By Joel Warner
By Michael Roberts
By Alan Prendergast
By Michael Roberts
By Michael Roberts
By Amber Taufen
By Patricia Calhoun
By William Breathes
Begin with the tattoo and Leonard's big, bald head, because the tattoo that screams from atop Leonard's big, bald head says it all.
On Wednesday, September 1, Leonard Carlo had just returned from a trip to Alamosa when the manager of his Colorado Springs bar delivered the bad news: Two investigators from the state Liquor Enforcement Division had raided the place. They'd looked around, mumbled something about an "anti-profanity" law, and then seized 29 of Leonard's favorite signs.
"They came in like the motherfucking gestapo," Leonard says. "Fucking storm troopers."
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"The Offal Truth"
At this point, it should be noted that Leonard is fond of certain colorful words and that those colorful words appeared liberally on those 29 signs. As Leonard sees it, he was simply advertising the rules. And advertising them in no uncertain terms.
"What the fuck?" he says. "I like doing it and I like saying it. What the fuck is wrong with that?"
Nothing, except for state liquor Regulation 47-900, which prohibits licensed bar owners and their employees from allowing "profanity, rowdiness, undue noise, or other disturbances or activity offensive to the senses of the average person."
So in August, after investigators received an anonymous complaint that Leonard "had some really bad signs, with raunchy language," they took it upon themselves to uphold decency. And after they did, Leonard, who'd been in the bar business for 35 years with only one infraction (for too many people in the place), suddenly stood to lose not only his 29 favorite signs, but possibly his liquor license.
Facing that prospect, Leonard climbed in his truck and drove straight to Snake's tattoo parlor, where his buddy tattooed the following words atop his big, bald head: "Fuck U. Leave Me the FUCK Alone." Snake then colored each letter red, white and green. (Leonard is Italian.)
"Yeah, it hurt," Leonard says. "But not as much as them taking my fucking signs."
The gesture, Leonard insists, was more than symbolic. He intends to get his signs back (the most expensive ones cost $40 each). He intends to speak the way he wants. And he intends to march all the way to the United States Supreme Court if necessary.
"I can hardly fucking wait," he says.
He can see it now. He'll stand in the courtroom, one hand on the Bible and the other on his big, bald head, and he'll gaze over at the jury box and the prosecutor's table and the judge's bench, and he'll give them a piece of his mind: "If you're going to take away my freedom of speech and due process," he'll say, "you'll have to start from the neck up."
Leonard's II stands at the end of a strip mall in the 2100 block of East Platte Avenue, several miles from downtown Colorado Springs. The same block houses Dan's Barber Shop, Dominick's Things, Stuff, Etc., Sinister Tattoos and Hemp-Hurray. Leonard's is the spot painted red, white and green.
"Because I'm a wop, that's why, motherfucker," he explains. "I'm going to put Mussolini up next, because El Duce had 150 mistresses. He's my idol."
Leonard's II (the bar's full name is Leonard's II Fucking Much) is the sequel to the much-loved original Leonard's, which was replaced five years ago by a Walgreens. The new bar, which Leonard calls "his last stand," is dim and slightly seedy, not a fern in sight. A couple of 50-cent pool tables occupy one corner; a big-screen TV and tinsel-lined karaoke stage occupy the other. There are the usual black vinyl-and-chrome stools, cashew and Beer-Nut dispensers, video trivia games, life-sized cutouts of John Wayne and Clint Eastwood, Broncos memorabilia and a jukebox with everything from Santana to Dean Martin to Dr. Hook to 'N Sync. The bar is in back. And that's where you'll find Leonard.
On this afternoon, he's wearing dark jeans and a dark T-shirt, sitting in the shadows and nursing a glass of cranberry juice. He normally prefers Christian Brothers brandy ("about a quart a day"), but he sips this drink "because it helps me piss." He cackles at the thought, yells, "Hey, cocksucker!" to a guy at the other end of the bar, then spontaneously breaks into song, harmonizing with the bawdy tune on the jukebox: "You Gotta Blow Me All Night Long." Leonard is usually a Sinatra man, but this particular tune "has such a beautiful melody," he says.
His face is weathered, deeply lined, and when he grins, which is often, his skin crinkles like a leather work glove. His hands could crack walnuts. With his mischievous eyes, Roman nose and bristling white whiskers, he also looks like one of the Seven Dwarfs. Leonard, the Surly Dwarf.
"I grow the beard to aggravate people," he says, with his coarse sandpaper voice. "When I first started growing it, my wife hated it, so I grew it to piss her off. Then she started liking it, so now I shave it off on her birthday."
Leonard likes to talk, and he talks a lot, although not in detail about his personal life, and not in response to a particular line of questioning. Instead, he walks to the back door and points out a small sign that captures the essence of his personality: "You say tomato, I say fuck you."