(A true story...)
NOT THE OTHER STORY
Little Rock, Arkansas many years ago. (1972)
We were stranded.
I was 25 and he was 26.
We were, by force of circumstance, stuck in a telephone solicitor job to earn enough money to get out of the jam we were in. I had set out for Detroit Michigan and brought along my friend, Richard. We didn’t have much more than $200 for the entire round trip. We were inexperienced and naive.
The company was FAIRFIELD BAY ENTERPRISES. It was a real estate development and a resort with tourists as the key demographic; the target of our droning phone message. Victims of a lousy script.
After the monotonous 3rd day of saying the same spiel over and over again, we decided to spend our last coins on a drink at the much-welcomed lunch hour.
"Where is a good spot to have a quiet drink?"
We were told there were two bars with a free lunch right down the street.
FREE is GOOD, we both shouted enthusiastically!
The Supervisor told us, "Make sure you try the place next door."
Fast as we could walk, we bolted for the exit and down the stairs onto the sidewalk in the sunshine.
We walked to the first Bar. It had a sign: THE OTHER PLACE
Next to this Bar was another with a sign which read; THE PLACE
The two of us found this puzzling.
We flipped a coin and decided on THE OTHER PLACE. After all, it was next door.
We sauntered in out of the bright sunlight into a cool, dark, pleasant smelling establishment.
It was impressive!
There was low-key, sexy music playing at a comfortable volume and several couples were dancing on the rather smallish dance floor.
Tables spaced evenly around the interior had stylish lamps and artsy lampshades.
Our eyes were slowly adjusting to the dim light while we sat at the bar on the cushy stools. I ordered whatever draft was on tap.
The bartender brought our drafts in a classic 19th Century mug with comfortable handles and real napkins!
In a few more seconds my eyes accommodated to the semi-darkness.
I swiveled about on the stool and scanned the place, appraising the tasteful decor and cleanliness . . .and Bing!---I did a double take!
Couples dancing to the sexy music were both males! Guys with guys. The year was 1972 and there was no such thing in my mental gymnasium as a Gay Bar. Except...apparently...there was!
I nudged my buddy and did a head jerk toward the dance floor, wanting him to see where we had landed in our fateful coin flip.
My friend did a long, slow "take" and shook his head with dawning entrapment.
About that instant, a well-dressed professional man in a suit suddenly stood right next to me with his hand out!
"If he doesn't want to dance with you--I certainly do!" He flashed a pearly smile.
My jaw slackened.
Clearly, my friend’s head shake had been misinterpreted as a "No" when I'd nudged him and pointed at the dance floor.
This Oliver Hardy 'another fine mess' moment is quite funny NOW, in retrospect, but back then it was uncomfortable in a cultural context of the day and time.
I had no inclination to be rude. I'm a "live and let live" kind of fella. I was an “I ain’t uh dancin' wit no man” kinda fella!
The best policy in such moments is straight out (yes, I said that) honesty.
I explained our faux pas began with a blind coin flip and the smiling gent pursed his lips and offered a common sense bit of advice: "Don't knock it til you've tried it."
I calmly explained I'd tried dancing before (knowing full well I was straddling a complete subtextual context.)
About this time, the front door opened and our TeleMarketing Supervisor rushed in scanning the room.
"Now how did I KNOW you would end up here?
"You asked where to go and I specifically told you THE PLACE next door. This is THE OTHER PLACE"...
(Insert momentary freeze frame for audience reaction).
I ran over here to give you a head’s up. There is a policeman looking for you two back at work. I'm giving you a head's up only because you two are the best phone salesmen I’ve ever had.
He immediately turned and exited.
I looked at my Buddy and he shrugged.
The guy with the pearly teeth--well, it was his turn to shake his head.
"I should have known . . ." he whirled about and promenaded off quickly.
We glug-glugged the beer and pulled out pockets full of change to pay; slowly counting out loud quarters, nickels, dimes . . .
The bartender, observing everything, made an exasperated face and did an eye roll, "It's on the house, you two."
My face must have displayed a big “But why?”
The bartender sighed, shrugged, and said simply, “Entertainment value.”
On that note, we left the change as a tip and scurried next door.
What did the police want with us?
Who even knew we'd gotten ourselves stranded in Little Rock?
The mystery ended when a wary police officer checked our I.D.'s and gave us the once over.
We had been staying at a K.O.A.
(Kampgrounds of America) sleeping in a pup-tent for three nights. When we checked in, we gave our employment as a reference along with the address.)
I explained we were on our way to Detroit.
We had sustained a double blowout on the freeway and had to pay to have the car towed, then paid for two new tires. We had run out of cash and had to work this lousy phone job, blah blah blah.
In other words: no money!
I remember from the silent film era--the policeman would get frustrated, pull off his cap and run his hand through his hair--and when our officer repeated this gesture, that's exactly what I’d thought.
He did a slow burn while reaching for his ticket book and--will you believe it?
He wrote me a ticket!
We had violated an ordinance about open fires!
Need I say, I tossed that ticket in the crapper as soon as the cop left.
We went back to work.
Our boss kept a careful eye on the two of us for the rest of our employment, as though he’d seen something sinister in our mutual character (or lack of).
Suffice it to say, neither of us returned past the first payday to either the K.O.A. or the Other Place again.
Eventually, we managed to find the road to Detroit Michigan so I could meet my father for the first time in my life since I was a 6-month-old baby (the night he walked away.)
That is, of course, another story. This was a story--but the events which attended my meeting with my Father are The Other Story.
The moral to this story?
Always do the right thing or you might end up in The Other Place!