Damon and Brenda van Dam. Out in the parking lot you ratchet up your high another notch or two and you are feeling no pain. But there is a slight sense of urgency that seems somehow misplaced.
Dad’s is probably the most famous barroom in America, at least this week, and what goes on here is probably not what you think goes on here.
I don’t know what, exactly, I thought the place would be like other than I had some vague idea of a swingers bar — whatever that is — with a lot of Hollywood touches like spinning disco balls and Steve Martin and Dan Aykroyd in loud clothes, cruising for chicks. After all, it’s Poway. Who knows anything about Poway?
As a bartender I worked in some two dozen gin mills in New York City and in San Diego. Except for a very few of them, any might have passed as a swingers bar at a certain time of night, given certain circumstances. Even the Coronado Cays Yacht Club back in 1983, after midnight, was a study in booze-marinated sexual desperation — mostly, by far, among the married. I once was called upon to write a report as bartender and witness to alleged “lewd behavior” on the part of a certain blonde divorcée who was popular with male club members. I’ll call her Maurine. She was thoroughly toasted by closing time. She climbed onto a low table and hit “Send in the Clowns” on the jukebox. It struck me as an odd choice to strip to; but the rich, it is said, are different from you and me. Besides, I was more concerned with drains clogged with lemon twists and soggy cocktail napkins.
I probably pounded a few tequila shooters and focused on going home as Maurine undulated “expressively” while tugging at her dress and draping herself all over a male club member. I say “expressively” because that’s the word I used in my report, solicited by the commodore of the club. If I had written “suggestively” or “lasciviously” or some such, Maurine would have been booted out as a home-wrecking single member of the club in a bid to get rid of her once and for all by jealous yacht club wives. But I liked old Maurine, not a spring chicken, but a good tipper with a to-hell-with-you attitude I could appreciate and found refreshing in a woman of her age.
On the Friday night when Brenda van Dam was here at Dad’s, what would it have been like for her? Maybe the bouncers knew her, maybe she didn’t have to pay three bucks to get in; it always seemed kind of arbitrary unless you were a regular, and then it didn’t seem to apply anyway. Was she a regular? No. Not really. So, you are Brenda van Dam, Mrs. Damon van Dam, mother of three, an aging hottie, and it’s Friday night in Poway.
Maybe you stop at the first open bar stool on the right as you cruise the room with your eyes. The red leather booths all seem to be taken, and you’re feeling a little anxious. Maybe it’s the crowd. Maybe it’s the music. “Rhythm of the Night” is a heartless, fascist dance tune that seems to challenge your age. You get tired just thinking about dancing to this one, but you’re going to party, make no mistake; you deserve it.
Just above you, at a 45-degree angle, is the poster for the Beatles’ movie A Hard Day’s Night that doesn’t seem to belong within miles of this song. Still it seems to reassure you, harkening back to an innocent high school–dance kind of reality, even though you don’t take it in consciously.
Your mind is attentive, and much later you will testify that you were “clearheaded.” The truth is, though, you were a touch fried. Everything seemed to be a few degrees left of reality. A few harmless degrees to be sure, but a little bent, just the same. So why this feeling at the pit of your stomach? This paranoid intimation about what was to follow in the next four weeks? It’s nothing. Don’t get paranoid. You need a vodka cranberry. What do they call them? Cape Codders.
It’s still early for action, somewhere around 9, 9:30, you think, but you’re not really thinking about that. The scene has started taking on momentum on the dance floor, and you and your friends sidle through the growing crowd of fun seekers toward the main bar. Maybe you edged along the left of the dance floor, past late diners in the booths where their faces look attractive in the low lighting. Just above your head are old LP covers like Led Zeppelin’s first album, Buffalo Springfield, the Moody Blues, America, and just beneath them, brushing the heads of taller patrons, are paper pennants with baseball-team insignias, probably stuff from the beer sales rep. But these are things you take in subliminally as you spot an opening at the bar and the three of you — you, Barbara, Denise — make for it.
The music has changed. From disco to rock and roll: Bob Seger. One of you leans forward to order drinks from the increasingly busy bartender. Vodka and cranberry for you. When the barman brings the drinks and it’s time to pay, someone leans between you and your friends and says, “Ladies don’t pay for their drinks here!” He plunks down money. Oh, my God. It’s that guy again. He was here last week and bought you a drink. He lives right by you, down the street. Don or Dave or…he bought the Girl Scout cookies from your daughter while she and your son Dylan ran around the guy’s house. He had said something at the time that was sort of titillating and yet kind of creeped you out. Something about adult parties. You told your husband about it. Mmmm. The guy’s eyes are kind of beady and untrustworthy, you think, and he doesn’t have any hair on top. Oh, well, there is still something, well, devilish about him that isn’t completely unexciting.
Still, how do you explain that gathering knot of unease in your stomach, a sense of being poised on some kind of precipice, an imminence of evil as yet unmaterialized? That joint must have been better than you thought. You take a stiff pull at your drink, and when one of your friends suggests freshening up in the parking lot and laughs, you know what she means. You laugh and follow Barbara and Denise, and the two guys they were talking to. You might have placed a cocktail napkin over your drink before you left the bar.
Witnesses say that Brenda van Dam went out in the parking lot with her friends. Was this what she was thinking? Was it?
Out in the parking lot you ratchet up your high another notch or two and you are feeling no pain. But there is a slight sense of urgency that seems somehow misplaced. Everything, after all, is all right. Everything’s taken care of. Damon’s home with the kids. They’re all three tucked in, Dylan and Derrick and pretty little Danielle. You love the way the back of her neck smells. You love her. You flash on her toothless grin when she peeks over the covers. The dope has plastered a happy smile across your own face in the lighting of the white Dad’s Café sign, but it seems unattached to you at the moment.
Denise and Barbara are laughing at something one of the guys said, bringing you back, snapping you out of something. You’re trying to laugh too, but for the moment you’ve been dislocated. You’ve been jerked out of the here and now, and you see a fat man in a gray beard on a witness stand saying something about “…blowflies and mummification…maggot mass in the pelvic area.…” Something about coyotes. And you want to scream. What was that? Where did those images come from? But it passes, and you’re going back in with your friends, and you can hear that Santana song they’re playing inside. “Supernatural.” That’s what it is.
Another drink. They keep coming. Your neighbor is buying. One of your friends (Barbara? Denise?) is brushing her palm against your right breast, her head thrown back laughing. Your neighbor, David, not Donald, that’s it, is laughing too, his eyes gleaming transient colors in the dance-floor lighting. And then you’re dancing with Denise and then Barbara and one of the guys, and you’re doing a little grind with someone. Who? Barbara? David? The other guy? Someone would later describe it as “huggy-huggy dancing.” Who would that be? Who said that? A shot of tequila at the bar. Dan is buying. Or is it Dave? That’s it. David. With his little stage-magician’s goatee. Catch your breath. Why not one little shooter? And then the music has become Missy Elliott’s “Get Ur Freak On.” With your palms and splayed fingers you trace your waist, hips, and thighs to the music. The song is crude, insistent, with an urgent, sexual heartbeat. The only melody is some mindless, repetitive video-game riff that seems to hold the night together, keeping it from spinning off into a million different fragments that can never be put back together again.
The song/riff is over and goateed magician man has disappeared. You laugh to yourself, thinking he has gone home to one of his adult barbecues, and you see him for a moment standing over the charcoal fire with tongs like a little pitchfork, his squinty eyes catching the coals like distant dance-floor lights. It is about 1:45, and you suggest all of you going back to your place. You know Damon will be glad to see Barbara and Denise, and it seems suddenly important to go home, but not to end the evening.
You’re clearheaded but high. The night seems to go in and out of focus at intervals that get farther and farther apart. And while you can’t articulate your fear, you somehow know, in some corner of consciousness, that it will be a very long time before anything is really in focus again.
Away from the lights of Dad’s Café, along Poway Road, the night congeals into a different order of darkness like a stifling blanket of unthinkable possibilities.