By Mike Gordon
Dale was smarter than the average guy and one of the best bartenders I had at the time, but boy was he a handful. It was somewhere around the late ‘70s or early ‘80s. I don’t believe I had yet added the Spenard Bingo Hall building to the north side of Chilkoot Charlie’s, doubling the size of the club.
One of my persistent security and management problems in those days, in addition to theft, shrinkage, absenteeism, drug sales, drug usage, on premise sex, over-imbibing on the job, and workers’ compensation claims, was making sure that my employees didn’t use the place as a private after-hours club when we officially closed down at 5:00 a.m.
Dale Prairie, aka Prairie Dog, was as likely as anyone on the payroll to take advantage of any kind of breach in club security in order to indulge in such activity, and our security staff made sure he exited the building after he’d finished counting his banks. One morning, however, still in the mood to party and dissatisfied with being ushered outside, Dale decided to take matters into his own hands.
We had a shoulder-high Lexan window at the security station next to the main entrance. Dale pried it open and crawled in through it. The security staff was having a meeting, discussing the events of the previous evening, and here comes Dale again, a little disheveled from his creative reentry but ready to party nonetheless. He was caught and held hostage until a cab could be directed to take him home. Lots of people at the time, not just my employees, had difficulty recognizing when the party was over. Many never did figure it out and are probably still partying in their graves. The pervasiveness of cocaine was a large part of the problem.
There was a pretty Alaska Native girl named JoAnne who worked as an exotic dancer. JoAnne was not only very good-looking, she was also a contortionist, so you can imagine her popularity at the Bush Company, a strip joint on International Airport Road that was doing a land office business at the time. JoAnne was high-spirited and liked to party every bit as much as Dale Prairie and they dated for a while.
I still had my condo on the top floor of the Royal Kahana on Maui and arranged for Dale and JoAnne to use it for a vacation. I was to occupy the unit immediately after them and arrived the day they were vacating. They had gotten into a big brawl and Dale had thrown JoAnne’s suitcase from my tenth-floor lanai. Bras, panties and makeup bags were strewn all over the lawn and Joanne was in banshee mode.
One time we had Herbert Butros Khaury (1932-1996) entertain on the north side of the club. You might know him as Tiny Tim. Tiny Tim had made “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” a novelty hit in 1968 with his quavery falsetto voice and ukulele. I personally remember him appearing on the Steve Allen Show and Steve telling him he had better save his money, the implication being that he was destined to be a momentary celebrity.
Tiny Tim’s celebrity lasted longer than Steve Allen’s prediction. He played in nightclubs all over the country singing songs like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” accompanied by the ukulele he carried in a brown paper shopping bag.
When he married Vicki Budinger, a 17-year-old fan he referred to as Miss Vicki, on the “Tonight Show” in 1969, it was watched by 21.4 million households—that show’s largest ever audience.
During Tiny Tim’s celebrity period women would shower him with tulips during his performances and, true to form, they packed the north side of Koot’s and brought armloads of tulips for him. In the lead-up to Tiny Tim’s performance, we held a variety show with customer participation called Stupid People Tricks, a take-off on the television show, Stupid Pet Tricks. He appeared on our stage with Tommy Rocker on one side, him on the other, and JoAnne in the middle.
Tommy Rocker played guitar and emceed and Tiny Tim played ukulele while JoAnne, practically naked, turned herself inside out and backwards while balanced upside down on one hand like a tantric yogini. Poor Tiny Tim could not take his eyes off of her. He looked like he was witnessing the birth of the universe or the “second coming.”
Following his performance, Tiny Tim stayed on the stage for at least an hour, signing autographs and receiving armloads of tulips. Afterwards, Shelli and I took him to dinner, where he talked a lot about JoAnne, calling her “pretzel girl.”
Tiny Tim cut quite the figure: He was dressed in a white sort of loose-fitting tuxedo outfit with purple lapels and black musical notes all over it, a tie, and his dyed, black, scraggly hair at shoulder length. His face was highlighted with mascara and lipstick and he wore more than a stack of pancake makeup. He was very polite and rather withdrawn. He told us that when he wasn’t on the road, he lived in a hotel room by himself. He asked for a wrapped straw to drink his beer and wrapped plastic tableware to eat his meal. He’s the only entertainer I ever took to dinner who asked me, “Mr. Gordon, may I have dessert?”
One time, “Prairie Dog” and I and a few other guys traveled to Thailand together. We partied hard before boarding our China Airlines flight. Dale and I were properly “tooted up” and could have probably partied the entire lengthy flight but at a certain point, when all the lights on the plane but ours were turned off, the Chinese stewardess, when we ordered yet another round of drinks, bent down to our level and said forcefully, “We got no mo likka!”
We were in Thailand for about a week, but from the time we got to our hotel to the time we left, I never saw Dale once. I was told he had spent the entire week in an opium den. That was a bridge too far, even for me.
Dale was well regarded in spite of his craziness. I’m not sure if he got fired for one or more of his shenanigans or just decided to move on, but I was told he wound up in Florida, where he was killed in a motorcycle accident.
Which reminds me. The best employee I EVER had was in the early ‘80s. Her name was Sherri A. Jaussaud (1960-1983). She was barely old enough to legally consume, much less bartend, but she was dedicated to her job and thanks to her purity and honest dedication, she literally held a whole clientele and workforce of people together better than I could do on my own. She was everyone’s good example, and, heaven knows, we all needed one. Everyone loved Sherri, from the loser who usually could have cared less to the hardened biker who generally shunned exhibitions of emotion that didn’t involve the loud rumble of a Harley Davidson motorcycle.
Incidentally, on vacation in Hawaii, Sherri had an affair with Guy Maynard, the Okinawan bartender at the Chart House Restaurant that had let me use his registration to run the Honolulu Marathon. Sherri was in love and Guy was planning to travel to Alaska to spend some time with her.
I haven’t cried much writing this sequel but I’m crying now. I just googled Sherri. That’s all it took. There was her lovely young face. She was so beautiful. It may seem a stretch but in my mind she was Spenard’s “maiden,” Spenard’s Joan of Arc, sent by God as an inspirational gift. France needed a “maiden” to save Orleans during the medieval Hundred Years War with England, and like Joan of Arc, Sherri was our fearless guiding light and, like Joan, she came to a tragic end.
I am not casting aspersion, holding anyone responsible or making any moral judgments, but I did not like it or approve of it when I learned that Sherri was buying a motorcycle and that key personalities and employees around the bar were encouraging, tutoring and helping to equip her with appropriate riding gear and apparel. I let my feelings be known. I had a foreboding. I just did not feel she had the physical strength to handle a big, heavy Harley Davidson cycle. But she was so excited. Friends and employees assured me she’d be fine. Sometimes I hate it when I’m right.
One afternoon Sherri was out riding with some of those friends. I don’t remember who the friends were, but I’m sure I knew them all. Sherri got sucked under the sixteen wheels of a truck and trailer. Her shocking, grizzly departure left each and every one of us who knew and loved her indelibly imprinted with a lifelong commitment to being a better person.
Sherri was survived by her daughter, Renee, who was raised by Sherri’s mother, who brought her as a young girl into the bar to show her the memorial display we hung on the wall, which, to the best of my knowledge, is still there.I personally promised Renee and her mother I would never remove it.
Dagnabit! is a new column by the infamous former owner of Koot’s, Mike Gordon. This nostalgic romp through pre-statehood Alaska, tells the little known stories of the rough-and-tumble 70s, and the few years of the 80s Gordon refers to as the Glory Days, when anything was possible and money was no object.