Archived Opinion

Wild nights and the bar fight

Wild nights and the bar fight

“There is no such joy in the tavern as upon the road thereto.”  

— Cormac McCarthy, “Blood Meridian” 


 Mostly we avoided fights, Stewart and I did. But this one we couldn’t. 

Old Boy and his buddy brought their girlfriends to Tobacco Road, a “nightclub” built out in the middle of a field that was out in the middle of a bunch of other fields, but people would jump in their trucks, muscle cars, and aging sedans and drive 20 or 30 miles to gather there every Friday and Saturday night in the 1980s. 

When we were in high school, we were warned over and over about the dangers that awaited anyone foolish enough to venture there, especially young, inexperienced pups like us with our long blonde hair and scrawny bodies, so we stayed away. We weren’t old enough to get in anyway. 

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I went off to college, but my first stint didn’t last long, so when I came home, it wasn’t long before Stewart and I reconnected and started hitting the roads of northwestern North Carolina and southern Virginia every weekend and every Wednesday in search of new adventures.

 Wednesdays were generally set aside for disco night at Grandfather’s in Galax, when we’d splash on a little extra English Leather, find our favorite booth on the second floor, and let the Gap Band rattle our bones while we sipped our beers and scouted the place for any sign of pretty and available girls. Sometimes we found them, and sometimes we didn’t.

If we did, we’d probably wind up in the back seat of a car in some dark corner of the parking lot for an hour or two, gobbling Tic Tacs and kissing kissing kissing. If we didn’t, we’d end up in line at the Burger King at 1 a.m. with the other losers in love. 

We developed a circuit of clubs in different counties, which eventually included Tobacco Road. We still weren’t too sure about it, but we had made the happy discovery that each of us possessed quite the gift for bullshit — I’m sorry there’s not a prettier word for it — and that when we combined forces, this gift was multiplied exponentially. 

On any given night, we had people convinced that we were wealthy venture capitalists, Olympic triathletes, co-owners of a thousand-acre ranch in Wyoming, descendants of the Vanderbilts, inventors of Super Glue, or members of the rock ‘n’ roll band Journey, just on the verge of embarking on yet another world-wide tour. 

I don’t believe I have mentioned that a lot of women found Stewart to be irresistibly gorgeous. He had this kind of Rod Stewart vibe. I mean, bartenders flirted with him. Older women. Younger women. Tall women. Short women. All kinds of women. They couldn’t look away from him. 

 I was more like the boy next door, his wingman, the tall one with soulful eyes and a big vocabulary. He drew them in, and I wrote them poems on bar napkins. He drew them in even when he didn’t want to. 

 Oh, the fight. We were in Tobacco Road that one night and quite a few pitchers of draft beer were consumed at their table and at ours. Old Boy’s girlfriend had taken quite a conspicuous liking to Stewart. 

Not good, and we knew it. But let Michelob talk and it won’t shut up. She looked and looked, our tables about 15 feet apart. He wouldn’t look back, couldn’t look back, mustn’t look back. 

“This is trouble coming,” he said to me. 

Old Boy went to the bathroom, and that was her chance to come over and hand Stewart a scribbled note with her name and phone number. 

“I can’t tonight,” she said. “But call me this week and you’ll be glad you did.” 

Old Boy got back just in time to see her leaving our table and then just decided to come on over himself and force the moment to its crisis, while Stewart was looking for somewhere to put that note. 

“I think me and you may need to go outside for a little chat,” he said, bloodshot, unblinking eyes trained on Stewart. The girl pulled on his arm, pleading, “It was NOTHING, Billy.” 

It was raining outside, but we all filed out like we were leaving a football game. There were four or five on each side, not including the girlfriend and a couple of her friends, all of them trying to convince Billy that he had not seen what he had so obviously seen. 

As soon as we got to a little clearing in the grass, Old Boy took a wild swing at Stewart and it was on, just a tangle of elbows and knees, haymakers and headlocks. The rest of us made a circle, checking each other warily.   

The fight went on for a few minutes — which is a long time for a bar fight — until I saw Stewart reach for his neck, as if he were choking on a chicken bone. 

“Wait a minute,” he said. “Just wait one damn minute!” 

Old Boy relaxed his boxer’s stance a little and looked at him, confused. 

“Wait for what?” 

“I’ve lost my necklace,” Stewart said. “My mama gave me that necklace. We’ve got to find it.” 

There in the pouring rain under the glare of a streetlight, we all looked around in the grass and the mud for Stewart’s necklace, including Old Boy. We looked like confused chickens pecking in the barnyard. 

“Hey, here it is!” said one of the girls, plucking it out of the mud. “I found it!” 

Stewart had no sooner put it in his pocket than Old Boy took another swing, this one intercepted by the cop-for-hire that worked there every weekend. He had been alerted to a disturbance outside, only to find a bunch of people looking around in the grass for some treasure lost. 

“Go home, all of you.” 

We did. That was always the best part anyway, the coming and the going.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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