With Christie McVie having passed recently, I want to share a story about her. It’s no big deal, but it’s mine.
Actually, it’s a Christie McVie and Dennis Wilson story.
Time was, a convertible Silver Shadow could pull to the curb of The Ginger Man in Beverly Hills, late of a night in 1979, and Christie McVie and Dennis Wilson might climb out, no valet needed since it is 1:30 a.m., last call, and they can’t be long.
They stumble through the door and remove their shades to reveal road trip faces, sooty and sunburned.
We’re closed, the manager says.
Just one, Dennis says. We’re celebrating.
I am the only waitperson still here. I seat them at a big round top in the back. You can hear the cleanup pan-knocks and glassware tinkles from the kitchen.
Strict instructions: offer them one drink for last call — which I do. But they immediately parlay that into an order for two drinks, each, and doubles at that. Greyhounds.
The manager is not pleased.
And you said yes?
What was I going to say?
He goes back to counting the bills in his hand. No one wants to challenge rock royalty.
I put the drinks down, and they sit back and appraise me. Ask my name. Where am I from? And most importantly, what is my sign?
I knew it! Christie says. I see the artist in you. Dennis goes deeper.
What do you want to do with your life?
Write, I say.
Good on ya, he replies, and he tells me how long it took him to find his voice. Be true to yourself, he says. Christie stares at me. They sip and drift back to each other. I do the ghost exit for celebrities. Walk backward into invisibility.
Now each minute is marked by the manager’s anxiety. The Ginger Man of 1979 is the hottest restaurant-bar in Beverly Hills, and the fear of being closed down by a fire marshall for a last call violation is a real thing.
Go get their drinks. They’re done.
I tell Dennis and Christie we’re closing.
Dennis says, Alright, but makes no offer of the glass. He’s still on the first one. Christie won’t look at the Sagittarian. I post up for a few long moments before ghosting back to the bar.
They’re still working on them.
I don’t care. Tell them we have to close. Have to.
I give it a minute, go back, and see, what? Wait. They’re crying. Both of them. I slow my roll for a beat, but I press on.
I‘m sorry, but…
Dennis is crying dirty tears. An eddy of dirt is stuck on his jaw line, won’t drip off. He has Christie in the crook of his arm and they are both openly weeping. Dennis says, Man, I just proposed to her. I just proposed.
He holds out the box with the ring.
So I need a little more time. With our drinks.
They’re crying, I tell the manager, who is making hash marks on a napkin.
He just proposed to her.
Now he gets up and squints down the aisle at the big round top.
Give them five more minutes.
I count out a long five.
Folks, I’m sorry I have to take the drinks.
Christie’s makeup is a mess, spiders all over her face. She looks up at me. Thank you for being here for this, Bubba. Thank you for letting us have this moment.
We’re just going to finish these and go.
They both pick up and start in on their second double Greyhounds.
Ok, but I’m really going to have to take them shortly. My manager…
Thank you, she says and extends her arm across the tablecloth, offering her hand. I take it and we hold hands while they guzzle the second double. Less than 60 seconds.
They kiss fiercely while I clear the glasses. Christie goes to the bathroom, Dennis accompanies me back to the bar, his arm around my shoulders. Be true to yourself, he tells me.
The bartenders and manager look up from their chores and blink at us coming down the small ramp to the bar.
Then Dennis sees the piano. Not hours before, Arnold Ross had sat there while the Beverly Hills Unlisted Jazz Band had played.
You mind, he says as he sits down. He plinks a few keys. Then he rubs his dirty cheeks and deliberates on several chords. They sound barrelhouse, jumpy.
He tries to put a few together, but they don’t seem to want to go. Then all of a sudden he mashes them together, percussively, into a ragtime number, almost off-beat, like it could stop at any moment, but it just glides down and along into the groove. The bartenders stop washing, the kitchen guys come to the double doors, the clock listens.
Can’t recall what the tune was, but I want to believe it was Jellyroll Morton’s “Dead Man Blues.”
Then Christie comes and puts her hand on his shoulder, the hand with the ring. She leaves it there until he finishes. They walk to the front door. I turn the deadbolt and let them out. No goodbyes for the Sagittarian. She holds onto his arm for support. The Silver Shadow drives off into the 2 a.m. hour.
Dennis and Christie never married. After struggling with addiction for years, Dennis drowned four years later in shallow water off of Marina Del Ray after drinking all day and diving in the afternoon to recover his ex-wife’s belongings which he had dumped into the marina three years earlier after a fight. He was the only Beach Boy who was a real surfer.
Christie died at 79 in late 2022 after a brief illness.
A couple of years back I bought a box of vintage Ginger Man matches on eBay. Paid three bucks for them, plus shipping.
I got over 30 parking tickets while I worked at The Ginger Man – I had Connecticut plates and rolled the dice and never paid them. I still have all of them. They’re yellow.
I’m in touch with one guy who worked there – Rod. We call each other Buford. Buford is an entertainment attorney in L.A. He attends my online readings.
A while after Christie’s and Dennis’ visit, I broke my wrist roller-skating. Did a ghost exit back to Connecticut. Got a job at an educational magazine.
This was all a long time ago, but it feels like 2 a.m. Beverly Hills to me. I’m still a Sagittarian and I write. I keep the matches in the same drawer as the tickets.
I would remember those people and moments even if they weren’t who they were. It was like a poem, where the appearance, order, and tone of things added up to something more that is still vibrating decades later. Hey, you have to be true to the story. Most of all.
"I think of how they begin life straight and hale, over decades or centuries to weaken against the mosses that eat their bark and the beetles that bore through them until, toppled by a storm or gravity, they lie decomposing at the feet of their kin now enjoying a clearer view of the sky."Ends in: 0 days
"I think of how they begin life straight and hale, over decades or centuries to weaken against the mosses that eat their bark and the beetles that bore through them until, toppled by a storm or gravity, they lie decomposing at the feet of their kin now enjoying a clearer view of the sky."