My evening started out with 4 of the most beautifully funny people I know and ended in the bar where my uncle spent his coherent drinking years. The N&H is now a gay bar. When my uncle was the star there, it was the farthest thing from a gay bar that you can imagine. It was a working class- linoleum floor- florescent lights- juke box in the corner that no one ever listened to- type of place. It was not a themed bar, it was not a bar that average people would wander into. It was a bar for the locals. It was a low class version of Cheers. And my drunk uncle was a star there.
He was still driving bus for a living at that point but his real job was holding down his end of the bar. They loved him there. His family had moved to a whole other state. But my uncle being resourceful, and using his last reserves of charm, found himself a girlfriend. She was a lovely woman. Red head, big boobs and very, very sweet. She had the mentality of Vera with an essence of Flo. Quite a combination.
She came with a son. My “cousin”. Now, as a child I had a HUGE extended family. But as the elders started to die off, the rest of the cousins started to drift. I wound up having more “family” than family. I had “aunts” and “uncles” and “cousins” who were not related to me in any way shape or form. But as we were from a northern state, I was taught to call my elders “aunt” or “uncle” as a sign of respect kinda like they say “Miss” or “Mister” in the south.
So, my uncle moved in my “aunt”, and her son became my “cousin”. My “cousin” just happened to be black. But that wasn’t something you’d want to discuss. We didn’t discuss the fact that my uncle was a drunk and we didn’t discuss that my “cousin” was black. In fact, it might have even been denied at some point. He didn’t have a father and his mother was obviously white so……
He did have the hugest afro anyone had ever seen and chocolate colored skin (year round….he wasn’t just tan). But I guess those things could be indicators of some other race? Yeah, I didn’t think so. But it wasn’t polite to speak of these things….drunk uncles, black cousins, girlfriends with gigantic boobs, politics, homosexuality and income. I was about 6 when I learned these taboos. I bet that is why when someone else sees something strange or obvious at the same time I do, their reaction is always one of shock or awe and my reaction is, well, nothing. I mean, I wasn’t supposed to react, because that is rude and could embarrass someone or something. Whatever.
So, my “cousin” was getting confirmed in the catholic church. We got into our sunday best and went to a huge cathedral downtown. It was the first time I had ever been in such a beautiful church and sat through an entire roman catholic service. I was about 10 years old and I sat between my mother and father. Everytime the priest rang the bell my dad would lean into me and say something like “here comes the ice cream truck!” or “round one!” or “who’s at the door? Jesus?” which would crack me up and make my mother give us the Evil Eye.
Everyone was so proud of my “cousin”. And after this seemingly normal right of passage, when the other families were headed out to fancy restaurants or to their homes for a huge party, we headed to the N&H. They had set up the folding tables with some paper table clothes and they had peanuts in a dish and pickled eggs. I believe someone brought a cake. That was my first time in a bar. They didn’t shut it down for us either. Because everyone who went to that bar was “family” to my uncle and my “cousin”. Half the drunks in the city were there to celebrate my “cousin” becoming an adult member of the church. Good times. My grandma sat with her purse on her lap the whole time, my mother tried to organize everyone and my dad left as he had to work. My uncle was three sheets to the wind and I think my “cousin” left. But it was fun. I got to play some songs on the juke box and dance.
Tonight, we walked in and there were all sorts of good looking people there. There was loud, pulsating music and disco balls and a stripper pole. No where was there even a hint of the good ole N&H. Except the bar was still in the same place and they had Charlies Angels playing on the various tv’s around the bar…I believe it was the same episode that was playing on the black and white tv behind the bar all those years ago. I had a coke, just like I did when I was a kid (the bartender back then didn’t know how to make a Shirley Temple which was the biggest disappointment of the night when I was 10). There were no peanuts or pickled eggs, there was no drunk uncle being the life of the party. There was no spot for a little kid to show off her smooth dance moves to These Boots Are Made For Walkin in the corner and there was NO juke box.
Now, my uncle would have felt right at home there anyway because there was still alcohol and where there was alcohol there was my uncle. The gay men and women wouldn’t have phased him in the least. To each his own as long as they had vodka!!!
Me? I had a great time, last night and 27 years ago. Last I heard, my “cousin” had joined the military and was doing great. My “aunt” took a job with the airlines and got to fly for free. I have to assume all of the patrons on the N&H have long since passed away. Beer, picked eggs and peanuts are NOT the keys to longevity. Rather than being entertained by drunks telling dirty jokes, we watched a woman (we think, it was questionable) work the stripper pole and a bachelorette party do their Zumba routine (which I believe is illegal as not one of them had on their licensed Zumba gear….I was tempted to call the Zumba police and have them deported, then I remembered we were not in Arizona). It was sad to know that one of my uncle’s second homes was lost, but at least it went for a good cause!!
Rest in Peace N&H….you were a fine bar, well lit and friendly, even at 2am when dragging drunk uncles out. And gay bars, unlike 3d gay porn, are fun and funny, like a sophisticated drunk uncle. Long live the gay bar!!!