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Article Morgue

The Jerky Boys
Nita's Hideaway Brawl
Why I Left Burning Man -- and Why I'm Returning


Article morgue: Cadaver #2

Just A Man Expressing How He Feels Inside

or,

Nothing Could Be Sweet-a
Than a Free-For-All at Nita's

by Deuce of Clubs

(Not published in Planet Magazine, 1995)

 

This story was killed from several issues in a row of Planet Magazine in 1995, possibly because it is rambling and pointless (though if that were enough to get a story killed, few of mine would live), but more probably because Nita's Hideaway happened to be one of the magazine's sponsors. I doubt Nita herself would have cared, but whatever. The snubbed story migrated, with the rest of my junk, through computer upgrades, from hard drive to hard drive, until Babs's drunken brawl story reminded me of it. One good drunken brawl story deserves another, I say. (Got one? Entertain me.)


When Audra, her pal Amy (not that Amy), and I walked into the new, improved Nita's Hideway to hang out for an evening, we didn't expect drunken brawls, police calls, or any of the other staples of the "old" Nita's, which I would say was more or less a biker bar. I would say this because more than once I walked in to find motorcycles actually parked inside the bar. After Charles Levy talked Nita into letting him perform impresario duties and Nita's became a neo-hipster hangout, altercations and outlaw bikers became the stuff of memory. I had been trying for a while to talk my friend Audra into visiting Nita's Hideaway, a place she considered "seedy." (Stock response: "So tell me its bad points.") Her friendship with members of the The El Guapos meant she could not say no to The El Guapos summer farewell show. I assured her that the bad old days at Nita's were over.

Naturally, moments after we sat down at a table, the ghost of Nita's former self—unimpressed by the new crowds of alternative scenester types—reasserted itself in the form of a pair of brawlers who seemed sent by hell to make me a liar.

One must have to pour staggering amounts of beer through two hulks of this size to get them as hammered as these guys were. They were both huge, with heads the shape, though just short of the size, of butcher blocks, and so angular that you could have sculpted them in Lego with complete verisimilitude. They looked like the Rock 'Em Sock 'Em robots. The leader, who we'll call Baby Huey, was a six-foot-six no-neck with long, fifties-style, close-cropped sideburns, and tattoos up and down his Popeye-sized arms. Sociological query: Why do no-necks cover their arms with tattoos? So they can look down on goofs who cover their necks with tattoos?

Neck bolts wouldn't have looked out of place on this lunk. He wore a sleeveless t-shirt that should have said, BODY BY MAD SCIENTIST, because he can have originated only in some Carpathian laboratory. If he had actual, human parents, I can imagine them bent over a stained kitchen table in their squalid mobile home, arm-wrestling over whose turn it is to go down the hall and beat junior to sleep.

Displeased at having been being cut off by the bartender, Baby Huey and his friend with the mohawk exercised their First Amendment rights in the form of repeated lobbings of empty beer mugs in the direction of the band. Freelance bouncer Dave Parker approached and invited them to kindly sample the egress. They declined.

And when I say they declined, I don't mean they paused to inflect (and certainly not to reflect). Twin Mike Tysons rampaging around a rodeo arena with cattle prods duct-taped to their gonads is more the picture of this sort of declining. And when I say the situation also declined, you should be imagining damage on a insurance-company-drops-small-business-policy scale. Baby Huey, especially, appeared determined to take as much of the insurable value of the place as possible out the door, toward which he was being pushed and dragged by Charlie and Parker, who seem to have been living secret double lives as full-contact extreme cage fighters. Even so, Huey alone would have been too much for them; backed by Mohawk, he seemed almost unstoppable. Near the exit Huey managed to pry both arms loose enough to grab the video poker machine and heave it across the room, slam a female pool player to the floor, and nearly topple the cigarette machine—right onto Your Longwinded Narrator, who had by this time joined this Geraldo show parody. It felt as if a tornado was spinning the room, but it wasn't the room that was moving, just some of its larger, heavier components. I did manage to save both the cigarette machine and myself as Charlie and Parker and a few disgruntled pool shooters finally muscled the muscleheads out the door.

You have to wonder about people like this, I was thinking as I headed back to our table. Did they think they were auditioning to appear as suspects on a cop reality show? Would this be an embarrassing memory for them? Would they even remember it at all? Or had this sort of thing become by now a barely noticeable habit? Would they sheepishly tell this story at some future twelve-step meeting? (I don't know, but I hereby wish for any fiance either one of them may acquire to be gifted with psychic powers, in order that she might perhaps in a timely fashion visualize her future, symbolized by a flying video poker machine.)

Back at our table I noticed that Nita's was not making the best impression on either Audra (whom I had met as a wrong number, back before I stopped answering my telephone altogether) or Audra's friend Amy, herself a cocktail server but unacquainted with the rich tapestry of human behaviors that is the substance of a places such as Nita's. "What kind of a place is this?" Audra said when I ambled as casually as I could back to the table. I shrugged. This wasn't the sleaziest bar one could visit, I told her. It wasn't even the sleaziest bar in the Phoenix metro area. For example, it wasn't Newman's (in downtown Phoenix), the bar to visit when you'd like to be the only person in a room who still has any front teeth.

After an El Guapo song or two, the front door opened to reveal the brawl still in progress in front of the bar. Audra and Amy didn't seem to notice it, so I excused myself without explanation and went outside to find about seven or eight people wrestling on the concrete. Charlie had Baby Huey in a headlock, which (I later found out) had left Charlie's face vulnerable to frequent pokes from Mohawk's fists, until a couple of other civic-minded Nita's patrons had come out and helped sit on the both of them.

There being one remaining vacant seat on Mohawk's back, I went over to take a place in this tag-team tableau, although I was pretty much just a kibbitzer at this point. I'm not a beefy guy, so it didn't seem wise for a chimp like me to assume more than a token role in a gorilla free-for-all. (Besides, I'd have had to get really put out if one of those jerks had bled on my genuine Stuckey's uniform shirt, which my pal Sue Flokey had cadged out of a couple of juvenile delinquent community service inmates working off their misdemeanors at the Stuckey's we visited outside of Benson.) My job here was to keep Mohawk's elbow locked behind his back so he couldn't get up and take any more free shots at poor Charlie's face, which was already starting to look like he'd poked his face into a hornet's nest. Which, in a way, I guess he had.

The soundtrack for this mess was a high-decibel screechfest, with lead vocals provided by Baby Huey, who kept up a squawking torrent of abuse directed at anyone within craning radius of his neck. Nita's roommate (despite contrary claims, there really is a Nita) had wound up pinned to the concrete with his face wedged right next to Mohawk's. Unable to move his head, he was shouting at Mohawk, "Stop breathing through your mouth, man! Your breath stinks!" Ladies & gentlemen, another fine graduate of the Sally Struthers Correspondence Course in Emergency Crisis Negotiation. Mohawk was yelling for us to let him up, until, hearing that the cops were on their way, it began to dawn on him that the after hours party he was likely to be attending would be in a jail cell. He instantly stopped struggling and calmed down for a minute.

Then, as a counterpoint to Baby Huey's shrieking and squawking, arose the whining.

"I gotta work in the morning," Mohawk complained. Come to find out, these two weren't runway models. They were construction workers. Well, that made sense. After a long day of—constructing?—what construction worker doesn't immediately head out to the nearest drinking establishment for a relaxing game of catch the coin-operated entertainment equipment?

Upon learning that Mohawk was a construction worker, Nita's roommate practically squealed. "Me, too!" he said, laughing. "I'll hire you, man! I love this guy!" He's saying this as his laughing head is still pinned to the concrete, but he wasn't kidding. It was like that stupid romantic comedy convention that's always baffled me:

— I HATE you!
— Oh, yeah? Well, I hate you MORE!
(They kiss.)

Meanwhile, gainful employment was not looming large in the next day's plans for Baby Huey. "I'm gonna get my GUN! We're coming back here!" he was yelling. "We're gonna BURN THIS PLACE DOWN! We're gonna BLOW THIS JOINT UP!" By now, however, even Mohawk was ignoring him.

After about half an hour of this, the tardy cops (having no doubt hoped the situation would take care of itself before they arrived, which it pretty much had) finally showed up in this barnyard full of chickens and two bad eggs. The cops cuffed Baby Huey and, when he refused to settle down, hog-tied him and left him face-down on the concrete. Mohawk was also cuffed, but the cops let him sit on a curb, where he slumped glumly, looking as though he had just regained consciousness, a Dr. Jekyll who could remember and rue what Mr. Hyde had been up to.

So there they both were on the concrete, Winner and First Runner-up in the "Most Giantest Dumbass at Nita's" pageant. I don't know about Mohawk but you could tell it wasn't Huey's first cop rodeo, and that his experiences had left him with an enthusiastic dislike for officers of the law. As he lay on the concrete, one cop shined a flashlight on one of his tattoos. "You cain't read dat!" Huey screamed at him. "You too STOOPIT!" Clearly, his hatred of cops drew on a vast word hoard, as rampaging ancient Anglo-Saxons would say.

No matter how loud Huey got, though, the cops just ignored him as if he weren't even there. And the more he was ignored, the angrier Huey got. Finally, he became too angry for mere words.

"QUIET!" he shouted. "Shut up, everybody! I got somethin' to SAY!"

Stupidly, we all stopped to listen as Huey let go a ludicrously loud fart.

"THAT'S FOR YOU, PIGS!" he screamed. And he farted again.

Hard to know how to react to a guy like that. I didn't. "What a moron," I said to myself (but out loud).

"Nah, man—that's beautiful." I turned to see a cop beside me nodding. Pointing at the hog-tied, spittle-flecked galoot shouting and slobbering at our feet, I challenged the cop: "Tell me what's beautiful about that."

The cop smiled the kind of smile that a person probably can't pull off unless he's seen large amounts of genuine shit. His answer reflected an attitude that's probably handy for a cop to have: "That's just a man expressing how he feels inside," he said.

And I noticed then that, to a man, the cops were all taking Baby Huey's abuse with good humor. Of course, it probably didn't hurt that the fool was face-down on the ground and that they knew they'd soon be carrying him across the parking lot by his bound hands and feet and swinging him stomach-down through the back door of a squad car, watch your head, oops, bang, sorry!

And that's exactly what they did.

After that, they let Mohawk stand up. Nita's roommate kissed him on the head. (Might have been a good thing Mohawk was still cuffed.) I couldn't understand why Nita's roommate would be so interested in hiring a guy who had bucked and kicked like a rodeo bull, pommelled Charlie's face when he was defenseless, and three times kicked the head of Charlie's visiting cousin Miro. But then, I don't know all there is to know about what skills come in handy on a construction site. At any rate, I don't know whether Mohawk's new single-member fan club had anything to do with it, but the cops let him off with only a warning.

By now Audra and Amy were also out front, the El Guapos had finished their set, and it was decided that we were finished, too. As we were leaving, some cops were still talking to Mohawk, others were hauling Huey away, bellow-down and bellowing. As we pulled out of the parking lot, Audra said, "You sure know how to show a girl a good time." Sometimes the best times are at someone else's expense. I was almost sorry I hadn't tipped Baby Huey.

The next morning, I got my chance. Idling at a red light at Rural and University, I noticed a large and sullen man lurking at the bus stop in front of the Ryder truck rental place, not far from the Tempe police station. Couldn't be, could it ... ? Then I saw the sideburns and buck teeth—yep, it was Baby Huey. That sharp-cornered head had spent all night on a jail cot pillow. I wondered: How much did he remember? What was he feeling inside at that moment? Shame? Remorse? Resolve to mark his release from jail with a celebratory drunken saloon-burning come nightfall?

I didn't find out. It wasn't because I was running late, which I was. Against my desire to know what Huey was feeling inside had to be weighed some things I already did know:

  • If he recognized me at all, it would be as one of the guys who was last seen perched atop his wrestling buddy.
  • If roused, this lump of sullenness could easily fashion a whoop stick from a bus stop sign.
  • Bomb threats, Ryder trucks—next stop, fertilizer store?

On balance, therefore, I decided that one need not always hear people express how they feel inside.


(Coda: But I'll bet I can guess, because I found out later that Baby Huey got slammed with six felony counts.)

© Deuce of Clubs 1995. Or 2001, when Babs emailed her brawl story. Or 2004, when I finally posted this. Take your pick.


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