Sunday, February 05, 2006

Shirtless Al Green says, "Hey baby, don't you go into that fake Spanish place, it ain't worth a second of your time..."

My good friend Tara and I had modest Saturday night goals. Cocktails in a pleasant atmosphere, this was all we were after. We weren’t asking for the Ritz. We weren’t looking for a thrilling floor show featuring waltzing tigers and transsexual dwarves. I don’t think we’re an especially demanding pair. I think we both would have been happy with a sufficiently heated room with some fancy lighting, a bar, and a stereo playing songs we didn’t hate.

The problem is that we live in Minneapolis. So we should have known we were bound for disappointment. There are, by my reckoning, approximately six bars in Minneapolis which can be ranked as “acceptable” or above. Since my friends and I tend to go to these establishments often, we frequently feel the need to “branch out”, to go someplace new and untried to avoid being bored by the same old jukeboxes, the same old specialties, the same old waitstaff. Usually, this is a mistake, as Tara and I discovered last night, when we kicked various options around for awhile before finally deciding on a “Spanish” themed place named La Bodega. This bar/restaurant combo sits like a smug and mascara-smeared debutante on the corner of Lake and Lyndale, an intersection of previously reliable hipness.

Oh, how things can change. Because the first thing that hit us as we walked in the door was that they were playing “Love Shack” very loud. And it wasn’t just “very loud” in the usual noisy bar sense, but “very loud” in the airplane engine sense. The nasal wail of Fred Schnieder was bursting from the speakers with such force that a layer of skin was stripped from my face and several thousand of my hairs actually died from the pain. Even stranger than this was the fact that the patrons seemed to be enjoying this abuse. They all had big, cosmetically-whitened smiles on their faces as they screamed at the top of their lungs at people sitting not six inches from them. Some even got up to do wobbly, arrhythmic caucasian dances, as though the destruction of their inner ear was something to celebrate.

Undaunted, we found an empty table on a riser near the window. It was probably left vacant because it sat below a pipe which spat frigid air down on us. Now, were we in some sultry corner of Spain (which nothing in the place’s decor at all recalled, by the way), it would perhaps be pleasing to have a cold breeze playing in our hair as we engaged in witty conversation and tapas-consumption. But we weren’t in Andalucia. We weren’t on Ibiza. We were in goddamn Minnesota in February and it was motherfucking freezing out. The chilly wind was not amusing.

But we were troopers. We decided to stick it out. We sat there, freezing and mortified, unable to do much more than just look out at the room, seeing as the overpowering din of “Love Shack” made it impossible to speak. Noble martyrs were we, martyrs to the cause of expensive mixed drinks. Expensive mixed drinks it took the tiny, mukluk-clad waitress quite a long time to bring to us. And when they arrived, they were wrong. And when they arrived right, Tara’s wasn’t very good. At least we managed to convince the server to turn down the music for us.

Now that we could once again talk to each other, Tara immediately suggested that we burn the place down. She isn’t the sort to turn to arson on a whim, either. She’s a graduate student and a kind young lady. I nodded at the idea, but inside I was uncomfortable with it. I awkwardly changed the subject, but I could tell from the malevolent glow in her eyes that she was still plotting a mighty blaze, one furious enough to consume even the memory the place. Nevertheless, I couldn’t hold this against her. By this time I had taken enough looks around the bar to realize that we were surrounded by people who could only be adequately described as “tools”. The men were the sort who measure their human worth by how spiky they can make their hair and the women were the kind who laugh at everything those men say as they suffer all sorts of neurotic fears that their cleavage isn’t being displayed to its best effect.

An appalling bunch, I must say. But one you quickly grow familiar with if you like to “do the town” in Minneapolis. Nightlife here is, in a word, horrible. Decent places are spread out with miles between them while awful, poseur-packed “club experiences” proliferate like sores on a syphilitic’s hinder. Minneapolis likes to think of itself as a glamorous, cutting-edge city, but it’s not. It just embarrasses itself when it tries. Nowadays, we specialize in these atrociously pompous nightclubs that preen like they’re in West Hollywood, a West Hollywood full of chipmunk-cheeked suburbanites out to “get crazy” in their timid, socially-acceptable way. They play awful music, charge awful cover fees, and usually have silly one word names like “Myth” and “Fahrenheit” and “Escape”. They should be called “Gauche” and “Joke” and “Boredom” for all the fun they are. They’re the sorts of spots that can only be enjoyed ironically which is, I have to say, no real enjoyment at all. A maven from Miami or the East Village or even Kansas City would go to them and snicker at the sad, sad affectation of our after hours scene. It’s like Applebee’s with mood lighting. I simply can’t insult it enough.

But I’m getting away from the story. We had, at this point, almost accommodated ourselves to this absurd, thoroughly non-Spanish place. We ordered desserts and enjoyed them, even though they were ludicrously overpriced. We made amiable conversation about a wide variety of subjects. The magic of alcohol was taking hold and, in me at least, the bad feelings were gradually diminishing.

Then, however, came the Unbearable Moment. They started playing “Kung Fu Fighting”. I don’t like “Kung Fu Fighting”, but this–in itself–isn’t unbearable. It’s just that they played it at a volume that made the previous “Love Shack” assault seem like a gentle whisper. It was “Kung Fu Fighting” in excelsis, “Kung Fu Fighting” at decibels that could kill a domesticated bird. Tara and I stared at each other in shock and dismay. Foolishly, we looked out at the bar, thinking that perhaps others would be as mortified by this as we were. But no, no–they were digging it. They loved “Kung Fu Fighting” played so loud you could feel it in your spleen, they got up and hopped around, they cheered and banged their hands together.

“Let’s go,” Tara hollered at me and I agreed. Getting our check paid took another eternity, though. We had to hear all of “Kung Fu Fighting”. Every miserable fucking second of it. I hate “Kung Fu Fighting” now. It’s the worst song in the history of music. It should be banned by the Geneva Convention. There is no longer any excuse for “Kung Fu Fighting”.

After we settled our bill, we bolted out into the frigid night. The Herkheimer was right across the street and that place is pretty good. We decided to do what we should have done in the first place and went there. They were playing Al Green. You can get away with playing Al Green at steel-factory volumes. That’s because Al Green is a genius. With him cooing and squealing in the background, we sat at the bar and watched weirdos on television playing poker and talked through the trauma we had gone through. It took awhile, but I think we both came to the conclusion that life was still worth living.

Al Green is my hero, by the way.