Winedale nation

A man, his guitar, and a last-chance bar on Greenville Ave.

Whenever I announced a Ladies Choice "Dance With Lance," it was Tara who obliged him. She was the Winedale's top drink scammer, 21 years old, blushing on Lance's shoulder, misfits at the high school prom they never attended. Lance's song was "Sleepwalk," a slow, crotch-grinding chestnut I played in Greenwich Village with the doo-wop group City Limits. (Back then, our diesel-dyke impresario of several lesbian cabarets softly professed, "I kissed my first goil to that song in high school.")

Follow-up Winedale dance announcements included a Necrophiliac's Choice, as well as singalong sections isolating just the ladies, then just the men, then the ex-cons, those out on parole, those with one eye or leg, etc. This was no joke. The Winedale resembled the Howdy Doody Peanut Gallery, shot to hell.

Pedro never cracked a smile at my smart-ass routines. Though he'd outlasted my previous three bartenders, I noticed his patience thinning. He was Born to Bounce--especially older, enfeebled violators who came for the music, not the beer. Order a water and he would begin the umpire shtick. Ultimatums came quicker. He communed with a few scowling cab drivers at the back of the bar, boasting how he bounced out truckers and bikers twice his size at previous bar jobs. The cabbies returned with tales of customer altercations that led to fistfights and macings. Pedro's corner turf became a separate Winedale nation from my acid vaudeville show up front.

"Lance could make something of himself," Pedro often complained, "but he don't want to work." If Lance arrived without the eyepatch, Pedro disapproved. He considered this uncouth grooming, improper etiquette during his shift. He reminded people that he ran this bar, and how all the street people knew not to mess with Pedro. But he usually kept his distance from Lance. "That guy can take care of himself. I wouldn't want to mess with him."

The Winedale is a shabby oasis, detached from the club circuit. I prefer its sublime natural acoustics to most rock clubs. If a stranger interrupts my set making unrealistic demands ("Play some Smothers Brothers, goddammit!"), a protective layer of hobos will form to my defense. "Play your own shit!" cry my alcoholic defenders, deflecting James Taylor requests from SMU students.

My three ultimate taboos: James Taylor, Cat Stevens, and Jim Croce. This unholy trinity constitutes the musically illiterate's microscopic vision of what someone with an acoustic guitar is supposed to cover.

I always felt secure that if I ever ended up overnight at Lew Sterrett, some guardian hobo from the Winedale would surely be there. Most likely Lance, who saw jail as a paid vacation from the streets. He awoke behind a dumpster most mornings, happy as a lark, amazed to open his eyes and hear the chirping of birds.

"Always thankful no one waltzed by with a crowbar to bash my head in," he told me. He ripped tubes from his body when he awoke in hospitals, propositioned nurses, and chuckled his way down the back stairs with stolen drugs--anxious to make Monday at the Winedale.

Lance claimed to have shared a cell in California with David Crosby. If his drug and legal problems weren't enough, Crosby must have been bombarded by Lance's song lyrics. He pulled crumpled sheets of paper from his trousers, rattling off fresh verses composed in jail, full of real-life hardship and hobo angst. He'd break into a thumb-popping hard sell, slinging lyrics at me while I was onstage, in the middle of a guitar solo, or between songs. Since Crosby, Stills, Nash & Lance never materialized, he hoped to join forces with me.

A few homeless regulars, disenfranchised though they were, felt compelled to go to bat for my career. One old leprechaun, reminiscent of Walter Huston in Treasure of Sierra Madre, showed up with a million-dollar record deal in the works. He enlisted backing from McDonald's, whom he alleged had finally warmed to my anti-jingle, "Thanksgiving at McDonald's in Times Square." The McDonald's leprechaun claimed to be tight, in his pre-wino days, with McDonald's founder Ray Kroc. Every week he returned with progress reports and recording studio dates. Then someone recognized the wino from his days handing out discount Chicken McNuggets coupons in the West End. His sphere of influence ended there.

Called on the delusion, he cackled so hard I thought he'd need a straitjacket. Lance, who himself had some TV deal in the works for me, wasn't charmed, and punched the poor guy out, which sent him scurrying off from the Winedale forever.

Pedro's nerves disintegrated slow but steady, like shock absorbers on a New York taxi. One night a young girl got onstage to sing "Roadhouse Blues." It was her first time onstage; she dreamt of being a folk singer. Some little stone freak hippie in front became overly taken with her. "She's great!" he exploded, continuing to applaud after everyone else finished. "She's great...and I suck! She's great, and we all suck! This place sucks. You suck, I suck, and fuck us all!"

At surreal moments of truth like this, when someone was about to go over the edge, the whole bar would come to a hush. Pedro took charge, hands upon hips, not about to take shit. "All right, pipe down." (Strike one.)

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