This is Marideth Sisco for These Ozark Hills Once upon a time in a land and a culture far away from the Ozarks, I was younger. I was living in California, trying to make my way in the thriving music culture there, trying to make a name for myself, as they say.
I was playing around the Bay Area nightclubs, bars and little seedy coffee houses, and actually landed a gig on Broadway, in San Francisco, the place where the big kids came to play.
It was a fascinating little club, dedicated to being as unique, as trendy and as noticeably different as possible. As a consequence, my audience was as likely to be comprised of dozens of members of the french navy, when they were in port, or topless dancers from down the street where Carol Doda starred (not topless here, of course. They were just on break.) or sometimes small groups of drag queens from down at Finnochio’s, also on break. And, of course, tourists. Lots of tourists. All of them came to get a show, and they all got one. But for the performers on the stage, it was hard to compete with what was probably going to happen somewhere down there in front of us.
But I liked the atmosphere of the place itself, because it and its owners just passionately refused to take themselves seriously. There was always an irreverent comment, a practical joke, a drama over nothing, silly hijinks, you name it.
So when my parents died and left me a little money, not much, I engaged a friend who was also working in that club to come in with me and start another club outside the city in a university town, maybe. I thought I could probably draw a crowd, and my friend, whose father was a chef and who was a gifted practical joker, could make a place people might want to come. We could make a little bit of a living and I wouldn’t have to look for any more gigs. I’d have my own.
Now I’m sure anyone with any sense would be making a list right now of all the things we didn’t know and as an aside, notice that both of us were in our mid-twenties, where we still thought we knew everything.
We found a spot out on old Soquel drive in Santa Cruz, we signed a lease, bought the requisite equipment from antique back bar to coolers, a commercial stove, etc. and were ready for business.
But what kind of business would it be? How could we make it different enough, intriguing enough, to draw in a college crowd? The answer was to make it less of a bar, more of a social club with none of the aura of despair that comes with the traditional tavern. We made a kitchen and served food. We also refused to buy dice cups because we didn’t like the noise. Instead, if someone wanted to play a game to see who would buy the next round or put the next quarter in the jukebox, we’d make em play jacks, by golly. One of my favorite memories of that time was a Jacks tournament, won by a truck driver, sitting cross-legged on the floor, saying in a deep baritone “I said I had twosies, dammit.”
We also messed up the the pool playing crowd, adding extra rules that could be invoked by bribing the bartender. The three primary rules could only be invoked by a player who was losing, and they were Snudges, the Do-Overs and Make Missies. With the snudge, a player could claim the cue ball was in an impossible position, place the butt of the cue stick against the ball and move the ball to the other side of the stick.
Do-Overs, of course, is when a player hits the cue ball so ineptly that it doesn’t touch anything. Whereupon, they could simply take the shot over from its new position.
The make missy was the worst of all, and only available when the situation was dire. Invoking that rule meant that the losing player could do absolutely anything to the other player as they were taking their shot - except touch them. Professional players hated us, but everybody else was having a great time.
As the late sixties progressed and tensions arose around civil rights and opposition to the war, tensions inside the club rose as well. We were stuck between a very liberal and politically minded university and Fort Ord, where soldiers were coming and going and occasionally coming back from Vietnam. We were concerned that without warning those tensions could escalate into violence. We had seen it happen in the city.
Once again, my practical joking partner came up with a solution. She went to the dime store and bought a dozen each of cap guns and water pistols, and loaded them. If things got rocky, she’d simply pass them out and we’d have ourselves a shoot-out. It was a bit disconcerting for people arriving for dinner. But nobody got hurt and everyone remained friends.
But why am I telling you this? It was so long ago and far away from the Ozarks. Simply for this. The notion of that pool-playing rule, the do-over, has stuck with me through all these many years, and the impact of the notion, and the potential consequences, have dogged me all my life since, all the way back to my Ozarks home. I read once in a little note on the side of a refrigerator the question, “If you don’t have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?” That, too, was an idea that stuck.
And I am concerned that in these present days of miracle and wonder, even in these blessed Ozarks hills, we had better be giving some thought not just to the do-over, but the do-better, or at least do-different. I’m thinking we are reaching a point in the continuing growth and change of the species and the changes it is making on the landscape, both real and metaphorical, that this season of high holy days in many traditions offers an opportunity for reflection on our doings to see how these decisions have worked out. Is our world a better place for our being here? Could it stand some improvements, some sane, sensible adjustments to our choices? If we could do some things over, maybe do different, maybe do a little better. Now that we are old enough to know we don’t actually know it all.
Back all those years ago, we were striving to use humor to defuse violence, a lighter touch to drive away despair, a way to make a difference. We learned many things from that time in that place, but the thing that stuck the most with me is that once one takes a step toward making a difference, of doing better, no matter how many times you have to do it over, it never ends. And if you’re lucky, and if you manage to take on the challenges of your life without succumbing to despair, you might some time, just once in a while, get it right.
Here’s hoping for a whole world of opportunities for you and yours in the coming year, chances to excel, chances to bring your dreams to life, and endless, endless opportunities for do-overs. This is Marideth Sisco. Thank you.