Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Bad Influence

Last week Natasha and I were out at a karaoke bar, preparing our set list for the evening’s theme, which was “Fire.” Seamus takes his karaoke very seriously, so he likes to mandate themes, which must be strictly adhered to each week.

“How about We Didn’t Start the Fire?”

“Oooh – good one! I think I’m gonna do Hot Stuff and Ring of Fire.”


The bartender came over to get our drink order – I asked for my usual scotch and soda, and Natasha ordered… a ginger ale.


This was a bit out of character for Nat, since her tastes typically lean toward vodka tonics or Cosmopolitans. Concerned for her well-being, I chimed in: “Hey? What gives? We come to a bar and you order a ginger ale? You sick or something?”

Nat dug around in her purse looking for her wallet, and said, “I need to stop drinking for a while. I’m getting a little out of control.”

“What are you talking about? How are you out of control?”

“Jen – ever since you moved to Chicago, my health has been suffering. I used to cook at home more often, work out more, take vitamins…”

“Whoa, whoa, whoa! Surely you aren’t blaming me for your vitamin intake?! Nat – no one is more concerned with your iron levels than I am, and you know it!”

“No, no. You’re right. I’m just saying that lately when you and I hang out, things tend to get a little crazy.”

“Crazy? Look – who helped mend the fences between you and Seamus so we could all hang out together? Who started the Roll the Die Tuesday Night Supper Club and logged all our restaurant reviews into my Sony Clié PDA, which was subsequently stolen in the robbery? So we indulge in the fire water and take Lambada lessons every now and then. We’re all having fun, no one’s been thrown in jail, so what’s the big deal?”

“Jenny, need I remind you of the spectacle we made of ourselves last weekend?”

“I’m certain that I have no idea what you are talking about, Natasha.”

“The leather bar? Furry G-string? Any of this ringing a bell?”

Oddly, it did ring a bell. A soft and distant bell, that with each passing moment became louder and louder. And the longer I reminisced, the more that bell started to sound like the booming bass and pounding dance rhythms of DJ Warden spinning at The Penitentiary, one of Chicago’s oldest leather bars.

Here’s how it all started: Natasha’s boyfriend, Farnsworth, invited us to see his friend’s band play at a local bar. Nat told me it was some sort of benefit performance for the Tsunami victims – and if there’s anything I like more than live music, it’s live music with a cause.

As Nat told me about this philanthropic event, she smirked a bit and said, “But I just want to give you a heads-up. The band is playing at a leather bar.”

“Oh, okay. So, are we talking the biker kind of leather bar, or the gay kind of leather bar?”

“The gay kind. Or maybe gay bikers, I’m not exactly clear on the details.”

“That’s cool, but am I going to get thrown out if I wear my Gap jeans and a turtleneck?”

“No, it’ll be totally cool. Farnsworth says it’s a really inclusive type of a bar. I’m sure it will be a diverse crowd.”

“Will I see men in buttless chaps?”


“Are you sure?”


I have since learned not to trust Natasha’s judgment on such matters of fashion.

Nat and I pushed the doors open like a couple of gunslingers walking into a saloon, and were met with a veritable sea of black leather. The place smelled like a chummy mix of new car, cigarette smoke, and Red Bull. I hadn’t seen so many studded leather sailor hats since Seamus took 2nd Place in that Village People impersonator contest a few years ago.

As soon as the band stepped on stage, everyone went wild. The crowd sang along to the old classics: Everybody Loves a Muscle Boi and There’s a Porn Star Shining Down on Me. The bass was booming, people were jumping, the scotch was flowing freely, leather was crunching. And best of all, I knew I was helping make a difference to people halfway across the world.

Natasha had to shake my shoulder to snap me out of this smoky stroll down memory lane.

“I don’t know what the big deal is, Nat. We all had a good time. Everyone was dancing, and drinking, and laughing. What’s so bad about that?”

“Jenny, I realize you had a bit to drink that night, so this may be a little foggy in your memory, but perhaps you blocked out the part where you kept stuffing dollar bills into a man’s fur-covered G-string.”

“Don’t talk to me like I’m crazy. I know what I did – it was only two dollar bills, and it was for a good cause.”

“And what cause might that be?”

“Hello? The Tsunami victims?!”

“Uh, Jenny. The cover charge went to the charity. That man had nothing to do with the Tsunami victims. He came there in that fur G-string.”

[reflective pause]

“He did?”


“But… he was on stage. With the band…”

“Uh, yeah. That’s because he was a stripper, Jenny. And you stuffed dollar bills into his fur G-string.”

“Well… what do you know?”

[another reflective pause]

“Uh, bartender? Cancel that scotch – can you make mine a ginger ale, too?”