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Bar Back

"What do you call a dog with no ears?" the guy sitting next to me asks while tapping my elbow with the back of his hand.

I wait a few moments, then shrug.

"Nothing," he says. "Because he sure as hell ain't coming."

I don't know this guy, and the joke is his first communication with me. After spending a lot of time in bars, I've determined that the old-joke routine usually means that the joke-teller wants something from you (i.e., a drink or a few bucks) or just wants to talk about all the shit he's been through. Although the elbow-tapper is definitely sauced, I'm guessing he just wants someone to talk to, since the couple he'd been talking to has gone outside to smoke.

We're sitting at the bar in the Skylark Lounge, a damn cool joint that three years ago moved to this spot at 140 South Broadway from its original home at 58 Broadway (which is now occupied by Barry's). The new spot is roomier, with plenty of space on the checkerboard floor if you want to dance to rockabilly, blues or honky-tonk bands. Upstairs, there's the super-deluxe Pair-O-Dice Pool Room with vintage pool tables and pinball machines, which fits in nicely with the rest of the bar's vintage-centric vibe. As do classic barflies like this joke-teller.

I could be an asshole and ignore the guy, which seems like the logical thing to do, but instead I make one of the worst decisions I've made in a long time. I tell him a joke.

"What do you call a cow with no legs?" I ask, continuing on the theme of animals missing appendages.

This time he shrugs.

"Ground beef."

He doesn't laugh, doesn't even smile. So I'm not sure if he a) got the joke, b) heard the punchline or c) didn't hear anything because of the live band.

Still, the fact that I say anything to him apparently gives him free rein to talk my fucking ear off for the next fifteen minutes.

"You ever see the movie Thursday?" he asks. "It stars Thomas Jane."

"Nope," I answer.

"Well, it's kind of like True Lies and Reservoir Dogs, but without all the dialogue," he says. "And I worked on that film."

"What did you do on the film?" I ask.

I could swear he says something like, "I brought shoes to the actors while they were in their trailers." But then he starts talking about the first scene of the film, in which a hooker gets killed.

And speaking of hookers getting killed, the fact that the rockabilly band playing tonight is San Antonio's Lil' Bit & the Customatics reminds me of Little Bit, the nineteen-year-old midget prostitute who was strangled by her crack dealer, stuffed in a cardboard box and tossed in a dumpster in an alley off Colfax in 1996.

"Did you know that Quentin Tarantino produced Killing Zoe?" the guy asks. "He used the money he made from that movie to finance Reservoir Dogs."

Any hard-core Tarantino fan could tell you there's no way, since Reservoir Dogs came out two years before Killing Zoe. But at times like this and with guys like him, it's just best not to correct the person.

So next thing I know, he's telling me how he's got the same birthday as Elton John and Julie Andrews. (Later researching this at home, I discover that Andrews's birthday is October 1 and John's birthday is March 25. Go figure.)

"Tell me your birthday and I'll tell you everything about your life," he says.

My shoulders and neck tense up, and I start rubbing my hands together like Billy Bob Thornton in Sling Blade. What I really want to say is, "Look, man, I'm not gonna tell you my birthday, okay? I already know pretty much everything there is to know about my life. And if you touch my elbow one more time, I'm gonna cut off your ear like they did to that cop in Reservoir Dogs."

But instead, I say, "Man, I really don't feel like it." I'm sure as hell not going to tell him I have the same birthday as Yanni.

Finally, he swivels around on his stool and starts talking to the back-from-smoke-break couple on the other side. I focus on the band and hope that he'll leave me alone. But five minutes later, he's scared off the couple and spins back around so he's facing me.

"I was living in Monterey in 1988, and I'd just gotten a DUI," he says, slapping my elbow, again. "I was in my first of twelve drunken-driving classes. And there was this guy in the class who looked a hell of lot like Jerry Garcia. Turns out it was, and he took the whole class out to breakfast before the rest of the classes."

By now I'm not even looking at the guy, but he keeps talking.

"I've seen the Grateful Dead eighty times," he says. "Did you know they played a New Year's show every year except in 1970, when Jerry went to see Hendrix at the Fillmore?"

"Nope," I say, then down the last sip from my bottle of Bud and stand up.

The guy's still talking. This time it's about God.

Club scout: The Waterloo Ice House, a live-music venue with an unbelievable seven locations in Austin, Texas, opened another spot a few weeks ago in Louisville at 809 Main Street. In addition to bringing in such nationally known acts as Jimmy Vaughan and Eric Johnson, the club will feature local rock and blues bands four or five nights a week.

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Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon