Sunday, July 7, 2019


National Dive Bar Day (7 July) seems the right time to tell my tale of owning a dive bar.

It was on Santa Barbara’s west side.

I always wanted to own a bar—a classic American saloon, a real bar, no food, maybe a jar of pickled eggs.

You know how they say the second happiest day of your life is buying a yacht, and the first is when you sell it?

The same is true about bars.

Mind you, I’m glad to have owned a bar. I learned a lot from the experience.

The first thing I learned: Never own a bar.

The second thing I learned: Never own any kind of small business in the State of California.

A business law attorney, much too late, told me his “ABC Rule” for clients: “Anywhere but California.”

ABC also stands for Alcoholic Beverage Control.

These are the folks who derive their salaries and budget from alcohol licensing fees then use part of this booty for setting up entrapment schemes to trip up busy bartenders and catch them off their guard with a confusing ID so they can collect even more money.

Happened to me.

I wasn’t the bartender, but I don’t blame him given the circumstances, especially since he was normally quite vigilant about recognizing fake IDs and chasing out under-agers.

ABC’s Mr. Pond summons me to Ventura for a dressing-down.

No problem, I can take my lumps.

And then I get to choose the punishment: Pay a $2000 fine to ABC or close for 30 days.

“Easy,” I say, without hesitation. “We’ll close for thirty days.”

“Huh?” says Mr. Pond.

“I’ll take the 30-day closure.”

“Really?” He is surprised.

“Really, truly.”

“Why?” he asks.

“Because I own the building so I’ll give myself a break on the rent. And I want my bartenders to lose work for thirty days so they learn a lesson about this kind of thing and don’t screw up again. And my regular customers, who think my bar is their living room? Well, after they lose their local bar for a month they’ll think twice about trying to sneak their under-age nephews and nieces in.”

“What if I reduce the fine to $1200?” says Mr. Pond.

Clearly, they want the money, not the closure.

“Doesn’t matter, I’ll still take 30 days.”

“But, but, nobody ever does that.”

“I’m doing it.”

My reasoning: Not only is ABC not getting money out of me for entrapping my bartender, the State of California will lose out on thirty days' sales tax!

Hence, maybe bureau-crazy will learn its own lesson.

And speaking of sales tax and bureau-crazy.

A representative of the California Tax Franchise Board audited my bar books after revenues declined due to our no-service policy to drug dealers, brawlers, and drinkers we knew would drive.

Let’s move onto bartenders briefly before reverting to the tax-lady. Even though it’s against the rules, bartenders over-pour drinks in exchange for bigger tips, and they help themselves to drinks when the owner is not present.

So, when the tax-lady measures booze ordered against booze sold, there is a discrepancy—and she wants sales tax on that discrepancy, even though she knows from the books such booze was not sold to customers.

“You mean I have to pay sales tax on whatever the bartender steals?”

Indeed, that is what she meant.

In other words, screwed from both ends.

My clever accountant saved the day, turning a multi-thousand-dollar tax bill into zero due to several Franchise Board miscalculations.

This accountant, a partner in his own dive bar, enjoyed repeating a pearl of wisdom he’d cultivated from his dive bar experience: “Nothing good can happen between midnight and two in the morning.”

Indeed. That is the magic window when fights break out. And what you need to know is this: dive bar patrons don’t fight because they don’t like one another, they fight because they like fighting. The feeling of pain, and inflicting pain, gets their endorphins flowing. In other words, as with drinking, they do it to feel good.

(When I bought my bar, one of the first things I did was set up rock salt candles on the bar to give the place an ambient glow. Dave, a seasoned bartender I inherited, took one look at my illuminations and said, “These may look like candles to you, but after midnight they are missiles.”)

At some point, I decided to paint the exterior of the bar.

Not long after, an enforcement officer from city bureau-crazy ordered me to repaint it back the way it was.

That is because, in Santa Barbara, you are not allowed to paint the building in which you own a business.

Even if you own the building.

If you want to paint your building a different shade, you must apply to Santa Barbara’s Architectural Review Board.

This is not a simple application.

You must supply blueprints of the property, conduct comparative studies of all the properties around yours, pay fees, always fees, high fees, every step of the way—an arduous process that includes attending several monthly Review Board meetings and will likely take well beyond a year.

For a simple exterior paint job.

“So, Mr. Eringer, you want to paint your exterior a darker shade of tan—have you considered the implications this would have on your neighborhood?”

“Um, if you ever visit the corner of San Andres and Arrellaga you will discover that anything would be an improvement.”           

Same goes for changing signage—even a minor change.

Worst of all is the Labor Commission.

The sole purpose of this state bureau-crazy, perhaps the craziest of all, is always to side with disgruntled ex-employees, however outrageous their claims, whatever documentary evidence and testimony exists to the contrary, and award them huge sums of money—a Robin Hood-mentality based on horse-feathers.

On the positive side, one of the most interesting lessons I learned is that you can run a dive bar (in fact, most bars) on fewer than 10 labels of booze. This is because people generally stick to their tipple of choice—usually a high-profile, well-advertised brand.  

Ultimately (aside from NFL Ticket and karaoke, throw in a pool table), a dive bar is about booze.  

After redecorating my bar with fine art, sculpture and directional lighting, a seasoned drinker walked up and down, fully appreciating the aesthetic I had created.  

“Nice job,” he said. Then he added: “But you realize, you didn’t have to do any of this. Your customers are here for one thing and one thing only.”

Alcohol is why people come to a bar.

Some want it.  Most need it. 

But they aren’t here for the art or the pretty bartender. 

They want a drink. 

They want it the way they like it. 

And they want it now.


The Graveyard Shift by Thomas Van Stein

(Left to right: Edgar Allan Poe, the owner, Vonnegut, Kerouac, John Fante, Hemingway, Hunter S. Thompson, Bukowski)

Friday, July 5, 2019


Reiner Edmund Schmegner 

Lawyers representing Reiner Schmegner, who masquerades as "TC Reiner," have filed a motion in Court to withdraw as counsel from the case, citing as cause a "deteriorated relationship" with The Schmeg since learning that their client is not who he claimed to be.

Schmegner's conduct (meaning, mis-conduct) also appears to be at issue.

Given his record as a serial sewer (uh, suer), it seems that Shmegner's life is full of deteriorated relationships.

Statement of Michael Harris, Esq.

Thursday, July 4, 2019


The American School in London, St. John's Wood, 1972

Independence Day was never more meaningful than when I was a mid-teen.

Sounds weird, but true, and requires explanation.

From the age of 15 through 19, I lived in a foreign country where no July 4th celebrations took place.

Worse, that foreign country was Great Britain, for which American Independence was a commiseration, not a celebration. The Brits, having lost their North American territories to colonial revolutionaries, scoffed at such a holiday—while continuing to refer to we Americans as colonials.

Which meant we American teens had to work hard to celebrate US independence, rendering July 4th more essential to us.

Making matters worse, there were no hot dogs in Britain back then. And the only hamburgers available were sad specimens of beef offal and grease from a droll chain called Wimpy.

But it hardly mattered because the Brits had not yet discovered the art of barbecuing.

And no parade, either.

This sad situation only served to make we expats more American.

How so?

We were forced to put a large amount of effort into retaining our identity as Americans, to those things that—in our minds— made us feel American.

In those days, that meant loading up on Levi’s blue jeans, Frye harness boots, and CPO jackets during stateside summer vacations, along with an assortment of snacks—Hershey bars, Skippy peanut butter, Oreo cookies, etc.—all unavailable in the UK back then.

Popularity among teens at American schools in London was based on who had the best regular access to such garments and edibles.

Quite literally, we clung to our American-ness. We fought for our American independence against a foreign culture that would otherwise consume us with generic “Bank Holidays.”

The American high school my friends and I attended gave us a sense of identity.  But by the time July rolled around it was bolted for the summer and we were on our own, in a star & stripe-less setting.

Ever wonder why three American teens from Bushy High (the U.S. military-brat school in the far-off suburbs of London) called the band they formed America and sang longingly about "the free wind blowing' through your hair" cruising Ventura Highway?  Now you know.

In June 1971, reinforcement arrived in the guise of the Hard Rock CafĂ©, an American burgerie modeled on the Finger Diner in Memphis, Tennessee (and not, back then, the rock ‘n’ roll-themed emporium it would morph into a decade later).

Finally, we homesick teens could order a real American hamburger and wash it down with a real chocolate milkshake. Even better, for those of us who looked at least 16 years-old, the wash-down could be with the real beer that made Milwaukee famous.

Not surprisingly, such clinginess to everything American bestowed upon us a keen appreciation for our country and its culture, which we recreated for ourselves every chance we got, every way we could.

Such thinking may have even played into my decision to attend university in our nation’s capital.  Arriving there in 1975, having just read Gore Vidal’s novel, Washington, D.C., awed me to my core, enamored as I was by politics, intrigue and media.

The monuments. The memorials. The White House.

To me, every day in DC felt like July 4th.

And I guess that’s my point: You don’t have to restrain your patriotic pride to one day of the year; you can celebrate the spirit of what it means to be an American all year round.

Which leads to this question: What does it mean to be a citizen of the United States?

For a start, you have a vote.

Your vote is so precious that political parties and special interest groups (and the intelligence services of hostile foreign countries) spend tens of millions of dollars every election cycle trying to influence it. They try to buy votes, sometimes try to steal them. That’s how valuable your vote is. So, don’t ever take your vote for granted or let it go to waste. Educate yourself on candidates and issues and use your vote on what and who you believe in.

You live in an enduring democracy. 

Sure, conflict exists, but with democracy comes adversity, and the adversity we witness (openly, for we welcome freedom of expression) is tempered by a system of checks and balances, advise and consent, to ensure that our high-powered locomotive, always in motion, does not go off the rails.

Ours is the only country in the world where people of multiple races, nationalities, ethnicities and religious or spiritual or agnostic beliefs coexist mostly in peace.

It is a country in which, whatever your economic strata at birth, whatever your origins, through hard work and determination you can make something of yourself.

And if you don’t believe that, witness the millions of people around the globe that aspire to renouncing their unstable and often unsafe homelands so that they may take up residence in the United States, most of them willing to swear an allegiance and become citizens.

Maybe it takes living outside the United States for a while to truly appreciate what we’ve got here, best articulated by Tom Waits in a line from San Diego Serenade: “I never knew my hometown until I stayed away too long.”

This union of ours is not perfect. But, as conceived by a group of illustrious forefathers blessed with idealism, intelligence and foresight, it represents one of the fairest, most decent forms of government ever created.