Come on Clint, Make My Day: A True Life Story from Monterey, California

It was one of those things easily passed off. It’s something that happened, you found it absurd, then you forgot about it. Years and years later, something occurs and you think of it again, but this time your recollection of the incident verges on the ludicrous.

There he was, his hair dishevelled and silver, his posture less straight, his voice a little weak and somewhat shaky: that tall, tough guy, that icon of yesteryear, holding forth before an audience to whom the American Way and Family Values means everything, speaking to an empty chair. It was at the Convention of the Haves, and Clint Eastwood was enjoying his evening dance with the zillionaires.

That’s not how I remember Clint. My memory of him goes back to a time when he was a television cowboy, an actor with dusty boots and clipped speech. It was a summer night at a pub called the Palace on Monterey’s Cannery Row, and he and a couple of his friends were out on the prowl. Muscles showing, smug in their suntanned hides, if there was anything they disliked it was the sight of a bearded, long-haired hippie, and as the Palace invariably had its fair share of them on any given night, Clint and his pals were drawn there as bees to a flower, cats to catnip, or dogs to a hydrant. It was almost a ritual: when Clint Eastwood wasn’t shooting a film in Los Angeles he’d hightail it home to Monterey to gather together his friends and go to Palace to beat up a few hippies.

I was there on one of those nights, sitting in a far corner drinking my Coors and talking to a couple of friends. Looking beyond our table I saw the door open and in they came, Clint and his two sidekicks. They went to the bar, stood there for several minutes, and then, unprovoked, knocked someone with long hair to the floor. No one had said anything, and no one fought back: after all, this was during the Age of Aquarius, and those experiencing the attack by the Eastwood Gang were mellow yellow flower children.

Tables were being overturned, chairs began to fly. No one was resisting. How could they? A frightened young woman sitting opposite me began shaking violently. “Don’t move and we should be all right,” I said, hoping to calm her, and just as I said that I was being lifted bodily from my chair by that same man I saw on television tonight–ironically, as it turns out—speaking to an empty chair.

“What did you say?” he yelled in my face, clutching me by my shirt with one hand and showing me a large fist with the other.

I repeated my words and he loosened the grip on my shirt, dropping me into my chair. He  turned away to find someone else to terrorize.

We now jump ahead two or three years, and Clint Eastwood is back in town.  But there is no more Palace on Cannery Row. Instead, there is my pub, the Bull’s Eye Tavern in downtown Monterey. All the Palace regulars and more have swarmed to my doors for I offer a great atmosphere and live music and dancing most nights of the week, hard rock sounds and hard rock bands from the area, from San Francisco, and from beyond. Still showing his suntanned beach boy muscles, Clint appears at my door with two or three of his chums. I’m the doorman, standing at the entrance checking IDs and collecting an admission fee for the band. I take one look at Clint and shake my head no. He gives me one of those Dirty Harry looks, and I again shake my head no. Clint  moves near.

“John,” he says in a low voice, putting his face down close so I can hear him above the music of the band, “you’re a writer. I respect that. I would never bust up your place.” I let the gang in and he didn’t, but I spent the rest of the evening keeping a wary eye on him. And all the while thinking about the pub this guy went out of his way to help put out of business.

Listening today to Eastwood’s stumbling right-wing blather, it’s pretty obvious that little has changed. Once a bully always a bully, and if it’s not the Palace, it’s the President of the United States he wants to put out of business.

Unless, of course, he decides to show a little respect for Barack Obama as a writer.

John Bell Smithback About John Bell Smithback

John Bell Smithback is a former teacher and newspaper columnist living in Bellingham, Washington. He has published more than 50 books defining English idioms and proverbs for an international audience, as well as The Lonely Dark, a novel about America in the age of the atomic bomb, and Silent in the Dawn, a collection of poems. In his early years he lived in the Monterey, California house where John Steinbeck once wrote and where he met friends from Steinbeck’s time.

Comments

  1. ken beach says:

    I was your bartender for many years.

  2. I love your story! I saw Clint once walking down the street in Carmel, back when he owned the Hog’s Breath Inn. I couldn’t have been but 17 at the time. He looked just like he does in the movies. Very tall, lanky, casual clothes, boots (not hat or chaps). He walked tall with his head up and eyes aimed directly forward. He’s tall enough that his eyes are above other people’s heads, and I remember thinking if that was how he managed to walk around town without being badgered for autographs and pictures by the tourists — looking straight ahead could avoid eye contact with anyone 6′ tall and under. He reminds me of my dad…a lot. Kinda scary.

    • This is the kind of conversation we love to share with readers. We received a copy of the following reply from John to Julie:

      “Great recollection, Julie. And did you happen to notice the size of his fists? (Only kidding.) As I recall, Clint owned the Hog’s Breath during the time I owned the Bull’s Eye Tavern, or perhaps a bit later. He eventually bought the Mission Ranch and has or had a house adjoining it next to the tennis court. During my years on the Monterey Peninsula, there were so many so-called celebrities about that most of us just yawned. I don’t know how it is today, but back then no one ran after anyone looking for an autograph or taking photographs. Clint was pretty safe in that regard, as were Bob Dylan and Joan Baez and Doris Day and Frank Sinatra and Bing Crosby and so many, many more. Some day soon I’ll compile a list of their names and have Will Ray post it on SteinbeckNow.com. Sorry though, I have no autographs to prove they were really there . . .”

      Coincidentally, the Winter 2015 issue of Carmel magazine features a photo spread of Clint’s son or grandson getting married there recently. So much for the admirable anonymity John remembers from the Peninsula’s past!

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