By: Theodore Brady
Some of the older boys remember Colin as the younger and wiser man who would wrap his arm around your waist in the middle of a song and stick a homemade aphorism in your ear: “A man must forge a pelvis from hard metals before he can hope to stand in a line dance. For the pelvis performs the same function in a hoedown as the Doric column once did for the Parthenon—it proclaims man’s grace over gravity.”
The current tragedy is that if you arrive at The Wooden Indian before the real late hours, you’ll find a babbling brook of boys performing the Boot Scootin’ Boogie without an ounce of rhythm, but you won’t see that supreme abdomen Colin was talking about during those youthful, sagacious years. Tonight two boney stonewashed cowboys lead the dance lines through a series of giddy kicking and flaccid hand claps. The two new cattle teens wear pubescent faces, sock-stuffed jeans, and faux-gator boots, arousing the most calcified lechers to leave their drinks at the bar and claim a square on the dance floor, just to be a little closer to all that forgotten smoothness and yesteryear firmness, scraps of that columnar grace Colin once spoke of.
The speakers crackle with an obligatory guitar bend, tuneless noise meant to call the line to attention. But there’s no real action on the floor. The boys are unprepared, uncertain; mouths open in the act of askance. Too many are out there trying to catch up with the walking bass line, most boys refusing to let the synchronization take hold. They all know how to perch their hands high on their hips, resting their thumbs inside the waistlines of their Wranglers, like old-timey strippers or sick, disgraceful uncles. There’s just too much wiggle at the base of the spine. Tailbones have gone rotten. Asses shake when they should be taut and still. Crisp pelvic pivots give way to belly wagging. A drunken boat of soggy dancers, the lost souls pitch and yaw, pitch and yaw.
Colin retrieves a pink bottle from the top shelf and a martini shaker off the dish rack. He mixes two ounces of the luminous spirit with one ounce of rail vodka before thrashing the shaker with both hands above his head, drowning out the noisy synovial fluids crackling around his wrists. He pours the bright potion into a snow-rimmed martini glass, handing it to old, dead Tim.
“Pair of skinny boys got the gift, Timmy. Just two smooth salamanders out there, loving their fresh legs. When was the last time you saw some young ones worth their salt?”
Colin opened The Wooden Indian less than four months after closing The Stud Station. It seemed to be his final transformation (culmination or reformation) after Jeff had left their Andersonville two flat in his sea breeze Corvette, evacuating with more than his share of the Brooks Brothers that both men were known to wear and share (boys called them the Brooks Brothers—nothing creative, just truth in it). On opening night at The Wooden Indian, Colin hosted a Hunk Homecoming Party, which drew every wasn’t-asked-didn’t-tell trooper in Cook County. He followed up with a Nudist New Year’s Eve where he wore only a cowboy hat behind the bar, thenceforth, confining his establishment to the clientele of half-dressed cattlemen who danced nightly within 1,400 square feet of rodeo antiques and blinking neon nonsense.
“Those two new boys know something, Timmy. I want to know it with them.”
A quarter after eight, Troy shows up. His black boot-cut Levi’s hang over the ankle of his ostrich-skins. His steel heels sound off gunshots each time the backs clap tile. His white leather waistcoat half-covers the Please Mess with Texas T-shirt underneath. The whole man is topped with ten gallons of hat, dashed with an ebony feather stapled to the side. A younger, kinder Colin had declared him a Peter Pan from Vegas.
Troy tips his brim to Tim and wades through the stream of bobbing boys awash on the dance floor. The current tune is half over but Troy starts strutting like the grand marshal at a pride parade. At fifty-four, Troy’s pelvis still stands in cast-iron, rising high above the bog of brown and black Wild West vests. His snow crab hips spread wide on the side steps, his knees cocked for shit-kicking.
The tune ends and Troy turns down a dozen boys asking for another round. He slides a stool next to Tim and respectfully cups his hand beneath the ancient man’s buttocks. Colin hands him two ounces of single malt, which Troy drinks like a shot to make Tim laugh at the waste of spirit.
“Get Tiny Tim something from a barrel. He’s not Sarah Jessica Goddamn Parker.”
Colin retracts the glowing glass of half-sipped liquid and pours an ounce of something brown and hoary. Tim bows his head above the darker drink, pushing his paunch out the front of his farmer’s shirt. His outback hat sinks below his eyebrows, casting a shadow over the chips and divots marking time on his historical head.
Troy met Tim at The Jackhammer on Devon. They took double shots of rye and connected over herniated discs. Tim’s was worse and went for weekly physical therapy. Troy enjoyed this existential condition of their romance: Tim would always be older, forever. As a result, Troy would be able to anticipate the places where his own skin would sag, where his face would rust, allowing him to take the right measures and choose the best moisturizers to calk the holes of Time. He took Tim to The Wooden Indian that year for a line tournament and watched him fall to his knees while switch-kicking to a brutal Watermelon Crawl. Troy folded him up and carried him home on his back.
At nine o’clock the lights dim at The Wooden Indian and the dances change. The boys on the floor start up the back steps of a Little Ship, but a mixed message causes half the line to shake their tits to a Little Squirt. A few pelvises support a line of Louisiana Kicks, but instead of a crisp set of coup de pieds, their legs hang in the air too long, indicating symptoms of beer gout and dance-induced saddle sore. At the end of three repetitions, the line dismantles into unbowed bolo ties and pity hugs.
At nine-thirty, Colin’s nephew Roger walks behind the bar to rack dishes. His bald head bobs up and down over dishwater, which the gentler Colin once called a Ping-Pong ball performing fellatio. His patchy jean jacket might remain on, although his muscle tee underneath tends to vanish depending on the success of his latest ab routine.
Upon Roger’s arrival, Colin moves to the floor for his nightly Cowgirl Twist. He makes a barrel-sized space for himself on the floor, nestled between the same pair of nubile boys he’d praised for their adamantine pelvises. The jukebox spews What the Cowgirls Do. After an overture of guttural honky-tonk, Colin takes his first steps forward, accompanied by four rows of junior sheriffs who have at last found their short, stout, gay-friendly god. They mimic the cryptic semaphores of Colin’s forearms, trying to ape the undulations of their master’s unfettered belly. There’s the lovely thumping of Colin’s four back steps while his hands clap with porpoise-like satisfaction. The process repeats to his left with two more close-quartered shimmies before Colin squats low for a final set of stationary twists, spreading his ass crack before the dedicated faces shadowing the dance behind him.
“Old man’s back is straight, alright. But what about the front of him, Timmy?”
“Him flopping there in a puddle of himself.”
The line blows north, west, south, before renewing its original position. Eight repetitions and then the guitar hum retires back into the jukebox. Old hands make spotty applause. Colin collapses over the shoulders of his preferred set of barely-legals, their backs arching under the tonnage contained in his suspended belly; the two oblates walk their Buddha offstage. The bigger of the two boys sits him at the head of the bar and retreats back to the dances. His squire tries to follow, but Colin’s friendly thumb hooks through the boy’s belt loop. The trapped cub turns. No signs of wear and tear slashed into the high cheekbones. No lines plowed along the creamy high wall of the wonderful forehead. No recognition of who Colin is or what Colin was (always the more wizened of The Brooks Brothers). Only two blank brown eyes peering back at a debauched bartender. This may be the boy’s debut dance at The Wooden Indian or his first look at life itself, the god himself. Colin lets him go.
“Toss those boys in your trunk and drive,” says Troy.
“I don’t drive. Train is what I got to work with,” corrects Colin.
“Train does the same thing.”
Colin’s face ages another five years. The flimsy skin recedes further from those aphoristic days, the sea breeze days; Jeff’s Corvette drives faster, packed with a rainbow of poplin shirts, the rest of his pelvis. Colin pours himself a single malt and slides two more over to Tim and Troy. The jukebox clink-clanks with the ukulele overture of Mamma Knew Best, cajoling the clientele to perform the laborious Charlestonisms and foot boogie habitually ascribed to the tune. The song’s libretto bids its listeners to spurn the milk of a mother’s care, as three rows of sauced dancers suspend their legs for the introductory kicks. But as the tune catalogues mama’s persnickety wishes, the rum-punched dance crew unscrews the choreography with mismatching heel pivots and misfired handclaps. The line disperses after two repetitions. From the rubble, the prized pair of cuties who had carried Colin off the floor cackle through the saloon doors marked Men’s Room.
“Can’t let them in there. Don’t want to clean all that up,” says Colin.
“They’re tinkling,” guesses Troy.
“We don’t do that sort of thing. Can’t be in there.”
“You’ve pushed gallons of hard stuff into those boys. Give them a chance to piss.”
Colin walks from around the bar. Troy meets him in counter-point position.
“I’m not going to hurt them, but you’ve got to be moving out of my way. No one wants to be cleaning up after them.”
“It’s just boys in there. And you, making them out for whores.”
“You didn’t hear them, Troy. Talking smut out there. They want to use this place because they’re still living with mom. You’ve seen this. Jeff would have had a hand on both of them. Wouldn’t have let them through the blessed-damned door. Knew the young ones weren’t clean because they never had to hide it. Never enough fear. We kept it clean back then. Fear kept us clean.”
“Not denying nothing. Some of them need motels. But you’re not going to bust heads every time you see some boys go potty. Who was in there Monday?”
“Not listening to it.”
“Who was in there Monday? Kevin? Kevin helping Ben do his insulin. You scared those boys and Ben kind of got a syringe in the gut. There’s you, kicking the door in with a corkscrew in your hand like a goddamn greaser.”
“Not listening to it. You forget what those boys do. Jeff goes and everyone’s forgetting.”
“Doesn’t matter anymore. You know that. Every time they’re under fifty you got to know what their shit looks like. What’s wrong with catching a boy and just letting him go? You gave them a place. They don’t mind carrying your ass off the floor, but then you just got to throw them back.”
Troy stays standing. He’s got an image of Colin springing over the bar with a bottle opener. It fails to happen. It’s Tim who hangs his hand around Troy’s neck, dragging him back down to his barstool. It’s not a strong hold. The hand is still warm even if the softness is gone. Still capable of caressing skin, calming men.
“Everything’s not for you, Troyboy. I’d like it if you’d stay by me.”
Colin steps back behind the bar, lashing a rag around the sparkling counter.
“I want him happy, Timmy.”
“Not your power neither.”
An offbeat guitar pulse thumps from the background. Twenty boys amalgamate into a line linked by bumptious buttocks quaking with the impossible steps of a No Trippin’. Twenty pairs of feet step right, return, touch forward, Louie-Louie, touch back, and then the ambiguous swivet. Along the bar, every boy has a paw in a friend’s back pocket. Richard and Colin shake ice and uncap bottles. A wave of simultaneous claps splashes over pop-country. Lisps and hyena laughter. Light spankings accompany special handshakes. Troy takes off his hat; his head burrows deep into the ancient cave of Tim’s armpit.
A fresh ration of boys high-steps and struts with hands fused to their hips, eyes fixed to a point present only to them. No curves corrupt the spines, tall stalks growing straight from the pelvis, like each boy was built to support the falling sky. Through the mist of kicking there’s Colin, cutting between the dance line to the men’s room. Troy follows. The saloon doors swing twice.
The dances start and halt at the whim of the genie in the jukebox. The off-duty steppers congregate at the bar next to Tim who seems older when he’s alone, sitting fully hump-backed with his palms pressed into the shifting plates of his face. The skin around his cheeks rolls upwards, crushing the flesh into a grin he doesn’t know he’s wearing.
The current tragedy is that if you arrive at The Wooden Indian tonight in the real late hours, you’ll find a gaggle of junior broncos watching Troy step out from the men’s room with his chin to his chest, hands wringing the brim of his hat into a tortilla fold. The sea of spurred nymphs spreads for him, making a path back to his barstool. Tonight Tim will carry Troy home.
You’ll see that supreme abdomen of Colin’s, pouring forth from the bathroom doors. Underneath his denim button-down, the satyr’s belly projects far over the beltline. At each shoulder stands one of his blooming cherubim, harnessing Colin’s arms around their sacred scapulae. They leak secret messages into his ears, swelling up a bruised smile from his broken lips. Blood drains out from his brow to the rim of his eye, pooling into the gray iris that once flickered breezy blue. They prop him up at the bar. Roger tosses over a dishrag to wipe the war crimes from Colin’s face. They button his shirt and fix his collar, stroking his scalp until the great god purrs. Their hands are upon him, loosening up the bowlegs, ironing out the warped spine, angling the canny head high, until all that grace makes it over all that gravity.