The Mysterious Crack House Tavern
It was a Friday night and Zigler and I had had a long week at the day job of producing corporate communications for the MGM Mirage company. We were weighed down with corporate drone annoyances, family drama, relationship woes, financial uncertainty, and the general frustration of living in mid-2000s America. We needed to shed our skin and relieve our minds. Too many weeks had been like the one we just had. Too restricted, too prescribed, too… everyday. We needed trouble. We needed uncertainty.
“Let’s go out tonight,” I said to Zigler as he crushed another can of Diet Coke in his office in an attempt to stay engaged with his professional duties.
“Yeah. But let’s go somewhere we’ve never been,” he said.
“Works for me.”
I returned to my desk where I crushed another can of Red Bull in an attempt to stay awake just enough to make it look like I was engaged with my professional duties.
We ducked out a little before five and headed home to change out of our suits and into jeans and T-shirts. Zigler met me at my place. We grilled up a couple of cheeseburgers and bell peppers and had a few Miller Lites as we lined our stomachs with our feet resting on the first step of my backyard pool. (This was back when a twenty-something bonehead could afford to buy a decent house with a decent pool in his backyard.)
“Let’s go downtown,” I said. “But not Fremont Street. Not the hipster bars either. Too many people we know there.”
“And I want to go somewhere new. I’m feeling claustrophobic,” Zigler said.
“Yeah, yeah. We’ll go a little farther north-east. Undiscovered territory.”
With the stealth and precision of a ninja assassin, I puked.
We made a couple quick stops at some dingy casino bars and chatted with a few of the patrons. Most were two-thirds in the bag from a long day of being hunkered over the bar’s recessed poker machines. Like the guy in the sunglasses who called himself Shades because, he told me, he carried a blade. I told him that didn’t make sense. Then he showed me the blade. I told him it still didn’t make sense. Then he stabbed it into the bar’s wood. We headed out after that. Well, after we had two more beers with him.
We then found ourselves in a predominantly Mexican bar. I say predominantly because we were the only gringos in it. And I know it was specifically Mexican because of the Mexican flags covering almost every inch of every wall in the joint.
The place was packed. A hard-rocking mariachi band was tearing up the stage. It was a squeeze to get on the dancefloor where men and women were moving in perfect choreography. Cowboy boots, cowboy hats, traditional western Mexico fashion… Zigler and I and our freestyle dancing, Chuck Taylor shoes and punk band T-shirts did not belong there, though we were perfectly welcomed. The music was loud. No one spoke a word of English to us — and our Spanish was pure shit at best — yet we managed enough of a conversation with several revelers to share a few drunken hugs and buy each other a few rounds of Tecate.
Then someone ordered us tequila shots. Back then, I couldn’t handle shots. Strange, I know, that it took me until my thirties to be man enough to hold down a shot of anything. Zigler wasn’t a hard liquor guy at all. But we didn’t want to be rude. I forced mine back. Zigler tried to charm his way out of taking his. It wasn’t working. I took his and handed him my car keys. “You have to drive now,” I said. Then, with the stealth and precision of a ninja assassin, I puked. The tequila, the Tecate, the Miller Lites, and a few bits of mostly chewed burger and bell peppers… I puked it all up at my feet standing there at the bar. I grabbed a stack of cocktail napkins and dropped them at my feet. I mean, to leave it there would have been disgusting. No one saw a thing.
I ordered more beer and we returned to the dance floor.
On nights like this, we never wanted to spend too much time in one place, so after a little more dancing and a few more beers, we headed out. Zigler drove about two blocks before whipping into a large half-concrete half-gravel parking lot. We were on the edge of downtown just under the U.S. 95. Other than that landmark, we weren’t quite sure where we were. We’d never been to this dusty nook of town.
The building looked like a bunker. Metallic gray siding covered the exterior. The small glass block windows were six-feet up. Through them, we could see what looked like flashing disco lights. That’s what attracted Zigler.
“Let’s keep dancing,” he said.
“Sounds good to me.”
“Try not to puke here.”
“You saw that!?”
“C’mon, man. I know how you operate.”
Zigler and I entered and froze. Standing no more than three feet from the entrance we silently — telepathically — debated if we should make it an exit.
This bar was not the disco party we expected. There was no music. There was no dance floor. There were no tables or chairs or barstools. There was a small bar at the back with a light machine resting on its corner. About a dozen-and-a-half people meandered the open floorplan or sat on the floor with their backs against the wall watching the lights. It was eerily quiet. The most prominent sound was the whirring of the light machine.
“What the hell?” I asked him really, really quietly.
“I don’t know,” he said in the same whisper
We stood there a moment more. We did not belong here. That was obvious. There was something happening that was otherworldly to us. We should have been drawing attention but the zombie patrons paid us no mind. Weird as it was, this was the kind of uncertainty we were seeking.
“Get us some beers,” Zigler said. “I’m going to the bathroom.”
He disappeared to my right. I headed straight back to the bar. The bartender looked at me. I waited for some kind of greeting like, “What’ll it be?” or “Yeah, what!?” but I got nothing. Just a dead-eye stare.
“Two Miller Lites?”
The bartender looked at me strangely, almost surprised then retrieved two tall cans. “Four dollars.”
“I will cut off your fucking ears.”
I gave him a five.
I sipped my beer and studied the scene. Of the twenty or so people in the room, only three were drinking. Sort of. They were gathered together kitty-corner from me, slumped along the wall barely moving, gazing at the yellowed linoleum tile. From where I stood, everyone had the same dead-eye look of the bartender. These people weren’t drunk. They were whacked out on some other substance.
Then two of the meandering zombies dragged themselves toward me. I was in the most unfamiliar territory I’d ever been in in my entire life. It had always been a talent of mine, and Zigler’s, to adapt to any situation and make would-be enemies into friendlies. But this was different and I wasn’t sure why, and I wasn’t sure what was going to happen or what I needed to do.
Just as the zombies were about to reach me they scattered. Zigler had returned from the bathroom and had scared them off. I handed him his beer.
“Go to the bathroom,” he said to me.
“I don’t have to—”
“Go,” he interrupted.
“Go. But use the women’s bathroom.” Zigler and I had been best friends long enough and been in enough strange situations that we trusted each other completely. But I was suspect of this suggestion. “Go. Women’s room. And leave your beer.”
“So you can drink it? I know how you operate.” I headed off.
I slowly pushed open the door to the women’s restroom. “Hello?” I called out. No one answered so I pushed the door open completely and entered a small area with another door that led into the actual bathroom. So I slowly pushed that door open.
Standing there was the largest, most ferocious looking man I’d ever seen. He stood at least seven-feet tall, his bald head was the diameter of my chest. His raven-black skin glistened with sweat — streams tearing down his bare bulging arms. His eyes were not glassy like the others out there but had a fiery focus that raised the hair on my neck and caused my goosebumps to cower. He blocked the entire way into the bathroom. A hulking human eclipse of the ladies’ room. Standing in front of him was a tiny blond woman. She came just to his belly. Her skin was sickly pale, her eyes glassy and sunken like her cheeks. As I sized up the beast-man, she darted around me and locked the door behind me. I was trapped. She returned to him.
Together, they looked like Krang from the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. You know, the gross-looking brain thing floating in the stomach of a monstrous, superpowered machine-man. Or like the little laughing pet thing that sits near Jabba the Hut in Return of the Jedi.
“Uh, I’m in the wrong bathroom,” I said with as much confidence as I could, which was none.
“Are you gonna buy some crack?” The beast-man boomed.
“What? No. I—”
“You’re here. You better buy some crack. Now.”
“I really don’t have the money, just this beer.”
The blond tweaker lunged at me and stuck her face up toward mine. Her eyes came alive. She was all of the intensity within a two-mile radius.
“I will cut off your fucking ears.”
I didn’t break from her stare for what felt like days. When I looked up to the beast-man he smiled an evil grin. “She’s not fucking around.” She produced a knife that made the one Shades jabbed into the bar look like an antique butter knife.
I laughed thinking of that scene in Crocodile Dundee: “That’s not a knife; this is a knife.” That disturbed them, intensifying the situation.
“I’d better not. You don’t want to waste good crack on me. And my ears… they’re terrible.” I said all this backing up to the locked door. I whipped around as fast as I could and unlocked it and bolted out. I thought for sure they were following me but I didn’t look back. I sprinted the few yards to Zigler at the bar. He was laughing hysterically.
“What the fuck!?”
“She threaten to cut your ears?”
“Yes!” He laughed harder, doubled over even. His laughing, my yelling and still, not a single patron raised an eye to us. And the beast-man and blond tweaker remained in the bathroom. “Really, what the fuck was that?”
“I have no idea. We should probably go.”
The drive back to my house was made with alcoholic care. It was hard to do because we were both laughing so hard.
“That was a crack house, right?” I asked.
“Seemed like it.”
“A crack house tavern. Wow.”
“I’ve never seen anything like it.”
“Here’s the thing that confuses me the most: Why were you in the women’s restroom?”
Zigler just laughed.
Truth or Lie is the only live it show that showcases non-fiction and fiction stories and tellers, bridging the gap between storytelling and theater. It is hosted by two-time Moth Grand Slam Champion Sarah Bunger. The event features five to six story tellers spinning true or fictive tales and leaving the audience to wonder, truth or lie?
First Sunday of every month
Firecat Projects in Bucktown (2124 N. Damen)
Interested in lying to us? Submit a writing sample to Truthorliereadingseries@gmail.com. Pieces must be 8–12 minutes and can be 'truths' or 'lies' (ie creative nonfiction or fiction).