A Thanksgiving Eve Story



You know me.  The evening began with one goal: Find karaoke.  Dani and I were over at Katherine's taking turns searching the web for listings of local bars with karaoke on a Wednesday night.  And they had to still be open tonight, this Wednesday night before Thanksgiving.  Since no one in Louisiana seems to know there's an internet yet, Dani eventually set the laptop aside and resorted to calling places one by one until we had some prospects.  After a brief lesson from Katherine's dad on how to make stuffing from "an old English recipe" (even though he's Canadian), we were finally off on the road.

The first stop on our list was Billy's Lounge, a small bar only three miles or so from Katherine's, but it's in the direction of the middle of nowhere on a stretch of one of those rural highways travelers always neglect in favor of the interstate.  We pull up to the place and realize it's pretty tiny, so I'm thinking that coupled with the location, location, and location, it's got to be a total redneck joint.  Oh, but just for added entertainment value, there are a couple condoms still in the wrapper on the steps out front.  We walk in, and there's only about a half-dozen folks inside, all sitting at the bar.  There's no karaoke going on, no one's playing pool.  There isn't even any music playing, just a tv showing Entertainment Tonight with the sound turned down.

Turns out karaoke was the previous night, the bartender tells us; Dani had written it down wrong during the scramble of calling all bars.  We don't want to be rude, so we sit down at the bar with the rest of the "crowd" and Dani and Kat have Amaretto sours.  As the conversation gets going, it's starting to dawn on us why the neon beer light has a rainbow incorporated into it, why it's just guys except for the chick who looks like a guy and the one fat chick with glasses and greasy hair whose likeness would almost certainly appear in Webster's illustrated edition under "fag hag."  Duh, we're in a gay bar.  Specifically, we're in the unlikeliest gay bar in the South.  But despite what you may think, there's no way we're leaving now.  People kill for material this good.

A look-at-me queen at the end of the bar dominates the conversation.  Even though he's roughly my size, he goes by the name Big Mama.  I'm not sure (s)he goes by any other name.  This is even when he's not in drag apparently, like tonight.  Big Mama's picture is on the wall above the door, in costume of course along with other regular performers.  The drag shows are either Friday or Saturday (they alternate).  There isn't even room for a third pool table between the four walls, so how much of a pageant they can actually squeeze into the place is doubtful... which makes the possibility of going to one all the more enticing.

Rex, the bartender (who a fairly cooked Katherine at one point asked Dani "Is his name Billy or Bobby?") turns out to have been from Dallas originally and was abundantly familiar with Oak Lawn, the bars in Oak Lawn, and, of course, Halloween in Oak Lawn, one year during which, he says, featured the third and last time he was in drag.  They organized a routine as the Strangerettes (a play on the local Rangerettes) with full costumes (think pleather boots and gauntlets), choreography, and accompaniment by a marching band.  Friends of the participants filmed the festivities for a documentary.  What killed drag for him permanently, Rex said, was when he looked at video footage on his tv and said it was like seeing his mother's face staring back at him.  No gay man wants to try to dress up as a beautiful woman and find they just look like their mother.

Over the course of conversation, Rex tells us his favorite joke: A bird was flying along and hit a sudden icy patch that chilled him so badly, his wings froze and he dropped to the ground.  He thought it was over, but just then a cow had laid a big patty of manure on the ground in the field.  The little bird plopped into the warm mess.  It not only broke his fall, but it also thawed him out.  He was so happy that he started chirping, but when he did so, a cat walking by heard him.  The cat pawed at the patty and pulled the bird out and made a meal of him.

There are three morals to this story:
Moral #1: Someone who gets you into shit isn't necessarily your enemy.
Moral #2: Someone who gets you out of shit isn't necessarily your friend.
Moral #3: When you're in shit, keep your mouth shut.

We stuck around a bit for more stories and jokes while the girls finished their drinks and I helped myself to the sampling of cold chicken wings, salami/pepperoni and crackers, and a veggie tray.  But as good as this find was, we hadn't had any karaoke just yet.  We said our goodbyes and headed up north for the next-nearest possibility for karaoke: a place called The Trackside up in Pearl River.

For those blessedly not in the know, Pearl River is even closer to the proverbial middle of nowhere.  I know I said that about Billy's Lounge, but we were even farther removed from civilization at this point.  Rather than quiet desolation, this is the scary kind of middle of nowhere that Ned Beatty would forever avoid after that run-in he had in Deliverance.  Of course, we're looking for exotic encounters of the third kind, so we're game for pretty much anything the locals have to offer.

As we pull up though, there are three cop cars outside, and they aren't parked like they're by for a social visit; they're along the edge of the highway out front which equates to a 911 response.  There are several uniformed cops in the parking lot and a guy in handcuffs in their custody.  Other cops are nearby interviewing witnesses.  To what?  We find out from a patron watching the scene from the bar's front porch that this was the culmination of the on-going saga of a customer starting shit for the past month, getting kicked out, then returning after threatening to come back with a gun.  They called 911 at that point.  The cops slammed him to the ground.  I never heard decisively whether he was actually packing.

Inside it's pretty crowded in spite of some of the folks being outside as spectators or otherwise entangled with the aftermath of the ruckus.  Granted, the entire place is about the size of the front two rooms of my house.  Once again there's no karaoke going on as we walk in, but it's just as entertaining as Billy's right from the start, what with the peroxide-bleached blonde giving a reverse-cowboy lap dance to a guy on one side of the room.

Nevertheless, we hope the karaoke will resume, so we have a seat at the bar.  The bartender Christine is the most perfect woman ever created... seemingly just for me: blue eyes, dark black hair, and an incredible long, thin nose.  She's full of energy and personality squeezed into jeans and a too-short t-shirt with abs like Linda Hamilton's 1991 Terminator 2 look.  Somehow she's transplanted here from Rhode Island.  She acknowledges the culture-shock, and yet she seems to fit right in, fielding drink orders from the locals without pausing to translate.

I get out a songbook (Christine points out where they keep them at the derelict karaoke booth), and they have awesome selections, but the night is dragging on and still no one manning the karaoke itself.  Christine texts the guys outside.  The DJ who runs the machine is tied up filling out statements, and he ends up having to go down to the station.  It's official: Karaoke is on hold at the Trackside that night.  Maybe tomorrow, ya'll?

Dani and Kat finish their drinks and we head for the door, but drunk or sober, Katherine just can't walk past a pole without going for a twirl.  She whirls around the one near the middle of the room once with a high kick and slides on down to the floor, then picks herself up to continue to our exit, but the bleach blonde grabs her wrist and pulls her back toward it.  As outgoing as Katherine has become over the years, her face took on an understandably deer-in-the-headlights look as she jerked away from the girl.  Ms. Peroxide 1997's enthusiasm was hard to read and would have been intimidating even is devoid of any malevolence.  Was she challenging Kat for invading her turf?  Did she want to have a friendly dance-off with a kindred spirit?  Whatever the case, we wordlessly darted for the door, grateful to have escaped with our lives.

The next option short of heading to New Orleans was a "Daquiris and Cream" place in Covington farther down the interstate.  In short, this turned out to be Douchebag Central.  Sure, I'll look at their girlfriends, but I don't want to sit around and be deafened by their music.  And, three for three tonight, there was no karaoke when we walked in.  For a while it looked like we were going to completely strike out, but I had grabbed a songbook to peruse in the meantime just in case.  Again, good song options in spite of the excessive volume and minimal quality of the venue.

We sat back and people watched.  And you know, so far we'd been in a gay bar.  We'd been to the inspiration for latter-day Steven Segal straight-to-dvd flicks.  And yet this was the place we felt the least comfortable and the most out of place.  Some portly guy in his fifties (picture Andrew Lloyd Webber in the '90s) was at the next table to us being swarmed by cute vacuous twenty-somethings when he brought a tray full of Jello shots... and plastic spoons(?!).  All we could figure was he was really, really rich and/or he owned the place.  It was gross.

Against odds, things got worse when the karaoke began (or resumed?).  It was almost impossible to hear anything the DJ or the singers were saying or singing as the rig was apparently equipped for nothing but bass and hiss.  Dani and Kat were ready to leave by the second song.  I had already put in my request by that time, so I offered to bail if my turn hadn't come around within the next couple songs.  Fortunately, just after I set my threshold, my number finally came up.

Naturally, I did "Sweet Transvestite" from Rocky Horror hoping to weird out the crowd, but no such luck.  In fact, barely a verse into the song, one of the guys there grabbed a second mike and asked me if he could sing some of the AP (audience participation) parts.  I said sure.  Several people on the dance floor in front of the stage went wild.  Perhaps the rest would have as well if the sound could have penetrated ungarbled more than a few feet into the club.  Apparently it's not such an obscure track after all, even on the douchebag scene.

I finished the song and we bailed on the place.  It was just after midnight by this point.  We thought about hitting the Causeway and heading into New Orleans.  We were so on the fence that ultimately the deciding factor was the $3 toll to cross from the north shore, though it's free in the opposite direction.  If things were reversed, we might have done it.  See, we could have gone straight south into N.O. (or Metaire) and then went back home to Slidell via I-10 for free.  It was getting late anyway, so we just decided to head back to Billy's Lounge for more quality time with Rex and pals.

We had some more chicken wings, sat through some of the regulars' stories, got a guided tour of the patio out back from Rex and saw the tiny mirrorball above it that no gay bar is complete without.  The rest of the customers filed out gradually over the remainder of the night until we were the last left there around 1:40am.  What time do you close, we asked?  The posted hours were until 1am on weeknights, "But we're flexible," Rex said.  For the second time that night, we said our goodbyes and promised we'd do our best to be back for the drag show on New Years Eve.

We'd fallen in three ostensibly shit bars that night, but for all our attempts to trade up, the first place was what we were looking for without ever realizing it.  If there's a moral here, it's to be thankful for the shit you fall into when it's warm and friendly.



Copyright 2008 Alexplorer.
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