Lonely Hearts Club Band

I was on a mission. One of my favorite local bands was playing and I was late, thanks to Hollywood's downtown Mardi Gras street festival. The chaos outside Club M barely registered as I ducked between bead-laden drunks to get to the neighborhood bar where, through the storefront windows, I could see band members moving equipment.

"Did The Bikes already play?" I gasped, rubbing the skinned hand that had braced my fall when I'd tripped over the curb.

Normally, I would reserve this sort of urgency for things like a late period or an editorial deadline, but you see, a long distance relationship and a tight budget had severely restricted my sensual indulgences. In short, I was a girl in need of some pleasure, and I knew The Bikes could deliver. The gig would provide both guilt- and admission-free satisfaction.

Average folks who'd gotten freaky for Mardi Gras and a normally freaky band crowd — who looked normal by comparison — had converged on the sports bar. As for the girl wearing the raccoon costume head, I wasn't sure where she fit in. It was weird enough to fit in either camp.

"I can officially tell you, I know nothing," the guy standing next to me replied, channeling Sergeant Schultz, and then, suddenly he was ready to make a statement. "I've been hanging out here long enough to be able to tell you they'd be better off with more jukebox and less local bands."

"Yeah, I know," I laughed, remembering a gig I had played there when I'd made my electric debut and inflicted my gifts on a patient, supportive audience.

A couple of women in hearts-and-flowers balloon hats sailed in to use the restroom rather than the portable toilets outside. I asked if they'd had to bare their breasts for the oodles of multicolored strands around their necks.

"Just my cleavage," the blond replied with a bit of bravado, lifting a handful of beads off her chest. "It's definitely a lot of... What do you call bling that's plastic? Pling!"

Now that we had that settled, I could turn my attention to the stage where Raccoon Girl was playing her Hello Kitty guitar while a guy behind the drums squeezed high pitched bleats out of a plastic recorder. It was "experimental music" and seemed to be proving Schultz's hypothesis about most local bands. Thankfully, it was brief.

The Bikes took the stage, and the foursome launched into their unique sound — symphonic swamp rock, thanks to the addition of a violin to the usual rock guitars, bass, and drums. I soaked in the sound that was both psychedelic and dissonant — a sort of urban sawgrass rather than country bluegrass.

During the set I forgot all about my stinging hand and my lonely heart. I was so engrossed in the music that I ignored the dude who intentionally bumped into me several times and peered over my shoulder to get my attention. I wasn't that desperate for company.

The glass-breaking wail of Mariah Carey shattered my trance. Someone had commandeered the jukebox in objection to the local band invasion. Raccoon Girl and friends pulled the plug on the offending interruption.

"Nobody knows 'Freebird!'" retorted one of The Bikes between songs when the request was shouted at them from the crowd.

The folks in beads and feather boas down in front, including Schultz, seemed resigned to the night's entertainment. One woman sported a purple velvet pimp hat that flashed "Let's Party!" And evidently nothing says "party" like building a pyramid of empty beer bottles and cigarette packs.

After the Bikes' set, I met Jimmy, roadie to South Florida bands, and his friend, who introduced himself as Fausto, the drummer for Tongues of the Heartworm, who would be playing later.

Fausto? After Faustus, who made a deal with the devil?

"Yeah, people assume it's my 'gothic' name," he said, confirming that it was, in fact, his given name.

Perhaps the association explained the rest of the conversation.

"My drug habit got so bad, I had to leave the States," he confessed.

"Because they don't have drugs overseas?" I laughed.

"Because they're cheaper!" Jimmy retorted.

As I wondered about the spiral steel staircase beside me (it ascends to the dart room), Raccoon Girl got back on the stage. Opening now for Mr. Entertainment and the Pookiesmackers, she squawked Alice Cooper's "Eighteen," which I found out later was especially appropriate since it happened to be her 18th birthday.

"What's a pookie?" I asked Bikes guitarist Dan, suddenly wondering if the term was more than just a pet name I'd once been called by an ex whom I affectionately called Dorkface.

"Anything you want it to be, but I think it has something scatalogical to it," he replied.

At least he thought so.

"It's definitely smut-related," said the woman in the pink stocking cap and black wool overcoat, when I asked her if she knew what the term meant. "Something akin to tapping the ass," she concluded with a playful smirk, leaning toward me as a sort of full-body wink.

Thanks to a set of songs about other lowbrow subjects, including cocaine and laundromats, the Pookiesmackers cleared out the Mardi Gras crowd. The only remainders were some molted boa feathers and a small green glove, like the remains of a muppet drama where Kermit had thrown down the gauntlet.

The final band, The Tongues of the Heartworm, packed the place with a crowd of Gen-Xers, most of whom rocked trendy eyewear with a nerd-chic sensibility. All old friends, they were an insular clique — polite but cool — who kept me at a distance. The only person who tried to make contact was a neatly coiffed, blazer-clad gentleman.

When I commented that he looked out of place, he explained, "I keep a studio above the place."

An artist? He didn't seem the type to volunteer that he's unable to afford more than a single room, but before I had time to ask, a woman came over and stood silently, but meaningfully, beside him.

I took the hint.

Attempts to talk to a table full of women also was met with icy — though outwardly civil — reserve garnished with a twist of suspicion, especially when I inquired about their connection with the band.

"Oh, you're Fausto's girlfriend," I said to the dark-haired one, name-dropping to try to establish myself as an insider.

"His wife," she corrected.

Was that the welcome wagon that had been in that multi-car pile up on the Interstate? I exhaled a sigh of surrender to my solitary state. Once again, without being obviously hooked up or available to hook up, I was having difficulty making any connection at all.

And since a group of guys who had commandeered the pool tables in back had also fumigated the place with the clouds of pimp stink (the most effective form of Night Rider repellent), the night ended in an olfactory smack-down of a girl once known as Pookie.

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Marya Summers