...

"Leldon drinks a Pabst Blue Ribbon, a beer that’s gone almost a century since winning its namesake prize back when most alcoholic beverages tasted like an uneasy alliance of antifreeze and lighter fluid...."

hog palace
fiction by karl koweski


String ties and mullets.

Jesus Christ. Did the doors of the Hog Palace actually act as a sort of vortex, transporting me back to the early half of 1991? No. It’s the home stretch of 2002. I can tell by the news on CNN above the bar. Something about Iraq.

No vortex, just an Alabama nightclub. The cover band plays a Billy Ray Cyrus tune, poorly. Unwashed men with string ties, leather vests and Freddy Mercury mustaches do two-steps on the dance floor next to women who like to wear their Wal-Mart outfits two sizes too small.

I’ve been living in Alabama for exactly three weeks. I’ve yet to learn the language. The woman who escorted me into the bar has been living in the deep south all her life. Amy doesn’t know anything other than mullets, NASCAR, John Deere, and college football.

My intentions are to destroy her confidence, eradicate her hopes and dreams, sever her from all she’s held dear in the past, and rebuild her in my image of the perfect woman. But first I gotta get her to like me beyond the bullshit "purely friendship" level.

"Bar’s over here, Eddie."

I follow Amy through a crowd of denim that seems to come in only two forms down here: Liberty overalls and ball-hugger Levis. There’s little middle ground here. Those without mullets have shaven heads. Shirts bear the image of Dale Earnhardt Jr. or Jeff Gordon. Ball caps feature either Alabama or Auburn. These bipolar denizens of the great white south are all unified on one front. They all hate yankees.

It’s difficult for me to keep a low profile wearing a lemon-yellow-with-purple-hibiscus Acapulco shirt, the paradigm of coolness where I’m from. Not Hawaii. Chicago. Northwest side. And maybe it’s not very fashionable there, either, but at least no one’s laughed in my face back home.

"Har, har, har. Boy, you looks like a walking rain forest."

I smile sheepishly at the heavily mustachioed shitkicker wearing camouflage britches, sandals with socks, and a fluorescent orange Young’s Heating and Cooling gimme shirt.

I motion for the bartender and she straight-legs it to me, her knees locked by the black denim constricting the lower half of her body. She wears a black t-shirt specifically designed to hug her impressive breasts. Her hair seems to be piled on top of her head by a dazzling erector set array of pins and barrettes.

I immediately like her better than Amy.

"I’ll have an MGD." I consider ordering Amy something (which would invariably be one of those five dollar mixed drinks in the fancy glasses that stand about two feet high but only hold six ounces). I decide against it. I don’t want whatever implications buying Amy alcohol might have to sour my chances of bedding this denim-swathed, nameless bartender who smiles at me like I just might be the coolest cat ever to grace this roadhouse.

"Only yankees and bitches drink Miller," the mouthy shitkicker says, his words slightly muffled by the gigantic fucking mustache hanging off his gob.

"Oh, Leldon," the bartender laughs. She lightly slaps his arm as if this were a sitcom and Leldon the zany, irrepressible alcoholic.

Leldon drinks a Pabst Blue Ribbon, a beer that’s gone almost a century since winning its namesake prize back when most alcoholic beverages tasted like an uneasy alliance of antifreeze and lighter fluid.

None of these thoughts make it out of my mouth. In lieu of speaking, I merely chuckle nervously and grab my beer. The bartender’s smile doesn’t seem as inviting as it did moments before. Just as well. Birds don’t mate with fish. So I’ll just leave this carp to continue serving drafts to toothless degenerates while I soar on the wings of a cockatiel to the other end of the bar, where Amy entertains a phalanx of goofy-looking young guys with her witless banter.

My arrival brings spiteful stares from the sexually forlorn assembly. "Hey, Eddie, these are a few guys I went to school with: Dookie, Cletus, Orie, Beano, Cornbread and Johann."

I nod my head and raise my beer to the conglomeration of Liberty overalls and Dale Earnhardt Jr. caps. They stare at me as though I were a new species of varmint that needed stepping on. Amy stands in their midst like the guest recipient of a backwoods bukkake, smiling, eager to please.

As if I weren’t already the enemy, Amy adds "Eddie’s just come here from Chicago. He doesn’t have any friends so I thought I’d take him out and show him the Alabama nightlife." Her large almond eyes glance at the lone beer clutched in the white-knuckled grip I usually reserve for masturbation. "And how does he repay me? He can’t even treat a lady to a drink."

Amy dismissing me as some schlub from work offsets my northern heritage. The tension dissolves. Two of the boys shake my hand. The good ole boy introduced as Beano takes this opportunity to twist the knife. "Girl, you know them damn yankees ain’t got no manners. Whatchoo drinkin? I’ll buy."

"Long Island Iced Tea."

Beano winces and orders the seven dollar drink. I give him a big ole smile as I scratch an itch near the corner of my mouth.

Amy graciously accepts the drink before turning her back on Beano and the Alabama Irregulars. She leads me back to the predominately mulletted and string-tied dance floor/band stand area.

She catches more than a few eyes as we weave through the crowd. She wears a black mini-skirt, something that looks like it might have seen its heyday when Poison and Warrant were consequential bands. She has stunning legs, powerful thighs and muscular, but not too muscular, calves sculpted by her two inch heels, all coated in black nylon. Her breasts almost dictate a career in exotic dancing. Amy does not strip, sadly. She solders computer boards where I’ve been recently hired on to do light maintenance. Maintenance of the custodial sort. Amy professes to be a staunch Christian. In order to accompany her tonight, I had to claim to be saved.

Though Southern Baptist, Amy drinks and dresses like a Catholic. On the other hand, I dress like a gay Colombian drug lord and I’m one hundred percent, non-dope dealing pussy hound.

Rocking the milk crate sized bandstand with a bullshit 9-11 tragedy cover song is the ugliest band I’ve ever seen. Amy says they’re called Scurvy, and the name seems apt. Five men dressed in string ties, ball-hugger jeans, and white shirts with metal collar tips, they each wear cowboy boots, though I doubt if any one of these goofy bastards rode a horse to the Hog Palace. Their pristine cowboy boots have never known the dust of a trail. They all kind of resemble Billy Ray Cyrus...except the bassist. He favors Alan Jackson, if only because his mullet’s blonde.

The song ends, mercifully, and the crowd applauds, none more energetically than Amy, who waves her arms with every air raid shriek. Her bouncing breasts are a salve for my eyes even as my ears plead to be put out of their misery.

Maybe Amy notices me cutting my eyes at her titties when she says "I love these guys. I’m gonna have Hollis’s baby." She motions at the bassist.

This information slowly sinks into my mind and seeps toward Brain Trust South, a control center that can’t quite assimilate the intelligence Amy supplies. Her utter sexual indifference to me, for instance. "You’re pregnant?"

"No, silly." She shows me the almost empty seven dollar drink as though this were proof of an empty womb. "But when I do start a family, it’ll be with him."

"Does he know this?"

"I’m sure he suspects. Come over here with me a second. I wanna introduce you to Coondick. I think you two’ll hit it off good."

"Coondick? Is that his Christian name? Or is he hung or something?"

"Hung? What...no...I don’t know. Everyone calls him Coondick."

"So why should we be any different, right?"

Amy shoots me a dirty look. Not a good I’m-gonna-fuck-you-til-your-eyes-bleed sort of dirty look, but more like a you’re-not-half-as-funny-as-you-think-you-are-so-why-don’t-you-just-shut-the-hell-up-and-by-the-way-you’re-not-gonna-get-any-pussy-off-me kind of dirty look. I prefer the former. It shames me to think that, before picking up Amy at her apartment, I was deluded enough to swing by CVS for a pack of condoms.

Coondick holds court in a cramped one-bench booth near the back. From such a vantage point one can survey the dance floor without having to look upon the country boy Spinal Tap that is Scurvy. Coondick sits alone. He resembles a thin strip of beer jerky left to cure too long. He calls to mind the bastard offspring of Yoda and a chihuahua. Maybe the Taco Bell one. He wears a Budweiser shirt and grass-stained jeans. His eyes are two chunks of crystal meth.

Amy says "Hey, Coondick, what about it."

Coondick shows three broken teeth, gray gums, and a toothpick. Could be it’s a smile. "Lovely lovely Amy. Coondick’s on top of the whole damn world. Better than beneath its heel is what the main man always says. How the hell are you?"

"Not quite on top but close. I wanna introduce you to my friend from work, Eddie. He’s new to these parts and I thought maybe you’d like to tell him a thing or two about Southern living while I have a talk with Hollis."

Coondick leers at me. The toothpick flicks along his chapped lips. "Not from around here, eh?" His glittering eyes linger on my shirt.

Before I can tell Amy I don’t like this guy, she’s halfway across the dance floor toward Hollis. The band relinquishes their instruments for an intermission of jukebox mediocrity.

In his leathery hand, Coondick holds a quart container of what he calls the "Coondick Special." I’m not sure I can truck with a guy who refers to himself in the third person with a moniker that can’t be complimentary. I humor him anyway. I ask what’s all in it and he tells me it’s everything that ends up on the bartender’s spill mat, maybe the dregs of whatever liquor bottles gotta make way for new soldiers. And a few shots of Jager. The dark pink concoction smells like it could strip the corrosion off a battery cable.

"Go on, take yourself a pull," Coondick offers.

"I’m happy with my M... beer."

"Take a pull anyways. Tell your yankee friends you tasted Coondick’s Special."

"Really, it sounds great, but I don’t like to mix my beer with liquor."

"Well, hell, boy, there’s probably some beer in here." He shakes the container and studies the container as if expecting the booze to float to the surface.

I scan the patrons for Amy. That particular tree’s disappeared in a forest of mismatched women, ugly faces atop tight bodies, and pretty faces atop bodies with hips like saddlebags. I see a lot of big hair. Too much makeup. Not enough cleavage. Nowhere do my roving eyes find other wanderers, proving to me that Southern women are no different from Northern women.

"Why do they call you Coondick?" It’s perhaps the only mystery this man has. Had he any goddam brains he’d have kept this one secret his life afforded.

"You wanna know where ole Coondick got his name, huh?" He mulls this over a bit before withdrawing his toothpick. "What’s that look like to you?"

"Toothpick?"

"Look closer."

"Still looks like a toothpick."

"Take another look. It’s the bone inside a coon’s dick."

Upon further examination, it still looks like nothing more than a discolored toothpick. But, then, I’ve never seen the bone of a raccoon’s dick before. "Jesus. Why?"

"You ever et squirrel brain, boy?"

Amy reappears before I have the opportunity to answer. Her eyes are dope red, blistered with tears. Snot bubbles, trembling bottom lip: the first two words that form in my mind—grudge fuck.

Here we go.

"Take me home, Eddie."

"What’s—?"

"I don’t wanna talk about it now."

"Maybe a pull of ole Coondick’s Special bring the smile back to your face."

"Get that shit outta my face, dick."

Amy attempts to storm off. She doesn’t get three steps before having to grab the shoulder of a passing mullet-headed stranger to steady herself. The dumb bastard gives her an appreciative once over. She doesn’t so much as glance at him.

I follow at a respectful distance. Not too far removed, though, that some redneck might get the notion she’s not with me. I anticipate Alan Jackson’s doppleganger coming to his senses before she reaches the door, ruining my chances (no, my right) of snaking her puss. We reach my Buick without interference.

The ride home is a losing struggle to come up with the correct combination of words that will unlock her knees.

"Hey, you hungry? Maybe get some grinders. I ain’t seen no White Castles anywhere, but that Krystal’s looks pretty good."

Amy shakes her head, a fat tear leaps to its death.

"Shit, Amy. Don’t let some guy who ain’t me spoil your evening. You think he’s crying and moping? Hell no. He’s drinking it up, having a good time."

Amy hugs herself, crossing her arms beneath her beautiful breasts. She won’t look at me. Her breath hitches and she lets out a hoarse sob. She’s collapsing upon herself before my eyes. Never have I seen such an attractive woman take up so little space.

"Ah, well, that’s musicians for you. Even wannabe country musicians with bad haircuts and a dodgy set list ain’t worth a damn. He’s probably already got himself one or two blondes lined up for the night."

"Eddie. Shut up. Just don’t say another fucking word."

We drive on in silence. My chances of getting laid dwindle with every word that goes unspoken. We approach her apartment complex too soon. I’ve yet to make the transition from ambivalent co-worker to prospective lover. And without being able to use my wit, charm, and conversational skills, I’m gonna have to rely on...my Acapulco shirt.

Parked in front of her apartment, my desperation finally makes itself apparent. "You sure you’re gonna be okay? You want me to come up and keep you company? Uhm...make you some coffee, maybe?"

Amy sniffs back tears. She manages a weak smile. "I hope you enjoyed Hog Palace. I’m sorry I haven’t been much of a guide."

"It’s all right, Amy."

"And, also, before you even picked me up, I told you there was no chance in hell I was gonna fuck you. And I’m sticking to that statement."

"You were serious when you said that?"

"Yeah, Eddie."

"Oh, if I had known..."

"I know, Eddie. Good night, Eddie."

She slides out of the car so I don’t get a good view of her ass. Now’s the time to say something to melt her heart, or at least wet her pussy. Nothing. I watch her trudge up the stairwell, momentarily considering following her. Second thoughts plague me. I remain behind the steering wheel.

The reflection in the rearview mirror has no mullet. No queer Alan Jackson mustache. No bullshit bolo tie clasped with a stupid electroplated bull’s head. How could she resist me? How do they all resist me?


Karl Koweski is a twenty-eight year old displaced Chicagoan now living on top of a mountain in Alabama. His stories have appeared in magazines such as Swank, Liquid Ohio, The Whirligig and Hardboiled and throughout the internet. His first collection of short stories, Playthings, was published last year by Future Tense Press.

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