Toms at the Tampico Tides part like the Red Sea as Bridget takes her place
By David Lewellen
She swept into the bar, instant sensation, no questions asked. There were always a few decent blonds hanging around the Tampico Tides, most of them dyeing or sun-bleaching or peroxiding their hair, but none of them moved or walked or sat or had a voice like this one.
I mean, I could picture her pad, could visualize the four-poster bed with diaphanous canopy and silk sheets in the dimly lit boudoir, muted red bulbs casting dim light on a wall with a Marilyn Monroe poster from “The Seven Year Itch.” Being a bartender I knew from instinct and experience that women who put Marilyn Monroe posters on their walls were trouble — big trouble.
I mean, she just LOVED being a blonde. She oozed it. First time she walked into the Tides she came with her mousy brunette girl friend, but hardly anyone noticed the girl friend. Time and all action froze as the jukebox blasted away with the Stones or the Dead or the Doors or maybe Dylan or most likely Rod Stewart grating away with “Do you think I’m sexy?” Oh yes.
Our doormen that night, Big Noom and Murph, looked at her, then at each other, then at me, and nodded. She was wearing the tightest black jeans I’d ever seen, accentuating her regal charms, and a white midriff blouse revealing a smooth brown belly and creamy shoulders. As she walked she sort of flicked her head, like a filly whinnying, and those cascading waves flipped across her eyes and off again, falling perfectly into place. The crew of toms clustered around the front door near our bouncers parted like the Red Sea, as did everybody else. She was a battleship leading the armada.
She smiled at a regular named Jim, a seasoned gambler, cynical divorcee and determined drinker who liked the same stool at the same section of the bar I always worked on weekend nights. For the first time ever, he gave up that stool, patted it down for Bridget, and she flashed him this crinkly-eyed smile, a smile so warm and tender it seemed to reach out and touch, and Jim bolted down his drink, rolled his eyes at me, turned and walked out the door and across the street to have a drink at the always-quiet Sunset Bar & Grill.
She perched on the stool, removed a long-strapped purse from her shoulder and crossed her legs, withdrawing a pack of Salems, whispering to her girl friend, nodding, then tamping a cigarette with long-stemmed fingers that were tanned and bejeweled and possessed elongated nails glistening with the same deep ruby color that matched her lipstick and ear-rings and toenails. As these fingers drew the cigarette halfway to her lips, several zippos snapped out flames in a blinding convergence. She ducked her head, accepted a light, smiling at the toms, very quickly, with little mercy, before she cast her green slanty eyes around the bar and caught me trying to act cool and natural and unassuming.
She smiled that smile and crooked her index finger at me, waggling it in her direction. I took my time coming over.
“I hate to say, ‘Bartender.’ It’s so rude. Do you have a name?”
“I’m Bridget.” She offered her slender hand, and I took it softly, felt a current run up my legs into my crotch, felt my stomach rumble while a vague paralysis shut down my brain. “This is my friend, Sheila.” I glanced in Sheila’s direction, then back at Bridget, taking my hand away.
They both had Beefeater tonics. Neither girl could get their pocketbooks out before the toms were clamoring to pay, tossing bills at me, mindlessly tipping while they bumped in on Bridget, sort of elbowing Sheila out of the scene. I got the hell away from them, retreating to the end of the bar where the dart throwers hung out.
From time to time, I glanced to see Bridget inhaling, exhaling, whinnying, raising a hand to flick at her hair. A bevy of charmers regaled her with stories and nauseating flattery and awkward braggadocio, the whole troop milling and nudging and nuzzling like a litter of pups trying to get at a mother’s tit.
She stayed maybe an hour-and-a-half, left several untouched drinks, sashayed through another pathway toward the door, hind quarters atremble, mousy Sheila trailing like a wake. Bridget fluttered her fingers at the crowd as she exited. I looked down at her ashtray of red-stained butts and felt like somebody had caved a giant hole in the bar.
Now all the others girls relaxed, sighed, as the toms shambled around, tucking bar napkins and scraps of paper and business cards ascrawl with Bridget’s carefully written phone number into their britches and wallets, and slinked back to circulate with stale leftovers.
She came in a week later. Jim was off his stool and out the door before she was halfway down her pathway. She took the usual time getting lit and settled before glancing at me as if I were an afterthought.
She flashed the touching smile, and waggled me over. I came to her like a sideways walking dog, slack-jawed and numbed out.
“Bridget, “ I said.
“Leo. How are you?”
“Good.” I glanced at Sheila, and felt like a man recently condenmed to a hanging. Femme fatale. “Beefeater tonics, girls?”
They nodded. I came back with their drinks. Toms fought to pay me. I just grabbed a bill and rang it up and tossed out the change and scooped up my tip and salted it away in my toke jar and tried to hide. It wasn’t long before a few guys persuaded Bridget to pick up her drink and move to the poolroom.
A few minutes later, my fellow bartender, Marstrulavich, a bearded hatchet-face with a master’s degree in biochemistry, indicated I should come to his end of the bar. I walked on over and observed the poolroom. Bridget was shooting. She was a lefty, of course. She was decked out in a hot-pink mini-skirt and matching tight cotton sweater and white knee-high booties. As she stretched forward, taking aim on the ball, her hind quarters reared up a bit, her one-bootie came off the floor, and her smooth bare brown legs and full thigh and pink bikini panties were exposed. By now, most of the bar was openly gawking as she expertly sank the ball on a neat cut, and tapped the side of the table and said: “Six in the side.” She sank that one, too. Then squirmed around some more and sank the 8 ball. Oh yes! She just LOVED being a blonde.
Anyway, she tortured the whole damn bar and distracted the poolroom shooters for a couple hours before making her grand exit, leaving behind her usual litany of untouched drinks and stained butts and smirking women and anguished men, the crowd taking almost an hour to settle back down to normal.
A week later, same night, same time, she returned. Jim saw her at the doorway and shot off his stool and scuttled out the back door like a flushed ferret. Bridget went through her usual rituals at my end of the bar. While waiting for her to waggle-finger me over I nudged Marstrulavicb.
“She never goes to your side, you ugly fucker,” I said. “She’s obviously in love with me.”
“You’d better hope not,” he said grimly, shaking his head, he being a man who understood fear. “Of course, you’ve always been stupid when it comes to women.”
Seconds later, I was at Bridget’s beck and call. She seemed concerned about me. “Leo, are you depressed?”
“Not that I know of.”
“How come you never smile, honey?”
“Will you smile for me?”
I think at this point I attempted a foolish grin. She appraised me, frowning, waggle-fingered me closer as the toms crowded around her. I craned forward, tail wagging, and she deftly touched my bearded chin, stroked the tender skin on my throat with one enameled nail, briefly brushed my cheek, and in her ultra-husky voice, said: “You’re such a sweety. May I have my drink now?”
Marstrulavich was leering at me like a cat about to pounce on a trapped lizard. Somehow I got Bridget and Sheila their drinks. Next time I looked up Bridget was up and headed to the poolroom and this time I didn’t dare walk over and watch her preen and stretch and sashay around the table in her skintight leather britches. I didn’t even watch her walk out.
Next Friday night she was there again, same time, and Jim was gone as soon as he heard the commotion at the door.
“Bridget’s here,” somebody cried.
Marstrulavich sidled over, nudged me. “You pansy,” he said. “Here comes your true love.”
“Eat shit,” I said.
“Say that to her. Then you can forget about her.”
“Maybe not,” I said. “Maybe she needs to be insulted, put down, ignored, rejected, scorned, punished, abused …”
“Abused?” he scoffed. “Nah. You’re too gutless.”
I moseyed over to Bridget as soon as she waggle-fingered me.
“I want my smile, Leo.”
I tried to smile.
“Are you my friend?”
“I like to have friends. Men never want to be friends with me. You know how that goes, don’t you?” I nodded. “So will you be my friend? My buddy? And protect me when I’m needy? Sometimes a girl gets down, you know. Even this one."
I felt my face collapsing, the membranes drooping, and I could not control the droop, like a toddler can’t control his bowels, I suppose, and she appeared very concerned. “Whatsa matter, hon-ee? You okay?”
“Beefeater tonics, Bridget?”
She perked up, eyes shining and crinkling as she smiled. “You got it, babe.”
I made their drinks and the same old crew moved in, still gamely trying to woo Bridget, but so far there’d been no scuttlebutt of anybody taking her out or laying a hand on her. She was a cold trail, a sphinx.
Then I saw Lance Larkin, talking to Sheila.
Lance was a model and aspiring actor who’d made a few commercials. He played volleyball, was tall and lean, with ridiculously high cheekbones and the classic jaw lines of a Greek god, I suppose, his blond hair curling up on his neck and matching his eyebrows. He never had money for drinks, and tonight was wearing a new outfit: baggy powder-blue slacks with gold watch chain looped from belt to pocket, suspenders, black T-shirt, offwhite sportcoat with sleeves rolled up on his blond-haired forearms. I stared at him, but he ignored me, because he knew I was going to ask him if he wanted a drink and then flash him a dirty look when he said, no, he didn’t want a drink, as he cased the crowd with casual indulgence.
Now Sheila was buying him a drink. He drank Stoli on the rocks, of course, and without looking at me requested a couple olives, so I tossed olives on top and Sheila paid and tipped and smiled her crooked-toothed smile at Lance, while Bridget remained completely turned away from them, facing her charges, nodding, smoking, flipping her hair, smiling without mercy, getting prepared for her poolroom exhibition. She crooked her head back toward Sheila, and then she saw Lance, and Lance saw her.
She didn’t go to the poolroom. It took Lance about half an hour to creep an inch at a time closer to Bridget, until he was between them, and now Bridget was buying him drinks, always with two olives, Lance never glancing at me once, standing there in all his cool elegant splendor while Bridget became animated, and they exchanged meaningful looks, secret smiles, Sheila out-of the picture now and sitting hunched as she stared dolefully into her drink.
Bridget stayed longer than usual, actually getting a little tipsy as the crew fidgeted and fretted and mumbled and grumbled and shambled off to mingle. Sheila and Bridget collected their junk and stuffed it in their purses and stood to leave. Bridget did not look at me or say good-bye as she parted the crowd and disappeared out the door, while Lance leaned insouciently against the bar like a guy posing for a photo shoot. Then he drained his rock glass and left.
The following Friday night Jim did not have to give up his stool for her. There was no Bridget. Nor was there a Bridget on the following Friday. I was working a Saturday night when she came in with Lance. She was decked out like a starlet. Lance was in matching shorts and shirt that showed off his legs and biceps.
There were no stools, so they stood near the dart crew. They ordered the usual and Bridget paid, flashed me her touching smile, tipped a dollar, and then turned to devote her undivided attention to Lance. Their body language and doting eyes made it quite evident they were more than intimate. Eventually they found stools and sat down. They were so into each other they scarcely noticed the crowd around them. All other toms had given up hope. When Bridget ordered fresh drinks and I served them she flashed me a brief, dismissive smile while Lance kept his eyes on her, and soon they were touching one another, stroking hair, nibbling and cuddling.
I went over and nudged Marstrulavich. “Isn’t it wonderful?” I said. “Two beautiful people in love.”
“Maybe it’s lust. You don’t believe in love, do you?”
He sneered. “Sure you do. Instead of just fucking them, you always got to build a case for love. Then they got you by the balls. I’ve seen it before, I’ll see it again. Just be thankful that show-pony took away your true love. Haw haw.”
We glanced over at them. They were whispering to each other, heads closer together. Her hand was always either on his neck, his shoulder, his hand, his thigh. Every minute or so they exchanged little reassuring pecks on the cheek. Finally they worked it up to the point where they were kissing, passionately, like movie stars in a love scene. It eventually got so hot they had to leave,, Lance finishing off his drink and placing his hand on the high curve of her butt as they walked with straight backs out the door.
They started pulling this scene about once a week, usually Saturday nights. What made things worse was, during timeouts of ballgames on TV, this beer commercial of Lance romping around on a nearby beach with a bunch of other beauties and Adonises. One night, sitting at the bar, he looked up and saw himself on TV and Bridget hugged him proudly. That was when I informed Marstrulavich I had to do something.
“So do something.”
I did. I told everybody that Lance dyed his eyebrows white and that his real name was “Dane.” I made sure some volleyballers were within earshot. “Dane knows his eyebrows are the ticket to stardom,” I exclaimed. “He dyes ‘em once a week, cultivates ‘em, combs ‘em out so they’ll be bushy, but not too bushy, but just bushy enough.” I was drunk, of course. “Dane wants to be Robert Redford. Har, har.”
Next time they came to the bar together Lance looked at me for the first time ever. He was grim, upset, scowling, as was Bridget.
“Are you the one started this crap about me dyeing my eyebrows?”
“That’s right, Dane.”
“Dane? What’s this Dane shit?”
“Everybody knows your real name is Dane. You changed it to Lance because you wanna be a movie star.” I looked at Bridget. “He dyes his goddam eyebrows, Bridget. He combs and fluffs them up into perfect tufts, like a damn wuss.”
Lance turned purple. “That’s a lie! That’s slander! I'll sue you, asshole!”
I was livid now, and well-oiled. I’d been drinking tequila during most of my shifts on a regular basis for weeks. Marstrulavich was at my side, leering. “You’re eighty-sixed!” I shouted. “Nobody calls me an asshole.”
“That’s right!” Marstrulavich added. “Especially when YOU’RE the asshole.”
“Dane!” I shouted.
“Dane!” Marstrulavich shouted.
Nobody was on Dane’s side. Most of the crew was growling, enjoying my victory. Bridget glared at me, startling me with a look dark and vicious. I stuck my tongue out at her. She called me a bastard. I don’t know what I called her. Then I picked up the bullhorn used to announce last call.
“DANE DYES HIS EYEBROWS,” I boomed. “HE FLUFFS THEM INTO PERFECT LITTLE TUFTS!”
Dane hustled Bridget out of the bar. Marstrulavich and I had shooters of tequila. We got enormously drunk and stayed after hours with our bouncers and certain select regulars who had hounded after Bridget, and drank, rehashed the story, gloating, rejoicing.
A month or so went by and there was no sign of Bridget or Dane, as we now referred to him. Then one evening Bridget showed up. She was dressed in a sleek body-fitting black dress and black net stockings. But there was something wrong with her. There was no Sheila, no Dane. Between her eyes was a distracted squinch. As always, the crew parted for her, but nobody made a move as she stabbed through the bar on spiked heels and peered this way and that, finally giving up and stalking out.
Several times in the next few weeks she popped in, by herself, looking like a stalking harridan, mouth a corkscrew, eyes cold and hard as she scanned the bar and left. One night she came in wearing her favorite leather britches, and was about to leave when Dane came in the back door with a pouty-mouthed blonde in hotpants on his arm. He was dressed in a striped suit and Borsalino hat. Bridget saw them and pushed and shoved and elbowed and snarled her way through the crowd and confronted Dane, shrilling at him, calling him vile names, crying, then trying to scratch and pummel him, driving poor Dane and the shocked, huge-titted blonde out of the bar and down the alley. The entire crowd of perhaps 100 people spilled out into the alley and watched the spectacle. Last thing we saw was Bridget chasing them down the alley and then up a sidestreet.
Neither of them ever came into the bar again. I was relieved.
Then one night, months later, I was on the prowl, suffering from the usual girl trouble, hitting bar after bar along Manhattan, Hermosa and Redondo beaches. I might have been all the way into Marina Del Rey by cab, for all I knew, for it was a change of scenery, new faces, maybe a strange pickup I needed. Anyway, I was in an old-fashioned lounge, listening to a piano player, and there was Bridget, sitting with a group of men in coats and ties. Her hair was platinum, short and sort of bobbed, like Jean Harlow. Almost immediately my heart started thumping in my chest.
I signaled the bartender. I told him to send her a drink. He rolled his eyes at me, sighed, nodded toward her and her crowd.
“She’s got plenty already, pal,” he said.
“Tell her it’s from Dane.”
He did as he was told. She immediately looked over, eyes widening. She did a double-take. “Leo!” she shouted. “Oh, Leo.” She picked up her purse and came right over. I stood, and she fell against me, hugging me hard, digging her nails into my backside. “Oh Leo, my good old buddy, my sweet Leo, I’ve missed you so.”
I couldn’t talk. I had a hard-on that could’ve chopped down a giant redwood. “I miss the Tides so much. And I miss you so much. You are such a good friend, such a dear, you took such good care of me. Oh, honey, you always looked out for me and protected me from all those men …”
“Yeh, yeh,” was all I could utter as I stroked her hair, her neck, her wet face. “Poor Bridget, poor baby. You okay, little baby?”
“Oh I’m better, Leo. You make me feel better.” She disengaged, finding tissue from her purse, sniffing, wiping at the tears. “I’m trying to be a happy person, I’m trying so hard …”
We sat down on stools, facing each other, knees touching, and she started talking. To this day I don’t know what the hell she was saying. She was all over the place, disconnected, rambling, prattling on and on, and we kept on drinking. By and by we were kissing. Her lips were soft as melting hot honey. She smelled of nuanced jasmine, tasted of Beefeater’s and spearmint, and her delicate, slightly swayed backbone fit perfectly in my arms. I peered up between embraces and the suit-and-tie guys were eyeing me stonily. I tipped the bartender a five and had him call us a cab.
Bridget gave the cabbie directions and we wrestled and grappled, kissing hard, clashing teeth, lapping tongues. We rolled up to a two-story apartment house in a nice neighborhood. It was one of those complexes with a pool and lots of single people. We staggered to an upstairs apartment. Sheila was in the front room on a couch in baggy pajamas, watching a black and white movie.
“Remember Leo?” Bridget said. “My dear Leo?”
Sheila cast an eye at me. “Hi Leo,” she said hollowly, and went back to her movie and cigarette.
Bridget’s room was well-lit and a mess, gobs of clothing were strewn everywhere. Her night table was jumbled with loads of cosmetics and brushes and combs. Little hot white bulbs formed a horseshoe around the mirror above the nightstand. The bed was unmade, stacked with more garments. On a wall were side-by-side movie posters of Monroe and Harlow. The opposite wall was lined with snapshots of men. There must have been nearly 50 of them, almost all handsome hunks. Farthest, on the right, in technicolor, was a cooly posing Dane in his bathing suit at a volleyball net.
Bridget was already undressed. She placed her hands behind her neck, flaring her elbows out, and walked toward me, very, very slowly, undulating and rotating her lips, like a belly dancer. My teeth were chattering.
“Are you going to love me forever?” she cooed in that ultra husky satiny voice, eyes intense, beseeching, gazing past me, perhaps at the wall, perhaps at nothing.
“Yes,” I said. §
David Lewellen writes from Silverlake where he works on sets for the movie industry and moonlights at a coffee house.