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What it's like to spend a life behind bars in Hawaii

August 26, 2001
Elisabeth Sherwin -- gizmo@ dcn.davis.ca.us
Enterprise staff writer

"My Life Behind Bars" by Jim Jung defies easy categorization. It's not a jailhouse story. It's a bartender's first-person story, sort of.

It's a how-to book about bartending at a Hawaiian resort, it's a collection of drink recipes, and it's a compilation of one-liners.

Jung also includes a dozen or so short essays on his life and times from motorcycle exploits to his tour in Vietnam, from descriptions of characters he's met bartending to life behind the beach bar at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel on the big island of Hawaii.

Apparently, a good bartender has a line for every occasion and if the occasion doesn't call for one he tries one out anyway. These ice-breakers or conversation starters sometimes stop conversations, too.

For instance, when I met Jung (the name is German, not Chinese) we were sitting in a journalism class at the University of Colorado, Boulder, in the summer of 1971. A guy named Tom Utley was in the same class, probably poking Jung in the ribs and generally egging him on.

So Jung turned to me and said: "I'm a carrot, eat me."

I replied: "I'm an onion, cry."

Our conversation didn't go much farther than that. But Jung has apparently had much more interesting conversations with people through the years using one-liners. So that you, too, may enjoy scintillating conversations, he has included no less than 40 pages of one-liners in his book.

Our mutual friend Utley tells me Jung's collection of jokes has served him well over the years. Utley visited Jung at his job on the beach not too long ago.

"I stood watching him at work, bartending," said Utley. "He works at the nicest hotel in Hawaii on the Kohala coast. He's a local personality. He does a show behind the bar, like a stand-up comedian but he's more spontaneous."

Jung grew up on a dry, dusty cattle ranch in southeastern Colorado. Utley, who grew up in a small town in Indiana, once remarked to his friend that it must have been a lot of fun rounding up cattle on horseback.

"Horses?" Jung replied. "We didn't have any horses. My dad just said: 'You boys, get out there and get those cattle.' "

Maybe that's why the laid-back life in lush Hawaii looks so attractive to him.

Both Utley and I agree that the most powerful essay in "My Life Behind Bars" is the one titled "Bobby" that deals with Vietnam and some of Jung's experiences there as a medic and wartime entrepreneur.

Unfortunately, that's one part of his life that Jung doesn't want to revisit anymore than he already has.

"I don't like reading about it or watching movies on the subject or writing about it," he said. "I mention it in the book as an interlude in an already dangerous life. When I want a close shave I remember Vietnam. My hair stands on end."

That's too bad because "Bobby" could be turned into a book all by itself.

Instead, Jung regales readers with descriptions of his job complete with the top four rules of bartending, the most interesting of which is rule No. 3: "Be Careful."

Jung had to learn this rule the hard way. It's closely connected to his love of one-liners. Tsk, tsk. It appears that Jung has alienated more than one person with an injudicious quip.

Take the time he asked a woman at the bar if she'd read Ronald Reagan's new book, "They Tell Me I Was President." The woman was not amused, she was Nancy Reagan's sister.

Another time he shared this bit of wisdom to female members of the Garden Club of America who were on vacation at his resort:: "You can lead a horticulture but you can't make her think." They were not amused either.

And you never know when a new owner, manager or hotel supervisor will come in for a drink.

"Angels and house detectives come in disguise," he warns. "Do not confide in strangers."

If you would like to learn about bartending from a pro and take a trip to Hawaii without leaving your chair, you'll probably like "My Life Behind Bars." Be advised that it's as vulgar as it is amusing, guaranteed to turn as many people off as on.

As Utley says about his friend: "What you see is what you get." The same with this plain-spoken book.

You can order the book by phone. Call 808-889-6716. Or you can fax an order at 808-889-1037. Paperback price is $19.95. And you can reach Jung by email at jung@ilhawaii.net

To inquire about ordering any of the above mentioned books from an independent bookstore,
Bogey's Books at discounted prices [ Click Here ]

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