Jeff, Lloyd, and I were weirdly as giddy as school girls about going to an after-hours bar in New York City. Such an experience could give us some serious bragging rights with our friend back in the backwaters of the Midwest. The possibility of hooking up with a Manhattan hottie was extremely tantalizing.
The five of us loaded up in Bob’s 1980 Mercedes Benz 450SLC sports car complete with a sunroof. My friends and I had never been in such a high-falootin’ vehicle before. We were in awe.
Bob drove us around Midtown Manhattan for a few minutes to show us some sights you don’t get on the typical tour schedule. He then headed south through Gramercy Park and the East Village on his way to the Financial District. He headed back north to Tribeca before finally stopping at our destination in Lower Manhattan.
The street we were on was mostly unlit with one lone streetlamp at the corner on the opposite end of the block. A dim light shone above the unmarked door we were walking towards. Jeff, Lloyd, and I noticeably slowed our pace. The giddy school girl excitement was quickly fading away. Bob took notice of our slow gait.
“Come on, guys,” he said with a grin as he banged on the door. “It’s not that bad.” Phil gave Bob another questionable look.
A light that was slightly brighter than the bulb above the entrance poured out from the door, silhouetting the very large frame of we could only assume was a human being. Bob made some whispered small talk with the largeness blocking the doorway. He made a gesture towards the three of us. The large and roundish shadow on top of the mass moved slowly as if a person were looking towards us. It slowly moved back to Bob and Phil. After a few moments of what may have been careful consideration, the shadowed mass moved to the side.
“Alright!” cried Bob. “Let’s go, guys!”
Bob led us in while Phil followed the three of us. I tried to catch a glance at the shadowed mass out of the corner of my eye. As if sensing my intentions, the large… noun of some sort made a guttural noise that surely intentioned a warning not to look. I quickly shifted my gaze to my tennis shoes to acknowledge his/her/its dominance.
Bob led us up a set of darkened stairs to the bar. Our first impression of the bar was not nearly as intimidating as the amorphous blob guarding the entrance. The bar was dark with a pale blue light emitting from valances along the ceiling. A pool table filled the center of the main room of the bar with dozens of men and women milling around. Small tables lined one side of the main room. The haze of smoke filled the entire room. The aroma was a blend of tobacco smoke mixed with the earthy and citrusy aroma of marijuana smoke.
Bob called Jeff, Lloyd, and I to the bar to get us each a beer. The bartender didn’t bother to I.D. us as he set our beers in front of us. “Wander around a bit,” Bob instructed us. “Be careful, though,” he added with an almost evil chuckle as we started to walk around. I was now questioning the sincerity of Bob’s graciousness from our two visits to the Tripple Inn.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
I roamed around the bar, drinking my beer and nodding at or saying “Hi!” to anyone who could be bothered to look at me. Those who did look gave me a look could tell I was a hayseed and shot me the skunk eye. The friendliness of the place was overwhelming.
I came upon an adjacent room that was pitch black with the exception of a dim red band of light that ringed the wall four feet up from the floor. An occasional shadow could be seen passing from one side of the room to another. Curiosity got the best of me so I entered a couple of steps into the room.
What appeared to be seating like that found in a restaurant booth lined the circular wall of the room. Shadowy figures broke up my view of the red light positioned above the seat backs. My eyes were adjusting to the low light enough to see red highlights on what appeared to be bare skin. That’s when it finally hit me what the soft, rhythmic sounds and the light moaning I was hearing actually was. I couldn’t see enough to tell if it was a pairs or solo event going on and frankly, I didn’t care.
I gave the room and its occupants an “excuse my obtrusion” grin, took another sip of beer, and quickly backed out of the room.
I turned around to look for Jeff and Lloyd and found them standing stock still against the wall near the pool table. The looks on their faces told me their experiences must have been as shocking as mine.
I had never seen my buddy Jeff in such a state. Standing around six feet, four inches tall and weighing in at well over two hundred pounds, Jeff was an imposing figure. He was an offensive lineman on the football team and was preparing to play on the collegiate level. He also wrestled as a heavyweight. As tough as he was, he never used his size to intimidate unless someone was messing with a friend of his. Because of his gentle-like demeanor, I never considered him to be what you would call a badass until one night after a school basketball game.
The popular post-game hangout for Yorktown students was the McDonald’s on Tillotson Avenue in Muncie. It was also a popular hangout for students from Muncie Northside and Muncie Central. One night we were in the McD’s after a basketball game and minding our own business while some Northsiders were on the other side of the restaurant minding theirs. A couple of Yorktown underclassmen came running in to tell those of us from Yorktown that some city kids were messing with some fellow Tigers.
Everyone from Yorktown ran outside and found some kids pointing and yelling at a car that was backing out from its parking spot. A bunch of guys ran out and blocked the car from leaving. There was a lot yelling and gnashing of teeth until Jeff calmly walked up to the driver’s side door and leaned into talk to the kids inside.
Without raising his voice – or his fist – Jeff asked the idjits why they were picking on the younger kids. They denied doing so. Jeff asked them again in a calm tone. They denied it again. Jeff signaled for one of the kids who had been picked on to come to the car and asked him to point out which one performed the misdeed. The sophomore pointed to the kid in the middle of the back seat. Jeff thanked the youngster then did the most amazing thing I had ever seen up to that time.
Jeff reached in with his right hand, grabbed hold of the perpetrator, and pulled him over the kid near the passenger window, over the driver’ seat, and halfway out of the window of the two-door car.
Looking directly in the kid’s face, Jeff calmly asked, “Did you mess with my friend here?” The kid, wide-eyed with fear, nodded in affirmation.
“Are you going to do it again,” Jeff calmly questioned. The kid shook his head.
“No,” the kid squeaked out.
“Louder, so everyone can hear it,” Jeff told him without raising his voice.
“No!” the kid announced for everyone to hear.
“Now apologize to my friend.”
“I’m sorry,” was the kid’s squeaky response.
Jeff gave the kid a look then nodded at the sophomore.
The kid looked at the sophomore and yelled, “I’m sorry!”
Jeff looked at the sophomore. “Good enough?”
The sophomore gave Jeff a grateful look and said, “Yeah.”
Without another word Jeff let go of the kid, turned around, and headed back inside. The kid’s upper body fell to the side of the car with a thud, his lower extremities preventing him from falling out completely. His friends scrambled to pull him back inside the vehicle before they sped out of the parking lot.
The memory of that awe-inspiring event was keenly in my mind as I saw Jeff backed up to the wall. My only thought after that was “Oh, shit.” As I joined my compadres I noticed what had them so freaked out. They were watching a few Hell’s Angels playing pool just a few feet away. “OH, SHIT!”, I thought. “What in the hell are we doing here?”
We stood there pinned against the wall, looking around to see where trouble might be coming from when Phil spotted the three of us from across the bar. He came over and asked if we were ready to leave.
They three of us as one replied, “Hell, yeah!”