Entering the Twilight Zone
"Good for you," Susie says when I walk into the bar of the Entrada Motel (509 N. Federal Hwy., Hollywood) and point out that my car is parked in a lot with a tow-away sign. She warms up a bit when she cards my male companion and tells him he looks like her 8-year-old son.
A country song is playing. Susie is casual as can be while standing in the pit behind the bar in a white sweater, black slacks, and white sneakers. She's picking at her dinner on a plastic picnic plate. Sheldon, a slight East African man, is sitting in front of her with an African gray parrot on his shoulder.
Across the bar, there's a bald white man with a mustache. The middle of his chest is visible behind the open fourth button of his long-sleeved shirt.
He turns from a conversation and points a fork toward Susie, who grabs it. He says, "Now I can tell everyone that I forked you." A blond guy in a Nike hat who's sitting halfway down the bar disappears into the adjoining pool room and soon returns with a big smirk. He holds out a white plastic spoon, and Susie grabs it. "Now, I can say that I spooned you."
Susie, who has the easy confidence and stature of the clean-up batter on a softball team, rolls her eyes and says to me, "These are my friends."
The drop ceiling overhead woofs and the whole bar shakes when the bass from Pink Floyd's "Time" kicks in. If you played a bass-heavy beat from Speakerboxx in here, the edifice would crumble.
Susie's forking away in between smoke breaks, and she's leaning on the edge of the bar across from me. "Don't mind my butt in your face," she jokes.
Cocoa walks down Sheldon's arm onto the counter and circles Susie's dinner. The barkeep points her finger at the bird, warning him. Cocoa flips his little parrot head to the side so he can get a good look at Susie, then walks to the edge of the counter, squeezes his claw into a ball, and drops a little white load onto the floor.
The Entrada Motel bar is like one of the crazy, pieced-together drinking houses in Charles Dickens' world. The fishing-boat-sized bar top fills the room, leaving a little aisle around it for the larger-than-life personalities to squeeze into the black, vinyl chairs. The mirrors are smudgy, and if the football game is not drowning out your thoughts, then the heavy pours and blaring rock music will do the job. It's the quotidian motel bar, the type of place being wiped clean from our tropical landscape, where no-frill clientele waste the day away reaching the bottom of the bottle one conversation at a time.
On another day, about 2 p.m., bright-faced Regina is behind the bar. She's been serving drinks since 7 a.m. with a cute, half smile that matches her blond, curly locks. "Yesterday," she says, pointing to a new bartender sitting down the bar a bit in a bikini and overalls, "she found a dead body in a car just up the street."
The off-duty bartender looks up and says, "It looked like he did it to himself."
Then I start talking to Morris, a pleasant, soft-spoken black man with slicked-back hair. He asks me what I do, and I disclose my purpose at the Entrada. Morris goes out to his car, grabs a New Times, and starts critiquing my club descriptions.
Over comes John, a round-faced, dark-haired man making his way home drink by drink after celebrating his 30th birthday at a nudie bar. He looks like a typical frat boy in a long-sleeved, black-and-gray-striped shirt with a collar and Marlins visor. He's stumped by the fact that anyone would want to write about the outright-divey Entrada. He says this aloud, calling the place a dump, even though he has an open tab for three or four folks at the bar.
Everyone here knows the Entrada is kind of dumpy, which is what makes it real. Morris and John tell me that I missed the action. Had I been there at 10 a.m., I would have seen the girl who kept trying to take her clothes off and the Mafia-looking guy who was getting a little too excited by the spectacle and had to be tossed out.
John tells that Morris New Times is a gay paper.
John doesn't seem to mean anything by it, but when he holds the paper up and asks if anyone in the bar reads it, he gets a bunch of nays from the overtly straight crowd, so he concludes that it's gay. "Look at the advertisements," he insists, pointing one out.
"That's a picture of a sexy woman," Morris says.
John rebuts, "Gay men love women."
A voice across the bar, hidden from my view by draft taps, challenges him. "Hey, everyone does their own thing! What difference does it make if it's a gay paper or not?"
And the half of the bar that's paying attention is like, "Yeah, what difference does it make?"
The voice across the bar says, "You're telling me you wouldn't want to be in bed with two women who are eating each other out while you're having sex with them?"
John shows no signs of responding in the negative.
"Well," the voice says, "that makes you gay."
A woman with long blond hair says, "I'm a lesbian."
Nobody's totally sure of where anybody else is coming from, but there is a general purging of homophobic sentiment from the Entrada, which at first glance might seem like a roughneck hotbed for anti-gay sentiment.
Next thing I know, John's redirected the whole bar's conversation to the delusional extracurriculars of his college days: "My buddy had an assignment to read [Henry David Thoreau's] Walden. And so he was like, 'Hey guys, we're taking a road trip.' So, we smoked up and got in the car with our six-foot bong. We must have looked like a bunch of gaylords hitting this bong at Walden Pond saying, 'I bet Walden did this. '"
Everyone's chuckling, but Budweiser Bob -- so named for always drinking Bud behind the bar during his 42 years as a bartender -- is still slumped in his chair. He's depressed, having lost several close family members and his savings in the past couple of years, which, he says, has changed the way friends have treated him. "I've got $5,000 that I've given out to people up and down these streets, and now these people turn the other way when they see me. Some of them are good, but most of them don't want to know me." He apologizes for laying his woes on me.
With the voice of experience, he starts talking about local bars like Sneakers that charge too much for their liquor. "People ask me why I come to the Entrada. I can get a shot of Jägermeister here for $2," he gestures toward an empty shot glass. "At one of those places, it'd cost me $7." He drops his head back toward his chest when he's done talking.
The crowd files in and out. Conversation fluxes, heating up the whole smoky bar every so often, then wanes back into chit-chat.
A big, gray-mustachioed man comes in and stuffs a chair to capacity. He's staying at the motel for a couple of months while working on a nearby construction site. "I told them to put me in a hotel with a bar," he says. "It works out just right. I just come down here in the morning and have breakfast."
"Wait a minute," I say. "But they can't serve food in smoking bars."
He holds up his bottle of suds for everyone to see, says "breakfast," and laughs.
And then we all go, "Har, har, har. Har, har, har," and the light in the sky is only just starting to dim.
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