Sunday, April 14, 2013

Don't Call Me Buckwheat

If you were any good as a bouncer at the Vogue Nightclub, you could usually get the job done without having to put your hands on anyone. 

A drill field worthy command voice with a haircut that said “recently-discharged Marine” goes a long way toward establishing alpha-dog status. It's all attitude and presentation.

Since its opening in 1938, The Vogue has screened the films of Burt Lancaster, Henry Fonda, Carole Lombard -- and even Linda Lovelace and Harry Reems when the place was an X-rated theater for a couple years in the 70s. As a concert venue, its stage has hosted acts like Willie Nelson, Keb' Mo', and Kings of Leon.

Requirements for crowd control vary according to the type of entertainment.  For a bouncer fresh out of the service, a rough night might be one featuring a minor-league version of WWF. In the ring on one fine Saturday night, the card included a Nordic Hulk Hogan-wannabe versus a big black Apollo Creed-looking wrestler with a crazed, out-of-control 'fro. Think of Don King dunked in Rogaine and then electrocuted. Hair like that.

These wrestlers were going at it: drop kicks, pile drivers, the occasional Flying Dutchman or suplex. Somebody may have hit somebody with a folding chair.  The crowd was cheering, smoking, drinking.  Guys at their tables shadow-boxing in synch with the action in the ring, putting each other in mock head-locks and half-nelsons.

As the rounds progressed, a drunk frat boy at stage left was amusing himself and the other brothers of Kappa Delta Douchebag with heckles and cat-calls on a "Little Rascals" theme.

"Hit 'im again, BUCKWHEAT!"

"Hey, Buckwheat! Pretend he's Spanky and give him a SPANKING!"

Above the crowd noise, Apollo was hearing all of it and his glares were turning increasingly away from Hulk Hogan and more toward Beavis and his buddies, who were laughing at their own comic brilliance and high-fiving each other over a table full of empty Michelob Light bottles.

Toward the middle of round three, Apollo heard, "Hang in there, Buckwheat! Don't let him 'Stymie' you!" Ha ha ha!!! Stymie him! Did you hear what I said?? Stymie him! More high-fives ensued. Bluto and company were laughing so hard they didn't see Apollo coming over the ropes, out of the ring, and heading straight for their table, malice in his eyes.

They didn't see him, but I did. I moved to put myself in between Apollo and the traveling cast of Animal House... try and keep anybody from getting hurt. Professional wrestling may be fake, but Apollo was real -- real big, real strong, and real pissed off.

Apollo took a swing at Flounder just as I was in the right place at the wrong time. I took a big fist to the corner of my jaw. Lucky for me, it was a glancing blow.

We'd met and talked to all of the wrestlers prior to opening, so we were all acquainted. Apollo's name was Bill, and when Bill realized he'd hit me instead of the target of his wrath, his anger drained away.

"Aww, I'm sorry, JJ," Bill said. He pointed a finger at the frat boys and said, "Done with the Buckwheat shit, assholes." And they were. Bill turned and went back to work.

The crowd loved it: popped-collared punks put in their place.  Bill bought me a beer after we closed and everybody went home in one piece.


writeraa said...

I'm laughing. I see it perfectly. What a bunch of numbnuts, the pop-collar kiddies. Good story. Says more than it tells, always the mark of a good yarn. In memory of Roger Ebert: thumbs up, sir!

Joe said...

I thank you, Mr. Ziebart. There was hair gel involved, too. But in the interest of brevity....