HAIR OF THE CORN DOG, by A.K. Turner, Fever Streak Press, 222 pp., $9.85.
In the latest laugh-out-loud confessional from A.K. Turner's "Tales of Imperfection" series, the author of This Little Piggy Went to the Liquor Store and Mommy Had a Little Flask relates her adventures on the Jersey Shore, at an Idaho drag show with her in-laws, and surviving the perils of an elementary school ice-cream social with equal parts wit and heart. The laughter pairs well with two parts cocktail.
Humpin’ Hannah’s seems determined to communicate via its name that it welcomes all manner of people, especially those without class and with questionable hygiene. If you’re in from out of town and want a slightly rednecky place to have a few beers and maybe win a dildo, then it’s perfect. These days, I’d like to hold my head high and say with confidence that I don’t hang out at a place that awards plastic replicas of the male genitalia to the most enthusiastic dancers. And I’m all for dildos, really. I’m no prude.
If a bar has Humpin’ in the name, I’m compelled to object. First of all, is it so hard to pronounce the g? And what is the object of the phrase, as in humpin’ Hannah’s what? What is it of Hannah’s that’s being humped? Or is Hannah the humper? Does she hump compulsively? Is there a support group that might be of some help to her? Is she a promiscuous young lady? Or a dog that behaves inappropriately with the legs of guests at her master’s dinner parties?
Humpin’ Hannah sounds like she might be a good fit for Dirty Little Roddy, whose establishment is just a block or so away. While a few drinks topped off with a dollop of peer pressure can convince me to enter Humpin’ Hannah’s, I’ve made a solemn vow to never again frequent Dirty Little Roddy’s. I’m way too uptight and pretentious to hang out at a place that doesn’t even try to be clean—and instead proudly proclaims its filth in its name. Of course, I wasn’t always so uptight and pretentious, and in our first few years in Boise, I went there a handful of times with friends. This was before children. My level of accepted debauchery lowered once I became a parent. Not that a baby would ever know I’d been to Dirty Little Roddy’s, but still. It seems wrong to give birth and be responsible for the welfare of a new life in this world, only to get a babysitter so that I can get drunk on vodka and Red Bull while riding a mechanical bull at a smelly bar. If I’m going to hire a babysitter to go out, I want overpriced drinks and marble floors, damn it.
Maybe Humpin’ Hannah is too good for Dirty Little Roddy, I thought as we entered. The place didn’t look so bad. I was accompanied by my husband, Mike, and our friend Kelly, an old friend, all-around good guy, and occasional drinking buddy. We played a few games of pool and drank horrible mixed drinks (how do you screw up a rum and coke?) until realizing that beer was the safer option. The band readied itself for the evening. I’d heard that the lead singer was also the owner of the club. By owning the establishment, she guaranteed that her band would headline the show every Friday and Saturday night. I’m sure in her day, she was quite the rocker. She had the figure and the moves of a younger version of herself, yet her voice strained to keep up, and I wondered how many more years of it she had in her. Incidentally, her name was not Hannah.
A group of bikers from Utah invaded the place, and I felt a slight apprehension for Kelly. He’s a big guy and often the target of little guys with something to prove. Not that bikers from Utah are little guys with something to prove. But whenever anyone portrays outward aggression, I fear for Kelly. People pick fights with him.
Kelly loves to dance. He’s good at many things, and dancing ranks pretty high on the list. But he’s single and doesn’t often have someone with whom to dance. So Kelly and I took to the dance floor, probably for something along the lines of “Brown-Eyed Girl” or “Sweet Home Alabama,” one of those songs that people my age have heard about five thousand times too many. Kelly was a good dancer, and I was able to follow, if clumsily so. But Kelly may have had a few too many drinks at that point. He spun me around, our hands missed each other on the catch, and I watched in horror as Kelly lumbered backwards in slow motion. I felt like I should scream “Timber!” to the dance floor, but there was no way I’d be heard above the band. A bouncer standing off to the side eyed us narrowly as Kelly came crashing down, bumping into a group of the bikers and their girlfriends along the way. I immediately began a chorus of “Sorry, so sorry,” and hoped that no one would start swinging. Kelly got to his feet, and we moved farther from the crowd to finish out the song. No one approached with brass knuckles and a puffed-up chest to avenge their tarnished honor, and I breathed a sigh of relief, though one of the girls did sneer at us, as if we’d set out to bump her and therefore ruin her night. I wanted to tell her that when she sneered like that, she was terribly unattractive, but then I remembered that I’m an adult, so I bit my tongue.
Mike and I danced to a few songs and then, giving each other the look, agreed that we were done. We bade farewell to Kelly, who wanted to stay out later, and left to find a cab.
On the drive home, I said to Mike, “I hope he’s going to be all right.”
“Don’t worry,” Mike said. “I’m sure he’ll be fine.”
“Who are you worried about?” the cabbie asked.
“We left a friend back there at a bar,” Mike explained.
“And he’s kind of drunk,” I added.
“And he’s a really big guy, and sometimes people pick fights with him,” Mike said.
“And he’s single and by himself.” As I spoke, a frown took hold of my face.
“And we left him in a bar full of bikers,” Mike concluded.
Mike and I looked at each other, and the more we voiced the facts of the situation, the more we felt like horrible parents, as if Kelly was our baby and we’d abandoned him in the company of dangerous strangers.
“I’m sure your buddy will be fine,” said the cabbie. An identification card said his name was Ryan.
“I bet you see some pretty crazy stuff,” I said, partly because I was interested, partly because I wanted to switch the subject from Kelly’s welfare, but mostly because this is what I do when we take cabs home. I ask the drivers to tell me stories about crazy, drunk people, because it makes me feel that however horribly I’ve screwed up in my life, I’ve never been that bad. Hearing stories of the bad behavior of others makes me feel less alone in the world. And a little bit better about myself.
“I once had a couple pay me to drive around while they screwed in the backseat.”
“No way!” I said.
“I swear. They used to call me all the time to take them different places. Then one night they called and asked if I could pick them up from their house because they were going out to celebrate their fifteenth wedding anniversary. So I pick them up, and as I’m driving them to a restaurant, they say to me, ‘We plan on getting a little crazy, so if we shock you, don’t freak out.’”
“What did you think that meant?” I asked.
“I really had no idea. So I take them to this restaurant, and they call me again a few other times throughout the night. Restaurant to bar. Bar to bikini bar. Bikini bar to home.”
“What’s a bikini bar?” I asked.
“You know, like a strip club,” Mike said.
“Oh right.” I nodded. “You mean like the Idaho equivalent of a strip club.” In Idaho, you can either serve alcohol or have naked dancers, but not both. This doesn’t work that well for the places with naked dancers because it turns out that most people want to be drunk for sexploitation.
“So, I pick them up from the bikini bar and take them home, and I’m driving along, and all the sudden it gets really quiet. Like something’s changed. Then my seat lurches forward. He’s basically lifted her up and put her on his lap.”
“What did you do?” Mike asked.
“I just kept driving.” Ryan shrugged. “A minute later, she lies down in between the seats, so if I look down to my right as I’m driving, there’s her head looking up at me. And her dress is hiked up, and she’s all exposed, and he goes down on her. This lasts maybe four or five minutes. She’s holding on to each of the seats to keep herself steady. At one point, I look at her, and her dress is covering half her face, and I can see one eye peering up at me, and she says, ‘A little help here,’ so I reach over and pull her dress back down a little bit so it’s not covering her face and exposing the rest of her. The guy sits up in the backseat and gives me a thumbs up in the rearview mirror. Then the guy pulls her into the backseat, and they actually start having sex. He has his back to me; she’s sitting on the seat and has her legs up over his shoulders. And one of her feet actually rests right here.” He motioned to the space right next to his head. “And they’re really going for it. I mean, the sounds, the smells, it’s all there.”
“Ew,” I said.
“So then we’re almost to their house, so I said, ‘We’re almost home, kids. What do you want to do?’ And the windows are actually fogging up, so I crack a window. The woman says, ‘My mom’s in there with the kids. Just keep circling.’ So I do, and then I can tell…” As Ryan drives, he holds his hand up in the air, the motion people make when they don’t actually have words and hope a gesture will suffice.
“They finished?” Mike said. At that moment, it occurred to me that we were hearing a story of strangers coupling in the very place where we were seated.
“They finished,” Ryan confirmed. “So I pull up to their house, and the guy says, ‘Let me get her inside and come right back out and pay you.’”
“Don’t you dare tell me they stiffed you!” I demanded.
“Nope, the guy came back with baby wipes, cleaned the car, and gave me a $125 tip.”
“Did you ever hear from them again?” I asked.
“Nope. Never called me once after that.”
“You get a lot of regular customers?” Mike asked.
“Some. There was a prostitute who used to call a lot.”
“How do you know she was a prostitute?” I asked, and then instantly regretted it. Maybe I didn’t want to know how he knew.
“She used to have me pick her up at her house, and she’d always say she was going to her boyfriend’s house. But it was always a different house, and she never knew how to get there, so we always had to use the GPS.”
“Yeah, that’s probably a good indication,” I agreed.
“One day I pick her up from her house, which was, let’s just say, not in a nice neighborhood. When I pull up to her house, she has a garden hose in her hand, and she’s spraying water on a group of people running away. She puts down the hose, gets in the car, and I said, ‘What was that? Why were you spraying those people?’ And I’m kind of wondering if the cops are going to show after this little altercation I’ve witnessed, and I don’t want to be accused of being a getaway car, so I decide I’m not taking her anywhere until I hear some sort of explanation for what I just saw. She tells me that she’s been hearing voices, and she’s been off meth for six months.”
“Oh god,” I said, suddenly feeling like a really stellar passenger.
“She says it had been getting worse, and she thought someone was in the crawlspace of her house, but she was always too afraid to check by herself. So one day she calls the cops, they come out to her house, hear her story, and blow her off. Honestly, it’s easy to see how that would happen. But then she says the voices get worse still, and now they’re taunting her because they know the cops won’t do anything. They’re knocking on the floor and stuff like that. She even sees a glow coming up from the floorboards, like there are lights down there. So she took her garden hose and started pouring water down through the vents and then took it outside and turned it on full blast into the crawlspace. A family of five came running out, and that’s who she was spraying when I pulled up.”
“They were living there?” I asked.
“Well, that’s what she said, but honestly, with the looks of her and the place where she lives and the druggie past and all, I’m not inclined to believe much that she says. So I call bullshit. And we’re still parked outside of her house. So she says, ‘I’ll show you.’”
“And you looked?” Mike asked.
“I totally looked,” said Ryan. “It was like a twenty by twenty space under her house, only about three feet high. There was a blow-up mattress down there. There was a coffee table and end tables, and they were normal size except the legs had been sawed off so that they only stood about six inches off the ground. They’d tapped into her power, they had a microwave. They’d tapped into her cable, they had a television.”
“That is the creepiest fucking thing I’ve ever heard,” I said.
“So we get back in the cab, and I asked her, ‘What are you going to do now? You just pissed off the people who were living under your house.’ I mean, I would be scared. And she looks at me, and she just says, ‘I’m gonna go stay with my boyfriend for a week.’”
“Jesus, you have some stories,” said Mike.
“I had a ninja puker once.”
“I’m not sure what that means,” I confessed.
“Well, it was a girl who was really drunk, and she promised not to puke in my car. And I didn’t think she’d puked.”
“But she did?”
“This girl was so stealthy, I never even realized she puked until I went through a drive-thru later and someone asked me what happened to the side of my car. The whole side of it was plastered. But hey, she didn’t puke on the interior, so it’s all good.” I realized that my definition of “all good” would have to change significantly if I ever drove a cab.
The next day, I waited until late afternoon to call Kelly and see how he’d fared the night before. I wanted to make sure he was still alive, that he hadn’t been beaten up by bikers and left in an alley. I’m not assuming that the bikers were bad people. They could have been Mormon bikers for all I know. Actually, strike that. I’m sure there are Mormon bikers out there, but I don’t think they pound beer and dance for dildos. And I don’t like to think of myself as someone who judges others on appearance alone, but if you’re trying to look tough and aggressive, I’m at least going to assume you are aggressive, and that appeared to be the case in the situation at Humpin’ Hannah’s. When I finally got a hold of Kelly, he was, indeed, alive.
“Oh…” he mumbled.
“Yeah…” He did not sound good.
“I just wanted to make sure you made it home last night.”
“Yeah, yeah I did. I stayed for a little longer. And then I was headed home, but when I got home, my neighbors were throwing a party.”
“Oh no.” Kelly’s neighbors are four college kids and technically his tenants. I’m not saying that we didn’t party like they do when we were back in college, but that was fifteen years ago. And one’s ability to keep up dwindles over time.
“I remember drinking shots of tequila,” Kelly continued.
“That’s not good.”
“No, no it’s not. But they had some girls over. And they were all playing beer pong. And I remember they were playing strip beer pong.”
I confess that I do not know what beer pong is, have never played beer pong, and I have no intention of ever doing so. Though I’m sure I’d be fantastic at it. I can only assume that beer pong is an updated version of what we called quarters back in my day. I’m not sure what strip beer pong entails, but I assume that in addition to getting drunk, you get naked.
“And the girls were losing,” Kelly continued. “So that was cool.”
“So you watched a bunch of college kids get drunk and naked.”
“Let’s call them men and women.”
“Don’t want to be the creepy landlord?”
“No, no I don’t.”
“Okay, so you watched a bunch of men get naked,” I said.
“Sorry, couldn’t resist.”
“And then they were talking about shotgunning beer. And I told them they didn’t stand a chance against me.”
“And did they stand a chance?”
“Are you forgetting that I played rugby?” Kelly asked.
Kelly and Mike played rugby together in college. The goal of joining a rugby team is to make it through the season with really cool scars, but without an actual visit to the hospital, and to get rip-roaring drunk with great frequency.
But rugby players don’t just drink shots or shotgun beer. They put various substances, like alcohol and spit, into the cleat of the biggest player on the team. And those who score a tri (like a goal, only the rugby version) have to drink this disgusting and likely dangerous concoction at the party afterward. It’s a stupid ritual, accompanied by chants from the teammates of “Shoot the boot! Shoot the boot!” If I had been in that scenario, I would purposefully have been a horrific rugby player.
Lucky for Mike, he had me. He would often skip the after-party, telling his teammates that he couldn’t go because he had to go home with “the wife.” This was a total lie. I was more of a partier than my husband and would gladly have gotten drunk with the rugby team, especially since no one was going to ask me to shoot the boot. But I encouraged my husband to lie and blame me for the fact that he couldn’t party after the game, because I could tell that the idea of shooting the boot and some of the other rugby rituals were as disgusting to him as they were to me.
Kelly, on the other hand, was not married, and when he and Mike played rugby together, Kelly often attended the after-party and took his already impressive drinking skills to new heights.
“So you put the college kids to shame then?” I asked.
“Yeah.” He groaned. “But do me a favor.”
“Next time we go out, and you guys are ready to go home, make me go home, too.”
I gave Kelly my word, just as I’d vowed the night before to carry some sort of plastic sheeting with me at all times from that point forward. It had to be small enough to fit in my purse, but large enough to cover the backseat of a standard cab.