Bob Hope did a movie entitled “Son of Paleface,” about a northern city-slicker, graduate of Harvard, who went out west for the first time and entered a tough, western town on a miniature donkey.
There is an establishment known as “The # 1 Biker Bar in Florida.” Lacking a tattoo, and a two-wheel mode of transportation, I exited my Hyundai. As I walked the forty yards to this compound, I wasn’t wearing a big “H” for Harvard on a college sweatshirt and I wouldn’t be reciting little rhyme ditties as Hope did in the movie against mean gunslingers in a saloon scene.
“I like coffee, I like tea,
Why am I the only one wearing Khaki?”
Before I continue, I apologize for the ancient reference that few will remember. So many of us have a jukebox in our minds. Press E7 and the music and the mood imputes pain or pleasure. Brings back memories of a smiling face in the sunlight or a passionate kiss in night’s twilight. An older brother who takes your hand when crossing a street or a stranger sharing laughs when you meet. I wake to this insanity as a writer. A disability and an addiction. I know I will die with it now. In poverty or riches, whatever it brings, growing old and pressing F5, and hearing Ray Charles sing; “I Can’t Stop Loving You.” My anthem to looking upon this life.
I am sorry for doing it again. Those younger than thirty do not know the ancient reference of a jukebox or even Ray Charles. This is what I call my Tavernacle of the mind. Whether it was unfortunate or fortunate, I grew up in a tavern my parents’ owned. From that shoebox that served drinks in “cold-pastoral” Washington D.C., those memories gave the scriptures to my life and was a major part of my childhood.
When I came to Florida, I noticed the sky was larger, like it was when a child. Over time the world I had left built so many things to enclose me, from monuments, government buildings, and shopping centers along the streets, to a meaningless job, to family, the deaths and the sicknesses in the war of life, the destruction of divorce, separations, the house that raised the kids, and what I called home. I was like the old cat who disappeared one day. Maybe that’s how my grandson remembers me. An old tom cat he loved who has gone off somewhere.
Washington D.C. is home to more of Esquire’s magazine “Best Bars” than any other city in the United States. There is nothing like this bar in D.C. Here, the popular periodicals publish pictures of those recently arrested, and in advertising, use photos of big breasted biker babes laying across a Harley.
This bar is situated on ten acres and you could fit hundreds of shoebox taverns here. A football field of parking, a building that houses two bars, pool tables and a tattoo parlor. There is another large building that housed internet/slot machines that the Sheriff’s Department recently closed for alleged illegal gambling. Most here consider it a very petty move, considering gambling like this was recently legal, but the County and State are too invested in their “legal” gambling operations to allow it to continue now that the law has been changed.
Outside is an area serving everything from sloppy joes to wings and pot roast or you can let the waitresses, young girls in tight cut-off jeans, bring food to your table.
Bikers on their machines roar in and out, wearing denim and leather jackets proclaiming gang affiliations like, “Vietnam Vets,” “Outlaws,” “American Legion,” “West Coast Florida Nomads,” “Semper Fi’s,” and lots of Easy Rider types, or lone individuals. Florida has always been “Outlaws” turf but they do have chapters throughout the United States.
Most of the Outlaws’ “church meetings,” (This is what they call their monthly meetings) takes place further south in Tampa and in St. Petersburg, where the clubhouse is mainly known for their large-scale, peaceful, annual Mother’s Day gatherings.
The biker gangs, both law-abiding and not so law-abiding, seem to be getting along nicely. During Christmas, they help the Salvation Army, contribute to buy bicycles for needy kids and just want to be left alone to ride and do charitable acts. But the Outlaws biker gang are not experts in public relations and their charitable acts are little noticed. The state police, local sheriffs, and the newspapers are winning the publicity wars.
This bar is like one big open warehouse of drinking, music, and dancing, while cross breezes of the warm Gulf air clears the cigarette smoke.
The bouncers in this place are between 6’2” and 6’7” and one of the bouncers has a boxing gym, teaching local kids, male and female the sport. Some have already won golden gloves.
I am not old enough for Tuesday nights in this place, but it is a time trip back to poodle skirts, as fifties music is played for the over seventy crowd taking to the dance floor with such vigor like the days on American Bandstand. Canes are left to hang from the edges of the bar while they go dance, and slightly intoxicated women hang onto men in Hawaiian shirts and move in circles while mouthing the words to “Only You.”
I believe that song is G12 in my jukebox mind.
Above the bar is an actual, mocked up NASCAR, complete with sound effects of a thundering engine you can hear if you convince the bartender to press the button for you.
This is Friday night, I am much more comfortable with the Jack Daniels and a Southern Rock band bringing in all ages together. Walking up to the bar, an attractive, over forty thin redhead with a bottle opener in her back pocket of her tight jeans moves towards me. Barmaids are difficult women to respond to an advance or ask out. They have heard every line. She acknowledges me without saying a word and raises her eyebrows, as her way of not asking patrons over and over again what they want to drink.
“I’ll have a Miller High Life and your phone number.”
Turning away from me she bends over into a cold box. Her left hand removing the cap opener from her back pocket while lifting the bottle with her right hand and with one fluid motion turning back to me, erecting herself while removing the cap, placing the bottle on the bar and looking into my eyes.
Smiling, she says; “I’ll give you an “A” for effort but you don’t want me. I’m too dangerous.”
Her silver bracelet with links of skulls and crosses dangles from her wrist as she takes my cash.
“I had to take a shot,” I replied.
I have to review the song list in my mind’s juke box for a Marilyn Manson song.
A bearded, rotund biker, is amused by my “hit” on the bartender. His massive arm meat is fully exposed to the shoulder by his home-made vesting, cutting off the sleeves of a denim jacket he had outgrown, making him look even bigger.
“I’m Captain. Take my advice and wear jeans instead of khakis. Get yourself a cowboy hat and work boots instead of a ball cap and those Rockport’s.”
“I’ll pick up a copy Biker Fashion on my way home,” I said to him while remembering “I’m Your Captain,” is B16 on my jukebox.
“You ride?” He asks.
“Oh yeah, I like the feel of freedom in my Hyundai Santa Fe and the feeling I get when the big Florida bugs hit my windshield.”
A woman, looking like an impish kid approaches the bar and maneuvers between us for her drink. The bottom of her nose is almost level with the bar.
Captain’s big grin continues opening his mouth wider till the words come blurting out; “You don’t meet the height requirement to get a drink at this bar.”
Observing her finding him funny, and her hairstyle that barbers used to call a “regular boy’s haircut,” Captain threw more on her; “I used to have a haircut like that in kindergarten.”
And then she quickly responded; “I shit bigger than you fat boy, so say something else and I’ll rub your dog face in it.”
She left the bar area smiling and sipping her drink to the sound of laughter from everyone who was in earshot.
Captain started having such good times with me, we began standing next to each other most Friday and Saturday nights for the following two weekends, buying each other drinks and laughing.
I asked him why he never asked what I do, because in most bars back in D.C., it is done quickly.
“Are you a cop?”
“No one in this part of Florida gives a shit. We don’t define ourselves that way.”
A short time passes and he says above the increasing crowd noise; “What do you do?”
“I write, stories and poetry.”
“You write about poultry?
“Yeah Captain, I write about chickens.”
Captain proceeded to tell a chicken story; “I was going to pick up a girl for a date who lives in Homosassa, and when I went to pick her up, she had a chicken coop that went from the yard to inside the house. Those chickens were coming and going and no way was I going inside with that smell of chicken shit. I just left.”
“No Captain, I write stories and poetry.”
“Well I don’t read;” he said laughing.
The next Friday, Captain asked me a favor. “You know I’m in a motorcycle gang, and we are having a church meeting in Crystal River. That’s what we call our meetings. I want you to give a poetry reading.”
This was a spit-take moment. No way was I going to get in front of a motorcycle gang’s meeting and read poetry. That is akin to a comedian doing a comedy show at the Vatican. It just isn’t done. Four beers and three shots later, after all the reasons why it is wrong, and explanations why he should get a comedian, I said I would do it. I knew I was being used for something other than reading my works for a motorcycle gang’s church meeting, but I had to know, and Captain assured me I would be safe.
“When is it?”
“Tomorrow at eight. The old movie theater building on the road next to the small airport.”
Before bed, I had printed out some words I was working on about the redheaded bartender, and left it next to my computer. Patricia, my weekly housekeeper arrived in the morning, and while making my coffee, read the following brief description. I actually leave them out for her, knowing she will read them.
“Redheads are evil and it seems I cannot resist their seductive, Vesuvius-like attitudes and moods. I have trouble leaving them once their molten passion throws rocks on me, knocking me unconscious. I remain in bed longer after a redhead has left, only to be found by my Irish maid, who observes the remains of my last moment, that last explosion of the redheaded mountain top. An exploding Vesuvius leaving half my body covered in a white sheet with my hand left grasping for the other side of the bed and still waiting more. But they always disappear before dawn.
I should avoid them and stay far across the Bay of Naples like Pliny the Younger and write my descriptions of the sea sucked away and the dense, black cloud and the arriving darkness. I should stay further away from the poisonous air of their perfume, once inhaled swooning you to the ground in a suffocating ecstasy.”
With my coffee in her hand, Patricia commands; “Get out of bed Mr. El so I can get my work done.”
She sets the coffee on the nightstand and proceeds toward the master bath making comments and giving advice while I continue to gather my consciousness. “I wish you could meet a nice woman who will tend you, because you need more tending than you think. That’s some fantasy about women in your head.”
“Prose are for redheads, poems are for brunettes;” I said taking my first sip of much-needed coffee.”
Patricia asks; “What do old blonds like me get?”
“A “How To Manual” with lots of pictures.”
“Well, when you do my manual mister smart ass, show a picture of me doing your laundry and scrubbing your toilet after you brought home that bulimic brunette last month. Am I the only one who thinks you are a better poet than a writer?”
“Yup and the only one willing to pay for poetry, however I do have a poetry reading tonight.”
“I may be an old Irish maid, but I know the difference between immortal and immoral. Your poetry is like Saint Yeats, and your prose is like the devil. You keep messing the sheets and not finding a good woman to love, you will be alone and unhappy;” she says while carrying trash out of the bathroom and setting it near the bedroom door.
“I’ve seen the evidence in your life of relationship crimes in the laundry. That woman who stayed with you for a few months. She never wore underwear. What kind of woman doesn’t wear panties? An intelligent man like you to be with such a woman. I prayed for you Mr. El, each time I did the laundry.”
“Yes Patricia, her hair was streaked with bad redneck highlights. That was my comic book period;” I said getting out of bed and moving toward the living room.
Raising her voice to me as I’m walking away; “Who the hell is Pliny the Younger? You are such a whack-a-do.”
Patricia comes walking into the living room wearing yellow rubber gloves and holding a toilet brush. “Mr. El, you are only renting this place and not to be smoking inside the house. Smoke on the Lanai.”
“Patricia, I never knew the word “lanai” till I came to Florida.”
“Mr. El, you are cute, but high maintenance and should have been born a girl.”
“Good thing I wasn’t Patricia, because I would dye my hair red.”
“Get out on the lanai and let me finish my work.”
The airport in Crystal River is filled with small planes, a few helicopters, and Lear jets. Local gossip gets very loud when someone lets others in on the arrival of Johnny Depp going to visit his parents, Steve Spurrier visiting friends or John Travolta visiting his secret vacation spot. I turned into the parking lot of the old theater, and have to drive to the back, pass the massive amount of motorcycles to find a space.
Opening the door, I thought I was walking into a Star Trek episode and looking at nothing but Klingons. Looks like they have already been drinking for most of the day. Beer and whiskey bottles are everywhere. I’m going to read poetry to this bunch of hell raisers with big foreheads? Their women are checking me out like I was a worm or one strand of linguine they could swallow in one bite. Captain greets me with a hug and takes me around to meet people with names like, Slash, Slit, Meat, Pus, Dirt, and Manson. Then he begins to introduce to some of the men. One of them just arrived carrying a large duffel bag. Captain says he just flew in from across the street.
I’m surprised when Captain moves to the front of the group and begins the meeting. Obviously he is not only in the gang but a leader. He starts the church meeting and everyone stands for the pledge of allegiance to the flag. The gang’s flag is next to the American flag as well. He introduces his special guest for the night, a poet. With their applause I walk to the front of this audience, and with papers in hand thank everyone for the invitation to share my work here, in this universe where no poet has ever gone before.
Any good entertainer must find a relatable ground with his audience to begin his show. I had one biker poem and proceeded to open with it.
Bikers are all the same,
Dress alike, not really tough
When fearing rain.
Heartsick and rough,
Breasts of better days
Hold on to their man.
Freedom is just an exhaust
Riding is enough.
You have to lay the bike down
Choose what to bruise,
And see what survives the gravel ground.
I heard the silence and more silence as the gang members hesitated between inhaling and exhaling. I stared back at them wondering who was going to pull a knife. Then a clap grew to more claps with added whistles. The shouts of; “Read it again!” filled the room. One man hollered; “Look, he made Slash start to cry.”
Just as I was about to read it again, The Sheriff’s Department along with some Federal Agents, are raiding the church meeting. Everyone is going down on the floor with hands out in full view and away from their bodies. I hear muffled laughter from gang members on the floor.
No weapons are found and some agents move toward the duffel bag the guy who got off the plane had placed near me. It contained poetry books. Now I’m figuring out what the Captain pulled off. A publicity stunt. No one is getting arrested and there is even a reporter who came with the cops writing furiously into a note pad. Captain not only discredited a drug informant, who was led to believe that plane ride was a large drug shipment, he created a fabulous headline that appeared the next day in The Chronicle. “Biker Gang’s Poetry Reading Busted By Cops”
We all got mentioned in that article. For the next week and into the weekend, people were laughing, and having a great time. Captain and the gang couldn’t buy me enough drinks. Wanted to make me an honorary member and I said only if they buy me a sidecar and a helmet.
When Patricia showed up for housework duties, she couldn’t control her laughter. Couldn’t believe what she read in the paper and still said I needed a woman because I get into too much trouble when I’m alone. She also called me a “whack-a-do” again.
By the following Friday, I was in the bar with Captain. He mentioned he was going to meet up with the redheaded bartender when she got off from work. I was a bit disappointed it wasn’t me, but I was finished writing about her, and like Pliny the Younger, moved on to look at other women across the bay.
It wasn’t till I showed up at the bar the next night that I heard Captain had been stabbed several times and was in a coma at the hospital, and they didn’t think he would recover. He was found slumped in the front seat of his truck with an eight-ball of coke floating in the pools of his blood. The only weapon found was his own gun. The word going around was some leaked forensics. It had to be a female because the wounds, although there were many, didn’t seem deep enough or strong enough as another man could do.
The gang was trying to figure out who did it. The police were roaming around asking questions of anybody who had contact with Captain and trying to retrace his movements. When I was asked, I had no information for them. I wasn’t sure the redhead did it. She might not have even showed up to meet him. Maybe Captain was lying to me because he knew I wrote about her. Maybe it was the chicken-coop lady, or the short girl at the bar. I wasn’t getting involved.
If she is innocent, she might even be wondering if I did it. If she did do it, then she has a suspicion I know. Tonight, unlike the first time she served me, I have become too dangerous to her.
Found it, A18, Marilyn Manson’s version of Tainted Love.
Even though some incidents and places in this story are true, it is a fictional account for entertainment purposes. All characters are completely fictionalized and are no relation to anyone depicted either living or dead. Including myself.
All rights reserved, © copyrighted 2014 by Paul Brookman