By Gustavo Arellano
By R. Scott Moxley
By Alfonso Delgado
By Courtney Hamilton
By Joel Beers
By Peter Maguire
By Charles Lam
By Charles Lam
Photo by James BunoanHe was the only guy at Coconuts who didn't have a whiff of vomit on his breath while The 5150s—three middle-aged gutty dudes—did guitar-god headbanging to their "classic rock," such as "Pink Cadillac" and "Mustang Sally." During "Margaritaville," a tiny brunette mom-type got onstage and, with the world's most blissful smile, did that boob-shakey thang, while two tweaker ladies with circles under their eyes that made Al Pacino look like a Maybelline spokesmodel danced all over the floor, sticking their bottoms up in the air like they just didn't care.
San Clemente is a pit.
My sister and I had already spent some quality time at Big Helyn's, the county's southernmost bar. There, Elsa, the owner/ bartendress, was a vision of dominatrix-y retro; we liked her, and we liked the crowd (they welcome a lot of homeless people into their fold), but for a Marine bar, it didn't have very cute boys. That's the thing about San Clemente: you always think the people will be more attractive in this lazy beach town, and you're always surprised when they're not. I swear, it's like hanging out in Fontana.
We moved on to the Outrigger, where a crazy tweaker rested his eyeballs on the smoking patio's TV screen, flipping the channels as fast as he could count and talking to either the TV, himself or God.
So by the time we hit Coconuts and saw a guy there whose eye whites weren't a pretty shade of pink, our standards had fallen away like religious Republicans voting for Arnold Schwarzenegger. He wasn't noticeably drunk, he wasn't twitching, and he was from Oregon. People from Oregon are nice! So even after nodding and smiling our way through a five-minute conversation about drywall suppliers, we still invited him to join us at The Swallow's.
It seemed in addition to his drywall business, Ladd had busted bulls on a ranch in Oregon, been head loader for the Peter Britt Festival, had four black belts and was a hairdresser/DJ. Which was all good and fine, but when my sister mentioned her belts in Eagle Claw, he left her hanging on the high-five while he explained that he himself had four belts in it; he'd learned from his uncle, a grand master who had studied under Bruce Lee. And when he said he'd "hung out" with Bob Dylan after loading his gear (because if there's one thing Bob Dylan is, it's approachable with roadies), and I mentioned that our dad used to be Bob Dylan's roommate, he at first ignored it and then told me he wasn't impressed by people who tried to impress him. "After Willie Nelson's stopped his bus and everyone's gone, 'Ladd, get on the bus!' you're not impressed when people try to impress you," he said to me, really very impressively.
I didn't make the mistake of mentioning any of my very famous friends. You know I don't like to show off!
A solid hour later, we had learned that Ladd used to live in Bullhead Cityand would take the bus (it only cost $5) over to the Riverboat Casino, where he would come with $100 and leave with $180, except for the time he came with $10 and in six hours made $90, and once he'd made $340. After he'd blathered on for 10 minutes with two nice drunks at the Swallow's about their shared English heritage, I mentioned mine: half Russian-Polish Jew and half English/Irish/ Scottish/German. A few minutes later, when Sarah and I asked pointedly if perhaps he would like to ask us something about us and then showed him how by asking conversational questions about him, his only question was "Nice heritage." Huh? "You know, the comment you made before that was totally irrelevant to the conversation we were having?" Oh, yes. That heritage. My apologies, Ladd!
Sarah and I had already had some fun dancing with ourselves in the Swallow's cattle-call—it was packed with fun in there, and it allowed us to avoid our now-unwanted guest—but we kept going back for more and more Ladd. It was just like when you're 'shrooming, and there's a vortex in the kitchen, and the vortex is scary, but you keep going back for more scary kitchen vortex. You know?What would Ladd say next?
We kept trying. Would Ladd respond to anything we said, or would he just keep looking perturbed at the interruptions? Ladd was a very serious man! We decided to save Ladd from having to try to show interest in what we had to say; it was just too hard for him. So we offered without prompting the story of our lives: how we'd grown up in Iowa with our dad, who was a professor of English history, and how idyllic our childhood was with dad studying in the den and coming out to say fatherly things like, "Now, children! Please try to shush!" At that point, Ladd asked his first question of the evening. "You're sisters?" It had only taken him two hours.
We continued with our childhood happiness: how our two moms had been able to complement each other so well, with Sarah's mom bringing in hard cash as a corporate attorney while my mom baked and hung out with all the wives' children. "There were a couple of others, too—younger women—but they were more like our sisters," I told Ladd happily, as his face froze in what I'd call "sickened horror."