15 - The Club House Saloon
Peggy called a few hours later, establishing what would be a predictable pattern that would wake me out of a sound sleep.
Since I had not seen a phone in her apartment, I assumed she was calling from some place else, and I later learned that she frequently used her mother’s apartment on Ray Street as a communication center, a place from which she made and received calls, and where she picked up her mail.
“Are you coming to see me dance tonight?” she asked.
Still foggy from lack of sleep, I reminded her that I had been banned from the My Way.
“Not the My Way, silly, the Club House Saloon.”
Twenty-five years later, I’m still uncertain which of the many clubs Peggy danced in was the Club House Saloon, since my notes at the time described the interior of the place but gave only a vague reference to its actual location.
For a while, I had narrowed it down to one of three possible locations – a trailer-like place at the foot of Valley Road in Paterson, a side-of-the-highway strip mall-like box near the boarder of Cliffside Park and Palisade Park on old Route 1 & 9, and a corner odd-shaped building on Main Street in Lodi near Felician College
But several sources which listed clubs with mob associations, mentioned the Club House Saloon has being in Lodi, serving a pit stop for many of the drugs imported into the area.
The romantic in me wanted this last to be the place where I met Peggy again – since it is within sight of where she was eventually buried. This was a convenient place since it was only a few blocks from her Harrison Avenue apartment. But most likely, the Club House Saloon was the one near Palisades Park.
Although a longer distance from her apartment, the Palisades Park strip club was just off Route 46, so pretty easy to reach from Lodi, and part of the large circle that made up the strip club circuit bordering mostly white working class towns from which they drew most of their customers.)
I recall several visits to the Palisade Park strip club so assume this was the club I agreed to meet her at that night.
“You’ll come?” she said.
“Sure, why not?”
“I thought for sure you’d be sick of me by now,” repeating the phrase she had used at our parting a few hours earlier.
“What makes you say that?”
“I thought maybe I turned you off.”
“I’m serious,” she said.
“If you turned me off, I wouldn’t have gone crazy looking for all that Giants stuff,” I said, recalling the marathon I had undertaken through Willowbrook Mall and other places. “My friends thought I was nuts.”
“You talk to your friends about me?”
“I can only imagine how you describe me to them, some bimbo you met in some strip joint in Passaic.”
“I wouldn’t say anything of the sort,” I said.
“All men do. Did they ask if you got lucky?”
“Peggy, that’s not the kind of talk I have with my friends.”
“So I’m not good enough?”
“That’s not what I said.”
“But it’s what you meant.”
“That’s not true.”
“I know men,” she said. “They’re always bragging about how they get laid, and yet they never call me back the next day to ask about me.”
“I’d call you if you had a phone,” I said. “What about the movie you suggested?”
“Meet me tonight at the club and we’ll talk about it then.”
She hung up.
After the phone call, I took a walk in the rain – a misty, warm rain that wet my face like a sloppy kiss, yet under my umbrella I felt secure.
These walks in this kind of weather always helped me think.
And I had a lot to think about.
I no longer felt in control of my life and this scared me.
Worse, I wasn’t sure I wanted to be in control.
As the name implied, the place had a western theme – one of the reasons I kept confusing it with the other two bars, such as the cop-owned Hitching Post at the foot of Valley Road near Clifton – to which Hank used to drag me from time to time, an uncomfortable situation since most of the men there were redneck working class from Clifton who didn’t particularly like hippie types like us.
I rarely went to the Lodi strip club, located at a precarious corner of Main Street, near the cemetery and Felician College, but passed it often during those days when I worked in the Saddle Brook Fotomat, and remember how pressed for space, I never felt comfortable in it, and is part of the reason I believe the internal description I have from notes was based on the strip club near Palisade’s Park in which I have several encounters with Peggy, and a clear memory of our conversations there – good and bad – to support the notes I kept.
The room had a stucco ceiling and a shingled roof that hung over the bar – which ran long ways along the wall opposite the front door. The entrance to the bar was so narrow that bar maids had to squeeze in and our at one end so that they could serve men at the tables.
Imitation Tiffany lamps hung over each of the table, with several more over the bar, giving the place a dimness the owner like to call atmosphere. Two ceiling fans in the center of the large room stirred up the volatile mixture of cigarette smoke, booze, body odor and hormones. To the right, through two arches, a juke box, several video games, a gambling game or two, and a cigarette machine formed a kid of arcade separated from the rest of the bar. Electric wall candles made that part of the bar seem even dimmer than the bar itself.
The popularity of the place varied on the weather and season, and on this night, the place was sparsely attended
The dance stage was inside the bar at a place where the bar and its roof bulged out, illuminated by two pink flood lights and a mirrored wall.
Petty was on stage when I came in and was too busy talking to two men at the bar to notice me right away.
She shouted over the music at the men, who while teasing her about her odd manager of dance, she told them to get stuff.
When she saw me, she frowned, then when her set ended she came over to where I sat at the bar.
“What are you going here?” she asked, sounding a little drunk, which surprised me.
‘You told me to meet you here,” I said.
“I did? When?”
“When you called me to thank me for our date.”
She looked even more confused. “I called you?”
“I don’t recall that at all.”
“I suppose you don’t recall the boxes of stuff I gave you either.”
“That was you?” she said, harshly.
“Yes, is something wrong?”
“You called me a fanatic.”
“You say you’re a Giants’ fan.”
“Fan is short for fanatic.”
“You’re full of shit.”
“Then why are you wearing the Giants’ t-shirt I bought you?”
“I’m cold,” she said, staring away as she blew out a lung full of cigarette smoke.
“They let you dance like that?”
“When nobody’s around,” she said. “Say, are you going to buy me a drink or do I have to let one of those two losers do it, and put up with them hitting on me the rest of the night?”
I signaled the bar maid. She nodded and began to mix the concoction she knew Peggy drank.
“Men must hit on you all the time,” I said.
“Then you should be used to it.”
“Use to it? I’m suck of it,” she said, draining the glass as soon as the bar maid slid it in front of her, and held out the empty. “More.”
I nodded at the barmaid, whose name I later learned was Vidda, a big-haired polish Jersey Girl, who flirted with me even as she refilled Peggy’s glass.
Peggy appeared not to notice.
When Vidda said it was time for Peggy to get back up and dance, Peggy refused.
The other men in the bar had left so that it was only the three of us, me, Peggy and Vidda.
“Why should I dance to an empty bar?” Peggy asked.
A short time later a guy named Red wandered in. He reminded me of a guy I knew growing up, the same scrawny frame, the same lumberjack boots, jeans and shirt, even the same BMW logo on his hat.
He also had the same intense look of loneliness I had seen on dozens of men in bars like this, and he was clearly taken with Peggy, sitting on the other side of her, supplying her with even more drinks that she didn’t need.
She seemed a little taken with him, too, trading quotes of lyrics to songs playing on the jukebox. She didn’t even stop him when he kept touching her, and kept urging her to spend the night at a local motel with him, or if not that to come out to his car with him.
She didn’t go with him, but never said she wouldn’t either, letting him paw2 her as long as he kept buying her drinks which he did until his money ran out and then he left.
Then Vidda laid out drinks for the three of us, and we three slowly got drunk.
Finally, Peggy sighed and said she was hungry.
“I’ll buy you some breakfast,” I said, wondering if I had enough cash left for the both of us.
“I’m not going through that crap again,” she said.
“Then we can buy something to
go and bring it back to your place,” I said.
“I’m not in the mood for that either.”
“In the mood for what?”
“You know. All I want to do is eat and go to sleep. No monkey business. I have to get up early tomorrow for work.”
“I didn’t know monkey business was an option,” I said.
“Don’t be a wise guy, Alfred. But if you’re serious, you can get something from the all night deli near my house. You can top there, then come up for a little while.”
“Fine with me,” I said. “If you want I’ll give you the food at the door and then go home.”
Peggy actually looked shocked at my suggestion.