on the Appearance and Character of
Mehitabel's Bar & Grill
Eastern Island, Spontoon Lagoon
by Taral Wayne
(meta-reality alert: this is behind-the-scenes
information intended for contributors)
Notes on the Appearance and Character of Mehitabel’s,
Eastern Island, Spontoon
(Questions answered by Taral Wayne, January 2011)
Anonymous Inquirer: I am a newer member of the Spontoon Islands [Yahoo] groups. Ken Fletcher let me know that I might contact you with questions about Mehitabel’s on Eastern Island.
Taral Wayne: I think Ken mentioned I'd be hearing from you. I had no objections to furnishing a little information. But you have to realize that I made it all up on the fly. Everything I wrote was new to me as I wrote it. There was no real master plan.
Nevertheless, certain things were grounded on reality. The road under the cliff that “Mehitabel's” is based on is a real road on Catalina Island that Schirm [Marc Schirmeister] and I visited once, years ago. If anything, the real road was more bleak, as there were no homes or businesses on it. Mehitabel's has no real basis, except perhaps that I was thinking slightly of a steak franchise called “Montana's” -- lots of wood timbers, canoes in the ceiling, Indian headdresses mounted over the cash register, old gumball machines, that sort of thing. But Montana's is just a restaurant, not a bar, and you wouldn't hang out there for any reason after you finish your meal.
On the website I found your fascinating exposition along with great drawings about some aspects of Eastern Island and was thinking of Mehitabel’s for a scene in a movie in a story. Have not completely thought this through very well yet, but I better get your approval and/or suggestions before I go too far. Maybe you can give some insights about what you had in mind for Mehitabel’s.
It's okay with me to use the place as background, though I would prefer you add nothing of consequence without bringing it up with me first. I mean, don't marry Mehitabel to a talking sperm whale, or anything like that... If you want to put a collection of antique cast iron stoves against one wall, that's fine. In fact... now that I think about it, I insist.
The place is verging on a dump, but is a lively and functioning, if informal community center for the blue collar residents of the island. Or one of them, anyway. No doubt there are other places like Mehitabel's that are just as crummy, just as much fun, and just as indispensable to their neighborhoods -- it's a big island.
When trying to visualize Mehitabel's you should probably think partly of that steak franchise I mentioned. If you don't have Montana's, you must have something exactly like it. I've eaten in them when traveling in the US. You should also think of an Irish pub... but less Irish. Think also of all those bars you’ve seen in classic westerns, except without the gambling. People don't go to Mehitabel's to gamble, get drunk, or pick a fight. They go there to pretend they're getting drunk and hopeful see somebody else fight -- a swashbuckling pirate and ex-marine, maybe. Usually there are no fights, and there's not much swashbuckle either, because under all the colour its really a business and a tightly run one at that. Anyone who tried throwing someone off the balcony onto a table below, like in a Western, would probably get their ears boxed by Mehitabel. Hard core gambling, such as dice and cards is off-limits... you go out in the alley to do that. But you can make informal bets with your buddies about who wins the game on the wide-screen TV.
[Paraphrased] Are there notable large structures on the north end of Eastern Island? Can I add some geological features?
The northeastern shore is pretty empty. Maybe a few farmhouses on the hill-crest [that runs north & south near the western shore], but not much more.
As for adding another geological feature, the way Ken works it is that there is almost no "real" reality for Spontoon, so there are all kinds of contradictions, and none is more official than another. But by adding a volcano or giant chasm on Eastern Island would directly conflict with everyone else's maps. A modest feature would conflict less. You might make a proposal to Ken and see whether he thinks it'll fit or not. It's not my island, or world, after all.
Is the place or the character in any Spontoon stories?
(She seems to be a fascinating character, but I don’t know anything about her)
How does Mehitabel run her place? Hands on, always there and out on the floor, like a hostess?? Known to be there, but not always visible?? (I like that she sings most nights) Some nights not there at all??
Mehitabel's is not mentioned in any story that I know. I haven't written any, and no one has mentioned to me that they have either.
I would imagine that Mehitabel is very hands-on, but not always visible. She is there when she can be, and circulates among the tables if not singing. But other times she has mysterious "meetings" with shady characters who all look like Sam Spade and Gutman... mostly they're salesmen from distilleries, and one is her idiot brother-in-law who comes to borrow money.
I would imagine that if a general brawl broke out in Mehitabel's, the Boss would get involved. Whether she could quell it is another matter. She would likely protest the footage going into a movie, but you might work it out that she had already signed a contract and couldn't stop it. Maybe, as a gag, she can legally force them to change the name of the place in the film, so that in the theaters the audience sees a badly patched in matte that says "Archie's" instead of "Mehitabel's"
([Background for the names] "Archie & Mehitabel" were the famous characters in Don Marquis's popular 1920s newspaper poems. Archie was a cockroach, inhabited by the soul of a reincarnated modern poet. Mehitabel insisted she was the reincarnation of Cleopatra, though its fairly obvious she's just a common alley cat.)
How would I describe her looks?? Or mannerisms??
Mehitabel's mannerisms would be somewhere between Mae West and Tugboat Annie... She was more Mae West originally, but business, exposure to low elements and age have coarsened her somewhat. She swears like a sailor, and can usually drink most of them under the table... not that she makes a habit of it. She's a lady, after all... when she keeps her temper... when she isn't talking business... when she isn't throwing some bum out in the street.
Looks? Again, think Mae West, but add forty pounds in the wrong places. Let her face fall a little. She still has the long hair, but is more likely to do it up on top of her head. Not exactly like Marge Simpson... People say she keeps an antique derringer in the hair-do. This is silly. She keeps the derringer in a pocket, like anyone else.
What kind of place is it?? Sophisticated?? Rowdy?? Might be either on different nights or for some other reasons?? Great food?? Separate Bar?? Or only drinks with dinner?? Open only at night?? Very late??
I thought I'd covered this. Basically rowdy, but its made rowdy by very sophisticated calculation. Like Cyndi Lauper and fakolo WWF wrestling. Mehitabel must have known genuinely tough places in her life, and has carefully recreated one, but the recreation is not actually very tough. Despite all the funky decor and colourful characters, the joint is really about the food and drink... and also the entertainment. Since the entertainment is different each night, one supposes the audience is as well. Some nights might be more working class, with a few actual bikers and low-lifes minding their manners better than usual. Other nights might be mostly frat boys. I didn't specify too many details, preferring to leave some maneuvering room for later use.
Definitely a separate bar, though drinks will be served to the table as well. Hours begin in late afternoon, I guess, and run 1 or 2 a.m. probably. Saturday nights might be later.
What does it look like, inside and out??
Lots of wood. Wooden floors, wooden walls, timbered roof, wooden pillars, wooden doors, wooden expressions on the wooden Indians. There would have to be some sort of stage -- not huge, and probably only a couple of feet high, a curtain with a little space behind it, some simple sound equipment. The lighting is dark except for the spots on the stage, not always used. There would be booths along the walls, individual tables in the middle of the room, and perhaps benches in one room. The whole place would be several large rooms and a number of small ones. I mentioned the collection of iron stoves, but there would be all sorts of other junk like that in out of the way corners -- a airplane prop over the main door, for instance. Hell, an entire radial piston engine and prop over the main door. Mere propellers over lesser doors. Marine screws over the washroom doors. There's a second story with small rooms and offices, and Mehitabel's own quarters. It's pretty much off-limits to customers except by arrangement.
Outside is sort of Old West mixed with Maritime fishing shack. Partly this is real, but the effect is also encouraged by none-too-assiduous repair and maintenance. There are torn fishing nets hung on the outside walls and lobster traps, but also a row of newspaper boxes… one of the largest collection of available papers on the island – Mehitabel likes to keep up. A lot of the natural colour of the wood shows on three sides of the main building – grey mainly – but the frontage gets painted salmon and yellow from time to time, with green trim on the window frames, doors and rails. Sometimes it’s painted yellow and salmon instead. There’s an outside balcony above the main entrance, but its a fake – it’s only a couple of feet deep and mainly serves as the designated fire escape . The roof is wooden shakes, and not painted.
Who are her customers?? Island upper class?? Working men (“who slip off once a week…”) Do they also bring their wives?? Or dates?? Do women ever go there alone or with a group of girlfriends??
Mainly blue collar working class guys, but also white collar workers who feel comfortable with slumming. Maybe they were blue collar once, or they're dad's were. Or they're mistakenly looking for "adventure." Wives and girlfriends would be welcome in the parts of Mehitabel's that are more clearly for full-course meals. Just how welcome they would be elsewhere depends on the night and who's there. Some nights are better than others. Women alone would likely be more welcome than wives or girlfriends, since they can be picked up. I wouldn't picture groups of women hanging out at Mehitabel's unless they were fairly tough and able to make coarseness-for-coarseness with the guys. It's an issue that can be dealt with flexibly, to meet the needs of a plot.
Overall, Mehitabel’s is a shrewd mixture of the contrived and the genuine, rather like Mehitabel herself.
[Questions by “Anonymous Inquirer”]
[Replies by Taral Wayne – January 2011]
[Editorial [inserts] by Ken Fletcher]