Gator Is a Vegetable
There are days that just fucking suck. Maybe you notice some weird rash after a recent one-night stand. Maybe you lose your job and come home early to find Mom in bed with the BF. Maybe you back your F-150 over your dog. Whatever; shit happens. And the ensuing bad mood can stick to you like sweaty underwear in the Florida humidity. Sunday, my house was a mess, it was raining again, the cable was out, and running had given me serious shin splints. Minor, but enough to place me solidly in a sour mood.
As far as I'm concerned, whether you're stuck with herpes or local programming, we all know the best cure for the blues is booze. But I never thought you could combat blues with more blues until I went to Alligator Alley (1321 E. Commercial Blvd., Fort Lauderdale) that night to throw back some beers and listen to blues band J.P. Soars and the Red Hots. Good music and the delightful haze of an ale-induced buzz? It's enough to combat even the soggiest pit of self-pity.
Ambiance: Alligator Alley is the kind of place where you can sink into a well-worn barstool and disappear in passing weather fronts of cigar smoke. With its brown tile and dull green-and-yellow walls, it's the perfect place to sit, feel sorry for yourself, and wind up completely and delightfully shitfaced. Just what your overpaid therapist prescribed, right?
As great a place as this hole-in-the-wall blues bar is to wallow in woe, it's also not bad for reveling in Florida state pride. Its walls boast an eclectic array of souvenirs turned décor, from canvas maps of Florida, a dirty flip-flop, some black-and-white photographs of mustached tough guys posing with gunned-down gators, and a Florida vanity plate that reads "NATIVE." Though families and couples have come and gone, the Alley's core clientele is a pack of tanned, grizzled guys who wear ball caps and flip-flops and chomp down baskets of fried alligator. Guy guys. Some, I was to learn, even nurtured that most persistent of manly instincts: Aim a gun, shoot a quadruped.
Drinks (and food): Being at a blues bar, I figured there was only one sensible drink option: blueberry ale. One tall glass of that stuff, which tasted like a batch of Grandma's fresh-baked blueberry muffins and felt like a buzzin' punch in the gut, chased my blues away and dried up any lingering puddles of melancholia.
I brought along my buddies Brantley and Mike, who can both appreciate a little inner turmoil. Brantley, a red-blooded carnivore, decided to taste-test some fried gator. When his order came, he passed it around.
"No way," I said. "Weren't you originally going to have a salad?"
"Gator's green, so it counts as a vegetable," he said, his mouth full of breaded alligator flesh. "Come on, try it, pussy."
My hand shot out, and before my compatriots knew what'd hit them, I popped a piece of fried reptile into my mouth. As a vegetarian, I could never admit that it was tasty. But I will note that Brantley polished off the entire plate like Rover polishing off the filet mignon while the family is fiddling outside with the barbecue grill.
Customers: I approached Bill, who was wiry, tan, and sitting perched at the bar. He sat steadily draining alcohol and simultaneously bullshitting with the ever-present burly, bald bartenders. Though alone, he had a wide smile and bright eyes — possibly alcohol-induced — and didn't look the least bit depressed. As the blues band assembled its equipment on the small stage near the window, someone tested the drum, and Bill ambled toward the sound.
"Where are you off to?" I demanded after a quick introduction.
"I heard the drum," he told me. "I love drums. When I was young, I played the coronet. My sister played clarinet; my brother played guitar."
Sounds like someone's dad had Jackson 5-like aspirations.
"Cultured, eh?" I said. "Where ya from?"
"Born in Broward General Hospital, third story, west wing," he said proudly.
"What do you like besides drums and drinking?" I asked.
"Oh, I love to shoot deer," he said. There's no accounting for masculine instincts.
"Not me," I said quickly. "I don't even eat meat." Except an occasional nibble of gator.
"I've seen little ladies as cute as you shoot deer," he said, motioning like he was leveling a gun. "Their daddies brought 'em up that way." My daddy only brought me up to shoot beers. And, shrinking away from Bill, I was going to need another one soon.
Finally, blues band J.P. Soars and the Red Hots took the stage, and bartender Ray tacked an additional $5 cover charge onto my tab. The price apparently includes an opportunity to eavesdrop on the band members' high-toned stage patter.
"We're not gonna play here after football season starts," said bass player Kilmo, also Alligator Alley's owner. "We'll be at a secret party at my house, and you can't get in unless you know the password."
"Douchebag," a bartender volunteered.
"That's a password," Kilmo said. "Just not the password."
"You suck!" Bill called out.
"Asshole," Kilmo shot back with a grin, the band broke into mellow blues, bringing the joint to life and sending Bill dancing past our table.
Shots: When J.P. Soars and the Red Hots took a cigarette/booze break, Kilmo saw me scrawling in my notebook and wandered over. He had dark hair that curled out from under his Toronto Blue Jays cap, kind of resembling a cross between pirate and stoner.
"Are you drawing portraits?" he asked.
"I couldn't draw a portrait to save my life," I confessed. He motioned for the pad, which I surrendered. He peered closely at me for a few seconds before putting the pen to paper, drawing a few quick lines, and presenting his masterpiece. He'd drawn a stick version of me, complete with long flowing stick-hair.
"I wish I was that skinny," I said. "So, you're no artist. Bass and bar aside, what you got goin' for you?"
"I like sports," he said thoughtfully. "Like kayaking and man-versus-nature stuff."
"No football? What kind of real man are you?" I teased.
"Straight," he said. "Sports where athletes get paid big bucks and slow down our economy even more, that's not my thing. Guys watch that to escape reality and to let out their homoeroticism."
"That seems both true and borderline offensive," I observed.
"Eventually I offend everyone," he shrugged.
"I'm not offended," I offered.
"Yet," he said. He paused, digging deep for that special vein of Kilmo obstreperousness. "I tried to be gay," he offered. "I figured it would double my chances of getting laid." His face turned sour, as if he had bitten into a piece of unripened fruit. "I thought maybe I just didn't like all the hair, but a friend told me she knew some hairless guys. I realized, no, that wasn't it. I just don't like the cock and balls."
I gave Kilmo high marks on the tell-'em-things-they-don't-want-to-know scale, veering subtly toward shit-kickin' offensive. He scurried off to prepare us some ice-cold lime-drop shots. We toasted to "creative endeavors," and, true, the shots went down delicious and smooth. Blues? How can anyone have the blues when there are shots to be had?
Now Kilmo was back onto team sports.
"The only team I'm loyal to is the New York Yankees, since I'm originally from New York," Kilmo continued. It wasn't lost on me that this pure Floridian hot spot was owned by a Northerner.
"Then why are you wearing a Blue Jays cap?" I asked.
"It matches my outfit," he said, gesturing to the blue hues of his clothes. "Where's your pen? You're not even taking notes."
"That's what my brain is for," I said.
"That's how women are; they change stuff," he said. "Men are logical, but women are so emotional, always changing their minds."
"Now I'm offended," I announced.
Kilmo and the blues boys played long into the night, and as I swayed out of the bar, I felt blues-leavened love for not just local programming but for pretty much any asshole I stumbled upon ("I love you, man!"). With a stomach full of booze and a heart full of alcohol-induced affection for Florida and everything else, I suggested a late-night trip to the beach. I knew I'd be back to being a nit-picking bitch in the morning. Might as well enjoy this shitty-day-turned-good while it lasted.
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