The Walrus and The Carpenter

I really can’t remember how I met Dan but I do know we were looking for a doorman at the live music saloon called Barney Steel’s in Redwood City where I was the de facto manager.  I suspect it was through a mutual friend, Jan Condran, a waitress on my crew at the time.

If a perfect doorman ever existed he was it.  We had him for about ten years I think.

Our bar did not attract a violent crowd but on a few occasions his gentle, wise, manner would get set aside and this brief but effective Grizzly Bear would pop out and, with little fanfare, settle the situation of the moment.

The rest of the time he was amazingly congenial, never seeming to tire of greeting customers with “Good evening, Welcome to Barney Steel’s.  The cover tonight is ___ and the band tonight is ____”
Endlessly…!     Always with a smile.

But he was much more than that.  I’m sure I share the same kind of memory as others in his deep listening and gentle responses as I/we vented our latest mental or moral trouble. Always the guy to encourage someone’s efforts.  A man of infinite wisdom and wit, wit that was never at someone else’s expense.

Most nights he was working I stood next to him a lot of the time to check the customers as they came in and occasionally give him a break so he could go on a “parking lot check” with someone.  I’d go on a ‘parking lot check’ with him from time to time too, where rumor has it certain herbs may have been smoked.  I can’t remember…
And we talked.  We talked for hours about “Shoes and Ships and Sealing Wax…of Cabbages and Kings” as Lewis Carroll would say.

I never saw him drunk.  Ever.  Maybe two beers a night if that.  A man who led by example.  He had a drive of about thirty miles at the end of the night and he would not risk a DUI…
We had a lot in common, he and I, but at the same time we were very unalike, myself being everything they attribute to an Aries.  His Steady Mellow and my Intensity harmonized pretty well.

He was a pretty good pool player.  He never rattled….

After the bar shut its doors we drifted away to do other things as people will and we saw less of each other.  Distance and busy lives… we all know how it is.  And a visit from time to time, more of an incidental crossing of paths, were not be the same as the bonding we had at that bar.  A bonding we both missed.

But when someone Takes Flight suddenly like this I regret the opportunities missed to communicate, to have had at least one more dinner… one more e.mail…that kind of thing… too many things unsaid…

The Dan I knew never seemed troubled or worried but he must have been so at times because he was human with the same pains and pressures of life all of us face…some of the pains he had to go through  took their toll.  But you never knew because he hid it and made it About You.  You got his full attention.  Didn’t matter what it was that had you in a flutter and flurry, he would talk you down in his own inimitable way.

Jan aptly put it this way  “He always knew the right words and his talent for getting you to realize the answer to your own question was uncanny.”

He would answer any question and even when his answer was “I don’t know.” you felt better anyway…

When I grow up I want to be just like him.

8 thoughts on “The Walrus and The Carpenter”

  1. Hi, My name is Ted Brady. I used to own Bud Moran’s Bar in San Mateo when I called it TeddyB’s Bar. (2003-2008). During that time someone gave my binder entitled “Light Your Own Goddamn Fire” by Barney Steele. Its contents of 40-50 pages include all sorts of funny stuff including, Notes to staff members, live entertainment flyers, Bar operations, Customer do’s and don’ts, bar ethics and the like. I would be happy to mail this to anyone as I feel it is worthy of a better home.
    Ted (650)619-0606

  2. Norm, great to find your site here. I was just searching around and put in Barney’s and there you are. If you don’t recall, I was a relief bartender normally on Sundays back when. You know, a “Kahuna.” After I moved, I made a trip back to find Barney’s closed. It was a bit of a shock. I did find some of the “gang” at The Loading Zone, but couldn’t be the same given time and a different place. Hope this finds you well. I’m living outside Phoenix, married and doing OK. I’ll keep an eye on your blog here. Enjoyed seeing you on Sunday mornings, talks about The Dead and sharing the 1989 Earthquake. I believe you were there that day.

  3. Norm! I am tickled to see you here as a ambled across various Barney Steel’s links. I know this is you because your illustration is as I remember you. You may not remember me but I certainly remember you from having said hello many times through the years Barney’s was open. I can’t pass that property without thinking of you and some of the old Barney’s “ghosts.” No real purpose for writing other than to say hello and to send you good wishes. Should you have the inclination to reply, please send me your private e-mail and I will give you some more descriptive info that might help jog your memory. I’m the tall, dark haired one who used to frequent Barney’s with extra tall Randy and JoAnn, when Terri and Dan served behind the bar. Ran into Dan at Moss Beach some years back but not since then. Saw the Sundogs at Pioneer some time ago as well but otherwise occasionally miss that chapter of my life. Hope all is well in your world!

    1. Cousin Norm: I sent some Bluegrass drawings to brother Michael some years ago. to forward to you. I don’t know how to use facebook my daughter set up for me. sorry I missed you there. Hoo-Yah! Barney

  4. I came across your blog entry while searching google for the underground comics artist and oil company bell diver, Barney Steel. Was the music saloon by the same name owned by this artist? I’ve wondered for decades what became of this comics artist.
    Thanks for any info you might have.

    1. Barney’s brother, Mike Schwalm, owned the bar called Barney Steel’s in RC. Barney had a bar in LA named Barney Steel’s South but it folded. Barney is on facebook (or was) but I can’t get him to friend me so I think he and Mike may have had a falling out and he’s not opening up to anyone connected to the bar. Barney was quite a character. Firm believer in John Wayne and Hank Williams. I may write a bit of fiction based on some of the denizens of the bar. It ran for twenty years and I saw a Lot of horses on the carousel so to speak. Not sure if he did any more comics or not. I’ve seen some of his arcrylic artwork. He had some good stuff, that’s for sure. I believe he’s married with at least one child but can’t say for sure.

  5. norm…just stumbled over you site after googling around after somebody at Los Alamos asked me a question about players in the bay area in the days… you almost missed your calling, your writing is something else!

    …from the heart of the beast…..perry…ciao!

    1. I’m retired now and am working on taking the blog writings and sorting them out and putting them into a literary format and perhaps publishing. Love to write. Be nice to find a way to get paid for it. Thanks for your kindness

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