Every so often (weekly at the moment), I’ll be writing a commentary about a story from EMPTY ROOMS LONELY COUNTRIES. I’ll tackle the stories in the order they appear in the book. Given the nature of this exercise, I cannot guarantee that I won’t spoil specific details from the story. So you may want to return to the commentaries here when you’ve finished reading the book. If I don’t address an aspect of the story you were interested in, by all means leave a question at the end of this post and I’ll do my best to answer it.
“ON BEING VELMA-LESS”
This was written at the end of 1998. In October, for reasons I can’t quite properly explain, Richard, the owner of the James Joyce, asked me to help work the door at his pub for Guavaween. For those who don’t know, Guavaween is Ybor City’s answer to Mardi Gras – a massive Halloween celebration blended with the flavors of the local Hispanic community. Because the James Joyce’s front door is situated at the heart of the celebration, Richard had a bunch of us downstairs at the entrance selling beer and making sure a hundred people weren’t entering the pub just to use the bathroom. I came dressed as Gumby, and me being me, I helped myself to the beer as we went along. By the time the celebration was in full swing, it was difficult to discern whether I was employed at the James Joyce or a patron of the James Joyce.
One minute I was Woody Boyd and the next I was Norm Peterson.
Anyway, another person working the door was a woman – whose name I cannot even remember – dressed as Velma from Scooby Doo. While we talked here and there during the evening, things were so busy that we never really got to finish any of our conversations. And a month later, at the glorious Tiny Tap, I met her again by complete coincidence, and it wasn’t until she told me that she was Velma that I even remembered who she was. I think the conversation went downhill from there.
And that, I believe, is all that is true from this story.
Still though, I suppose the point I was going for here was to emphasize how lonely I was at the time – a recurring theme in the City Style stories, and to be honest, throughout Empty Rooms Lonely Countries – and it does seem that I’m going out of my way to put the blame on my friends rather than myself.
Having followed the trail the mutants left in their exile from Ybor, I have stumbled upon a secret fort in South Tampa where all the bad-asses hang out before they decide to take over the world, the Tiny Tap. This is the place where revolutions begin, the mutated vortex where all the significant points converge; a bar at the edge of the world, swinging on the pendulum that knows no evil.
At the time, the Tiny Tap was the bar we never planned on going to; we’d just end up there by the end of the night. The bar had some cheap alcohol and one of the best jukeboxes in the city. The place had a dodgy kind of magic – especially after midnight – that I really enjoyed. One of my favorite memories is someone putting in Ray Charles’ “Georgia on my Mind” and seeing the whole place go silent as everyone listened, with the drunks at the bar mouthing the lyrics.
As for the Hub:
The Hub, in Downtown Tampa, on any given night is like being in a sweat lodge. You have to talk to people because it would be rude not to; for it’s the least you can do as you are pressed against total strangers in some new forbidden dance. I stand by the windows that peek into the liquor store.
This was another bar you never quite planned on being at. Of course, this is the original location for the bar, before they moved near the Tampa Theater (one of Tampa’s most beautiful treasures). The layout was awkward, and when it was busy, it was difficult to maintain a territorial bubble of any kind. If I’m right, the aforementioned paragraph was edited heavily by Derrek. I remember there being a part of about the old man – the owner? – who was always working there no matter what time it was. And there were some other parts of conversations from people I’ve met there. I need to go through my notes to see if I have any of those scenes.
I wish there was more to say about “On Being Velma-less”, but the more I re-read it, the more I feel the less said the better.