I tried not to lean against anything. Leaning, I Feared, would give the wrong impression. It could seem too casual. Sitting was also not an option. I also did my level best not to make eye contact. This was harder than it sounds. When you are surrounded by people with dentition that resembles broken picket fences and forearms adorned with jail house style tattoos (some apparently made by carving shapes into the skin then pouring India ink into the wound) it’s very difficult to look anywhere other than their eyes. Fear causes this.
The name of the bar was “Twisted Sisters.” I’m serious. I wouldn’t lie about something this deep. The place was run by two little old ladies with deeply wrinkled faces and Tom Waits voices. When they handed you a mug of beer the obligatory “Here ya’ go hon” came in a voice that sounded like it was sculpted by cheap scotch and cigarillos.
The place was peopled by extras from “Hells Angels on Wheels” and every bad prison movie ever made. This woman kept bumping into me. She was medium height, slender, had long brown hair and three teeth. Her face looked a little like it had caught fire and some caring person had tried to put it out with an ax. Every time we collided I apologized nervously and she walked away. From behind she could have been Miss America. I swear.
I was in this dive because my old buddy Murphy had invited me. Murphy’s the type of guy who actually enjoys this sort of thing. The fellow is something of an enigma. He looks like he belongs in the back room of a place like Twisted Sisters, but those who know him know of his masters degree and the years he spent teaching at community college. Murphy’s a tough guy; did a little stretch in prison and another in the navy. Then he used the GI bill to obtain an education. Now he hangs out in places like this.
Murphy kept buying me beers and trying to get me to talk to the other patrons. I busied myself pretending to be an anthropologist studying some exotic tribe. I didn’t belong, but maybe I could learn something.
I had just started on another beer when someone dropped a few coins in the juke box. The music was bad country. To my utter disgust the first song that played was that “I wanna stick a boot up your butt” super-patriotic, ultra-jingoist thing by the guy in the Ford truck commercials. The people around me began to sing along loudly.
What the hell? Why would these people, this underclass, this despised minority, feel a kinship with a singer that represents the right wing status quo? Shouldn’t these guys be listening to Steppenwolf (or at least Eminem)? Lets face it, the main stream of America doesn’t hang out in places like this. In fact, most suburban middle class goons would prefer that these people simply vanish from the planet. So why would the customers at Twisted Sisters get behind this new super nationalism? This was like seeing Jewish kids singing Deutschland Uber Alles, for god’s sake.
I decided to conduct a little experiment. I sauntered (or tried to saunter, it’s hard to truly saunter when you fear that you could be shivved at any moment, or worse: have your glasses broken) to the juke box and looked over the selections. I was hoping for Randy Newman or Bruce Cockburn or maybe even the Dead Kennedys. No such luck. Then I saw it. A CD by The Dixie Chicks. I dropped my money and chose four songs by the Dixters (I can’t bear to type “Dixie Chicks” more than once… Damn. I just did it twice). Then I went back to my spot near Murphy and waited.
When my songs started I half expected a riot to begin. I thought that if these folks loved that Ford truck guy they might revolt at the musical stylings of those un-American girls. That didn’t happen. After the first few bars someone started to sing along. Then a second voice joined in. Then a third. After a minute or so everyone in the place was singing along with these traitors with the same fervor and joy they had exhibited in response to that earlier song.
I quickly came to a startling conclusion: people will sing along to anything. The content of the song doesn’t matter. Politics simply don’t enter into it. People are really singing along to the melody, or the bass line or something. What the words actually mean is immaterial.
A little later I waved my hand around in front of my face to clear some of the smoke and give myself a line of sight. I drained my beer and told Murphy that I had to bail. He slapped me on the back and headed toward the old scarred pool table. As I walked out into the sunlight I was thinking that I’d never have to see the inside of that place again.