Saturday, June 16, 2012


“Sitting on a park bench
Eyeing little girls with bad intent.
Snot running down his nose
Greasy fingers smearing shabby clothes.”

Aqualung by Jethro Tull

“One of these mornings
You're going to rise up singing
Then you'll spread your wings
And you'll take to the sky
But till that morning
There's a'nothing can harm you
With daddy and mamma standing by”
Summertime by George Gershwin

“See the sun on his space suit
See the death in his eyes
He’s a starship trooper, an interstellar mover
Better get out of his way and run run run for your life”
Starship Trooper by Happy Jack

(picture: Lanny on piano with Linda S, Cathy, and Antoinette)

Mid-June, 2012: In my attempt to recreate the Great Northern days, I have communicated mainly by email with several of the former staff, most of whom no longer live in Sacramento.  For one incident, I wanted a more detailed account, and luckily the person involved is currently living here.  So on a sweltering, triple-digit summer day, I took a little hike to the home of Happy Jack Hastings, where we talked about his brief three night stint as a busser.  Happy Jack is a very tall fellow, about six and a half feet, a striking figure with a stocky build who back in the day had a shockingly wiry and long head of hair.  He greeted me at the door and we sat at a small table in his front room.  On the table were several books, a stack of cd’s, and a bottle of Jameson with two glasses.  We spoke briefly about our families, he poured a couple of drinks neat, and the discussion began.

Wild Bill: Can you remind everyone how you ended up at the Great Northern?

Happy Jack: I needed a job after quitting as Campus Pizza’s least aggressive and only pacifist bouncer.  Of course you were working the Northern at the time and I had met several of the amazingly gracious and talented folk who comprised its “cast” of singing hosts, hostesses, waiters and busboys, including the lovely and talented Antoinette, who was in charge of scouting talent for the restaurant.  You convinced me to audition so I wrote some kind of comedy blues piece, got my crappy guitar, and did that and the Ozzie hit single, “Android Love”, and Antoinette gave me a gig as a singing busboy.

WB: Remember that crazy uniform they made us wear?

HJ: Yeah, there was a dress code for the wait and bus staff that included knickers and headwear.  Maybe suspenders or a vest and a bow tie too.  I’m not sure.  Anyway, all I had was an old pair of blue jeans that I cut off, rolled up and pinned to approximate knickers.  I think I wore a beat-up “pimp” hat and ill-fitting gold satin vest and whatever else I could throw together to approximate the appropriate apparel.  I only hope to God that there are no photos of me as this shabby travesty of a 6-foot, 5-inch London street urchin.

(Jack pours us another drink.)

WB: So how’d it go?

HJ: The first night is a total blur.  I don’t think my song went over very well and it was crazy busy all night.  I felt totally outclassed by the talent and professionalism of the “real” waiters and such but I do remember enjoying the free employee meal and getting a share of the tips, having cash in pocket at the end of the shift and washing it all down with beer and Cuervo Gold at the bar.  That last part may have been later - I spent much more time at the Great Northern after I got fired than I ever did on the job.

WB: I seem to recall some outstanding performances!  You did a great version of that song you wrote, “Starship Trooper”.  People couldn’t believe what they were hearing.

HJ: I remember one kick-ass version of “Android Love” where a bunch of the staff joined in and either Gray or you played the piano.  I also remember pouring ice water down the back of a lady’s dress because I wasn’t paying attention and also a rather stern critique of my “uniform” from one of the Beach brothers, or possibly Redwood. 

(Jack pours us another drink.)

WB: You were only employed three or four nights, right?  What happened?

HJ: You mean what was my crime?  Other than being generally and obviously unfit for the role? 

WB: Yes, exactly.  Let’s go back to your last night.  As I recall, shortly before “the incident”, we pulled Walter out of the swamp to debut his version of “Aqualung”.  I think Ichabod was playing the piano.  Remember how Walter looked?  He was covered in rib sauce; it almost seemed like he was splattered with blood.  This must have been a horrifying sight to some of the customers!  Here’s this rib-sauce-soaked ogre-like figure in a white chef’s uniform emerging from the swinging doors, literally lumbering over to the piano.  Ichabod starts playing and then Walter starts “singing”, which is being charitable to Walter.  I thought he was tremendous!  But I remember Redwood glaring at him the whole time, looking from him to some of the tables, where the typical reaction seemed to border on terror.  When he was done, I think Redwood rounded up Lanny, Antoinette and a couple twinkies for a “refreshing” take on “Summertime” to kinda cleanse the place.  And then something happened to you in the swamp?

HJ: Yeah, no doubt, Walter was awesome.  As was that “Summertime” version!  I think it was right after that some of us were returning one of the “planks” used to serve mounds of comestibles to our worthy customers, or stinking C’s as we tended to refer to them.  I noticed an almost-full and frosty bottle of beer still on the plank, so as we were passing the plank back to the kitchen staff to get hosed down or whatever, I grabbed the bottle and drained it in one long pull.  Apparently in full view of Redwood.

WB: Oh, man, he was already having fits that night!

HJ: As my shift was drawing to a close, I was approached by the head waiter - I don’t recall who it was, only that it wasn’t Tennessee – who informed me, sympathetically, that my services were no longer required.  I was kind of annoyed as others had committed similar offenses and had not been punished.  It was an embarrassing thing to be fired, so I took to telling others the reason for my dismissal was simply that I was taller than Redwood.

(Jack pours us another drink.  As he puts down the bottle, he accidentally knocks over the stack of cd’s on the table in front of him, spilling discs of various prog rock, English folk singers, ABBA and Melanie’s Greatest Hits around the room.  I start to pick them up but he tells me not to, that he’ll take care of it later.)

WB: But you’re right; a lot of people “scavenged” the leftovers, so to speak, especially the drinks!  I don’t know, Jack, I can’t believe Redwood was so petty, I think it did have something to do with “tall man envy”.

HJ: They were right to fire me even if the offense didn’t merit it.  The only thing I added to The Northern was maybe a bit of comedy relief and Wild Man Fisher surrealism.  Not the kind of thing that brings in the stinking C’s or complements the other staff members whose talent far outshone mine.  It was fun while it lasted and even more fun afterward.

(So ended our conversation.  I feel Jack was way too humble in his final assessment.  During his brief but legendary Northern stint, he amazed and thrilled not only the C’s, but the other performers as well.  It’s a shame he couldn’t have worked there longer.  As I left his front room table, I think I accidentally stepped on and cracked his Dancin’ Queen cd, but I can’t be sure.  He did not say a word.)


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