Monday, December 18, 2006

The Lamp Post

It was long ago, and far away-ish (well, six hours down the interstate), and having nothing to do with Appalachia.

I'm not quite sure what the equivalent to this is. It's a past memory that keeps playing over and over in my head. A mnemonic earworm perhaps?

I have Kim Crawford over at Velociworld to thank for this. His post about the carillons of Atlanta and this phrase in particular....

And having the carillonneur get a lap dance during his performance of I Gave my Love a Cherry could add a sweet Marquis de Sade angle.
...was what started this. Damnit.

I was nineteen years old in 1980 and experienced the most surreal night of my life. Even though I was so young, I seemed to sense that it didn't get any stranger than this. But I reserved my judgement since I expected to have many, many more exciting things happen to me. And they did. But none more bizarre than this night.

My best friend, Therese, and I were in Dr. Bernie Dunlap's documentary film studies class. We were both madly in crush with him. Therese and I were very discriminating about our crushes. The sheer force and raw power of Dr. Dunlap's intellect made him particularly worthy. One day, as we sat near the front, hanging on his every word, he said something particularly smart. I looked over at Therese, and she had opened herself up like a flower on the auditorium chair. She then breathed out a loud and very long sigh. Everyone heard it...including Dr. Dunlap. He looked behind him as though he couldn't possibly be the cause of such an exhalation.

He had a way of blinking rather quickly before turning his attention upon you.


Therese blushed three shaded of red, and I, while I did not exactly shame myself by acting out what I was thinking, blushed with her.

He is president of Wofford College now. His hair has silvered but he's still quite the fox. All these years later, I still blush quietly as I watch Kurosawa.

It was for the incredible Dr. Dunlap that we made several treks to my small home town of Bluffton, S.C. We were making a student film for the class and decided that Bluffton would make a good subject. I think we had big ideas about making it a sort of kino-eye sort of thing, but I'm also relatively certain that neither of us had any idea what that really meant at the time. But what Vertov said...well, it just sounded real smart.

On one of our trips, we took along our good friend Jim. Jim was also in school with us. He actually would be a better person to tell this part of the story and he's always been an amazing storyteller. Jim was slight and had a foxy, clever face topped with a shock of ginger-colored hair. His eyes were a very light, light blue and sparkled with sly intelligence. Jim was also gay. This last bit of biographical information isn't at all gratuitous since it was Jim's gayness that got us into this mess.

One day, after a busy day of lugging around extremely heavy super-8 film equipment, we decided we deserved a night on the town in nearby Savannah. Being the good host that I was, I wanted to include Jim and show him some of the gay bars in Savannah. The problem was, that while I knew where all of the gay bars in Columbia were, I didn't know anything about Savannah's gay nightclub scene. It would have been entirely inappropriate to ask my parents about this, so we decided just to go and explore the city ourselves.

Therese and I both wore vintage 1940's dresses and threw some old vintage furs over them. I'd like to point out the weirdness of this in 1980 Savannah, GA. Savannah's become quite the cosmopolitan city since SCAD arrived. It's not unusual to see goth kids running about the streets these days but Savannah in 1980 was a preppy's wet dream.

I took them to some of my old haunts on River Street, then our search for a gay bar began in earnest. Oddly, none of the strangers we blindly approached on the street could tell us where to find a damn gay bar. I'm not sure what criteria we were using for choosing whom to ask, but it's a miracle that we didn't get the crap beat out of us. I suppose our youth and naivete gave us some small degree of protection.

I was quite frustrated at this point. So we headed up to Bay Street where I remembered a bar that I'd not been to before. It had a rather unsavory reputation and I thought, well, maybe it's a gay bar. I'd been warned to stay away from this place but no one ever really told me why.

The Lamp Post had been on the dark end of Bay Street for as long as I could remember. We parked the car across the street and got out. I suppose that having my two friends with me made me a bit braver than I should have been.

As we locked the doors to the car, a heckler drove by and shouted, "Hey! Carpet and Bedspread!"

I didn't quite understand it, but Therese caught right on. They were referring to our shabby chic vintage fur coats. I was crushed, but Therese seemed to think it was pretty funny. Hmmph.

We approached the darkened doorway with a bit of trepidation. I'm not sure who opened the door first. I remember the stale scent of beer and cigarettes that was even heavier than most bars. It's almost like that wet dog smell. But beer-y.

We walked in and barely had time to get our bearings when two rather tired-looking Asian women converged on Jim. They began chattering at him quite animatedly.

I couldn't quite make out what they were saying, since my eyes were too busy popping out of my head, but I remember him replying, "No, really...we are okay!" Then, "Thanks, but no...really." Then, "No, please, we'll just have a drink."

By the time Jim had convinced the very persistent and tired-looking Asian women that he was not in the market for whatever they were offering, we were inside The Lamp Post and committed to this particular adventure.

My first impression of the place was it was dark and red. The walls were papered in fuzzy velour-like paper. There was an oddly shaped bar with lights over it and poles emerging from it going up to the ceiling. Sort of like the poles firemen slide down. There was red shag carpet upholstering some surfaces. A line of booths was against a wall. There were a few small pool tables set into alcoves in the back. The floor was stickier than usual. The place seemed entirely populated with tired looking Asian women and sailors.

We absolutely should have left then. But for some reason, we felt it might be rude just to walk out without having a drink first.

Let me explain something about Southerners and our tradition of good manners. If one is brought up correctly, and the three of us certainly were, you are gifted by your parents with an almost pathological need to be polite. For one's first 25 years, good manners are dispersed in a shotgun-like fashion, without any particular focus or aim. You just do it, no matter what situation arises since it could take days to figure out if this is a situation in which one might be allowed to be less than polite.

Later, through experiences just like this, we gradually learn when it is acceptable to just walk away. But we weren't there yet.

We took seats at one of the booths and a tired-looking Asian woman came and took our drink orders. When our drinks came, we started revamping our battle plan. This, most certainly, was no gay bar. After a few sips of our drinks, Jim passed around a vial of "poppers".

Big mistake.

Under the residual effects of the poppers, Therese decided to go ask the Greek sailors in the pool room if they knew where a gay bar was.

Also under the residual effects of the poppers, Jim actually decided to use the men's room in this place.

Surprisingly the Greek sailors indeed knew where the gay bar was. Success at last! Who in the world would have believed that manly seamen from half-way around the world would know the location of a gay bar in Savannah, GA. I mean, who'd a thunk it? I figured it was just dumb luck.

Therese and I are sitting in the booth waiting for Jim to return from the men's room. He does seem to be in there for quite some time. While we are waiting when...unexpectedly and totally out of the blue...a naked Asian woman wearing only pasties and a g-string climbs up on the unusually shaped bar with the fireman poles. We both look at each other. Then we look at the Asian woman who is starting her act. Then we try very, very hard not to look at the Asian woman.

But it's really quite impossible since the booth we chose to sit in is about 10 feet from where she is using the fireman's pole in a most unorthodox fashion. A black man in a tattered army jacket pulls a pair of hand puppets out of his pocket and lets the puppets have a conversation with the woman's pelvis.

Who, for God's sake, brings puppets to a strip bar?

Did he just start to walk out the door to go to the strip bar and go, "Oops, wait a minute...almost forgot my puppets. Can't be without those at the strip bar."

I just can't seem to avert my eyes quickly enough and they keep being pulled back to this Fellini-esque scene.

Jim finally returns from the men's room. His face is white and his freckles stand out in sharp relief to his pale skin. He describes the men's room as being a bloodbath of crushed red velour and shag carpeting.

Evidently, there was a very large black woman in a red lace teddy who had taken up residence in one of the men's bathroom stalls.

Jim, the polite young Southern man that he is, thought immediately he's made the faux pas of entering the lady's facilities.

"Oh, please," he said, "I beg your pardon!"

Before Jim can make a graceful exit, the large black woman says, "Tha's alright, honey! Come on in!"

Evidently, he wasn't in the wrong place.

We decide to leave what was left of our drinks and make our way to the gay bar that the Greek sailors so kindly gave us directions to. We are quiet on the way there. Each of us processing what we'd just experienced. We knew we had just had one of those experiences that we would tell over and over again. It was to become one of our myths, our legends.

I remember the relief I felt when we entered the clean, safe confines of the gay bar. Everything was polished hardwood and trac lighting. Nice smelling gay people were milling about laughing. A drag show was going on up on the stage. A pleasant androgynous man took me up on a game of backgammon and flirted with me.

I flirted back.

1 Comment:

  1. Luna*tic said...
    I was riveted! Great story, Rosie... I'll have to think about some of my more fellini-esque moments (I know I must have some) and post them on my spot. I wish I coulda hung out with YOU when I was younger! (and still do!)

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