Mixing Art with Alcohol
The Grove's Happy Hour?
While I was busy house-hunting for two months in 2015 in the Stuart, Florida area, I became familiar with, and in some small way part of, a small, but unique Floridian coastal community undergoing some almost inevitable challenges and difficulties. Within a 5-minute dinghy ride from my 40' catamaran, Mystique, anchored in the muddy Manatee Pocket in Port Salerno's harbor at Manatee Marina, I found a dinghy dock, free Wifi, a public restroom, numerous tables and chairs awaiting my arrival. It is here I discovered a friendly, relaxed, laid-back dockside hangout called The Grove Dock Bar or The Grove. Here sweeping the bar's entrance-way concrete floors, Bill appeared almost immediately upon my first foray into the Grove. After a few initial pleasantries, he introduced himself by handing me his business card while presenting himself as Commodore and Janitor of the Manatee Yacht Club. When he clarified his self-appointment to these fictitious positions and organization, I became enchanted by his engaging personality and wry sense of humor. In the course of a few weeks, I became intrigued and enmeshed, yet disentangled, with his compatriots and Grove-ites' tall tales. In the blink of a couple months, I spent countless spare hours while reading and writing, conversing, befriending even helping some in this unique cast of characters.
Part art gallery and marina bar, The Grove Fish House provides studio space and shops for creative artists and artisans. What was once a thriving hub for local fishermen to unload and sell their daily catch is now a place for transient cruisers, recreational boaters, charterers, curiosity seekers, marina liveaboards and a few regulars to catch a brew, catch-up with gab and local gossip, hook-up with friends and newcomers. Except for the location, the artists and the alcoholics rarely mixed after 11:00 am. While the fascinating displayed art seemed strangely out of place with the atmosphere of bar, they seemed to coexist not so much as enhancers, but as enigmas and curiosities.
Apparently to satisfy some warped cultural misperception that art goes down well with booze or that art can replace or misplace character, this place appears to have some issues. And in some odd way that awkward, incongruous coupling sent out some odd, yet fascinating messages.
While a number of "the regulars" are divorced, many are East coast transplants with NY, NJ, CT, PA and MA represented, most seem unemployed, living off of odd temporary jobs, bartering or social security. Three or four have recently arrived in Manatee Pocket by sailboat, stopping for repairs, supplies or curiosity. Many have been around for years. The standing joke is that those who plan a short layover usually end up staying much longer or stay forever.
Almost all are smokers, drinkers, free spirits and story-tellers. Any bar scene has a number of loners, losers, low-lifes and alcoholics, but the Grove Bar attracts intelligent, interesting, talented, entertaining and unique individuals who row ashore, bike from nearby, walk down the dock, pop their head off a tied-up vessel or come out of the woodwork somewhere. But predominately and collectively they seem to have a congenial, kind, helpful and friendly nature. No real brutes, bullies or bad boys or loose women gravitate here. However, with all the mixing of people, ages, backgrounds, talents, intelligences and drinks, it is pretty obvious the artists aren't the customers and don't mix with the bar stalwarts. And what is rapidly apparent, the owners don't seemingly mix well with anyone.
In Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby, the character Nick Carroway, plays a minor role as the reliable narrator. It is through Nick's eyes and experiences, readers discover who Jay, Daisy, Tom, Jordon, Myrtle, George and Wolfsheim are. And because Nick is portrayed as an honest and innocent outsider, we, the readers, are lead to believe the other characters' excesses and behaviors are indeed credible, even when they appear extravagant and reckless. Like Nick who was drawn into an unfamiliar world and whose personal story is relevantly unimportant, I, too, have been more observer than participant in the following tale. And like Nick, while my very presence attracted many confessionals and personal histories, whether I was actually interested in hearing them or not, I share from what I was told, what I observed and what I remembered from my encounters with this cast. But this account is where the similarities between the two stories end. My account will be only to describe the characters. They are protagonists, antagonists, plot and conflict. By the end, I will take authorial liberties adding my take on this bar scene.
Preface: Like Cheers where everyone knew each others' names, The Grove's regulars has been a refuge for reprobates,recalcitrants, refugees and retirees. But now this dockside bar/marina/art gallery of characters is presently being redefined. Due in part to whom they are and to what they can't be, this community is undergoing a facelift in an attempt to redesign itself. Like any plastic surgery that aims to beautify outer appearances for the sake of ego, it leaves the heart out of the operation. But the heart of this place is being left out and discarded by a hardness and an inhumanity. Like any operation that removes something, the unintended consequences to regain health while disregarding and dismissing human compassion haven't yet themselves been felt. But as a number of regulars have pointed out - karma is coming.
The Cast: (all playing themselves)
Bill - 65-ish, blue-eyed / bleary-eyed, bald, disheveled yet personable omnipresence / story-teller with an infectious laugh / once lived for many years in Old Lyme CT, but now 17-year "resident" of Stuart area / divorced, father of three (a son and two daughters), never seen his 1-year old granddaughter (I offered to drive him to Jacksonville to meet her, but he never took me up on my offer.) / worked as venture capitalist, twice lost millions of dollars, once during the stock market crash of 1987. / had a air plane pilot's license at one time. / first met him sweeping the floor of the Grove, introduced himself with a printed business card as the Commodore and Janitor of the imaginary Manatee Yacht club, swept the floors in exchange for rent. / Always rubbing his eyes, always looking a little unsure on his feet. / Admitted having a heart attack and chose to ride his bike to the local hospital to get treatment. Later discovered from the owners that he actually was so intoxicated, he had passed out and had confused it with hear failure. / Grew up in a family of all women. Said this lead to his accepting life as it is. Not ever losing his temper and seeing life as everything will works it way out and he will "always land on his feet." He admitted this eternal optimism kept him comfortable with his present situation and the world. / Shared he had many ex-girlfriends and often repeated he was still good friends with his ex-wife, an ex-school principal. / Lived aboard Greg's boat at the Manatee Marina with his Maine coon cat "Mora"until he was kicked off by the owners of the boat and the marina. I offered him a place to stay minus the cat. He never took me up on the offer though he told me he would come aboard soon. Could not be separated from his cat. / Talked about sailing to the Bahamas with a special woman, but never seemed to do any work on Greg's boat. / Always seemed satisfied his current circumstances - living in squalor on Greg's boat tied up at the marina dock and sweeping the Grove for his dockage and rent / Never smoked nor drank in public, but his failure to adequately clean the bathroom one Saturday lead to his being replaced and asked to leave the marina.
John B. - mid 60s, a serious yet often good-natured widower, tall, athletic, self-educated, ex-pension manager/ salesman and landscaper from New Jersey, lived in Florida with his second wife for 20 years and lost all his money attempting to keep her alive after she was diagnosed with cancer. Shared living space with Bill aboard Greg's boat at the Manatee Marina and paid Bill rent. Bill eventually tells him he has to find other accommodations because Greg is returning to claim his boat and because Bill has been told he must vacate the marina premises soon.
Stewart - mid 50s, a sharp-witted, well-educated, humorous tale-teller, an ex-Brooklyn native, loves to chat with people as he makes his way through the bar / divorced / appears gainfully employed, drives a van with Stuart Electrician painted its side / lives on a motor boat close to Greg's sloop where Bill and John lived at the Manatee Marina.
Shelley - 45-ish, pig-tailed blond, smoker and drinker who wears short shorts and ankle-laced shoes / lives on the motor boat right next to Greg's sailboat. / She will offer Bill refuge when he is kicked off Greg's boat. She will also be asked to move her boat from the marina for failing to pay her dockage.
Val - 40-ish, heavy set, broad-shouldered, straggly blond who always wears dark-rimmed glasses, a straw hat and long pants / rooms with Shelley on her motorboat. / According to Bill, one day when she is no longer present, she returns to jail for some parole violation which he says he is unaware of.
Live-aboards in the Pocket:
Chris Y - 40-ish, tall, skinny, handsome, chain-smoker with youthful energy and demeanor / ex-filmographerand videographer originally from Lancaster, PA / was scheduled to travel to the World Trade Towers on or near Sept 11th, quit his job soon after that and returned to Florida where he had spent some of his youth. / Now occasionally works as a boat detailer, but non one has apparently seen him ever work at his job. Rumor has it he never shows up to earn any money. Bill says he owes him around a thousand dollars for bumming cigarette money from him. / First saw Chris attempting to restore an old beaten-up, dilapidated wooden dinghy on the dinghy dock and then watched him attempt to restore a 10-horse power outboard engine which had broken off its transom when he tried to start it. Propeller almost hit him in the head as engine broke off transom and spun into the salt water. His attempt to revive it had after it had lain at the bottom for a few hours took him days. / Lives and works on preparing his 26' sailboat so he can sail to the Keys and around Florida to see his mother on the west coast. Has very little money, bums money for cigarettes, works as an occasional boat detailed. According to Bill, Chris owes him money and he does not make any effort to get a job to pay him back. Chris wants to buy Tim's 26' Jaguar sailboat by selling his boat to Bill.
Sculpture of ex-wife of owner on bar counter.
Paul - 65-ish, bald, deep facial scars, muscular, stocky. / His father abused him by punching him daily when he was 12 where he grew up in Rhode Island. / Smokes vapors as his "damage control" for his many years of smoking. / mechanic, also an ex-British sailor and SAS agent, wounded during the Falklands War with Argentina when he jumped overboard when the engine room on his warship became too hot from an explosion. While treading water in the Atlantic treading water and waiting for his ship to rescue him was shot in three places. Was eventually found and rescued by helicopter and taken to a hospital where he lost all the fluid in his spinal column and had to have his neck held in a hydraulic clamp for a week while he was placed in a coma with his brain left exposed. / After time as a mafia hit man and 3 years in prison, he earned two masters degrees in English, became a zen Buddhist monk and philosopher / He writes his mother in Rhode Island weekly. Says she is dating one of his ex-mafia associates. / He worked in Alaska at one time on ship. He also worked as a head engineer for a rocket boat designer in Florida. / Paul agreed to fix a fan belt on my port engine, but when he promised to be available, he disappeared. When he finally called me two hours late, he was drunk at the Grove. He had apparently left his phone in a gated and secured marina after doing some engine work and had felt compelled to climb and then re-climb a fence to retrieve it. Instead of accompanying me in my dinghy to Mystique, he dove into the marina water and swam 100 yards to his anchored boat while attempting to sober up. He surprisingly fixed my fan belt on my port engine while less than sober. He didn't want to be paid. I slipped him $50 anyway and he called me "stupid". / When he drinks, he self-proclaims "I'm crazy", "I'm a bad ass." and after he waxes philosophical, he frequently asks "Do you understand?"
Sculpture of owner's ex-wife on entrance way wall.
A mermaid sculpture on the Grove's bar counter.
Putting art in your face? Putting resentment on display?
Chris - 35-ish, ex-marine-like in appearance and behavior, chain smoker, usually wears a WTFT-shirt / anchored next to Paul's boat, he resides on a 30' abandon-able sloop with his family - an obese, doughty, chain-smoking wife with three small children (2 daughters and one son) under 4 years old. / When bare-chested, he displays numerous tattoos, nipple rings and other body jewelry. / Rows to shore every day while his family stays on board. Rows his family to shore on weekends where they sit in the Grove for much of the day. / Works at various menial jobs around the restaurants / Knows numerous people who engage him in conversation and play with his kids. / Is strict, impatient, angry and controlling with Noble, his 4-year old son who is only eager to explore and be a kid. / Tells me one day to be careful of Paul because he is strange.
Tim- 35-ish, lean, muscular, heavily-tattooed / only recently arrives ashore at the Grove dinghy dock with white dog on leash, sails solo on a Jaguar 26' sloop anchored by the stern near Pirates Cove. Wants to sell boat. Chris Y. becomes interested in buying it for $2500 (The boat was valued at $22,000). Tim agrees, but Chris can't find the money to make it happen. Deal falls through.
Greg - Chicago resident, the owner of the dilapidated 30' unnamed sailboat upon which Bill has been residing at the Manatee Marina docks for around 2 years. Greg returns with his son and daughter only to discover Bill hasn't cleaned boat since he moved aboard. Bill is summarily expelled from boat by Greg and John H. Greg and his two teenagers spend the next week cleaning the boat.
Hunter - 45-ish, friendly, sociable, articulate, heavy set, smoker, father of 3 teenagers, divorced, resident of somewhere in the Colorado Mountains, once a past technology executive and computer software developer, wants to live a life of self-reliance, "off the grid"/ owns Blackbird - a 26' white-hulled sloop with a red transom. He had never sailed before buying the boat in South Carolina 6 months ago. Arrived in the Pocket February along with solo sailor Geoff. / Since his arrival, he has been sporadically working as a dishwasher to earn cash.
Pawned his $1500 guitar for $150 so he could have some extra cash. I took him to the pawn shop to retrieve it, but then I learn he can't play it because it reminds him of the pressure that was put on him when he was majoring in music in college. / I take him to phone repair store because neither of this three phones work. Traded in one non-functioning phone to get another fixed. /
Savior to drifting boats and boats in distress. Does not hesitate to help rescue those in need on the sea. Helped rescue Mystique when she dragged anchor in a squall. / Observer of nature and human behavior. Likes to talk and usually has interesting life observations and insights. / Wants to have a girl friend, but understands it is almost impossible with the lifestyle he has chosen living on a small boat and searching for Built some lasting relationships online - one with a reclusive movie star from Sweden and another with a American-educated Chinese woman. / Before departing
Manatee Pocket after a 5-month stay and sailing south towards Miami and then the Keys with Geoff, Hunter helps me transfer his mooring line to my Mystique.
Note the eel at upper left and the seahorse leaning against the fallen pillar.
Jeff - 28, single, quiet, smoker / novice sailor, but self-reliant boat owner of Orenda, a 26' sloop and Hunter's solo sailing companion since they met in Charleston, SC / educated at Chapman Piloting school in Manatee pocket / He's originally from Ohio. / wants a carnal relationship with loquacious, spirited Leia, according to her. Thinks she is really positive and smart, but discovers her angry side a few days before he is about to sail away a 5-month stay in Manatee Pocket.
Leia - a 32-year old petite, golden, curly-haired, spark plug of energy; a loquacious wannabe mermaid with an island-owning dream. / Has left her apartment she shares with two others girls who split the rent. They shoot acid, and beat on her in attempts to persuade her to try. So she chooses to live with Geoff on his boat temporarily, but to Geoff's frustration has made it clear to him she does not "give away her cookies so easily." / She divorced for 6 years, father left family and mother is a strong force.
She comes over to me and whispers in my year the question - "Do you think therapy would help me?" "I reply, "I think it would help everyone." I ask her "What in you attracts these situations and these people you find yourself getting involved with?" She goes off saying "I have never thought about that. I will give that some thought."
(Above) - Some of the Grove's wall art depicts mermaids:
The angry? / hungry? eel pokes its head from the coral
above a fallen pillar /column eyeing the sleeping mermaid.
To the regulars, these depictions
reveal the owner's sentiments towards his first wife.
Grove Bar Staff: Chris - a stocky mild-mannered bartender with a even disposition and a superior ability for tossing beanbags and hustling unsuspecting customers in the horseshoe-like game called Corn Hole
.Karen - tall, blond, personable, responsible and dutiful bartender, head bar manager of the Grove. Confidante to numerous customers who share their stories with her. Part amateur counselor to various bar flies.
Grove owners: John H.- a reserved, remote owner of the Grove Bar, ex-doctor, ex-sailor, handyman, workaholic. Lives part-time in the apartment above the bar. / Begins to change the rules for the marina liveaboards which causes a chain reaction. / Forgets my name three times after we were formally introduced on Stewart's boat and then barely acknowledges me as he frequently passes where I sit as he looks for something to fix. Never stops to talk or socialize. A certain arrogance pervades his demeanor. I can't help but envision his making his rounds in a hospital without really connecting with any of his patients.
Barbara - red-head, John's second wife who Bill refers to as "Leona Helmsley". Becomes incensed that Bill didn't clean the Grove bathroom as he should have. Apparently, Bill had a barter agreement with ownership and they now want to expel Bill because didn't hold up his part of the bargain. It is apparent she feels justified and driven to rectify the situation. One Saturday morning not too long ago she passes by and stops where I am sitting when...
She exclaims "Bill must get out of the marina." I point out: "It appears you are changing the rules for the live-aboards after having set them in place a while ago. People need some transition time."
She mentions: "You don't see this further south in the Palm Beach area."
I interject: "This place isn't like Palm Beach; people are different here; they have different values here."
Her response: "I don't care."
I insert: "People's lives are going to be effected. You are impacting human beings."
Her response: "I have been in human resources for 20 years."
Mine: "I have been in education for 40."
Her response: "I don't care. Things are going to be different."
Mine: "Sometimes there are unintended consequences to choices and changes people make."
Her response: "I don't care."
Maybe Bill is right.