Monday, January 7, 2008
Clermont Cheshire Cat
Place: Atlanta, GA
Just about everybody in Atlanta has been to the Clermont Lounge, the city’s most famous dive bar and oldest strip club. And everybody who has visited the Clermont Lounge has left with a story. Here is one of mine.
I was at the Clermont Lounge on a Friday night, watching the strippers dance on the small circular stage behind the bar. Sitting a few barstools to my right was a man with a jutting chin, squinting eyes, and a jet black pompadour with mutton chop sideburns. He looked like Popeye with Elvis hair. I overheard the bartender call him Lonnie.
A group of Asian men came in and stood by the cash register. They looked to be in their early twenties and they were very excited about being at the Clermont Lounge. They giggled and nudged each other while chatting in Vietnamese or Korean or wherever the hell they were from.
One of the Asian men acted as ringleader. After pointing at each man and getting a spoken response, he signaled for the bartender.
“Eight beers,” said the ringleader, holding up eight fingers.
“What kind of beer you want?” asked the bartender.
“What is cheapest?” said the ringleader.
“Honey, it’s all cheap here. Cheapest beer in town.”
The ringleader studied the beer posters Scotch-taped on the walls.
“Pabst…Bloo…Wibbon,” said the ringleader.
The bartender went to get the men their beers.
I realized the ringleader was the ringleader because he was the only one in his group who spoke English.
Lonnie was sitting one barstool over from where the Asian men were standing. He leaned over and rested his hand on the empty barstool. He grinned at the Asian men. It was a wide grin that showed plenty of teeth. The Asian men saw Lonnie’s grin and grinned back at him.
“Let me tell you something,” Lonnie said. “I went to Vietnam. I used to hunt gooks like you when I was over there.”
Lonnie kept grinning and the Asian men kept grinning back at him.
“I used to kill gooks like you when I was over there,” Lonnie said.
Lonnie kept grinning and the Asian men grinned back. Some of them started to laugh and nod their heads. They had no clue what Lonnie was saying. Lonnie never raised his voice. He spoke in a low monotone that was almost soothing. I could hear the menace in Lonnie’s voice, but the Asian men could not. He just sounded like another white guy.
The ringleader did understand what Lonnie was saying. He didn’t smile back at Lonnie or laugh or nod his head. He stood still with his arms by his side and stared at Lonnie.
“Now let me tell you something else,” Lonnie said. “I didn’t risk my ass over in Vietnam just to come home and find gooks like you gawking at our pussy. Nothing would make me happier than gettin’ my gun and shootin’ every damn one of you yellow bastards. Now you tell me what you think of that?”
And Lonnie kept grinning and all of the Asian men, except for the ringleader, grinned back at him.
Lonnie was like some kind of deranged Cheshire Cat. I wondered if something ugly was about to happen right in front of me. For about two minutes, Lonnie didn’t say anything. He just kept that big grin on this face and waited to for the Asian men to respond. The ringleader said nothing. His friends kept smiling and laughing. The Asian men’s relentless friendliness finally unnerved Lonnie.
“Aw the hell with all of you,” Lonnie said with great disgust.
He spat on the floor, got off his barstool, and stormed out of the bar. A couple of the Asian men waved goodbye. The bartender came back with the Asian men’s eight beers. The ringleader paid for the drinks and led his friends a booth in the darkest corner of the bar, much too far back to see any pussy.
Once seated, the Asian men stopped laughing. The ringleader must have told them what Lonnie had said. I looked at Lonnie’s empty barstool. Like the Cheshire Cat, all I could see of Lonnie in my mind was his big grin. About an hour later, the Asian men marched out of the bar.