You’re making dough burgers. You didn’t invent them, but you’re getting better at it. Nothing could be cheaper, and that’s the idea. You need those last coins for Piggys. “Who wants one?” you ask your moocher pals. No reaction as they pass the bottle. “Ingrates!” you mutter, flipping the dough on a paper plate heaping it with sugar. What happened to the syrup?
They’re getting primed for Piggys. It’s a delicate calculation. Just how much you can drink and still be able to stumble your way to the dance bar. And you’ve got to be exact in your calculations. Too early, you look like a lonely fool with nowhere to go in the middle of January on this tongue of sand hanging out in the Atlantic. Too late, and your Piggys time becomes very limited.
But why go at all, you think. Your moocher friends are like to pose as real predators. They boast how they’re going to score. But no one does. The girls show up on their own time. You can’t go after them anymore. You could stay put and out of the cold and wait and see they’ll come knocking with a bag of groceries.
But, no, bolting down some dough burgers and heading off through slush in your broken sneakers has a special meaning. You’re going to the Revolution or the near-Revolution. They’ll understand when archeologists dig this roadhouse dance bar out of the rubble. This was the cyclotron, where all classes, sexes, and races defied business as usual in America, whipping and whirling themselves into a frenzy, rendering boundaries obsolete, absurd.
Here on the Piggys’ dancefloor, you find humanity at its most interconnected, a throbbing counterweight to monopoly capitalism. The irony of it all is too much for you to resist: this place called Piggys unraveling pig culture. Here to the ecstasy of Stairway to Heaven, the disabled fisherman boogies with the faux floozy and the AWOL heiress. At the same time, the Panther on parole peels off to join the embezzling clerk and her Falstaff, the short-order cook, causing underage Emma to buzz around her ex-boyfriend, the ex-cop, regaling the tattooed Jesuit with his long-lost lover.
“Looks like we finally found where it all happened. Piggys Dance Bar, Provincetown, MA 42.0547° N, 70.1846° W,” you imagine the archeologist saying, far in the next century to his dust-caked assistant. “Wow. Wait till I tell the Smithsonian! Here put on these earphones; talk about vibes. If that’s not Black Magic Woman by Santana, I don’t know what is!”
You imagine, too, that you could write this up as a futuristic story. You’re a writer at the Fine Arts Work Center; after all, riffing off your own experience is all part of a day’s work. But, no, you decide against it. The grand poohbah is not going to look kindly on your sci-fi output for its lack of seriousness, in which case, you can kiss a second-year scholarship goodbye.
“Let’s get going!” you call out to your friends, turning off your ruminations along with the stove. The moochers all rise, and you head out, taking the cemetery road shortcut. The moon casts your buddies along with the tombstones in long shadows across the road. It’s another nice touch for a future story, warmed by the vodka and the lone dough burger; call it the Naked and the Dead.
You push open the door dramatically, letting in the cold rush of air announce you. A thickly lacquered beam that serves as the bar is directed to the left. A pyramid of liquor glows against its back wall. The maybe actress bends over the ice machine in a black leotard. You wonder as she huffs and puffs, digs, and swears if she is aware of your shared moment in history? Does she fully appreciate that she’s tottering on the extreme edge of America, with the next stop being Portugal? Is she aware that such extremity invites the testing of limits, a dress rehearsal for the Great Upending of Convention? Or does she care less about upending, more about the idiot who left broken glass in the tub?
To the right, the spirit of Marvin Gaye opens its hands in welcome, singing:
We don’t need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer.
For only love can conquer hate.
Guys stand around the dance floor, contemplating the mugs in their hands. Non-committed, boring heteros, you decide in a glance. Why did I come here? You lean back, elbows resting against the bar, and your heart is exposed to whatever comes. The leotard lady pushes an indifferent tequila sunrise somewhere in your vicinity. The moochers head off to the shadows to score animal tranquilizers. Red, white, and blue beams of light trail them, then back away, treading the dark, midnight waters of the interior.
Then the beams perk up. They sweep across a waitress brushing back a sweaty forelock with long shapely fingers. You wonder: are you confusing her with the girl that once went out with Dylan and then got ejected from the commune in Tennessee? Someone should be writing this stuff down! You follow the beams as they proceed to two big, bearded guys in bikini-tops, tie-dyed sarongs, and pumps, trying to work out some steps.
You feel empathy for these guys. Empathy’s your mantra of the month, that quality that is so key for aspiring writers, and here empathy comes, a gift of the present moment. You put your feet in those pumps, feeling the energy of the moves the guys are getting into, something like football drills in stop-motion, cutting in, cutting out, circling a cone, shoulders tight.
The energy works from your still-frozen toes up, and you’re grateful for that. But, then again, you feel for the general predicament. How does anyone even hope to dance to Marvin’s sad-swaying inquiry? It seems futile. Piggys’ space feels like it’s closing in, the rafters lowering down, dark as a crypt, its promised Revolution arrested in the strobe lights clutching an empty glass.
You notice the Hells Angels biker bouncer stirring from off his stool. Both of you sense trouble. One of your friends is lurching around, clasping people, caroming off them, stoned. His philosophy is that to be a true artist, you have to suffer violence, which means starting a fight, and then getting beaten up puts him in the company of the Masters. You, however, don’t see it. His tourist trade watercolors don’t seem to change for all the beatings: dilapidated wharves, careening gulls, weirdly orange sandbars.
You decide to retire early, take a last sip of the tequila sunrise, and be gone. Underage Emma rushes up to you with breathless excitement, on something or onto something. “Can you look after my stuff, please, Senor,” she asks, depositing a parka and a bag with a hideous stallion clasp on the bar beside you. “Do I know you?” you’re about to say, but she’s already off with her party on the dance floor. You settle in with a sigh, resigned to be the guardian of the bag and the parka, flattered that you’ve been deemed trustworthy.
Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode jolts you alive. Back in ’58, big sister put on that 45′ with such reverence, and how, ever since, the song’s become an anthem, a call to arms of your generation.
Deep down in Louisiana, close to New Orleans
Way back up in the woods among the evergreens
There stood a log cabin made of earth and wood
Where lived a country boy named Johnny B. Goode
You come alive. The whole place comes alive. Your gaze is suddenly wide, seeing people you never knew were there flocking to the dance floor. How did this happen, this ancient tribal call? This exuberant disruption of the system steam-rolling on, from a log cabin in the woods to a roadhouse on the coast? Hundreds of hands outstretching, withdrawing, climbing the air, stamping the earth, vamping, caressing, rejecting, signaling, remaking the world, this is forever Piggy’s of Provincetown.
- Copyright 2022, Louis Postel