GOOD-BYE TO MIKE: “Has it really been 10 years since Mike Murdy took that leap of faith off the Micheltorena Street bridge?” asks his widow, Patricia Ayn Murdy.
“There was no ‘suicide barrier’ to stop him from taking leave of this life. His tormented mind and soul ruled his daily actions.
“Those of us who knew him as a friend, a brother, a Vietnam veteran, husband, and proud American will always remember the kid from Lompoc, the college student at Cal Poly, and veterans’ representative at the Employment Development Department in Santa Barbara.
“During his later teen years, Mike was the epitome of the 1960s Flower Child. A true baby boomer, he embodied ‘Love and Peace.’ Michael was a very spiritual man who practiced meditation before it was popular, understanding and believing in its healing benefits.
“A ‘mishap’ with hashish and the police resulted in Mike enlisting in the U.S. Army in May 1969, as a Specialist 4th Class. After basic training, he was sent to Vietnam to fight the war which he had been protesting.
“Assigned as a tank driver on the front lines in the Central Highlands, he experienced the worst of the worst and its devastating effects.
“Mike suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), among other mental illnesses. His coping mechanism was to help other Vietnam veterans in their struggles to lead normal lives. He could understand them like no one else.
“Michael tried to erase some of his demons by writing stories about his Vietnam experiences. These tomes were vivid and horrific to read. The publishing world was not ready for stories about this war that everyone wanted to forget.
“Santa Barbara was the place where he lived and worked for EDD as a veterans’ counselor, a vocation that was meaningful and fulfilling for him. Several statewide accolades were given to him during his 25 years of employment there. Perfect fit for his job.
“So many of the veterans he had helped over the years were at his funeral and were stunned by his death. Many of those same vets wished he had asked for the help he needed because so many felt indebted to him for helping them get back into society and cope with their issues.
“Those 10 years have gone by in a flash. Mike’s horrific nightmares are over, and he is now at peace.
WE KNEW MIKE: All of us at the News-Press newsroom knew Mike. Every day, like clockwork, we’d see him strolling across De la Guerra Plaza, making his mid-morning coffee run. Maybe the Employment Development Department java wasn’t drinkable, or he just needed a stroll.
We knew Mike as a sunny guy who always had a cheery word when we met him in the Plaza. And we knew he was doing wonderful work with the vets. He was someone who’d been there, and they knew it and opened up to Mike. And opening up was a hard thing for many of them.
Whatever demons were crushing Mike’s own spirit, he never said.
STOLEN PEACE: When social worker and fellow Vietnam vet Ken Williams heard about Mike’s death a decade ago, he wrote a piece in The Santa Barbara Independent that ended with this: “Here’s to the Mike Murdys of the world. May you find the peace in death that was stolen from you as a young man.”
ADIOS TO DON’S: At 87, Betty Nelson is bringing her bar on upper State Street, Don’s, to a close after a 35-year run. The landlord has handed Betty a 30-day notice. She must be out by Thursday, April 5.
Don’s, named for her late husband, is definitely not an upscale lounge; nor is the other nearby drinking spot, the Tiburon, once known (yes) as Tommy’s Golden Cock, which, as you can imagine, spawned a zillion boozy jokes.
It’s uncertain what will happen to Don’s and the ex-pot shop next door. Betty’s still mulling over her future, too.
In around 1958 or 1959, Tommy Pertsulakes opened a bar on upper State Street and pondered a name, his son Bill told me Monday. He liked “Tail of the Cock,” but an L.A. restaurant already had the name, and Tommy wanted to avoid confusion. At home one night, Bill said, his 18-year-old sister Nikki noticed a beautiful golden rooster on a glass.
Thus was born the name “Tommy’s Golden Cock.” Tommy sold the place in the mid 1970s, went into real estate, and died in 1988. But who can forget that name?