Bar Exam, Part 4

Gonads at Magoo’s

Two days after St Patty’s, the huge mobile contraption pulled to a full stop in the middle of Chimes Street, in front of the legendary Magoo’s Bar:

… stories from former residents and business owners fondly recall the area, particularly Chimes Street, which has long had a bohemian mystique. In its way, it was the Greenwich Village of Baton Rouge, with a beatnik vibe in the Fifties, a hippie vibe in the Sixties, a druggie vibe in the Seventies. There was a slightly dangerous edge to it — the kind of place that students loved but that made parents nervous.

There was the head shop in the 70s that sold cigarette papers, water pipes, and bongs, and Magoo’s bar with its famous beer-can collection and infamous St. Patrick’s Day street parties featuring green beer.

In those days the bar’s owner never met an extravagance in behavior he couldn’t top.   This good-natured fellow’s bar sat in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, snuggled up to the very perimeter of Louisiana State University. An institution which itself will never outlive Randy Newman’s lyrics: “Good ole boys from LSU, go in dumb, come out dumb, too.”

But the infamous Flying Gonads Racing Team were not dumb, no. The dwindling number of bikers in the loosely-knit band of motorcycle enthusiasts were out to use the leftovers from the recent St Patty’s holiday to recruit new members, even if it meant signing up an unintentionally educated college boy or two.

There was a serious merrymaking opportunity at the same time, of course.

The “Party Wagon” turned out to be a converted beer truck, bought cheaply and quickly from a university fraternity. Though it got bad gas mileage on the highway, the refrigeration unit still worked well, and the industrious frat brothers had already drilled and sealed holes for the installation of three taps on either side of the truck body. This allowed six kegs to be tapped simultaneously while an additional six were kept cold and on reserve inside the insulated truck bed.

Two principal organizers – and the best mechanics — from the club, Crazy Charlie and Grizzly, had been hired by the trust-fund-endowed Greeks to rework the engine, brakes and electrical system. Thus the Gonads were among the first to know when the truck hit the marketplace again.

It was a good deal. The buy came with seven leftover kegs of green beer already in place. It seems that the Greeks had been unable to maintain their desired pace on the recent St Patty’s Day. Only two days before, they had set their chairs on the fraternity house’s bare lawn at 8am and had begun power-drinking the tinted beverage as a salute to the sainted Irish hero.

Their location, quite near several campus ministries, allowed them to toast those supposedly less-enlightened spiritual institutions in many a gallant lift of the pint and gusty recital of remote classical origin. However, in spite of valiant efforts at consumption, the twenty members present on the morning shift had only been able to empty two sixteen-gallon kegs of the bright chartreuse liquid before similarly colored public upheavals began to set in at regular intervals. This did not deter the pace of consumption.

One unfortunately well-synchronized outward burst occurred just as the lead limousine of a rather formidable politician’s funeral turned the corner onto the street that fronted the frat house. The limo’s sole horizontal occupant was not celebrating St Patrick’s Day, and his well-connected family was not amused.

That very afternoon the Dean of the University had retaliated, only allowing the fraternity to remain on campus — on strict probation — if it agreed to ban all alcoholic beverages from the premises, and, of course, if it got rid of the Party Truck immediately.

Griz pulled it into parking mode in front of Magoo’s the next Saturday morning. By noon it was decorated, and the rooftop packed with baskets of individual cocktail weenies, each skewered by a tiny Irish flag, also furnished by the fraternity’s former partyers. The miniature meat tubes had been part and parcel of the discreet acquisition of six cases of the product, which had been discarded in a dumpster behind a strip-mall supermarket when management discovered that the bulging cans were almost eighteen months beyond their “sell-by” date. The Gonads, however, did not see this time lapse as a matter for consideration.

Weird Harold and Crazy Charlie had volunteered to ride on the top of the truck and toss the newly-acquired party favors. At noon, they were already in position, each with a gallon milk jug filled with green beer, and the parade was preparing to roll.

Dozens of riders from across the area had shown up on their Harley-Davidson “hogs” to show off their rides and provide escort. They carefully lined up their bikes across the street in four neat rows, kickstands down and front wheels all slanted uniformly to the right. The sun glinted off what was enough chrome to cover a mid-sized naval destroyer, a blinding but glorious sight. Most of the waiting masses were amazed at what the Griz and Gonad Co-chair Crazy Charlie had been able to put together on such short notice.

“We are the purposely forgotten people of this town, you betcha,” the patriotic Griz yelled over the engine-cranking roar of another wave of arriving bikes. “At least until today.” Things were looking up for the recruiting process.

By the time Grizzly got behind the wheel of the Party Wagon, a rather voluptuous drama major – Harold’s “niece”, it was rumored — had taken the middle of the bench seat to handle the truck’s cab-top public address system. A rather cross-eyed political science major also scrambled onboard to the passenger window position to distribute crudely mimeographed Gonad recruitment leaflets. By then the “forgotten” men and women of the club, and their fellow bikers, had already put a serious dent in the contents of the onboard kegs, and had themselves all but forgotten why they were gathered. It was only after Griz had blown the Wagon’s deafening air horn for five minutes, thereby drowning out all conversation, and actually put the vehicle into gear, that the crowd all started scrambling for their Harleys in an attempt to quickly get behind the beer source.

Scrambling… a little too quickly.

Griz didn’t notice that all six taps were still wide-open as he began to progress forward down Chimes street toward Highland Road, spewing a foamy green wake behind both sides of the ongoing campaign parade.

He also didn’t notice that Charlie and Harold had come seriously under the influence of verdigrised liquids while waiting atop the truck for the parade to start, and had been passing the time since they ran out of beer by napping, piles of flagged sausages melting all around them in the sun.

Lastly, the Griz didn’t notice what happened when the first prospective parader tried to bring his Hog upright in the middle of a row of ten. It all seemed to happen in slow motion.

Harley dominoes.

Spangled Electra-Glide crashing into leather-trimmed Duo-Glide crashing into Candy-Apple Sportster crashing itself into its meticulously chopped and elongated neighbor, which somehow kicks its engine over in the process, idling at a high rpm, falling out of neutral as it hits the ground, spinning toward the next line of bikes, hitting them, one after another careening to the asphalt, raising a blackboard-fingernail series of prolonged metallic crunches and crinkles, each set of handlebars and kickstands and foot pegs forcing their way into the tangled guts of its neighbors, owners trying to leap into the middle to stop the progress of falling bikes becoming helplessly caught by the sheer weight of the machines and falling over themselves, reaching for support, starting the same disaster in row after row after row after row, until the street in front of the Magoo’s was a 2500-square-foot block of howling bikes butts and elbows.

Nope. Griz didn’t notice that. He was already rolling, and looking across at the fine figure of a woman who was announcing the oncoming Flying Gonads first-ever post-St Patty’s Day parade. This was, in the eyes of Grizzly, one finely educated lady. Yessiree. Ready for a Bachelor’s degree, she was.

As the truck turned right off Chimes street and onto Highland Road, that same much-admired young woman turned up the PA and began declaring the worth of bike-riding humanitarians over the crunching rhythm section soundtrack of ZZ Top — Griz had the eight-track in the cab cranked up for dramatic effect. What occurred, though, besides the beer still pouring from the taps into the gutters of the academic village, was that Charlie and Harold came to, remembered their duties with a start, still numbed from their first gallon of lager, and started madly tossing greasy parade favors.

The Party Wagon turned right again, south onto Dalrymple, deeper into the University, intending to make a loop of only one block, but then, with a pop and an explosive ka-whoosh, its tenuously rebuilt engine broke down dramatically, a loud, hood-raising explosion erupting mid-street directly between Pleasant Hall, an admin building, and the Speech and Theatre Department. Smoke and steam began to fill the air, along with renewed green streams from the kegs which had been shaken back into active life. Charlie and Harold, still a tad dazed and thinking they would be labeled slackers, began throwing Vienna sausages with all their might, yelling happy expletives upon particularly successful tosses.

The first gaggle of weiners was followed by an infinitely larger second wave which emanated from on high in the expanding multi-colored cloud of chaos that now completely blocked the street. Tiny refined meat products were everywhere underfoot. As a cordon of newly righted bikers arrived at a rush, the first three Harleys hit the new sausage slick, sliding across the street to wedge under the back of the beer truck with a screech and a bangblooeyboom.

Neither the full-voiced drama major nor ZZ had diminished in volume or intensity of delivery, in spite of the slight inconvenience of their conveyance’s ongoing death throes. The motor was sputtering though still running, beer was gushing, Grizzly was under the hood with a fire extinguisher, the boys on top of the truck were emitting a never-ending stream of Vienna sausages like they were throwing out life jackets on the Titanic, and the growing crowd of student gawkers – all of whom recognized a good thing when they were soaked with it — were filling and refilling cups at the side of the Party Wagon.

It was later reported that Sergeant Leweltus R. Johnson, a campus policeman, was first to walk right into the mouth of the beast. He had just returned from his prolonged lunch hour when the truck lurched into a final smoking full-stop less than ten feet from his streetcorner traffic assignment. Instantly he was hit with a dense rain of tinted brew and cylindrical meat by-products. As he came forward, putting his hands around his mouth to shout out the possibility of arrest, if not grand jury arraignment, Charlie noticed him and decided to toss the prospective biker an extra large double-handful of poor man’s pâté.

The sergeant’s upraised hands acted as a funnel. Before he knew it a soft brick of sausages had filled his windpipe. His breath already expended, he quickly began to suffocate. He couldn’t clear his throat, though he coughed and hit himself on his chest repeatedly. He began to run about in circles hoping to attract help, pointing to his mouth, its surrounding face turning an unflattering shade of blue.

The political scientist in the cab was the first to notice. He pulled open the door, jumped to the ground, dropped his flyers, ran to the officer’s side, slapped him to get his attention, and managed to turn him around. Then, just as the future politician had witnessed on more than one occasion during his protracted volunteer days at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, he encircled the officer’s rib cage from the rear and applied the quick upward jerks of the Heimlich maneuver. Causing an immediate meaty rainbow of most, though not all, of the offending sausages.

Sergeant Johnson, seeming to instinctively know his role in all this, fell to the ground in a faint. The student volunteer rolled him over so that the officer’s was face up, and removed the last of the blockage. The supine victim, however, refusing to be upstaged in this exciting action sequence, stopped breathing.   Whereupon the hero knelt down, pinched the officer’s nose shut and blew directly into his mouth one, two, three times.

Sergeant Johnson coughed, inhaled, gagged, sat up, and took notice of the fact that a pimply-faced young man, probably a pervert and more than likely a political liberal, had just pressed his mouth onto his own. Johnson realized then that he was contaminated forever, gripped his badge in manly fashion, sighed deeply and immediately passed out again, happily unconscious of his continuing situation.

He took medical leave the next day, and was said to have retired early to become a reclusive monk of some vintage spiritual order. The Party Wagon was scrapped after its one and only day of full use, but not before all seven kegs were emptied. Sixteen cases of minor food poisoning via processed meat were reported by the University Infirmary that night.

The Gonads recruited only one college boy that day. Me. By sundown the two-wheeled gents had allowed me a trial membership, even though I only drove a 1965 British Triumph Tiger by way of a scooter, rather than a full-blown Harley-Davidson. My UK engine’s puny 500 cubic centimeters vs the US Harleys’ massive 1200cc motor was disregarded as a matter of universal goodwill.   Plus, they needed the dues money.

I remembered that fact of affiliation, and realized what else had happened, when I came fully to consciousness two days later and tried to brush my teeth. My mouth was still a bright chartreuse. “Oh shit, I am a marked man,” I thought. However, in my case, this did not cause a consideration of entering the religious life.

Copyright ©2018 Jim Gabour

Bar Exam, Part Three

A Draft Dodger & a Big Dog Walk into a Bar

“A lottery drawing – the first since 1942 – was held on December 1, 1969, at Selective Service National Headquarters in Washington, D.C. This event determined the order of call for induction during calendar year 1970; that is, for registrants born between January 1, 1944, and December 31, 1950. Reinstitution of the lottery was a change from the “draft the oldest man first” method, which had been the determining method for deciding order of call.

“There were 366 blue plastic capsules containing birth dates placed in a large glass container and drawn by hand to assign order-of-call numbers to all men within the 18-26 age range specified in Selective Service law.

“With radio, film, and TV coverage, the capsules were drawn from the container, opened, and the dates inside posted in order. The first capsule – drawn by Congressman Alexander Pirnie (R-NY) of the House Armed Services Committee – contained the date September 14, so all men born on September 14 in any year between 1944 and 1950 were assigned lottery number 1. The drawing continued until all days of the year had been paired with sequence numbers.”

— Selective Service System “Official Site” of the Vietnam Lotteries


Sylvester Stallone, that most Rambunctious of faux soldiers was born on July 6, 1946. That date was picked 327th, out of 365. Therefore Sly, one of the more iconic combatants in cinematic history, would not be required by the government to go to war. Brave Donald Trump’s birthday, June 14, 1947, was awarded the number 356. He did not have to fight hard to stay out, but his wealthy dad still managed to get him four college deferments and one for “bone spurs.” He also avoided the draft. My birthday, July 24, 1947, was given the number 023. Insuring that I would indeed surely be drafted into the Army. My graduate deferment at LSU expired, so I quickly and quietly moved in mid-1970 to Austin, Texas, hoping to get into graduate school at the University of Texas, to somehow further my avoidance of the military.

I had been there three months when I ran headfirst into yet another bad Saturday, another of those recurring moments that year, spells when I simply could not stop wondering about the probability of my continued existence. But, as it progressed, the day began improving. I found that, over the past twelve weeks, I had somehow accumulated $22 worth of beer bottle deposits, loose change, and sofa coins. I immediately began planning a bit of weekend soul refreshment . So when Francis X. “Hog” Patriquin called from a gas station in Bastrop, Texas, barely two dozen miles away, I gladly invited him to come visit. I had no car myself, but he and I could go out for a brew or two at the newly-opened Armadillo World Headquarters, my treat, and he could crash at my sparse digs on 49th street that night.

Hog said he was just passing through Austin on his way to the West Coast, intent on some sort of deal involving Louisiana crawfish as currency to be used for unspecified Southern California contraband. I suspected that his fondness for porn films involving complicated lingerie was at the heart of the matter, but withheld judgment and did not press an inquiry. Hog also knew my predicament and, as a good friend, had offered to drive me to Canada. So I would not let the world get in the way of happiness this eve. After all, this was one of the few occasions since the start of my involuntary exile in Texas that my cash flow had allowed me the opportunity to buy anyone a beverage.

The Hog showed up at my shack around 4pm. His pickup was fairly new, and there was a gigantic, sweating metal box with a small motor of some sort in the truck bed that seemed to have a larger purpose. There was a faint fishy smell in the air.

What the hell. “Let’s go downtown and forget this shitty world,” I yelled.

Exactamundo, my dear James!” yelled Francis X. He was in a fine fettle, and ready to meet the world. “I do believe that we are set on a course of merit. I suggest starting the eve with the consumption of large portions of an economically viable wine. Something to fortify us against enmity. A democratic pursuit. Ingesting the proper amount of grape will provide a soporific against the ridiculous renewal of world upheaval. Wine is, after all, the beverage of philosophers.”

“I predict power drinking,” he added as a coda.

The wine of choice, easily purchased by the quart at a convenience store, was the Gallo Brothers’ Tokay. Other than the routine reign of cheap beer, this was the American heyday of that particular working-class grape, and the logic that flows therefrom. Between us, and utilizing only a very small portion of my “found money,” we purchased two bottles. Hog reclined comfortably in the passenger seat, pouring his wine into a Dixie cup as I drove us south through town. He considered me the “local” and therefore the driver, though I barely knew my way around.

My visitor quickly became inordinately soiled. It was that motivated drinking — aggressively slurping the fluid from his saturated cup — while hanging out the window yelling greetings to what he perceived as “cosmic” cowboys. And girls. The Patriquin corpus, mounded under what was formerly a clean white shirt, soon appeared to be a grisly accident victim, due to the raucous drinker’s continually spilling his large mug of red wine on himself at every swerve.

As the truck passed, the people he accosted would point and grimace at the “bloody” body slipping from side to side in the truck cab. An imminent demise was predicted in each case. “He’s a goner,” they’d say fatalistically, “bleeding way too much,” all the while shaking their heads at yet another fatality in their peaceful community.  “Get that man to a hospital!” one observer yelled at a stoplight. “Do they have a Happy Hour?” returned the Hog.

He continued to work at making sure no pain interfered with his afternoon, and soon began to speak of the lack of discerning twentieth-century poetry in Cuba. I felt vindicated with the newly sparked flood of porcine aesthetic criticism. The sophist Gallo Brothers were happily at work again.

As we crossed Town Lake and turned off the wide boulevard into a vast gravel parking lot, the last of the Tokay was already being consumed. The day was being salvaged.

We had come to Armadillo World Headquarters, soon to become the most famous bar in the state, to wash down the fermented tang of California with bubbling pitchers of beer from Shiner, Texas. I climbed into a phone booth to call up an also-insane but well-connected Chicana named Felicia Martinez whom I’d met in a Guadalupe street fast food diner, to see if there was anything else jumping in town that Hog might enjoy.

Felicia was also a most inventive peddler of drugs before there was much of that action even happening. She sold multi-colored 24-hour time-release Contac cold capsules to the University crowd, telling them that it was “Christmas tree” speed. In spite of this inaccuracy in labeling, she had many repeat customers.

When I asked about the moral implications of her bogus merchandise she’d said: “Mierda, chico, dat’s the shits! If they ain’t high, at least they ain’t gettin’ colds.”

On the other end of my call from the Armadillo, Felicia proclaimed: “Nada sucediendo, nothing happening, but you two hombres wait for me at the bar and I’ll see what I can do.” She sounded a bit medicated to me, but in my brief experience that was her natural state.

Felicia’s Armadillo entry privileges had been restored only the week before. She did not think her initial transgression warranted banishment, and in recent days had successfully pled her case to management. Her error was unintentional, she asserted. It seems that, as a practicing religious bruja, she had brought a large pickle jar full of what she described as a sacred asp into a late evening Shiva’s Headband set. As usual, most of the crowd of over a thousand were comfortably seated on the venue’s floor, which had been considerately covered by management with thick carpet scraps. The ever-so-generously anesthetized Felicia, headed stageside and stumbled, of course, only moments after entry. She dropped the jar. Time stopped. The large vessel bounced once and then shattered in a spray of snake and glass, the single black slithering reptile causing a major panic and minor stampede among the already hallucinating patrons.

A stage hand rushed forward and quickly hammered the darkly-patterned snake with a set spike, determining that the dead creature was indeed a small but quite poisonous water moccasin.  Felicia said she had bought it from an acquaintance who dealt in socially-significant creatures, and had no idea it was actually dangerous.   The bouncer escorted Ms Martinez out the front door with a different directive: “No glass, lady. You should know better.”

But now, newly reprieved, this evening she appeared less than five minutes after my call and sat on the bar stool next to the ever-large Hog, who was perched solidly with one stool under each buttock. I introduced him by his nickname.

Cerdo, eh?” she asked. “He says he is the Hog. Eres un perro grande, Cerdo. Big Dog, what you do for fun?” The Hog, now smiling, ordered another pitcher of beer. Felicia supplemented the sparkling beverage with two orange tablets.

I decided her banter itself could actually be the Hog’s entertainment for the moment, and I could do a little wandering about in the concert auditorium while waiting for Felicia and my bud to find an even psychic keel.

The Armadillo was in its first months of evolving into the Southwest version of hippie heaven. Clouds of cannabis smoke hovered just above head level every night. This had rapidly became the norm. The illegal smoking at the ‘dillo was tolerated throughout its six active years of existence by Austin police who were afraid that a bust would take in too many of their own officers and town politicians.

I don’t remember the warm-up act very well – The Hub City Movers, I think — because interacting with other audience members was even more exciting, and the warm and welcoming conversations I struck up took my mind off my Federal situation.

But as I returned to the bar about an hour later, musing on the pleasant uneventfulness of the evening, I heard yells and protestations. A cringing hulk staggered down the sidewalk under a barrage of plastic drinking cups.

T’was the Hog. With Felicia in hot pursuit.

He later told me that under the growing liberal influence of California Tokay, Texas beer and unknown pharmaceuticals, he had made some creative but rather ill-timed suggestions involving Felicia, a stick of oleomargarine, a canary and a pomegranate. Her virtue was somehow offended. I rescued my temporarily lust-blinded friend and managed to maneuver him to the parking lot, where the large man promptly passed out in the half-bed of his truck, not bothering to open a door and climb into the infinitely more comfortable cab.

I then led the still-agitated Felicia to a vegetarian restaurant across the street in search of something to eat, figuring Hog as debilitated for the rest of the evening.

We were munching organic grapes, fried plantains and unsweetened oatmeal cookies when the sound of yelling again filled the air. Screams were becoming a matter of course this night, but we ran out into the street anyway, magnetically drawn to excitement. We were not disappointed. Fire was eating the laundry on the corner opposite the parking lot, spewing smoke out the exploded glass of its front door. Alarms were ringing. Shouts were confusing matters. Excitement sobered and stimulated everyone as a crowd grew. Then a giant dark figure lumbered across the street in front of the laundry.

Hog had come to what consciousness was to be afforded him, and had unknowingly decided to be the first of the firemen to arrive on the scene. Presumably bringing forth any starched shirts that might need rescuing. He had a mission. Before I could reach him, the Hog had walked through the smoldering front door of the quickly deteriorating building and disappeared.

A scripted gasp went up from the hundred or so people who’d already crossed over from the Armadillo. There was no doubt about the valiant Hog’s fate. Felicia reached in her purse and produced three black mollies, seconals, which she proceeded to swallow without water.

The shouting had stopped. The sounds of massive, two-story crackling flames and burbling waves of black smoke magnified in the face of loss of life.

But the Hog once again proved larger than that life, re-emerging only a few minutes later, covered in soot. He was carrying a tall, cold sweat-dripping RC Cola. He crossed back over the street as the fire engines were pulling up, walked up to me and took a long pull off his soft drink.

“Coke machine wouldn’t take my quarters,” he said, as if that explained everything, “So I got an RC.”

I was inducted into the US Army three weeks later.


Copyright ©2018 Jim Gabour

Bar Exam, Part Two

Derailed at The Old Train

4:00am, SAT 14 MAR, 1970. The massive venue known as “a warehouse” – commonly indicated as lower-case and indefinite — closed its doors an hour after the conclusion of a much-anticipated headlining set by legendary bluesman Albert King. The 6’4” 300-pound Mr King was reportedly not happy at show’s end, as he had been musically one-upped by the first New Orleans appearance of an unknown opening act, a flaming, howling, blues-rock monster called the Allman Brothers Band. Much of the crowd actually left before Albert hit the stage, knowing nothing could top the extended Bros set they had just witnessed. Young musicians from Jacksonville, Florida, of all places, who could make some kinda heart-rending music. A recording of that night still exists: “Not My Cross to Bear” 14:40 into the show, for godsake, almost killed me.

I stayed for the headliner and pondered the absurdist nature of an Allman vs King universe amidst a thinning audience.

They had two drummers. At least I thought they did. At the moment I was confused. I remember a conversation I was having about the demise of twentieth-century Anglo-American drama. Then subsequently realizing I was alone. No one was listening to my inspired rhetoric. Please, this wasn’t self-obsession: that year I had a particularly hard time maintaining interest in being an English major. My scholarly pursuits were entirely concocted for the exclusive benefit of my local Draft Board and avoidance of the US Army. My main interest, actually, was in not being dead, to the exclusion of much else.

Everything else. Indeed, my “date” of the evening was no longer anywhere near, irretrievably lost at some point in the evening amidst the overwhelming crush of stoned rock ‘n rollers.

So I walked back to my friend Francis X. “Hog” Patriquin’s 1964 Ford Galaxie 500 for a doze and a ride home. Hog’s nickname came via playing the lead character in a live-action 16mm movie version of cartoonist Gilbert Shelton’s “Wonder Wart Hog.” The Hog-mobile itself was a hard-rolling combination of long and chrome, a scarred but shiny vanilla paint job that was easy to find, even in wee foggy hours of the unlit lower warehouse district.

As I approached the Galaxie, I could plainly hear a loudly broadcast transmission of what seemed to be animal rutting noises, but were in actuality the end result of the Hog’s psychically interrupted sleep. I had arrived just as the large man, dozing while wedged behind the plastic and steel steering wheel, was returning to consciousness. This after two hours of snoring induced by the mutually paralyzing effect of four pitchers of beer and most of an aluminum plate of hash brownies. Now momentarily rested, Monsieur Patriquin decided that he was ready for round two, so while I climbed into the spacious faux-leather back seat of the vehicle and fell into a sound and immediate sleep, my vagabond friend sat upright behind the classic automotive controls, twisting the ignition to life, and putting his craft in gear. He was looking for a good bar. Defined at that moment as an open bar.

Hog, having spent time amongst oil field roughnecks, had done a lot of beverage exploration in the less-civilized honkytonks of New Orleans. And of all these, his favorite was (Greasy) Nick’s Old Train Bar about a mile up Tulane Avenue from the Mississippi River. True to the Hoggah’s background and tastes, Nick’s was at heart a workingman’s sort of bar, but was also wildly popular with the collegiate crowd. The informal “Greasy” appellation was added off-the-record, in part to make the workers feel more at home among the pristinely buttoned-down young academicians. In line with patrons’ drinking habits, the establishment was open 24-7.

After 7pm Nick’s served no beer or fancy wines. It was a matter of principle. This was a “Cocktail Lounge,” and Nick would serve cocktails, dammit.

So no beer. No vintage grape. Hardly any simple one-ingredient highballs. The specialties of the house were Nick’s huge fruit-flavored versions of drinks with names like “Between the Sheets”, “Ruptured Duck,” and “Underwater Demolition.” Another bevvie, called “A Wild Night at The Capri Motel,” was served in a quart-sized miniature toilet. It was not a place of huge subtlety. The various fruit juices and unspeakably odd liqueurs disguised the true heart of all the drinks: a huge quantity of cheap but incredibly potent pure alcohol which some patrons claimed was illicitly distilled from recycled jet fuel.

Possibly confirming the aviation source, customers seen gulping down one of those deceptively sweet-tasting concoctions would often immediately fly into a quasi-catatonic trance. Usually they did so staring at the wall mural which travelled through 270 degrees of their vision. The painting featured hypnotically-rendered cosmic waves of smoke gushing from a ‘40’s style locomotive painted round the walls. Hog liked that train. So tonight he headed for Nick’s to get a further bit of head on, my comatose body brought along as a passenger, curled up in the back.

After twenty minutes of driving, getting lost in the Central Business District that he never frequented, the Hog finally headed north on Tulane Avenue. Within minutes he spotted the lights of the dingy establishment just off to his left. He cut the wheel sharply, with a general U-turn across the multiple lanes of Tulane Avenue in mind. The 500 careened on two broad squealing wheels toward the bar, at the same time Hog turned in his seat to wake his sleeping passenger. Me. He was happy, getting happier, and wanted to tell someone.

Hog had good intentions, attempting to engage my groggy brain in enthusiastic conversation, getting me ready for the Greasy Nick experience. Meanwhile, he forgot one essential detail. He forgot that he was driving. He did not even put his foot on the brake as we went careening toward the building.

I later found that I knew someone who was actually in the bar that early morning, and got a first-hand version of what happened next. The substitute bartender – Nick had gone home for the night — almost fifty years later and ensconced in a nursing home, still told a version of the story himself. I was in the back seat and then on the floorboards, so I cannot truthfully say that I saw the actual event. All reports vary on the details, but I have with some effort pieced together the heart of the story.

While Mr Patriquin was gesturing oratorically into the large vinyl compartment to his rear, the turning Galaxie continued to travel forward on its own across the lanes of the broad avenue, hit the improvised creosote log curb that marked the end of the parking slot, rebounded a foot or so up in the air, still going fairly fast, and came through the wall of the barroom right near the nose of the locomotive.

A little too late, the Hog depressed the brake pedal, and yelled “Whoa, Nelly!” There was a loud, dusty sound of cracking lumber.

Nick’s patrons were unimpressed. Everyone in the bar was righteously loaded for the hour, of course, and they were not going to let minor mishaps bother them. Besides, nobody had been hurt, there were no drinks spilled, and the bartender was just exiting the john. No one moved. Then the two couples at the table nearest the idling automotive white whale nodded to each other, stood solemnly, and toasted the intrusion.

Hog, without hesitation, waved goodbye to the bar with equal gravity from the driver’s seat of the shining piscine vehicle — which was at that point inside the building up to its rear door — then slammed it in reverse and hauled ass back down Tulane to Claiborne Avenue, turning back left to head crosstown toward the Ninth Ward. There would be no police pursuit in the neighborhood which was his destination.

The front end of the Galaxie had a new dent or six to add to its collection, but it was made out of stout American steel, and nothing was really seriously wrong with it, except for the slight bend in its axle. Hog straightened that back in the Lower Nine with a borrowed service station sledge hammer, and drove me back home sober and exhausted shortly after sunup.

The next afternoon Francis X. Patriquin sold the Hog-mobile for cash, offering a favorable deal to the buyer in return for no papers and no questions. I had told the Hog before he dropped me off that I feared that somehow either the outlaw patrons of the bar or the authorities would discover that he was the owner of a vehicle guilty of malicious mischief, felony damage, leaving the scene of an accident, and hit-and-run freight-train derailment.

I needn’t have worried. There weren’t many reliable eye witnesses in the house that night, and none who wanted to carry the matter further. Even Nick, as it happened. The negligible hole in his bar instantly became both a source of legend, and a source of ingress until it was plywooded over and the mural-bearing wall boards restored to their original position. The bar’s business exploded overnight with admirers coming to hear the story, and Nick even considered allowing late-night beer. The stories of what came through Greasy Nick’s train wall were repeated in expanded versions amongst mechanics, hookers, mud-loggers, Harley riders, Elizabethan poets and roustabouts months and even years later.

The consensus was that a goddamn ghost hearse had driven right into the bar, and the driver gave ‘em a signal to let ‘em know that they all still had long lives ahead of them.

When he found out about the ongoing fable he had created, the Hog didn’t want to disenchant folks by showing up and being recognized as a standard-issue human with a petroleum worker’s union card.

The night of the crash was the last time he would party in Nick’s, as he, and the wonderful adventures he precipitated slowly came to a middle-aged halt. The Hog would marry a brainy newspaper reporter with two kids, and would take up a barstool at the great lounge in the sky at age 37. A legend. A friend.

And now the revitalized venerable Big Train institution is to return to full business for its 100th birthday, in 2018. I’d really like to go by and see the Restoration.

Maybe they won’t recognize me without the Galaxie.


Copyright ©2018 Jim Gabour

Bar Exam, Part One

The Great Franco-American Naval Engagement of 1968

Copyright ©2018 Jim Gabour

 La Casa de los Marinos, “The House of Sailors,” had three narrow and deep rooms, but most turistas never made it beyond the first. Each chamber was filled on its long side by a thin zinc-topped bar backed by a wall of mirrors. The reflective surfaces opened the rooms up a bit and made them seem less claustrophobic.   Then there was the third and last room, the hide-out preferred by locals and Quarter rats.

The reasons were many. The back room was the literal “inner sanctum,” windowless and unreachable by the light of the first bar, a haven of the undisturbed 24-hour darkness preferred by New Orleans nightcrawlers, who often partied through the dawn and well toward the next sunset. But the real reason the back room was treasured was its service outlet, a completely hidden back alley. That passageway ran through the middle of the block, and out an unmarked gate onto the side street. Other than regulars and beverage vendors, very few people knew of its existence.

Like any neighborhood bar with proximity to the docks, La Casa was even more insane at Carnival. As a reward for a particularly long time at sea, or just for a job well done, dozens of vessels timed their operations to insure their crews had shore leave during the prelude to Fat Tuesday.

The Saturday before the Fat One has always been particularly wild. The parades have become non-stop at that point, massively colorful during the day and lit by flambeau torch-bearers at night. The arrival of tourists and collegians on multiple night hotel packages becomes so huge as to transform the traditional weekend date night into a wild, smiling, double-backed, beer swilling Beast who will lose his room keys by 10pm and do the technicolor yawn before midnight.

This Saturday of Mardi Gras 1968 was particularly special.   The 2,000 crew members of the French helicopter cruiser R97, the Jean d’Arc had, for the first time in her history, docked the vessel in New Orleans. A primary training ship, she proudly carried two Aérospatiale Puma and two Aérospatiale Gazelle helicopters, as well as two of the Navy’s Alouette III choppers. Tours of the sophisticated weapons were allowed in daylight hours, while the city’s populace was vaguely sober.

Their main gangway dropped onto the foot of Iberville street, a scant five hundred feet from a bar that proclaimed itself to be the “House of Sailors.” It was only natural that by nightfall more than a few of those military gentlemen made their way to the bar’s double French doors. They were prepared for trouble, had been advised by their officers of neighborhoods and situations to avoid. To avoid confusion with merchant marines and members of other nations’ armed forces, and to help maintain their sense of decorum, the captain of the Jean d’Arc had required his crew, much of which was still in training, to wear their finest naval dress. His logic was that even common seamen looked and acted regal in starched uniforms.

Indeed it was the lowest ranks among the French sailors who had the most arresting and unique outfits, with colorful red and blue piping outlining the rectangular piece of cloth which covered the shoulders of the wide-sleeved blouse. Their matching bell-bottom pants were well in advance of the fashion. Making them even more evident in the crowds was their headgear. Surmounted with spotless white berets, banded with a gold cloth, black-lettered Jean-d’Arc ribbon, the chapeau were topped with a two-inch bright red pom-pom which stood out like a beacon.

In trying to insure the safety and well-being of his crew, the French captain had sealed their fate.

Besides the consumption of vast amounts of inebriants, Mardi Gras centers on costuming. Le Capitaine had costumed his men well, and in doing so, put them at the level of the crowd. They were doomed to be bait even before they left their ship.

La Casa housed a rough but young crowd, supplemented by many haphazard students who were to a great extent young men enduring higher education primarily as a means to avoid a more lethal schooling with the US military draft. My own motives were in line with this aesthetic.

I had already seen one of my roommates, a jockey by true profession, flunk out in his first semester and be taken within weeks by the US Marines. Six months later he was bemoaning the New-Orleans-like wet and muggy weather of Viet Nam, when a mortar round insured that weather would never again be a concern for him. After finding that my own initial efforts at university were judged borderline by my local draft board, I became a much more devoted student. So much so that the release of Carnival was a desperately needed diversion.

As I entered the back alley of La Casa that Saturday, I ran into two New Orleans natives, Vic Panaletti & Conrad Gutermann, already coming out. It was barely 9pm.

We had become friends quickly, Conrad and I bonded in our devotion to Mardi Gras. His parents were descendants of the Alsatians who settled just below the City in 1721. They still lived in the bayou- and lake-bounded area labeled Des Allemandes, designated “the Germans” for the original inhabitants.

Panaletti was Old World New Orleans Italian, tough as nails, and unfazable. I was shortly to find out just how unfazable.

“Where you guys going?” were the first words out of my mouth as we came face to face in the narrow alley.  “I’m just getting here, and I was going to buy you bums a beer.”

“We’ll be right back,” said Vic. “Connie’s just takin’ me roun’ to the car for a second. Gotta clean up a little mess.” At this point Panale lifted his left hand, which I had not noticed was clamped to his side. There was a large and spreading red stain. Instantly I got woozy.

“Easy, man,” said Vic, supporting me with his right. “It’s nuttin. Guy thinks he got hisself a knife when it wudn’t nuttin a real gent would call a nail file. Won’t be pullin’ that again. I think I broke his arm. Maybe two places.”

Conrad guffawed. “Shouldn’t a wasted that last beer on that thick head, though,” he said.

“Dat wuz a philosophical error about which I find I now hold regrets,” said Panaletti wisely. “Nuttin compared to the loss of a full beer. Gimme a Jax, willya. I got me a first aid kit and a clean shirt in the car. We’ll be back before the beer gets warm.”

He laughed so loudly he gagged and had to cough. And with that Panaletti turned, and he and Gutermann marched arm and arm through the wet alley toward the street, laughing.

I worked my way through the crowd at the back room bar to the Decatur end of the room, first buying three beers then precariously climbing with two of them in my shirt pockets to sit atop a stack of cases of empties set in the front far corner. I figured from up there I could see all the action and still be spotted by my two friends when they returned.

I took my first deep draughts and sighed with the release of pressure. Nothing in the Real World was bad enough to actually spoil a Saturday’s cultural theatre at La Casa. Nothing.

It was then that I saw the first Jean d’ Arc sailors battling their way deep into the bar. Their determination to take on the worst the dive had to offer was undoubtedly bolstered by the ports they had already conquered. These were men who had trampled through the booze-laden minefields of Marseilles and Sydney and Singapore. They had shoved a Gallic pie in the none-too-delicate faces of Hong Kong and Bombay and Beirut.

They had not confronted a crowd of drunken New Orleans partiers on a Saturday night at Mardi Gras.

The sailors were being a little overly aggressive, especially considering they had no idea of the ground rules. One of which was to act with a modicum of courtesy.   The French had decided that the sheer weight of their military training, and the fairly sizable numbers with which they had entered the bar, would hold them well in any stead. But La Casa was totally packed with people and, light-hearted as the evening was, no one was in the mood to be pushed around.

It started with the slightest of transgressions. A girl being shoved roughly from the rear, spilling her beer, only to turn and see a fellow wearing a red pom-pom beret with a gold band. The same woman decides that as recompense for his rudeness she should have this Carnivalgoer’s party hat. No one yet suspects that these are really sailors. Could be drag queens. At the moment they’re just a bunch of guys who went to the same army-navy store and dressed up all alike.

And those little hats are so cute.

The sailors are separated in the pressing crowd. They are being swept off their feet with the immense body surges toward and back from the bar. They are suddenly unsure of their footing. The first woman is carried away from the sailor whose hat she has taken before he can even lift an arm to try and grab it back. His arm, as a matter of fact, is stuck in the upright position. He cannot move it.

Another hat disappears. The jukebox and voices of the partiers are so loud that the shouts of the victims are totally inaudible. Then a shirt gets pulled out, and the process starts in earnest.

From my high perch the faces of the sailors are like those of swimmers held above the surface of a swirling coastal riptide. In this case as they exhibit desperate human faces as their bodies are attacked from below by costume sharks. There is surprise, then anger, then disbelief, and finally fear as their clothes are pulled, then torn from them. The sailors are pushed along, separated by the multi-bodied crowd, carried along by the human current toward the back alleyway door.

From which they are spit from the room as the seeds from a watermelon are discarded by a Louisiana farm boy, naked of all covering and protection.

A full half-dozen sailors have been ejected – now wearing only socks and shoes — into the alley, where they huddle shaking and babbling in their native tongue until a sympathetic bartender calls the US Navy’s Shore Patrol.

At just that moment my two friends Vic & Connie enter the alley to make their way into the rear room and claim their beers. I can see them for the last half of their walk. They don’t even stop talking, much less look to the left or right at six naked foreigners stamping their feet in the cold.

Vic looks dapper in his clean white shirt, showing no evidence at all that less than fifteen minutes before he’d had a nasty knife wound. He climbs up the beer cases to sit on one side of me, Connie on the other. I extract both their beers from my shirt pockets and we do a short toast to draft evasion.

The US Navy Shore Patrol finally arrives to transport their brothers-in-arms to the carrier’s gangway and release the seamen to walk aboard, sans uníformes.

La Casa de los Marinos was declared off-limits by the French navy from that day until almost two decades later when the rowdy bar was finally bought and transformed into a profitably tasteless burger and po-boy barn frequented by New Orleans on Ten Dollars a Day tourists.

That had not yet happened when Vic yelled into my ear over the rage of the La Casa crowd: “Anything happen while we were gone?”