The first and only time the Angry Czeck has ever been to a gay bar was a complete accident. All I wanted was a beer. A cheap beer, because I was broke and thirsty. I wasn’t really paying attention.
The confusion began the day I graduated from college in August of 1996. Waiting for me was a job at the Religious Lumberyard in Hot Springs and an internship at an advertising agency in Little Rock called Stone & Ward. The internship was for only a couple hours a day for three days a week, so I spent my mornings at the ad agency pretending I knew the difference between “prostate” and “prostrate”, and then I drove like mad to Hot Springs for an afternoon of lugging sacks of cement and hoisting stacks of treated lumber.
“Yoo-Hoo, Lumber Boy! More lumber!”
As my month-long internship with the Stone & Ward began to expire, I pretty much knew I preferred working with hottie Baylor graduates in an air-conditioned environment to tossing sacks of roofing shingles to surly ex-cons. Stone & Ward was rumored to be hiring a permanent writer, and I wanted that writer to be me. With great determination, I worked to secure an audience with the co-owner of the ad agency, Larry Stone.
Arranging a meeting with Mr. Stone was not easy. He wasn’t one who spent his time in the company of interns. Especially interns that smelled like sheetrock mud. But his secretary was nice and she felt sorry for me, so on the next-to-last-day of my internship, I had my audience with Mr. Stone.
The morning of my meeting with Mr. Stone, I cut myself shaving. Right under the nose. And it wouldn’t stop bleeding. It was like I had one of those diseases where your blood never clots. I raced to Stone & Ward with tissue stuck to my face.
Mr. Stone maintained a dark and shadowy office that may have contained a pleasant menagerie of personal memorabilia, or a collection of stuffed intern heads. It was too dark to be sure. He sat behind an enormous desk, and when I walked into his office, he motioned for me to sit down.
“What can I do for you?” he asked politely.
“I hear you’re hiring on writers,” I said with confidence, “and I’d like you to consider me!” Upon delivering this two-fisted introduction, I launched into a campaign of bullet-points listing my credentials. They were as appetizing as the starter menu at Applebees. I was eager! I was educated (a white lie)! I was determined! Mr. Stone stared at me with what appeared to be keen interest, and I knew my youthful enthusiasm was winning him over. Who wouldn’t want to hire a good-looking guy who had, just the other day, survived a ten-foot plunge off a carpet rack?
Mr. Stone leaned over his desk, his fingers forming a powerful teepee. “Your nose is bleeding,” he said. As I struggled to keep the blood from collecting on the top of my upper lip, Mr. Stone delivered a well-crafted speech extolling the difficulties of breaking into the field of advertising, and then suggested that some people definitely had the talent to succeed, and others certainly did not. Then he stood up, shook my hand, and I left his inky-black office cupping my nose in my palm.
The next day, my internship was finished, and I was left with a choice: continue my career as an un-licensed forklift driver at the lumberyard, or accept a job at my girlfriend’s sister’s law firm closing refinance loans. Having had a taste of air conditioning and kaki slacks, I opted for closing loans. I informed my religious boss at the Religious Lumberyard that I intended to resign, and he offered me a religious salary. I politely declined, and my career as a closer of loans began.
“Corporate USA, here I come!”
In Arkansas, refinancing a loan begins with a man who has maxed all of his credit cards after purchasing a house with a monthly mortgage twice the size of his monthly paycheck. A loan originator, armed with words of solace and a moderate interest rate, appears like magic and offers to consolidate all the debt into one package. Most times, consolidation equates to a lower monthly payment with only one check to write every month. The loan originator makes his money in a way I never fully understood. It had something to do with “points on the front end” coupled with “points on the backend.” There is also something called a “loan origination fee” which, as I understood it, was just gravy.
My job was to sell the final loan to the customer. Actually, my job was to protect the customer from an unscrupulous loan originator, but that was impossible, because the loan originator is the one who hires the closing firm to close the loan. That’s called a “conflict of interest,” but in Arkansas, that’s just good business.
The details of my job were task orientated. I was to pay-off the customer’s outstanding creditors. I was to ensure that the paperwork was signed and then delivered to the financial institution that secured the loan. I was to make certain that the customer had a clean title. (You’d be surprised how many people attempt to secure a loan on land they didn’t even own. Most times, it’s an intentional attempt at fraud. [“What? Huh? Grandma still owns that land? We’ll, I’ll be! I guess she forgot to sign over the deed to me!”] Sometimes, the confusion is totally innocent. One family, thanks to my investigation, learned that they had been living on the wrong land for years, and that they actually owned the adjacent lot.)
Thanks to the legal nature of my new career, the law firm paid for me to become a notary public. Becoming a notary means mouthing an oath promising not to abuse your substantial notary powers, in addition to paying about $120. My notary powers expire in the year 2007. There were only a few documents that required notarization (Power of Attorney was the most frequent), but I stamped a number of documents just for the hell of it.
My career as a closer of loans took a tremendous hit the day I told a customer that I was not completely certain that the prepared loan package was to the customer’s advantage. It seemed, to my eyes, that the loan’s interest was so high that it would actually cost the customer money. Naturally, the loan originator took a very dim view of my unsolicited opinion. After he tore a new asshole into my boss, my boss offered me a high-intensity dose of the same. Apparently, my job was not to interpret the stack of paperwork for the client. It was to make certain that the customer signed the paperwork, no matter what.
This began a brief but destructive downward spiral. No longer was I a protector of the innocent. I was the Protector of Points. I was merely an enforcer. A shyster. I made the switch from Miller Lite to Old Charter and coped as best I could.
“Take this, traitorous liver!”
Then my brother (we’ll call him “Heather”) invited me to join him and his friends at Mardi Gras in New Orleans. This seemed to me the perfect antidote. Not only was my career imploding like a black hole, I was recently removed from my relationship with my girlfriend, and I had not gained any level of satisfaction in several months. New Orleans appeared to be the perfect panacea for all my woes, and I accepted the invitation without a second thought.
My brother and I arrived to New Orleans representing two of fifteen people who had all chipped in for a single room at the Prince Conti Inn. The hotel industry in New Orleans frowned upon fifteen men sharing one room, so the Prince Conti Inn devised a brilliant wristband system then prevented us from assuming the room all at once. Our ringleader, Dave (whom I mentioned in an earlier post), concocted a Count of Monte Cristo-like plan that involved counterfeit wristbands, secret passwords, and elaborate disguises. Once the details were ironed, all that was left was to pluck satisfaction from the Baccinites of New Orleans.
If you’ve ever been to a Mardi Gras in New Orleans, then you know the experience is much like receiving two-days of prison beatings. Bourbon Street becomes a river of drunken frat boys. Tension is high. You can’t bring your pretty girlfriend to Bourbon Street unless you are willing to exchange punches with half the city. I saw one girl, who had been convinced to show off her impressive set of goods, mauled by a horny mob of men eager for a brief if unwanted squeeze. Only the boyfriend’s savage kung-fu prevented what could have easily become a grim crime scene.
“Wait! I dropped my keys! Can anybody see my keys?”
Rather than inject our fragile bodies into this turbulent sea, my brother and me ducked into the dreariest bar in New Orleans for an undisclosed number of 50¢ draft beers. I not only found this price appealing, but I was instantly charmed by the décor, which chiefly consisted of rocks. The bar was made of rocks. The walls were made of rocks. Only the beer wasn’t made of rocks, though of that fact I can never be completely certain. The most pleasing aspect of the establishment was the bartender, whose professional capacity prevented him from wordlessly punching me in the face, and the comely waitress, whose indifferent moodiness was becoming more sexually alluring with every gulp of beer. Suffice to say, it wasn’t long before I annoyed the local patrons by playing House of the Rising Sun on the jukebox.
It became apparent to both Heather and I that we were divorcing ourselves from the true spirit of Mardi Gras. After all, if I wanted to drink cheap beer and be ignored by indifferent waitresses, I could have done so in Little Rock. Bravely, we left Rock Bar and plunged our heads into the ample bosom of New Orleans. Heather and I made a pact that if we were to become separated, we would meet at Rock Bar at exactly 2:00 a.m. Almost immediately, Heather was swept away by a high tide of giant frat boys, and I was left to discover satisfaction on my own.
In a staggering fashion, I made my way down Bourbon Street where I happened upon a lonely vendor of exotic beverages. Pride in my newly adopted city swelled inside me, and I shouted to the vendor, “Make me one of those famous New Orleans’ Hurricanes! And make it strong!” I’m not sure what’s in a Hurricane, but the sheer number of ingredients kept the vendor busy for two minutes. He handed the finished product to me with a grunt, and I paid without tip, but made up for it with gusto.
Something happens to your body when you drink a Hurricane. It replaces your joints with pencil erasers. It transmogrifies your brain into cotton candy. It turns your tongue into a piece of candle wax. According to my wristwatch, the Hour of Two was approaching, and I figured I’d wait out the Hurricane’s peculiar effects by securing a dark table at Rock Bar. I seized the dim coal of my sobriety and was led by its faint but heroic light.
Not surprisingly, I stumbled right by Rock Bar and onto an avenue that was not familiar. My eyes focused on the most brightly lit edifice on the block, and I was drawn to it like a mosquito to an electric bug zapper. I opened the door like a cowboy bursting into a saloon. My first assessment was, “Shit. No women.”
The lack of females was disappointing but not unexpected. In many ways, Mardi Gras is like a college ballroom dancing class. You think you’re enrolling because the class will be filled with hot chicks who won’t mind that your hand is an inch away from her ass. But when you arrive on the first day, you discover an entire ballroom filled with guys who hatched the same plan, and you spend an entire physical education credit paired with a sensitive hillbilly from Possum Grape who is surprisingly good at the Tango. That’s Mardi Gras in a nutshell.
Thirsty for refreshment, I plowed into the bar and requested a Miller Lite from the bartender, who seemed a physical mixture of Lurch and Ron Pearlman. Seated next to me was a pot-bellied man with a fleshy face and the most unremarkable shirt ever stitched in a foreign country. After I received my beer, the guy asked me how I liked New Orleans.
I told him New Orleans was fucking great! I told him that the chicks were hot and that it was only a matter of time before I would have my satisfaction. Furthermore, the Miller Lite I had it hand was but a herald to many more Miller Lites, and that my fortitude had been cemented by the world’s most potent Hurricane!
The man next to me nodded with every word, and when I finished, he leaned over and whispered, “You have no idea you’re in a homosexual bar, do you?”
I looked around. Now I’m just a simple boy from Arkansas, but there were men making out in the corner! Men with hands on other men’s asses. Men doing things I assumed were fabulous! The coal of sobriety inside me fanned into flame, and I was able to see clearly for the first time in hours.
“No,” I croaked.
The man with the unremarkable shirt shouted to the lanky bartender, “Hey, Harold! We have a heterosexual in our midst!”
“That’s okay,” said Harold the Bartender, “I’d still fuck him!”
I made a drama of examining my watch and vocally noted that I was late for an appointment. The man with the unremarkable shirt offered to buy me a round of tequila shots, but I declined the invitation. No, thanks! I have to go meet my brother! They were nice guys, really. It must be frustrating to have an exceedingly handsome guy burst into your establishment only to discover he ain’t interested. I mean, nobody was at the door, locking it with a big wooden bar. I wasn’t quietly surrounded by a flamboyant version of the cast from The Accused. But I don’t think drinking tequila shots was a good idea. In a flash, I saw myself waking up alone in a seedy hotel room with a gold medallion around my neck, a couple bucks on the nightstand, and a business card bearing a handwritten message that said “Call me anytime, pretty boy.” I escaped the gay bar with my treasure still intact.
“You have sinned, Angry Czeck, and now you must pay! I summon Hall & Oates!”
The next day was described as one of the “coldest days of Mardi Gras in recent memory.” Shivering and hung-over, Heather and me stood on St. Charles Street in an effort to collect beads from the passing parade, a demonstration of the Survival of the Tallest. Frustrated with the exercise, we strolled into a Walgreens for wine. Yes, Walgreens for wine. That’s a nice way to sum up the Angry Czeck’s then current state of condition. When you’re buying wine at Walgreens, it’s time to take inventory of your life. Maybe spruce up the old résumé. Try a new haircut. Buy some new clothes. And while these things did occur to me, it did not prevent me from drinking the wine, which was horrible. I drank every terrible drop, but it was horrible wine. Dyonisis screamed obscenities into my ear as Heather and me enjoyed New Orleans in the cheapest manner possible. We consumed a cheap lunch. We drank a number of cheap beers. Eventually, we returned to Rock Bar only to discover that the surly waitress had a night off, and that our popularity had not been enhanced. Heather and I decided to go back to the hotel for a respite.
Unfortunately, the hotel manager had gotten wise to our fifteen-man bunk-over. The manager, who was built like a fireplug and was nearly as smart, announced that nothing less than $20 would grant us access to our room. Heather and I were incensed. We demanded that he perform sexual acts on himself, and then we declared that we were leaving New Orleans! It didn’t matter that we hadn’t the combined coordination to tie a shoe. We were leaving! That’s when Dave, who once rescued me from “the wrong Puerto Ricans,” came through with a magic $20 bill. The hotel manager lumbered away, and Dave said, “Man! You two and that Czeck anger! Why don’t you guys take it easy for a change?”
That got me thinking. There were many instances in my life where my short fuse prevented me from making a simple and fairly obvious choice. Somebody once said that it is impossible to think with clinched fists, and that person is right. I’ve never angrily made a million dollars or furiously invented a cure for cancer. Mine is not the anger that conquers nations; mine is the anger that gets me fired, gets me tossed out of strip clubs, or corners me into a senseless argument with Mrs. Angry. Dave made me realize that my entire life would be one long blow-up if I didn’t find a way to divert my pointless rancor.
I contemplated these heady ideas by first fostering them in a nutritious bath of Miller Lite, and then forgetting about it. I was at Mardi Gras, for crying out loud! Not Walden’s Pond! I wanted a free peek at some hot hoots and an endless flow of booze. And I received both, by golly! The best kind of fun!
Ah, yes. Good times!
When I returned from New Orleans, I was two weeks away from resigning from closing loans. I didn’t know it, but a plot had been hatched by my taskmasters to move me from closing loans to foreclosing on loans, the most depressing job this side of prison executioner. After one day of calling people on the phone to inform them that I was taking their house, car, and all their clothes, I quit. Within a month, I slapped together a horrendous portfolio and secured a junior copywriter’s position at an ad agency in Memphis. The economy was good then, and I would have gotten hired even if my only language was ancient Chinese.
That’s how I ended up in a gay bar for the first and last time. It took me about eight months to get in and out, but I emerged with a new direction in life. I can thank the gay community for that.