Here’s an old short story of mine about another lesbian bar from upstate New York. Those of you who recall My Bar may find the setting somewhat familiar. I hope you enjoy it.
8 Ball, by Everett Maroon
It’s about the size of a typical urban efficiency apartment, with a faded certificate of occupancy stuck on the wall by the front door, probably with some bouncer’s chewing gum, announcing it is fit to legally house 35 people. Thirty-five dyke pygmies, maybe, but not 35 wide-assed people. Smoke hangs next to the low ceiling, hovering around the light over the small and slanted pool table, a cheap but efficient way of adding a dramatic atmosphere to both the serious and poseur sharks who swim underneath it. Most of the patrons use pool-playing as a tried and true method of picking up dates, but this usually leads to them slamming the stick into the cue ball too hard, ricocheting the shot out of the hole and ending in a staccato set of swears as they express their “disappointment.”
My friends and I have just entered the place for the third time in five days because one of them has a new crush on a townie who usually hangs out here. Usually, however, being the relative term that it is, has not included any of these three nights, and has led directly to my frustration at winding up in this dump once again, cheap beer or no cheap beer.
The bouncer, a woman who seems to value herself based on her ability to be serious throughout all moments of the day and night, claps a meaty hand on Joselyn, the friend with the crush. “How’s it goin’, Jos,” she says, deep-throated and completely absent of any hint of a smile. She is the female version of the Michelin man, having obviously taken the name of her profession to heart. For over these three engaging encounters at My Bar, I have witnessed no fewer than six, count them six, bar fights, the resolution of each ending with her not man-handling the offenders (for that would never happen in a lesbian bar), but by bumping into them and pushing them out the door.
“Great,” says the newly named “Jos,” and we head inside. My Bar, doing its part to encourage patronage of a classically poor community, has no cover. Small rodents didn’t even bother to come inside in the dead of winter, so the owners justifiably decided against asking for any kind of entry fee.
We step up to the bar and check out the scene—well, the small, dimly lit room, anyway. There is a dress code here that sets apart My Bar from the more trendy places in town: white sneakers or black dress shoes, jeans, usually black, always tapered, black belts that look butch at first until one recognizes they’re slender women’s belts, tucked in polo shirts or buttondown shirts, and once in a while, a tie. And to top it off, a mullet. All mullets, all the time. That famous dyke haircut #1, the one that folks tried en masse in the ‘80s, the one that lesbians fool themselves into thinking makes them look feminine during the day, out queers at night. And the object of the crush sported nothing less than a short on top and sides, long in back look. No matter; Joselyn was completely smitten by her.
Her name was Jennifer Kelling, and if you looked beyond the hair she was attractive, strong, funny, and charming in a very non-assuming, down-to-earth way. She wore, alternatively, diamond stud or small gold loop earrings, drove a Sunbird, and had a penchant for beer bottle cozies, the ones with the little zipper on them. Jennifer was as townie as one could get. We’d come this night because Joselyn had heard through the grapevine—whatever that was—that Jennifer would be making an appearance tonight.
Not more than two minutes later, Jennifer walked in, entourage of mullet-haired friends in tow. I could never get any of them to talk to me since they all saw me as a non-mullet (and therefore, not their kind of butch), an academic type who had nothing of interest to talk to them about, as if I only could speak the language of intellectual drivel. I waved anyway, and Jennifer waved back, heading over, straight to “Jos.”
“What’s up,” Jennifer said in her low voice.
“Oh, just hanging out,” I said in the same moment as Joselyn.
“Just hanging out,” she said. Well, there was no need for me to reply, was there?
“That’s cool,” she answered. She swiveled around to face the bar more directly, and ordered a Michelob light. I waited for her to pull out her bottle cozy, but she reached in and took out her wallet instead. Zooks and Beth, our other friends who came with us here, snuggled quietly at the corner of the bar and the wall, which in this confined space, was about four feet over to the left. Friends for years, they’d finally hooked up three weeks ago after independently making their way through all of the available queer women on campus, and did the thing that many dykes do in very new relationships—they fawned constantly, sickeningly over each other. I was astonished they’d even left the sanctuary of Zooks’ bedroom. Maybe they needed to air the place out.
Between the ardent newlyweds and the lightening storm of Joselyn and Jennifer, I headed over to the pool table to get my name on the list for a game or two. Once upon a time one could just set her quarters on the table as her place in the queue, but after one too many brawls, they’d set up a small chalkboard where folks signed their names. If they happened to get erased in the wrong order, well, let’s just say it was always possible to start a fight if you wanted to. I walked over to the board and wrote down my initials. The game in play was nearing its end—two striped balls left on the table, and the solid balls were all down. They were playing one on one, so one of these women was chasing the 8-ball around the table, trying to get it to drop. Either she was drunk, trying too hard, or bad at pool. Watching her take her next shot, I decided on the first alternative. She could barely stand up.
She was about 5 feet 6 inches, thin but wiry-looking, and was only taking the world in through half-open eyes. A dirty ballcap was perched backwards on her head, thankfully covering up most of the hairdo, if not in a fairly unappealing way. She caught me looking at her and glared. When I wanted to speak nobody would notice, but when I wanted to be invisible I was the most obvious person in the room, of course.
The game ended eventually, and after standing next to the wall for an eternity (Zooks and Beth were still working on second base), my game was up. Drunk ballcap girl had somehow managed to win against several others, but likely this was because she was a modicum less intoxicated than they were. House rules decreed that the winner got to break, so I set up the balls as tightly as I could. Her first attempt to hit the cue ball ended with her missing it entirely. I smiled and motioned for her to try again. I would wipe the floor with her if she kept drinking.
After playing about ten minutes, I had one ball before the 8-ball and my opponent had 5 balls to go. She looked unhappy about this. I tried to contain myself, but my glee was obvious. I was smiling a lot. Nailing the 8-ball was the last straw.
“What did you say to me,” she asked, slurring her words.
“Nothing. I didn’t say anything.”
“I heard what you said to me,” she said, stepping closer and drinking from her bottle. I noticed, however, that there wasn’t any beer left in it—she just hadn’t noticed. Oh dear.
“I didn’t say anything,” I repeated.
“You stop calling me names,” she shouted, holding the bottle over her head.
I put my hand up defensively, stammering “I swear I didn’t say anything. Just calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down!” she roared. Apparently this was a trigger for “please beat the shit out of me.” Where was the fucking bouncer?
I looked over and saw six or seven mullet-headed women staring at me. It was like a mullet-haired army. They would pelt me with Michelob and Bud Lite bottles until I succumbed to their ways, changing my hair and wearing tucked-in polo shirts. I vaguely thought about the value of diversity in the dyke community, but just as quickly realized this wasn’t the time to bring up that subject. I felt my heart beat.
“Let’s take this outside,” she said, shaking the thumb of her free hand like she was hitching a ride.
“There’s nothing to take outside,” I said. I looked over at the useless Zooks-Beth couple, oblivious to the world around them in a long lip-lock. Joselyn and Jennifer had apparently made the plunge themselves, searching out the structural integrity of each other’s epiglottises. Fucking fantastic.
She continued to advance, muttering something about “fucking campus lesbians,” and I said “Hey! That’s dyke to you,” knowing full well I wasn’t helping matters any. I backed out into the street, remembering that it was me who drove us here and thus me with the means of leaving this level of hell. Jennifer could drive them all back later, if they hadn’t merged into a puddle of queer sex goo by then.
A few of the women followed me onto the street and jeered at me, as I drove away. I looked in the rearview mirror and saw my face looking worried and tired, short hair included. I sighed, wondering if I possibly would be missing out on something, but hoping that the “something” was a choice between cozy beer or no cozy beer.