Sunday, March 31, 2019

Thinking About Jeanie

Jeanie and me in her office.

It's been hard to keep Jeanie off my mind since I heard she died. We went through a lot together. I first met her when Lucy was a baby and I pushed her stroller into Sweetwater asking for a waitressing job. Jeanie was nice enough, but I wasn't hired. 

I did find employment at The Boarding House in San Francisco. It was the early eighties and nightlife was wild. Cocaine was everywhere and people drank a lot. In fact, it was company policy. We had table tents that said there was a two-drink minimum per set. Guess who had to enforce the policy? The waitresses. You could order coffee or bubbly water, but you had to order something. 

When I started working at The Boarding House the place seemed to be thriving, although it closed a few months later. We had a run of Robin Williams stand up comedy shows. I think it was two shows a night for five nights. At any rate, it was a lot of Robin. He was in a wild phase and would come bother us in the waitress station. He was very funny and sort of annoying in a brotherly way. I've met a lot of musicians and entertainers and only asked two of them for their autographs. Paul McCartney and Robin Williams. Robin signed a cocktail napkin for baby Lucy. 

One night there was a double booking of Maria Muldaur and Dan Hicks. The Boarding House was not prepared for the onslaught of Mill Valley fans, who trekked across the Golden Gate Bridge to the show. We were seriously understaffed and as hard as I worked it was impossible for me to keep up. Ashtrays were overflowing, empty glasses were everywhere and the customers were drinking cocktails faster than I could deliver them.  At one point I realized Jeanie was in my station. I was mortified that she would think I wasn't a very good waitress and couldn't keep up with my section. 

Quite the contrary! Jeanie saw how hard I was working and decided she wanted to hire me after all. She started me off on Monday nights, which were busy enough in those days to need two waitresses. The bartender was Buddy, who was old school and scared me a little. It was a big night for drug dealers to stop by and people paying for drinks would literally drop cash out of their pockets. I always scanned the floor by the bar when the lights went up and boy, did I ever score. Many times I found money, often hundred dollar bills, on the floor. I was twenty-five years old and would work with Jeanie in various capacities, for the next ten years. 

You could tell when Jeanie had arrived at work, because before you could see her, you could smell her. She had a very distinctive scent. Maybe it was Shalimar. I can't remember. Jeanie was always perfectly put together. She was a clothes horse in a jeans and button down shirt with turned up collar, leather jacket sort of way. She had a dozen pairs of cowboy boots and wore them often. Her face was beautiful and shiny and her hair was never out of place, even at two in the morning when we were closing up after a long night. Jeanie had the most luminous, soulful, brown eyes. She loved the sun and frequently had a gorgeous, dark tan. 

I moved from working Mondays nights to working all the busiest shows for years, often six nights a week. I slung cocktails through two pregnancies. After I had my third daughter I'd had enough of nightlife and worked as Jeanie's assistant in the office in the afternoons. I also counted the cash registers and did the bank deposits. She trusted me. I even was a signatory on the Sweetwater checking account.

Jeanie was there when I met my husband, Robert Lindkvist, who spent some time working the door at the club. She came to our wedding. She provided a personal reference when Robert adopted my daughter, Lucy. We shared holidays. We laughed and cried over our kids. Her boys were probably 4 and 6 when I met them. I was there when she and Jay divorced and Jeanie moved on to new loves. 

Sadly, I was one of the many people Jeanie left behind when she moved away from Mill Valley. Even though it's been years since I've seen her, I can still hear her voice in my head. She had some great expressions. One of them was "Timing and Delivery." It meant that you could say something negative if you said it in the right way and even if you had something positive to convey, it wouldn't be received well if you didn't say it at the right time. Jeanie also taught me the best toilet training trick using M & M's, which Tro and Taylor called "emens". One M & M for pee, and two for poo. It was genius. My kids were out of diapers in no time. 

Jeanie was a lot of things to a lot of people, but she was a Mom above all else. How she loved those boys. She would have Peter Walsh come over to the house on Christmas Eve and read "The Night Before Christmas" to them. She took a lot of pleasure in attending their ball games, packing their school lunches and tucking them in when they were little. Later they liked to just hang out and talk. It's not easy to keep nightclub hours when you have kids. You get off work at three a.m. and then up with the kids in the morning. I know, because I was a Mom who kept the same hours. 

When Tro died it was a tragedy, but he'd been in some trouble over the years, so there was a bit of context. Tro was one of those kids who thought he could get by on wit and charm. Taylor was the "good" one. He could do no wrong. When he died it was unimaginable. All these years later it's hard to believe that Jeanie lost both her sons. 

Jeanie was a prolific note and letter writer. She would often type her notes, but sometimes they were handwritten. For a righty, she had the most distinctive backhand, loopy scrawl. I've been going through my file and reading some of the notes she sent to Robert and me over the years. She wrote letters about anything she had on her mind: music she loved, the noise complaints from the neighbors. She felt the Bill Graham memorial "token" in the Plaza was embarrassingly small. I'm sure she wrote a letter about that. 

As much as Jeanie was in the public eye at work, she really was an introvert. She valued her privacy and needed her down time to recoup her energy. I can relate. I'm the same way. Jeanie could also hold a grudge. For some reason she got annoyed with Mill Valley Market and for years, she refused to shop there. Even though her house was literally right down the street from the market, she would get in her car and drive across town to Safeway. She wouldn't spurn items from MV Market if someone else, like her kids, bought them, but she wouldn't go there herself. 

Usually, the musicians could do no wrong, but there were exceptions. A couple examples come to mind. Etta James cancelled shows at the very last minute several times and Ms. Patterson was NOT happy. The "At Last" singer was going to be booked last! There was also a problem with "Pride & Joy". The party band got their start at Sweetwater. They crammed onto the tiny stage and played every month or two for a long time. They built up a following and eventually branched out to other bookings. At a certain point they didn't want to play Sweetwater anymore. They said the stage was too small. Jeanie was frustrated and replied that the stage was the same size it always was. It was just that their heads were too big to fit through the door. 

Jeanie had a huge heart and was deeply loyal. She adored the musicians. I tolerated them. I'd been hanging out with musicians and bands since I was 16. I'd been with a drummer for 7 years. I'd seen a lot of the seamy underside up close with his band in Hollywood and when I worked at The Palms in San Francisco. There was a lot that wasn't pretty, but Jeanie didn't see it that way. She loved the music so much. She would book a great act and set her sights on the next performer on her wish list. Then she'd make that dream come true over and over again. 

Basement Guest List
I was always working so hard during the best shows, but there were many standouts over the years. Dennis Quaid and his band brought squealing women lined up the sidewalk. The John Goddard private parties were legendary and the hottest ticket in town. I loved the Neville Brothers. Zachary Richard was amazing. Austin de Lone and whomever he was playing with, and all the Jug Band nights at Christmas time. John Lee Hooker, Robert Cray, Harry Connick, Jr. and guest appearances by Bonnie Raitt were some highlights. 

My favorite show of all was on a Sunday afternoon. Elizabeth Cotton, an American blues and folk musician, who was born in 1893, played a show at Sweetwater not long before she died. She was in her 90's when she did the performance. Look up "Freight Train" on You Tube. That's the song I remember best. It will give you chills. Only Jeanie could have pulled off that special afternoon. I'm grateful to her for that and her friendship and I'll always miss her. Goodbye, Jeanie. It was good to know you. 

In my basement office

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