas this year “the summer of death.” Charming words coming from the mother of my nephew, but they do hit the nail on the head. I think Mary’s off-the-cuff quip depicts what many in the town feel but are afraid to say. A little while later in the bar things began to get more surreal when an out-of-town customer who was trying to chat up “locals” noticed a depository on the bar for donations to help cremate Pearl, who died a couple of weeks ago. The fund is in need of $1,500.

“Did he have any gold teeth?” the tourist asked. ”They should look for gold teeth and use them to pay for it.”

Tasteless. It’s moments like this that I really understand about why the road sign to Bolinas has been getting torn down for so many years. That may not be the case much longer as the town becomes increasingly gentrified. There already has been public feuding over bike paths and signs atop local establishments.

In Paradise Valley, a new property owner fights for the right to build a house and porch of approximately 2,900 square feet on what has previously been agricultural land. Increasingly, once affordable homes that are now worth a half million dollars and more are purchased, leaving renters and long-time locals finding themselves displaced and often having to move out of the community. Some purchase more than one home, and utilize the second and third as guest quarters for out-of-town visitors.

The grammar school, which sits about a mile out of town on Gospel Flats, has seen enrollment drop from 250 ten years ago to about 125 children this year.

So it’s a season of change as the population in our tiny community gets older and get married, have children. Some move away. People such as Riviere and Holland, who were instrumental in developing the Bolinas Community Plan back in the 1970’s, pass away. They and the others will be missed. But one day someone will stand on the shoulders of the work they did, and rewrite the community plan to fit the current needs of the community. These days that plan seems to have parking signs for the downtown area as part of it.

The interesting thing is that, for the extended community of Bolinas, people like this writer who have moved away but still feel connected to the town, nothing really changes. We have our memories what was a special time in the history of the town, a time filled with artists, writers, poets, filmmakers, doctors, lawyers, Indian chiefs, and assorted ne’er-do-wells. There was a vibrant street person community and a sense that this could be something very special.

It’s after you’ve gone, looking back, do you really see it. People with unusual names: Ponderosa Pine, San Jose Bob, Backyard Steve, Planet Janet, Beta, and Mim. The grammar school had an award winning art and jewelry program, founded by Pat Haines, along with a motorcycle shop, for those not artistically inclined. The teachers cared back then and they probably do now, though at an 8th grade graduation recently, with a class size of about 12, the language teacher massacred the last names of three of her students.

There was the chopping down road signs, the all-night parties, colorful Fourth of July homecomings, the tug-of-war, the Community Chorus, Faultline Institute, The Hearsay News, and too many other things to mention. The Hearsay is still publishing three times a week, and Faultline Institute, under the direction of Dean of Meat Emeritus Michael Rafferty (formerly the butcher at the Bolinas Store and who also founded both the Hearsay and Faultline) has recently started up operations with classes on just about any topic, taught by locals.

So, the times they are a changing. To everything, turn, turn, turn. And, the answers are blowing in the wind. Verses from memorable tunes that depict change happening, as it undoubtedly will. There will be more deaths as well as births, and new blood will move into the community. We who don’t live there anymore will still relive memories and will use the Internet to rekindle some old friendships.

I just hope to keep my photo from the mirror at Smiley’s for a long time to come.

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