Saturday, December 15, 2012

Christmas with Tom, an Indian Princess and a Fire Hose

It was the night of the 23rd of December, the kind of hard, clear cold night you only get in North Dakota in December. My pal Tom and I were home from school. Tom was a senior and I was a junior, my first Christmas legal and his second. We were in the process of getting stupid drunk.
The night began at Kathryn’s Christmas party; I had my eye on her and her eyes were on me. If anything was going to happen, it had to happen quickly; she was returning to Barnard January 2nd. She invited me and then ignored me. I was pissed, Tom suggested we leave. I thought that was a fine idea. We got in my car, opened a couple of beers and we were on our way. The 2nd house party was in a fine, new house out in the country. The roads were slippery, we drank our beer and I drove slowly.  We didn’t stay long, it was a couple’s party and we were both ignored. We each drank a beer, left and headed back into town. I suggested we go back to Kathryn’s party, Tom said no, let’s hit some bars, more beers came out of the paper bag in the backseat, we drank to his idea. 

Tom and I were dressed like we stepped off the pages of a Brooks Brothers catalog, tidy, casual prep. We didn’t fit in at the Wagon Wheel. Didn’t matter, we walked in and stayed because the barmaid thought Tommy was cute. He agreed with her assessment, while they chatted and flirted, I sat and pouted, I was pissed about Kathryn ignoring me, I was pissed about breaking up with my girlfriend in June and now I was pissed because the cute barmaid was flirting with Tom and not me. I continued to drink, so did Tom. We were drinking free because Tom was so damn cute. After an hour, the bartender at the Wagon Wheel chewed the bar maid’s cute little ass because she was spending more time with us than with the 20 or 30 other customers who were actually paying for their drinks. Tom got her number and we left.

Tom and I walked 4 blocks to the bar at the GP Hotel. Dead, but we stayed anyway. We sat at the bar and we switched to Seagram’s VO. I started to flirt with the barmaid, a cute strawberry blonde named Cindy. When she walked off to take an order, the bartender told me to watch out, her husband was in prison. Tom asked what her husband was in prison for and he told us, armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon. I got Cindy's number after she told me he wasn’t eligible for parole for 3 years. I figured she was lonely.

As we left the GP I noticed the time and temp sign on the Burleigh County Bank and Trust said 10:05 and 5 below zero. We headed for the Elbow Room 3 blocks away; it was packed, loud, dirty and filled with assholes. Tom and I stayed long enough to pound down a beer and got out before we got our asses kicked. When we got back on the street, I remembered my car was still at the Wagon Wheel, 8 or 9 blocks away and it was 5 below zero. We had no hats and Tom left his gloves at the GP bar. It was so cold the snow under foot squeaked, it was so cold that even a good coat like my lined London Fog didn’t keep out the cold. By the time we got back to my car, we both felt sober. I suggested we go to the strip, Tom said no, The Silver Dollar. Okay then, the Silver Dollar it was.

My car finally warmed up as we passed the Standard Oil refinery halfway to Mandan and we had started in on the 2nd six pack we had in the car. The Silver Dollar was packed, I had to park 2 blocks away. By the time I swung the dump's door open I was freezing my ass off again, when I held the door for Tom he slipped and fell on his back on the sidewalk. I stood holding the door open, laughing at Tom. He was on his back, laughing. The warm, stale beer air from the bar was boiling out on the street and I heard a man’s voice yell “Close the god damn door!” I helped Tom up and we went into The Silver Dollar. The back of Tom’s coat was covered with snow and sand; he even had some on the back of his head.

The Silver Dollar is a Mandan institution. The bar is only 25 or 30 feet wide, but a half a block deep. A band was playing a shitty version of a Beatle’s song in the back room, 100 feet from the front door. Where we were standing in the front of the bar, Petula’s Clark’s “Downtown was playing on a sound system with blown out speakers. The only seats available were directly in front of the door. We sat down, ordered more beer from the pinch faced woman behind the bar, her idea of service was to stand in front of you, stare until you ordered, she’d return with your order, mutter the price, take your money and walk away. She was the owner’s sister. Good thing for her, anyone else would fire her. If you hate people why work in a business where you have to come in constant contact with them?   

The Silver Dollar is a bar that covers all bases, live music in the back, pool tables and pin ball machines in the middle and just to the right of the front door they had Go Go Dancers. On a winter night like this the girls would freeze every time the door opened. We froze just like they did. Tom ordered two shots of whiskey to ward off the cold, we tossed them down.
 If the Silver Dollar was close to a volcano like Pompeii was and an eruption froze this night in time, archeologists would have had a hell of time trying to figure out the local social hierarchy in Mandan. The place was filled with truck drivers, cowboys, cowgirls, local couples, local singles, rich, poor, bikers and their old ladies and college kids like Tom and I. As I surveyed the bar room, I raised my beer to take a sip and spotted Barbra Ann. Barbra Ann was a former Miss Teenage American Indian, I knew her brother Richard, I’d met Barbra Ann when I was giving Richard a ride to work on our construction job the summer he’d lost his license for drunken driving. Richard was a good guy and his sister was gorgeous and smart, she was on a full ride at Macalester College in Minneapolis. Barbra Ann spotted me and waved, she got up and walked over. The guys she was sitting with, a couple of tough looking Indians wearing red head bands and braids scowled at me. Barbra Ann gave me a hug and I asked her how her brother was doing; Richard was in jail, doing 30 days for driving without a license and resisting arrest. I told her that was the shits. She agreed. She sat down and I ordered her a beer and we talked. Between her dark eyes and her perfect chest, I was having a hard time concentrating on our conversation. I did learn she was here working on a paper on the failings of the BIA. She was staying with her Aunt who lived in Bismarck.

The two Indians got up, came over and told Barbra Ann they wanted to leave. They were giving me some hard looks. I looked over Tom’s shoulder and a biker gave me a nod meaning if those two  gave me any shit, he’d be on my side. Barbra told her friends she was staying. I guess that meant I finally had a date tonight. The two Indians looked around, caught the glare of the big biker and left. She told me they were from AIM and were planning to organize the Standing Rock Reservation. Barbra Ann and I drank and talked and Tom wandered off. A few minutes later he was back, excited as hell because he had run into a couple of people we knew and they had extra seats at their table.

Cheryl and Sally had lost their ride somehow and were stuck at the Silver Dollar, they were as happy to see us as we were to see them. Sally went to Columbia and Cheryl; her high school pal, went to UND. They were sailing drunk when we joined them. They both eyed my exotic companion and I introduced Barbra Ann, the five of us settled in, 20 feet from the band and commenced drinking again. It was hot as hell in the back room, packed well beyond fire code. I noticed Tom had wandered up to the stage and was whispering to the bass player while the band was struggling through the Stone’s “Under My Thumb”, the guy actually stopped playing for a couple of bars while he was talking to Tom. Tom came back and ordered a round of shots, we knocked them back and the band kicked off their frozen prairie rendition of the Beach Boy’s “Barbra Ann”. Our very own Barbra Ann punched Tom on the arm and told him she hated the song, meanwhile the entire bar was singing along while she sat with her arms folded and scowled.

I got up to take a piss, while I was standing at the Silver Dollar's foul urinal a skinny, shithead of a cowboy called me “Squaw Man”. I didn’t react right away; I finished, zipped up my pants, turned and punched him in the gut as hard as I could, when he bent over in pain I hammered the side of his face. He fell on his knees and I walked out.  I don’t normally do shit like that, but all the drinking had turned my dials just enough and he really pissed me off. Both my hands hurt like hell, my left from his face and my right had grazed his stupid, big cowboy belt buckle. I didn’t go back to our table; I walked to the front of the bar and told my new biker buddy that there might be trouble with a handful of cowboys. He grinned and said no problem. I bought him and his 4 buddies a round of beer. The cowboy I punched and his buddy accosted me on my way to the back of the Silver Dollar, they were drunk and mouthy. I pointed out my new friends who were standing at the bar and told the cow pokes that the big guy with the beard was my cousin and if they had anything to say to me, they’d have to include him in the conversation. The biker just looked at them through the smoke and smiled. They decided we should all be friends and the guy I punched apologized for calling me Squaw Man. We shook hands and I joined my companions. I was shaking from adrenaline. I started to laugh thinking about the piss stains on the knees of the cow poke’s jeans. When Barbra Ann asked what I was laughing about, I told her the story; she just beamed and gave me a kiss on the cheek. I thought, that was nice.

We sat through another, shitty, smoky set, the consensus was we should head for the Esquire Club on the strip. Because the strip was unincorporated, it stayed on Mountain Time while the rest of the two towns were on Central Time, the bars on the strip were open later, perfect for 5 college kids during the first hours of Christmas Eve.

We gathered our coats and headed for my car. We were giggling and laughing and the girls decided they had to pee. Tom asked why they didn’t pee at the Silver Dollar and the three of them looked at each other and laughed, Cheryl said nobody in their right mind would sit on a toilet at the Silver Dollar. Okay, Tom spotted the sign for the bar at the old railroad hotel. The bar was down a flight of stairs in kind of a half basement. It was a bar for serious and professional drinkers, dark, quiet and as we entered, the 10 or 12 heavy drinkers looked at us as we stumbled in. The place was classic, mirrored back bar with glass shelves, a long dark bar with leather booths lining the walls. The drinkers were all older, business types, solo and couples completely focused on their cocktails. The bartender was heavy, fat actually, he wore a vest and bow tie and I could tell he didn’t like the looks of us. We ordered beers and more shots and carried them to a booth. The bartender leaned across the bar and told Tom that Barbra Ann was the first and last Indian that would ever drink in his bar and we should finish up and get the hell out of there. We drank part of our drinks, then the girls went to the bath room upstairs in the hotel. After the girls left, I needed to hit the restroom, before I did, Tom told me what the bartender had said. We were both pissed now. When the girls and I got back from the restroom, I told them we were going to leave. I gave my keys to Cheryl who was the only one of them with functioning eyes and told her to go warm up my car. I told them we'd catch up in a few minutes. The girls left and Tom and I hatched our plan,
I had spotted a firehose in the hall on my way to the can. Tom and I said good night to the bartender, went out the street door and reentered the hotel via the lobby, we went down the stairs to the hall leading to the bar. We uncoiled the fire hose and laid it in the hallway, Tom slipped down to the door of the bar and opened it a crack and slid the nozzle just inside the door. He came back and I turned the hose on full blast. The water coursed through the hose, straightening it as the hose filled with high pressure water. As the hose filled it pushed the nozzle further into the bar. We could hear the yells of the drinkers as the little lounge was flooded with water from the hose. Tom and I walked down the hall, up the stairs and out of the old hotel. We ran down the street to the car, hopped in and drove to the Esquire. We drank and danced until closing, dropped the girls off at Sally's house and Barbra Ann at her Aunts. I woke up on the couch in Tom’s family’s den when his Mom woke me at 7am. I went home to Mom and Dads and slept until 2.

After walking Barbra Ann to her Aunt's door, I got a nice kiss. That was the last time I saw her, I heard she graduated and went to grad school in California. She teaches or did at a college. Cheryl owns a spa and Sally is a successful attorney. Tom went on to law school and has had a great career in business law. I’ve done what I’ve done. After all these years Tom and I are both proud of defending our Indian Princess’s honor on that ice cold night on the eve of Christmas Eve. 



  1. That brings back memories. Not good memories, but memories.

  2. The GP is long gone, don't know about the Wagon Wheel. The Elbow Room and the Silver Dollar are still going strong. You and I tossed a few back at the GP!

  3. One wild Christmas eve hombre'. Not unlike Bruce, your recounting of the night prompts my own memories.

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