CAROLINA BEACH, Cape Fear, N.C.
34.03° N, 77.89° W
On the dry side of the Atlantic dunes, late on a Saturday night, when the boardwalk is dark and empty other than covetous teenagers and marsh rabbits, as the live band onstage plays the hits and the boot heels stomp on the sandy dance floor, this is when Billy Hal’s sad eyes shine the brightest and his thin-lipped grin widens. He claps along and stomps one of his boots fairly in-tune. On occasion, when the line-dancing ladies fall into a simple routine, Billy Hal will join their ranks, shaking his hips, waving a finger at the low-ceiling, singing to the refrain of a country song. And when he falls asleep in church Sunday morning, sitting between his mother and his sons, the images which sweep across his subconscious will be dreams of dancing at Beach Bumz with the ladies of the Booty Trap Dance Troupe.
Billy Hal Woolley has sad & kind eyes; on occasion, they’ll catch the light and glimmer with unrequited desire. When it comes to love, Billy Hal doesn’t have hope as much as he has hunger, like a colorblind mutt staring at red meat through the butcher’s window. It is the hunger alone which motivates him, which keeps the sadness at bay. His melancholy comes not in momentary lapses of joy, but with generations of acceptance for an unfulfilling station in life. This is evident when Billy Hal quotes his pappy, the late William H Woolley, Sr., “there’s nothing better to have than nothing to lose.” It’s a bemused sadness, this acceptance, smiling at the confetti of torn racetrack tickets as his horse finishes fourth again. But through all of his defeats, Billy Hal is warmed by his hunger. And there is nowhere Billy Hal feels more hungry, more himself, as happy as a dog chewing a catfish-head, than when he is at Beach Bumz.
“Clear the floor!” Billy Hal hollers to make room as the Booty Trap ladies congregate. All seven women are in the trademark pink Booty Trap t-shirts. Billy Hal and his best friend, Pavel, are wearing black Booty Trap shirts with “SECURITY” emboldened on the back. I don’t get it, Ma Woolley once said to Billy Hal on their way to church. It’s Booty Trap, Ma, Billy Hal explained to her, like booby-trap, but booty because they’re wearing boots. Clear the floor, Billy Hal hollers again, ushering outsiders to the sidelines. There are a lot of tourists to Carolina Beach and whether they are visiting from the pinewood or are from north yonder, they need Billy Hal shepherding them aside as his ladies, the Booty Trap girls, take center stage. It’s showtime!
These women mean serious business. They line-up every Saturday night, sometimes as many as ten of them, in their bluejeans and rhinestoned shit-kickers. Once the music plays, they react like a flock of swallows darting through the air, or bees of a same hive-mind; the Booty Trap Dance Troupe move in unison, smacking their rear here, stomping their boot there, all masterfully synchronized with each other. Watching them perform always makes Billy Hal recall something else his pappy used to say, “it ain’t art if it don’t mean nothing”. The orchestrated boot-stomping of the Booty Trap, however, means everything to Billy Hal. This is art. Art at its finest.
And where would the Booty Trap ladies be without Billy Hal and Pavel as security? Pavel, of course, doubles as the videographer to turn the Booty Trap ladies into a TikTok streaming channel. Line dancing isn’t all fun & games, however. This is serious business! And Billy Hal keeping the riffraff at bay is absolutely necessary to allow each of the Booty Trap girls to focus on their heel-turns and toe-kicks. And people can be so rude, Billy Hal would tell his mother over Sunday dinner. You’d be darn-right ashamed, the way some people act, things they say, coming out of the mouths of supposed Christians.
The gall, really, of some of these outsiders coming into Carolina Beach with absolute disregard for the sanctity of these here dunes. Billy Hal has explained to Pavel more than once, the Battle of Fort Fisher was just a pig’s fart south of here. This stretch of beach was all which stood between the Confederacy’s last Atlantic seaport at Wilmington and the stranglehold the Union would put on southern shipping. You’d think someone from the north would recognize it, but no, we might as well be Dirty Myrtle, just another beach town full of sunburnt hillbillies. But the people who died here, Pavel, they died for something. They died for North Carolina against the Yankee aggression. Okay, Pavel says.
Clear the floor, Billy Hal once said to a couple of disrespectful hipsters, who hissed back at him like a snaggle-toothed possum who’d got his tail in a whirl after sitting on a pine cone. Step-off my dick, the masculine female yelled at Billy Hal. Go back to North Korea with your high-stepping bullshit, the feminine male yelled at Billy Hal. Foregone conclusion be what it may, Billy Hal recalls fondly, I darn-well cleared the floor of them. And those liberal freaky-deekies left in a huff! They can raise their middle fingers all they want, but they could just as well raise Cain or cotton for all it matters.
Tonight, the Long-Leaf Blunts, one of Billy Hal’s favorite cover bands, are onstage at Beach Bumz. He explains to Pavel, long-leaf because North Carolina is the land of the long-leaf pine. And blunt because these gents like to smoke the marijuana. Billy Hal used to look down on drug-use when he was vice-principle at a middle-school in Pender County, but that was before he found cocaine. Not that Billy Hal does cocaine anymore, regularly, but if it weren’t for cocaine, Jesus wouldn’t have blessed Billy Hal with his two darling boys. Once the Long-Leaf Blunts opens with Guns & Roses, the Booty Trap Dance Troupe takes the floor and immediately begin shuffling heels and kicking toes as if Axle Rose is stage-directing. This is art, yells Billy Hal as he claps out of synch with the music.
Carolina is playing tonight, distracting most menfolk off the dance floor to the televisions at the bar like flies on stink. Even the lead vocalist of the Blunts is asking for score updates. This all suits Billy Hal just fine; if them fellas want to be distracted elsewhere, it means more ladies-in-denim for he and Pavel! Now, Billy Hal would be remiss to say he isn’t the slightest bit peeved at how the Booty Trap girls barely give him the time of day, but treat Pavel like he is as rich as Croesus. Billy Hal is sure it is only on account of Pavel’s simpleness, English being Pavel’s second language and what, the ladies take kindly to him, as an invalid. Bless your heart, the ladies say to Pavel, kissing him on the cheek every time he’s done something plumb dumb. Sometimes on the mouth. When it comes to that sort of attention, Pavel can have all the sympathy. If you can’t run with the dogs, Pavel, might as well stay on the porch. Tonight, Billy Hal is lead dog.
But there’s a fly in his buttered grits. Outsiders arrive to take the floor during Long-Leaf Blunt’s cover of Tennessee Whiskey. I mean, Billy Hal thinks, it ain’t a crime if you want to dance, but lack the smarts God gave a goose. But why would anyone overstep their place when the Booty Trap is on the floor? Clear the floor, Billy Hal says to these intruders, before adding, please. They are a smartly-dressed bunch led by the runt of their litter, a pint-sized firecracker in 6-inch heels. Billy Hal feasts upon her: she’s a gussied-up redhead hotter than a goat’s asshole in a pepper-patch. He smiles and waves and gathers her attention, asking, Ma’am, is they fishnets you’re wearing? She laughs, these are $300 Gucci tights, pal. Jumpin’ Jahosefat, Billy Hal mutters as he watches her dance. He knows what Ma Woolley will say the day he brings a Jezebel like this home, little miss priss thinks the sun comes up just to hear her cock crow! Yessiree, Ma Woolley would not approve, but good graces, this Lil Red could get Billy Hal’s cock crowing! When Lil Red asks the front-man to play Fishin’ in the Dark, Billy Hal’s heart nearly implodes. That’s my favorite song too, he screams in her ear as he holds her shoulders. I’m going to make sure they play it. Darn right, Billy Hal ain’t Booty Trap Security for nothing. Sure, buddy, she says and returns to her kind. Hey! Hey, hey, Billy Hal gets the attention of the band, when you do play Fishin’ in the Dark, please make sure I ain’t left to pee or nothing. He drops five dollars in their tip jar. Tonight is going to be his night.
Of course, as midnight rolls around on Cape Fear, shit has a tendency to get tore slap-up. Wanda Earl, with her permed gray hair and blue-jean thighs which make Billy Hal think of Bo Jackson circa 1989, is one of the senior dancers of Booty Trap and she takes offense to Lil Red’s latest intrusion on the dance floor. WATCH IT GIRLIE!, Wanda yells. She’s madder than a wet hen and fittin’ to scrap. Lil Red finds this hilarious and continues dancing where she don’t belong, dragging some tall dude with a silver beard and sport jacket into the foray as her accomplice. Heaven’s to betsy, Billy Hal says to Pavel, shit’s about to get tore slap-up! I may have to get rowdy here in a minute.
And then, an angel of mercy intervenes and the Long Leaf Blunts begin playing Fishin’ in the Dark. Thank you, Jesus!, Billy Hal sings. Fueled more by hunger than hope, he steps forward and asks the feisty red in the Gucci tights, can I have this dance? Her blue eyes look up into his and she says, you can have it, do whatever the fuck you want with it. She steps away and grabs the tall dude with the silver beard and loose-hips and places him between herself and Billy Hal. Billy Hal shimmies to himself. At the end of the song, he looks for Lil Red, seeking her out for a high-five, but the loose-hipped silverback gorilla steps in the way, glaring at Billy Hal as if Billy Hal was the trespasser. Fella, Billy Hal mumbles as he turns away, you best watch it. You mess with Booty Trap and I will slap you to sleep then slap you for sleeping. Billy Hal turns around to see the silverback occupied with Lil Red, you just stick to your own, friend!, he yells, his words lost in the noise of Beach Bumz.
Later, as the crowd thins out and the Booty Trap girls leave without much more than a “see ya ‘round, Woolley!”, Billy Hal goes to the bar to settle his tab. Lil Red and the intruders are at the bar and have ordered a night-cap of “Red-Headed Slut” shots, all except the silverback gorilla, who is the designated driver, or, as the Gucci-tight-wearing dancer explains, he already has a red-headed slut. The well-heeled crowd laughs, but Billy Hal laughs hardest, which brings all laughter to a close.
Them intruders go back from where they came and the bar thins out more. Billy Hal waits for the bartender’s eye-contact before he puts a dollar in the tip-jar. There’s a lot of fellas still in Beach Bumz still excited over the Carolina win and they are lingering, looking for a fight. Billy Hal, who is off-duty now with Booty Trap gone, doesn’t want to stir any trouble. He doesn’t make eye-contact with these tom turkeys. As his father, William H Woolley, Sr, would say, why fight when there ain’t anything worth fighting over? And, really, Billy Hal ponders as he looks over both shoulders, there really ain’t.
Where: Beach Bumz
When: The first hour of Sunday, after midnight
What to Order: Redheaded Slut, a shot made of Jagermeister, peach-schnapps and cranberry juice. ***CASH BAR ONLY***
What to Wear: Boots, maybe Gucci tights if you can pull it off
What to Not Wear: open-toe shoes