Part 6: I Didn’t Come Here to Fold
There I was, sitting at the bar at Kelly’s Bar and Grill for all the world like I belonged there. Considering the novelty of the situation, I felt remarkably comfortable. I had a nice chat with Angel, which helped. Said she used to dance, but got a little old for it. She was my first favorite bartender. And the bar-stool gave me a place from which to scout out the rest of the situation.
One quick observation was that the place had no food other than bar nuts. I never did find out why the word “Grill” was in the establishment’s name. But that wasn’t really germane to my purpose there, I could get a cheeseburger anywhere. I needed to suss out the internal logistics of this place. Dancers went up on stage for three-song sets. A few went to great lengths with costuming; cop, pirate, baseball player, that sort of thing; they would have made pretty good cosplayers today. During the first song, clothes stayed on, only gloves or accessories might come off. The second song was garment removal, piece by piece. Near the end of song two or the beginning of song three, the goods were out, the dancer would be down to g-string and maybe footwear. Each dancer manifested her personality through the song choices, and I was impressed with the variety. Elvira girl was obviously the country chick. She was followed by a heavy metal chick, who in turn was followed by a funk chick. Delta Dawn, Highway to Hell and Bootzilla, all seemed excellent third song choices. I couldn’t help but think, what would be in my set if I were a dancer at Kelly’s? I went through many possibilities, the only one I settled on definitely was Cream’s Strange Brew. Maybe not third song, but it would be in my set list for sure.
As for patron behavior, there were a couple of quick takeaways. If you were sitting at one of the tables right by the stage, you could place a dollar bill on the stage and the dancer would come over and give you an eyeful. Even better, if you held up the dollar bill, she’d come over and let you put it in the garter she wore around her thigh for just that purpose. You could walk up to the stage and do the same, but clearly the front tables were an advantage if that was your thing. Then there were the middle and outer tables. The dancers who were between sets circulated among these, occasionally sitting for a chat and drink with a patron. Sometimes, and this was the eye-opener, they would stand up and dance and grind the fuck all over said patron. Apparently, placing a crisp fiver in the garter was the transaction that signaled go. I ordered a fresh MGD and moved to a table. As poker players like to say, “I didn’t come here to fold.”
It didn’t take long. White pop chick took the stage and started with the Pińa Colada song. During her second song, Heartache Tonight I think it was, I felt someone standing to my left. I looked over and up. It was Funk Chick. I froze up a bit and swallowed hard. Of the dancers I’d seen so far, she was my favorite. She was Black and tall, reminded me of Foxy Brown from the movie. Looking up from my seated position, she towered over me like the Colossus of Rhodes. Way sexier, but just as imposing. “Mind if I join you?”
She introduced herself as Jade and asked if I would buy her a drink, which I did. She asked Angel, doubling as cocktail waitress during a slow shift, for a screwdriver. I didn’t know what that was, it just looked like a glass of orange juice. I made a mental note to look that up somewhere, maybe next month’s Playboy would have something. We chit chatted. She seemed genuinely impressed that a white boy like me was into Bootsy Collins. A couple of times, as we talked, she reach out and touched my forearm to make a point. Each time she did it my guts quivered a bit. Finally she got down to brass tacks, “You want a table dance?” I don’t know how many ways there are to express assent, but I tried to execute all of them at once. She said, “Nice. Wait till the next song. That gives me a chance to work on this drink. And it gets you a full song.” When the time came she stood back up to her full junoesque presence and propped a foot on one of the chairs, displaying her thigh like Mrs. Robinson. I put the fiver in the garter, which was thrilling enough by itself. Then we were off. I got taken to school for the full four minute and thirteen second duration of Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough.
I have no intention of going into detail on all the various maneuvers Jade was able to execute, expertly, during a single song. That’s not the kind of writing I do, at least not under this pen name. But she did, at one point, playfully smack me in the face with her boobs, kind of a reverse motorboat I guess you’d call it. So, yeah, the first time I ever touched a boob was with my face. I’ve mulled it over in the years since, trying to decide if, as lifetime achievements go, this is sad or cool. I’ve settled on it being cool. Kind of like saying that I had my wisdom teeth extracted by a dentist who was a member of the Mexican Communist Party, which I did. It’s unique. It sets me apart, in my own mind at least.
At the end of the song she said, “Want to go again, Sweetie?” I reached for my money.
I went on to be a regular at Kelly’s Bar and Grill for the rest of that summer. I went at least once, and sometimes twice in a given week. The first bar where people said hi to me by name, and the bartender knew my order before I sat down, was a nudie dive bar next to an industrial park. I soon learned that Country Chick was Melody. Heavy Metal Chick was Roxy. There was also Mindy, Candy, and Penelope. I got to know them all, but Jade remained my favorite. I was too young to know the stereotypes I was supposed to apply to them. Maybe some were broken, or junkies, or desperate, or whatever. Maybe they were working their way through grad school. Maybe Jade now has a Masters in Sociology and I’m in her thesis – wouldn’t that be cool? During a summer where I didn’t really know anyone other than Uncle Willy, all I knew was they were people who were a lot of fun to hang out with. And they were always happy to see me, at least they were very good at making me think so.
In retrospect I’ve also come to the conclusion that, despite my size and grown-ass man beard, I probably didn’t really fool anyone. It was a different time, 1979. A time when it wasn’t considered drunk driving unless you hit something. I imagine the dancers, Angel, and the thick-necked bouncers all knew good-and-well that I was underage and collectively looked the other way. I was charming, respectful, funny, and way more pleasant than most of the clientele. My appreciation for the services they rendered was clearly genuine. I didn’t cause problems, and most importantly I blew through my pay-checks there.
Needless to say, the money-saving plan for the summer was a bust. When fall arrived and I went to Nashville to seek fame and fortune, I did it with diddly and bupkis as far as money. My lack of success in cracking the music industry probably wasn’t down to that, though. My complete lack of dedication to the mastery of either craft, guitar or songwriting, I suspect, played the defining role. But that’s a different story for a different time.
So, that’s it, that’s the story. That’s how I did the double. I saw my first boobs and drank my first bourbon on the same occasion at the age of sixteen. From those early beginnings, I’ve gone on to be a big fan of both. Is there a moral to the story? Hard to say. I guess it’s up to each reader to decide if there’s any there there – to decide if I should be ashamed of my accomplishment instead of unreasonably proud, which I clearly am.
If I had to come up with a specific lesson from the Summer of 1979, from my time at Kelly’s Bar and Grill, that has carried through, has influenced my life in the long run, I’d be hard pressed to narrow it down into anything specific. With a gun to my head though, I guess it boils down to something along the lines of:
Leaning into temptation, from time to time, isn’t the worst idea.
© 2020 Whiskey Leavins