the carquinez strait (www.carquinezstrait.org)
s i x t y p
e r - c e n t
: r o d g e r j a c o b s
"No matter where we go, all you want to do is find a bar and drink," Viv
complained. It was three o’clock in the afternoon on a rainy Saturday.
They were perched on stools at the downstairs bar of the old Union Hotel
in Benicia. It was supposed to be a short weekend getaway, a diversion
from the stress that dominated their lives.
It began raining the moment they arrived and hadn’t let up since.
They took a rain-soaked stroll along the waterfront – wood pilings
from old ship yards still visible a few yards out in the murky bay – and
laughed when a man in a yellow rain slicker passed them and remarked, "Nice
weather for ducks." It was a funny comment because he meant it literally:
a row of ducks were waddling along in a nearby marsh.
"Let’s go to the bar," Stan suggested. And then he added: "To
get in out of the rain."That would keep her tirade about their
drinking at arm’s length for the time being.
They drank a local brew, highly recommended by the bartender who divided
his time all evening between serving the small room full of patrons --
mostly local color and a few guests of the century-old hotel, like Stan
and Viv -- and speaking pleasantly into a cell phone as he booked club
engagements for his country and western band. He was an older man, with
an escaping hair line and gold-rimmed eye-glasses and he went about his
business of slating appearances for his band with a passion that Stan
By ten o’clock both Stan and Viv were smashed. They wouldn’t
know it until the next morning, but the pints of beer they were knocking
back were sixty per-cent alcohol in content. They drank their beers while
listening to a very large black woman sing a medley of smokey old blues
tunes, accompanied by a key board player on one of those portable electronic
pianos. This is what passed for an evening’s entertainment at the
Union Hotel and it had an odd old-time bordello feeling about it. Odd
because the Union was a bordello once, sometime around World War Two
when the local
shipyards were buzzing with activity and sailors regularly passed through
Benicia on their way to shipping out from the Port of Oakland or San
The hotel room was decorated with a Victorian flourish. A bay window
overlooked the Carquinez Strait, where clouds laden with rain still hovered.
and Viv undressed quietly, Viv pouring the wine while Stan filled the
hot tub in the old white-tiled bathroom.
They were already well into the second bottle of wine – procured
from the local Safeway after a quick midnight stroll – when they
settled into the soothing water of the hot tub. Stan had been eager for
this little romantic interlude all day but his head was spinning and he
could see Viv’s eyes starting to waver so he reached out, tweaked
a nipple of her large left breast with his thumb
and she responded with a smile.
Maybe he tried too hard. Maybe he started to force himself upon her.
Sometimes Viv liked that. But the fact of the matter is his intimate
abruptly met with a smack from her hand across his left cheek. He didn’t
know what to think. They had indulged in mild S&M games in the past.
Was this an extension of that bed play?
Stan hit her back, the first time he had ever struck a woman in his life.
"Do you like that?" he said, striking a creepy balance between
menace and sexual allure.
Viv came alive then, throwing her face into her hands and sobbing uncontrollably.
There won’t be any sex tonight, Stan thought.
In the morning they agreed that it wasn’t like Viv to hit a man,
let alone Stan. When Viv suggested – as Stan knew she inevitably
would – that they drink too much, Stan offered that the reasons for
Viv’s unusual behavior might be of a more supernatural order.
"Think of all the emotions stored in these old rooms from all of the
prostitutes who once worked here," Stan said. "That’s
what got into you last night."
On the drive back home, Viv’s hand quaking on the steering wheel,
she agreed that the malevolent spirit of some long-dead soiled dove might
have driven her emotions the night before.
"But, you know," Viv said firmly, "that spirits are attracted
to people who drink too much."
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