It was a place of forgotten love. Where poets are quoted whose names are now lost. No one went there to win anything. Only to arrange a more perfect defeat. We always drank the big pitchers made from hard plastic. We spent Popeye’s 24th birthday there, and one night, after we accidentally started a melee down the street, learned the disturbance continued into the bars parking lot where someone was shot.
Such was the long dark vibe we enjoyed at the sports bar that had no TVs and changed names every six months. During its most triumphant era, the period we haunted the place, it was known as New Star. Though complex men at the time, we chose the bar for simple reason. The enormous pitchers. And its proximity. It was the closest bar to the Bankers house. The Banker threw the best parties in town, just up a gravel road and a quick pitch from this squat unremarkable outer east Portland bar. (an area now referred to as “the numbers” by transplants)
The stools were green and the walls were a wooden veneer of the type used in collapsing room dividers in church basements. There was a dart board and a grainy early version of big buck hunter no one played. The bartender was 6’6 and the spitting image of Kim Thayil. Given the decorum and demeanor of the attendees, it wasn’t a great pickup joint. However, on the evening in question, there happened to be a few daisy’s dancing around, sending fiery looks of circled smoke in our direction. I inhaled them winsomely, then coughed. Realizing that smoke wasn’t from the farer sex, I’d choked on Roy’s cigarette plume.
Roy divested himself of his cigarette in the clay planter and unfurled his 6’3 frame from our booth, “These girls deserve to know how beautiful they are.” He declared, and ventured over to where the two girls were dancing to Springsteen. These are the thoughts of the Dying and the Drunk. The girls probably didn’t really need to know how they appeared to some mildly smashed minder sitting with his buddies in a corner booth. Then again, it was so uncommon to find such tinder in this match-book of men. One did feel a kind of cosmic responsibility to strike.
Working in Roy’s favor was the fact that the girls weren’t especially sober either. One of their “dance moves” consisted of an apparent attempt to tame an uncooperative palomino. The other just twirled around and flapped her arms like Daffy Duck.
There is a juke box at the now nameless bar on 112th and Halsey, but it isn’t worth losing the quarters. The songs all speak of forbidden love and the wallowing of squires prior to delivering messages to kings of failure in battle. Best to hum your own tune. As Roy was doing loudly while spilling his pbr down the front shirt of the failed bronco bucker. His dancing was even worse than the girls, more of an out of sync shuffle, but as sometimes happens when one is willing to pursue Big Failure in the fishbowl of an empty dance floor—- girls reward the floundering. Now Roy had become the bronco being bucked by the ladies.
An old man came in with a wide hat and a mysterious slicker who looked like he taught Kung fu to young actors moonlighting as stunt doubles. He had with him a white bucket of magic, from which he silently withdrew a rose offered for pennies on the dollar. Roy quickly purchased one and handed it to a cow girl who took it and held it up to her beer-stained blouse.
It was then Roy’s fish dancing was to meet the mariners club. In fact, these girls were spoken for. There had been no hints. There so often aren’t. But in the great darkness that made New Star so alluring, a dork mob of local toughs had been hidden from view. There were at least four of them. Hard to tell. They were obviously east portland phillistines, their ill fitting attire a dead giveaway. One looked like Ralph Reed with hair braids and another like an offensive piece of rhubarb. They were now insisting the girls come back and sit with them. Which they did, leaving Roy shadowboxing an actual shadow on the dance floor with beer running down his right pant leg.
But he had struck first blood. The cowgirl returned to the phillistines still clutching the virginal rose to her heart.
During Roy’s dalliance on the floor our popeye forearmed friend had retired early and been replaced with the Banker, known in white collar criminal circles as JiffyJeff. This substitution of brawn for criminal cunning will become important immediately, for no longer had The Banker diverted my attention from Roy to belabor a new moderately legal house flipping scheme that Roy neared an altercation with the phillistines who’d stolen his girls. Roy was now a teetering building with distorted thoughts of check hooks and head kicks. Eventually the Banker and I talked him down and we ushered him back to our corner, where we settled up and shortly thereafter departed.
Unfortunately, Fate once again shook its fist at us, for at the EXACT moment we were blindly feeling along the wall for the door handle, the gaggle of instigators were groping as well.
As often occurs with parking lot barroom brawls, the precise sequencing of events is blurry. The police report probably tells it best, which was relayed to them like this: As the Banker and I were opening the door to his tastelessly lowered race car with personalized licence plates, we looked back to the entryway to see Roy wading into the entire phillistine army. I ran back to pull him out, but before I could grab his collar, started taking enemy fire from a tornado of pulsating anger. There was no recourse but to hit back with everything I had. Between getting punched in the ear and kneeing someone in the head I cursed our sour luck for having lost Popeye to the Banker at this unfortunate hour. Outnumbered, Popeye could have given us a chance. And then out of nowhere a flash-bang sparked to my right. It took a moment to register that this was in fact the spindly-married-with-children-Banker cracking one of the fools with his handful of class rings. Apparently, upon viewing the racket in his rearview, The Banker had carefully folded his glasses on the dashboard, closed and locked his car, and then delivered the wallop heard round the rotunda.
As the dust eventually settled I was left hopping around with one shoe as Roy retreated in a rage that was now focused solely on having lost his favorite hat. “Where’s my hat!” He roared at the phillistines. We eventually scanned behind us to see my shoe, which had apparently flung over my head during a failed drop-kick, and landed in a perfect plié atop the missing hat. Roy dusted off the hat, suddenly quite pleased, and casually walked to the car. This was apparently the que that we were done. We retreated to the car as our adversaries swore and spit and rubbed their extremities. As I checked the behind us to make sure no one was giving chase, I caught site of one of the sinister little creeps with his cellphone attached to his ear.
It was only later we learned what he was up to. For no, this Night At the New Star was not done with us yet. No longer had the Banker dropped his fugitive friends off that he was pulled over by some of Portlands Finest. They’d been staking out his place awaiting his return. The little runt from the bar had a friend on the force. Apparently local police weren’t opposed to going vigilante in the service of a comrade in crises.
Pushed up against his four car garage door, they started questioning the Banker on his evenings activities—even proposing a longer talk back at the station. The Banker would have melted a breathalyzer at this hour, but due to his criminal composure and a stiff October breeze, he talked his way out of any serious charges. Turns out, they were preoccupied with a search for the catalyst, not their chauffeur. But even that fact they’d bungled. They listed my shirt color as the one they were targeting, not Roy’s.
We returned to New Star a few more times over the years. Only after it changed names and always in deep disguise. Many of these nights we discussed the lesson learned there: that of the many downsides of personalized license plates, the ease with which the authorities can have your information relayed to arresting officers is certainly tops.
And the inevitable joke: every rose does have its thorn.
Where: The Bar on 112th & Halsey – Name was changing as of Publication
What to drink: Domestic. In pitchers.
When to go: Late, but not too late.
What to avoid: Eye contact.