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Rowdy honky-tonk stomps into the room from a monolith speaker in the corner. Piano keys jangle. Drum skins are slapped broad with flat sticks. Disconcerting. The whole damn atmosphere is intentionally disconcerting."Do you remember Molly Leadbetter?" a grizzled beard seated to my left blows the words past his ochre teeth.

"You never forget your first," answers his friend, just as old, just as ripe, dust incarnate. They sit so that their wire gray hair, rounding bellies covered in red tartan flannel shirts, and chunky brown boots mingle together so that a clear line of divisibility is indistinguishable between them -- they are one entity. The only thing separating them is the reek and clamor of their breath that sprays from their mouth and falls to the dark table in a yellow mist.

The table is dark red. Everything is dark red: the cups, the coffee, cappuccino, and espresso makers, the sign, the unforgiving concrete floor, the slat back chairs and riveted metal countertop. Everything. It's all slathered in red house paint, peeling back from uncomplimentary surfaces and reflecting crimson in the glass fronts of the display cabinets. Buloom buloom buloom, a standup bass tries, but can't, soothe the tense climate.

"Molly Leadbetter was not your first!" one -- which one? -- howls to the other, spitting coffee into air, beard, and bench cushion. "She was mine! We were in love!"

The Red Room it's called. It's a coffee house now, but in the 1940s it was a whorehouse by the name of The Sonora Rooms. On the TV above the service area a man in khaki stalks a black, writhing snake through the squishing mud.

"Coffee," I say. Adding, "large, please."

Along the walls, hung at different levels, interspersed at arrhythmic intervals, and every one of them crooked, are thick impasto paintings of clowns. A clown balancing a ball on his head. A clown with a trumpet. A clown knocked over by a big dog. Dozens of clowns hanging at odd angles, painted to smile, bound, and tumble along the scarlet plaster.

"Why, you dirty old -- !" one hoary fart yells at the other. Some scuffle has broken out between them, and their fingers push at the other's face. The khaki man on screen holds the ebony snake by its end and shakes it. "Molly was mine!" the other yells. A guitar growls. A clown is captured in oil pigment soaring from a trapeze. And I study the sepia photograph in the stairwell at the rear of the shop and the inscription in the copper plate beneath it that reads, "Molly Leadbetter 1908--1964 Proprietor of The Sonora Rooms"

WHAT I WILL AND WON'T WATCH THIS WEEK

Thursday, December 22

Deal or No Deal

NBC 8:00 p.m.

Howie Mandel trades in his irritating comedy routine for a career as an irritating game-show host. His rubber-shaft good looks and mouth-full-of-hair personality are sure to win him unanimous love from the American public this time around. "Please. Please," he prays to the god of fame, his eyes clenched and watery. It worked for Regis.

Being Bobby Brown

BRAVO 10:00 p.m.

What a mound. What a mound with ear holes. It's rare that I want to slap the hairy stink off of someone, but there it is, like a handprint target on his cheek and a page of binder paper with "Slap me right freakin' here!" Scotch-taped to his temple. Mound.

Friday, December 23

Stealing Christmas (2003)

USA 1:00 p.m.

He's the wiry tough kid from the Bronx hiding a heart of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. She's the frost-tipped, everyone's-grandmother in a doughy sweater. Super Duo Tony Danza and Betty White cram the Christmas spirit so far up your wazoo that you shoot tinsel from your nostrils. And you're going to like it!

Saturday, December 24

Naomi and Wynona: Love Can Build a Bridge (1995)

LMN 1:26 p.m.

Oh ho ho. Naomi Judd you've held up well for a mummy from your time period. You must get swaddled in formaldehyde gauze and packed with salt when they rope you up and ease you into your crypt at night. Sure, the going rate for hand-rendered infant tallow is soaring these days, but look at how firm it keeps those butt cheeks.

Christmas

EWTN 5:00 p.m.

Last night my next-door neighbors performed the Christmas classic My Nasal Cavity is Inflamed with Chemical Methamphetamines, My Cracked Fingernails Pick at my Bloody Face, and I'm Standing in the Frosty Dew of My Front Lawn at 3:00 a.m. Screaming as Loud as my Black Lungs Allow at my Good-for-Nothing Husband! It's a perennial favorite of mine that's only performed at select alleyways around the county during this special season each year. MERRY CHRISTMAS, CITY HEIGHTS!

Sunday, December 25

Christmas Castles

CBS 5:00 p.m.

By this time I'll be standing uncomfortably close to someone I just met, repeating myself over and over and over, and polluting the air around me with the fumes of clear alcohol from my lungs. When I attempt to stumble to the can, my friends will yell, "Whoa! Ollie's falling. Grab him. Grab him!" I say again, MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Monday, December 26

Bruce Almighty (2003)

USA 5:00 p.m.

Jim Carrey's a straw-necked numbnut. After Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind he could've done the Tom Hanks, chosen any manuscript, and taken acting seriously. Instead he's doing his impression of a Muppet with a spastic colon in Fun with Dick and Jane . I'm disappointed. In him. In myself. But, most of all, in you.

Tuesday, December 27

Teens Behind the Wheel

PBS 10:00 p.m.

At the chime of midnight on my 15th birthday, I was careening past the shops, bars, and parked cars on Main Street at 70 mph, with eight teenagers in the bed of my dad's pickup -- all crowded around a keg -- and a red plastic cup of foaming Budweiser in my lap. Later, when I got my license, I could be heard bitching about why insurance was so high for new drivers.

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