22 The Big Potato
“We need to go get Josh.”
“I’ll get dressed”
Ace and Roberta drove out past a dark cabin eight and headed for the Ramada Inn. Ace called over and Josh said he wanted to go to the Big Potato. Ace called Harry, who said that Shinebone had tried to reserve two big booths, but that the place was packed and it might take a while to get seated.
They picked Josh up out on front of the hotel.
“Oh my goodness, you’re a man!” Smiled Roberta. It had been many years since she had seen Ace and Ada’s son.
“That’s what they tell me!” laughed Josh. He addressed his dad. “So I met two friends of yours in the hotel.”
“Oh yeah? Who?” Ace was thinking Marco and Russell, or Horn and Tony Riggs.
“Ella and Jas.” Ace felt his heart lurch but he kept his cool.
“Really? Wow, Jas must be here trying freak out Joey. She was his girlfriend until right before the tour.” Ace was glad it was dark in the car. He adjusted the rear-view mirror.
“You didn’t mention Ella and Jas to me, Ace” Roberta had just a hint of a tone in her voice.
Women have fuckin sex radar, goddammit. Remember, Ace, you haven’t done anything technically wrong.
“Jas was Joey’s girlfriend. Ella is one of her friends from L.A. I guess they made a road trip.”
“Well, they’re pretty awesome, “said Josh.
“Sounds like you hit it off with them.” Deflect to son! Deflect to son!
“They’re already at the Big Potato. They said they were going to scare some cowboys.”
“Oh, they’ll scare ‘em, all right!” Fake like the wind, Ace!
Roberta looked sideways at Ace. He was plainly hiding something. Men have a guilty gene that makes their faces scrunch up when they’re busted.
The Big Potato was a new corporate-fake roadhouse- style joint on Yellowstone Street. It had a huge, flashing neon spud sign, outlined in green with red “eyes”, rising above the parking lot, which was filled with pickups, some pickups, and a few more pickups. The night was fairly warm and there were patrons in cowboy hats out on the front deck with go-cups and longnecks, drinking and smoking. Ace, Roberta, and Josh made their way inside, where they found Harry and Fumiko and Boomer waiting.
“It’s pretty jammed, “said Harry, “maybe we should go somewhere else.”
Just then Ella and Jas emerged from the bar, drinks in hand. Jas took one lightning look at Roberta on Ace’s arm and made a beeline for him, yelling, “Ace!” She threw her arms around him and gave him a big kiss on the cheek.
I owe you one, Jas! Thought Ace. Thank you!
Ella’s greeting was much more demure. She gave Ace and Harry each a brief, shoulders-only hug and said hello to Roberta and Fumiko. Then both girls hooked their arms with a highly delighted Josh.
“So you can see what kind of girls your old men have been hanging out with in L.A.!” laughed Jas to Roberta and Fumiko.
“No wonder he didn’t tell me about you!” said Roberta, willing to play along for the moment.
Ace was steadily bailing water, ever more hopeful with every second that this would all turn out well.
“What’re you guys doing here? Does Joey know?” he said. Keep the focus on Jas and Joey.
“The King of Schwing has been calling me for a week, but I haven’t returned his calls. I thought I’d surprise him.”
“Well, you certainly will!” Sure faked the shit out of me! Thank God Josh is here!
“Hey darlin’, where’d you go and git to?” shouted a cowboy as he came out of the bar. He was a classic: wiry, not too tall, all muscle and white hat.
Shit, these fuckers do scare me! thought Josh.
“Oh, excuse me. I thought we were havin’ us a drink!” He was exuberant, but Ace could see there were definitely the first tints of a booze glaze settling in on the cowpoke’s face.” Let me buy y’all a drink!”
“Hey, thanks, man, I think we’re going to grab something to eat.” Said Ace.
“Eat? Shit, I eat sand!”
“Johnny’s a roper from Vidor, Texas.” Said Jas. “Johnny, these are our friends I was telling you about. We’re going to have dinner now.”
“Well I’ll buy you all drinks after you eat. You girls ain’t gittin’ away so easy. I got my rope in the truck!’ He cackled a bit insanely.
Another muscley guy named Buddy came and grabbed Johnny.” He’s alright, he just lets it loose once in a while.”
“Not a problem, man” said Ace. A few more Jack Daniels and we got a problem, though.
Ace was happy to sit with Roberta on his left, Fumiko to her left, then Harry, then Jas, Josh, and Ella around the far side of the booth. There were four or five spots still open. Boomer and Marco were coming, and possibly Russell, though this was really not his kind of joint. Then again, there weren’t a lot of gay bars in Pocatello.
Ace tried to listen to all the jabber, much of it emanating from Jas, but it was hard to hear in the babble of the crowded restaurant. Hearing’s going. Soon I’ll just be a doddering old fool, nodding yes to everything anyone says to me. Josh was doing well with the girls. After a while he saw that Ella and Josh were into a real conversation. Ace felt a twinge of jealousy. You idiot! That’s your son who’s scoring over there, and you just escaped by a gnat’s bollock of being busted! Ella is fun to talk to, she’s got a good mind. She’d be great for him if she‘s interested. It seemed she was.
Roberta leaned over and whispered, “No secrets, Ace. It’s my rule.”
He turned to look her in the eyes, “I don’t have any secrets. “
She laughed, “OK, but men are lousy liars!”
We’re better liars than women give us credit for!
“Shit, Charles, this looks like just the place to get your mind off of the subject for a few minutes.” Greg Horn, Tony Riggs, Joey Lowe, Garbage, and Charles Frank came into the bar. There were sixty cowboys and cowgirls jammed in there. Loco and the Weeds were playing a honky-tonk song on the stage against the far wall. They ordered shots of tequila and beers instead of martinis.
“Here’s to Mexico, “said Greg!
Joey felt a tug on his arm. “Hi, jackass, “said a familiar voice.
Joey spun around.” Jas! I’ve been calling you! You little fox! You came to see me!”
“Don’t be too sure! There are a lot of good-looking cowboys in here!” She laughed.
She had enough flirt in her tonight to turn on the whole room and she knew it. Her eyes fell on Garbage, who was wearing a faded Levi jacket with the sleeves razor-bladed off, no shirt, and tight, ripped-up jeans. He had two thin lines of hair shaped like lightning bolts on the sides of his shaved head. Jas whispered Whew! under her breath. Ace and the rest of the crew came in to the entrance of the bar area.
The band started playing I’m Sick and Tired of the Same old Shirt to whoops and hollers and drunken dancing. Johnny the roper from Vidor, Texas was knocking into people on the dance floor and swinging his hat above his head. He spied Jas.
“Hey! Git your sweet ass out here, girl!”
“No thanks, wildman. Don’t lose your hat!” She laughed. Ace saw that Johnny was far gone into glaze-eye land. Johnny stopped dancing and began shoving his way over. Ace nudged Greg. Tony Riggs and Garbage were already zoned in on what was happening. Joey, who prided himself on his taekwondo training, perked right up. They could defuse Johnny, but the cowboys outnumbered the old men ten to one if it came down to something more general.
Just keep it cool, thought Ace, keep laughing.
Johnny careened over closer. “I said I want you to dance with me!” He shouted above the band. Loco and the Weeds sang I’m sick and tired of the same old shirt!
Garbage stepped up, smiling, but blocking Johnny’s path to Jas. “Where you from, man”.
Johnny’s eyes went cold. He stuck his jaw out and drawled, “I’m a fucker and a fighter and a wild bull rider from Vidor! Vidor Texas, you tattooed cocksucking fag motherfucker!”
Johnny kind of staggered, and then threw a sloppy roundhouse punch in the general direction of Garbage that Tony Riggs blocked. Tony grabbed Johnny’s arm and gave it a real good twist while at the same time Garbage stomped down on the outside of Johnny’s knee with his big motorcycle boots so that it buckled in a highly unfortunate manner to the inside. Johnny went down screaming in pain. Ace grabbed Jas and pushed her towards the door, to where Roberta, Harry and Fumiko, and Ella were already heading for the exit.
The rowdy patrons began to realize that one of their own kind had gone down at the hands of outsiders. Johnny from Vidor’s buddy, Buddy, made a vain try at restraining the drunken, injured Texan, but Johnny came back at Garbage with a beer bottle, screaming something about the Alamo. A big cowboy yelled “’Git that fuckin’ tattooed asshole!” Loco and the Weeds broke into Earle Dean Butt’s Fightin’ Man and the game was on.
Garbage timed out Johnny, and broke his nose with a straight punch. The Texan went flying back into the arms of a couple of rednecks, blood streaming down his face. Suddenly there were cowboys and other spudboy yahoos swinging on the rockers with bottles and chairs. Joey back-fisted one guy so hard his eye almost popped out of its socket, but then got tackled by a scrawny guy in a Born Country t-shirt. Greg Horn got a few solid punches in. Tony Riggs was a cool fighter, watching in a focused way and not getting tagged and hitting guys with solid body and jaw shots. Garbage just plain went wild, screaming like an animal and taking the action right down the bar, kicking stools out from under previously uninvolved patrons. The cowgirls were into it, too.
Roberta and Ella had fired up their cars. Big-chested blondes on the front deck were throwing longnecks at them. The Subaru took a couple of pretty good hits. One bottle bounced off, intact. Roberta jumped out, picked it up, and shattered it on the windshield of a Dodge pickup. Back in the bar skinny old Charles Frank was like a man possessed, throwing elbows and head butting, all the while downing shots he found on the bar. What should have been a rout was turning out to be a pretty fair fight. Josh was laughing and tossing chairs over the heads of the fighters into the melee. He was proud to be his father’s son.
Greg Horn was wrestling with a burley bearded guy in overalls. Ace had just pushed two guys over a table and was spinning around when he saw a cowpoke about to jab a broken Spud Lite bottle right into Greg’s face. Ace managed to hit the guy on the side of the head, sending him crashing into Johnny from Vidor’s other knee. Johnny went down again, this time for good. Greg shot Ace a look and shouted, “Jesus H. Christ! Thanks!”
The bar door whammed open and all three hundred and thirty pounds of Shinebone thundered in, pissed off that he had missed some of the action. He waded through the rednecks like a rock’em sock’em robot, knocking heads together and tossing guys around like they were empty cardboard boxes. One roper hit him as hard as he could in the face. Shinebone just laughed and head-butted the guy across the dance floor, where Loco and the Weeds had cranked up a country speed- metal version of Goodnight Ladies.
The rockers fell back on the door behind the huge shape of Shinebone, who pulled out his Glock and pumped a couple of loud shots into the ceiling. Chips of sheet rock mud floated down like a Martian snowfall. That froze the cowboys and girls for a moment and the rockers ran for the cars and peeled out of the parking lot just ahead of three police cruisers who came screaming in, also pissed off to have missed cracking some heads.
The Childhood crew roared down Yellowstone, laughing, hooting, and hollering,
“Fuck you, rednecks!” They headed for the Ramada Inn and the quiet, safe bar there to lick their few wounds. No one was hurt beyond a bruise or two.
When they got to the hotel, Ace put his arm around Josh’s shoulders and said, “You did well in there. That’s our first father and son fight!”
“I always wanted to kick some redneck’s ass or at least throw a chair on someone’s head!”
They tried to tame their exuberance as they settled into the muzak atmosphere of the Spud Lounge at the Ramada. They didn’t want anyone calling the cops about the wild rockers. But they each had to recount the glorious details of who got in what punch and what cowboy took the worse hit. Everyone agreed that Garbage had really taken it to the cowboys.
“I’m from Philly!” he laughed, “What do you expect?”
Jas shot Ella, who was sitting very close to Josh, a quick, meaningful look. Ella gave an imperceptible nod back. Josh had his arm loosely around the back of the booth behind Ella. She had her hand on Josh’s leg under the table.
Ace got up to pee and Greg did, too. As they stood at the urinals, Greg said, “Hey man, you pretty much saved my life back there.”
“No problemo, Hornster. Just right place, right time, “cracked Ace. I’ve escaped with my own life twice tonight; I need to save someone else’s to pay back the karma!
“Well, I won’t forget it.”
Just remember next time you go to screw me, thought Ace.
Sheila drove by the Big Potato, but there were a bunch of cop cars, blue lights blazing, so she decided to just get something at Macdonald’s. She went back to the cabin and the Hell’s Half Acre Lodge and watched the Channel Five News at Ten.
The KSPD anchor girl said, “In addition to our main story about the exploding Xeonosis implants, there has been a warning issued by the government about seismic activity in the south Snake River Plain area. Sally Tomlin of the Teton Seismologic Laboratory had this to say to Magic 5 reporter Lew Sing today.” We are seeing a lack of small earthquakes in the south valley right now. These little shakers, which we hardly ever feel, are the Earth’s way of letting off steam. We feel that there is a building up of tension on the fault line that runs along the ranges stretching from the Tetons and Yellowstone all the way into Utah and Nevada. Residents should be aware of the possibility of a large earthquake sometime in the near future. …The anchor girl went on, “And speaking of rumblings, there was a big fight at the Big Potato a short time ago, apparently between rodeo attendees and unknown visitors perhaps associated with the big rock concert in Pocatello tomorrow night. Police say there were few serious injuries…an investigation will follow.”
Sheila woke later in the night to the sound of the bed banging in the next cabin and moans of ecstasy. Oh, Jesus! Somebody put a sock in those goddam honeymooners! She pulled a pillow over her head in a vain attempt to block out the noise.