I guess 99% of hotel owners think it’s more consumer friendly or brand building to have the word “Hotel” follow its given name. But I think the Mendocino Hotel, a 19th century relic with an historic past, would exude more prestige, more splendor, if named Hotel Mendocino like Hotel California or Hotel Berlin.
March, 3, 2020: I didn’t know it would be the last mask-less day. I took the only remaining chair at the bar of the Mendocino Hotel. Next to me sat an attractive woman, early forties, ash blonde hair with bob cut, rosy lipstick matching her fingernails, contrasting nicely with her royal blue eyes sparkling behind clear rim eyeglasses, and dainty ringless fingers. A midnight blue low-cut dress with gold stars and moons. Lots of work went into that package.
A Bordeaux glass of red wine, half filled or empty, sat imperiously on the bar in front of her.
She seemed to have nothing much on her mind beside attracting attention, dominating Oscar, the bartender’s free moment.
“My first time in Mendocino. Can’t believe I’ve missed it over these years. Life’s so busy, isn’t?” Wasn’t a question. And Oscar knew something about busy. “Do you get snow here? We never get it down there but I enjoy skiing at Tahoe, too many people now and not as much fun as Aspen but it suits me in my new life.”
Tossing a glance at the man seated on her other side, she said in a tone half-heartedly trying to disguise her delight, “We were in New York last week. Love Manhattan but it was so crowded. I like it here, the small town, friendly feeling. And the wines from Anderson Valley are getting rave reviews. We drove up yesterday. I read this county gets the most rainfall in the state. We don’t get enough down there.”
I wondered what degree of interest Oscar had in this self-serving soliloquy.
As I stole Oscar’s attention and ordered an Anderson Valley Brewing IPA she glanced my way with that eager look that pined for fresh ears. She was the type who needed an audience and with her looks could initially snag one, but how could she hold one’s interest with this solipsistic chatter? Nonetheless I was ready to begin my leisure time game, listening for a story idea, catching an ideal sentence, and maybe even a word I could appropriate. If what I heard lacked originality of something I could work with, I’d disappear as fast the state’s budget surplus.
As Oscar delivered my frosty mug of hoppy brew I saw out of the corner of my eye her gaze focused on her glass of wine, contemplating whether to continue blessing our bartender with her musings or maybe contemplating whether I’d be a better target. She’d have to offer more than rainfall, crowded Manhattan, and Tahoe for me to hang in for a second drink. After all, I was on this side of the bar, put a couple of Jacksons on the bar, face up, and felt I’d look OK in a full page ad in the AARP magazine for a hearing aid product or an unfamiliar term life insurance company. I felt sufficiently fashionable in my navy blue, double-breasted Zegna jacket, a survivor of three decades of exile in my closet, a sky blue Turnbull & Asser shirt with its cuffs one inch beyond the jacket sleeves, acquired on London’s Jermyn Street last year in a moment of spontaneous and excessive spending, casual khaki slacks, and tan Cole Haan loafers.
Oscar responded to a call from a waitress who arrived at the bar’s service section in need of four cocktails for her customers seated at table in the dining room. I knew now I was targeted as the woman’s next listener.
Seated next to her was a large, rugged-looking man who hadn’t said a word but I sensed they were an item, what kind—how, when, where, maybe why—I thought I’d hear. I leaned forward to grasp the brew and managed a swift peek at the man. Maybe fifty, olive skin on a leathery face, John Hamm firm jaw, a pitch dark mane that would command a 7.5 hat size, and a handful of fingers, wide and hairy as a Bulgarian peasant’s, clutching an old fashion glass, gazing at his image in the smoke stained mirror on the wall behind the bar. He looked like a man accustomed to outdoor work, maybe a construction boss, or a retired NFL linebacker. He was box office handsome but starring in a primitive silent movie now. How long it had been since I was in his seat planning my charm or my escape with a beautiful blonde at my side.
She turned full-look on me. “Have you visited Mendo before?”
That’s usually the first question you get at a hotel bar that depends upon tourists, followed by where you’re from.
Make it concise and pithy. “Come every year at Christmas, dress up in a Santa outfit and sing carol with the locals.”
The long and delectable fingers of her left hand, the hand closer to me, fondled the Bordeaux glass and slowly raised it to her anxious lips. I thought it was a conscious move, a signal for me to stay tuned. Attractive women with a modicum of acquired worldly skills can attract and sometime hold my attention with a non-verbal move.
“Where are you from?” My opinion is that the right question is where do you live? Everybody these days is from more than one speck on the map. So I could answer, West Virginia, New York, San Francisco, London, or my mother. She might guffaw at the mother mention or send me a scornful look but usually there’d be no follow-up question. What I might hear was her experience or opinion of one of my where-froms.
“My name is Christine and I, we, live in Santa Rosa. Both divorced but very much in love. How about you?”
“Bill’s the name. Live in the city.” Keep it succinct. Nothing is learned when speaking.
The game had begun. She grew up in Atherton, her father was a high profile Venture Capitalist, tall and handsome with an ever present eye for blonds. “My mother, she was an angel and put up with his unfaithfulness until I was about ten years old. That’s when she got photo evidence of him on a sailboat in Saint John with a curvy bimbo who was, of course, after his money. My mother told me then when I got married get to know a private eye. Fast. I’d sooner or later need one.
“‘Men are dogs,’ mother said, and she was right until I met Frankie.” This came purringly from her lips as she paused with a sigh and a glance at the mirror where she caught Frankie’s eyes.
“Frankie’s my now and forever man.” This time with a full head turn to the quiet dude.
He showed a vapid smile probably pleased he could keep thinking while she chattered away in my direction.
I’ve concluded when gaming with an unfamiliar couple at a hotel bar and the man is reticent and the woman loquacious it’s either because the man is bored with listening to her monologues or because he’s financially dependent on her.
Handsome Frankie might be a hybrid here. Both bored and in need of money. I suspected he too had an eye for blondes and had some bad career luck. Maybe logged in a divorce or two, that and a little child support can alter a man’s lifestyle in a nano minute. So maybe she had a nice house, hers only in the divorce, and Frankie might find her digs more to his liking. New York last week. Suite at the Pierre, stops along 5th Avenue, and dinner wherever the concierge suggested. I had to be careful to not create her story for her. Patience, old man. Go with the flow.
Hello and goodbye, Frankie. She was back in my face. “Mother got the divorce and me—I was the only child. A year later she married one of my father’s partners and had two more kids,” adding her mother was from a family whose name I’d probably know. I figured she based that upon my Zegna jacket, that I was a ritzy guy despite singing Christmas carols with the locals at the Hotel Mendocino.
She revealed an eastern prep school education and then off to college, no name offered. Back home with a stint in Mayor Willie Brown’s office followed by creative work at a San Fran ad agency. Then a big surprise: she was the proud mother of five daughters, the oldest sixteen. I could not conceal my astonishment at this. Wrong-footed for a snappy response I muttered a “wow,” or “fantastic,” not wanting to remember which but it wasn’t up to my pitter patter standard.
She beamed, thrilled with giving me this bit of super mommy-ing and the look of my disbelief. How interesting am I and you ain’t heard nothing yet.
To regroup I switched to Kettle One with two ices cubes and two small green olives.
All you have to do is ask a couple of questions, show that practiced expression of full interest, and ninety percent of the people at a bar will reveal the most intimate details of their lives. As long as the new material has STORY POTENTIAL you hang in, all ears. When the content weakens or a pattern of irrelevant detail develops, it’s time to say good night and head upstairs.
The man speaks.
“And Bill, I think I heard you mention you live in a city.”
“Yes, San Francisco.”
“You a retired guy?” I nod and leaned back. This seemed to be going nowhere. Nice man but if I’m going to get content from this game it would have to be form the woman.
I drew back into my Kettle One and fantasized about moving closer to Christine and bussing her ear.
She said, “Frankie, I think it’s time for us to call it a night.”
This game over. It’s like fishing. Sometimes you get a nice juicy one. Sometimes they don’t bite.
A seat vacated down the bar. I took it.