“A bone to the dog is not charity. Charity is the bone shared with the dog, when you are just as hungry as the dog.” – Jack London

John Pavlish was a friend and co-worker. He was also an accomplished stone mason, building many a wall in his spare time. His walls always contained different size stones, requiring careful selection to assure a lifetime fit. He never put all the same size stones at one end, with the others clustered somewhere else, a wall like that wouldn’t hold up. Instead, the stones were placed in the best possible way, assuring that each played its role in the wall’s continued success.

Building walls was John’s hobby, but building bridges was his day job. He had a disarming way of connecting people, of calming differences, and of reaching consensus when others at the table had walked away.

John spoke with quaint sayings so listeners needed to pay attention for any strange gem that might appear. His sayings formed the bridge to many an agreement.

I understood most, but I needed help with one of them. “Talk Is cheap. It takes money to buy whisky.”

Privately, I asked John why he always said the funny thing about whisky. Over lunch in Oakland’s Jack London Square, John gave me the answer I was looking for.

“Bruce, my expressions come from my parents, most are from my father. I grew up not far from here in a run down Oakland neighborhood. My dad was a hard worker but also an alcoholic.”

Whisky or Whiskey?

Believe it or not, there actually is a difference on how this brown spirit is spelled. Whisky denotes Scotch, Canadian, or Japanese origin. Whiskey is made in Ireland and the USA.

Back in the day, I was a Johnny Walker Black man .. so it was whisky for me!

John’s dad would be called a “functioning alcoholic” today, but they didn’t have fancy labels then.

John continued, “Dad spent all his spare time across the square at Heinold’s, in the same spot Jack London, the writer, occupied for years. In fact, my dad was a lot like London because dad knew how talk could be plentiful, but if he wanted whisky he would need to keep working, no one was going to give him a free drink. So he taught me how talk was cheap and how I would need money to buy whisky.”

John’s dad was right back then and he would be even more on target today. Now it seems we talk most of the time and forget to work on the things that matter.

Our team assembled in Miami, FL in 1978. John is on my right, always close at hand, with his words of wisdom and encouragement.

I’ve lost track of John over the years. I miss him and his many wisdoms. I want to talk to him. I’d like to buy him a whisky and learn how he feels about where we are headed as a country today.

I’d ask if he thought our “words” were getting in the way of our “work.”

We need more people like John. People who find clever ways to communicate and build the bridges and walls needed in our communities.

You see, John was brave and he knew that building relationships sometimes meant working in uncomfortable settings. I think if John were here today, he would encourage me to do less talking and more working in the unfamiliar places. But he wouldn’t want me to go alone. He would want me to take along other “living-stones,” all different sizes, shapes, and colors. This assortment would be best for the strongest bridges and walls.

Then – together – after a hard days work, we could relax, at least until the next day. We’d enjoy a glass of whisky or, in our case, a cool iced-tea.

So now, today, when I see a fully stocked back-bar, I remember John and I think of all the unfinished bridges and walls that need work, right here in my community.

What do you think? Tell me about friends you have like John, the ones who are more about action than talk.

Do they build walls or bridges? How are both important in their own way?

Do the political, religious, cultural divides of today bother you? What do you suggest – or does each side just continue to circle their wagons, trying to kill the others off?

As always – the conversation starts here.

“In the ordinary choices of every day we begin to change the direction of our lives.” – Eknath Easwaran


If you’ve visited Heinold’s you can re-live your memories with this video, and if you haven’t been, take a look. On your next trip to the Bay Area, include a stop at Heinold’s, and if your a teetotaler like John and me, just order a large Sarsaparilla, they’ll understand.