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By Aaron Reiss
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Margaret Lindsey is not by nature an angry person. Most of the time she's as good-natured as she is now, standing over the kitchen sink of Blondie's. In her short cutoff jeans and closely cropped marigold hair, the La Porte bar owner dutifully peels 25 pounds of shrimp by hand in the sink, like a mother who goes out of her way for children who don't realize the effort. Tonight, she explains, is the "town pervert's" birthday party. To not peel fresh shrimp by hand on her friend's birthday, she says, is simply wrong.
It's only when someone tells her that she can't do something that she unleashes a thunderstorm of cuss words. Tell her that she can't do it because she's a woman, and she'll prove you wrong. Wrong her, and you won't forget it; she won't let you. Consider her first husband, a rig welder. Slick wanted Margaret to stay home in the kitchen. Instead, she became an electrician (and later, the first woman to finish the four-year apprenticeship at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union in Galveston). "I was really pissed with him because I used to pull his boots off when he came home and wait hand and foot on him," she says in a tone that reveals she's no longer angry. "When I went on my first construction and found out that welders didn't do nothing but stand around and smoke, telling others what to do, I wanted to smack him."
As the only female on construction sites, Margaret learned how to deal with men, men who assumed she was not as intelligent as they were, who implied she should sleep in the right beds if she wanted to keep her job, who tried to push her around. So years later, when she ran into problems with the men at La Porte banks who seemed in collaboration with the men at city hall who told her she could not expand Blondie's, she got right in their faces and shook her fist at them. She hollered at them in unladylike ways when city officials denied her a building permit, when police officers pulled her customers over as they left her club and when the city protested her lingerie shows but not those at another bar. Even if La Porte is a small town where a handful of men run the place and have run other businesses out of town, Margaret Lindsey fights them all the way.
The baby of eight children, Margaret, 52, has lived in La Porte since she was three. She married at 16, then married three times more. She loved them all, always will. Ex-husbands have lent her money in hard times and still come by Blondie's with their friends and wives. ("I call my ex-husbands' wives my wife-in-laws.") Her first marriage, to Slick, lasted ten years, but he traveled often, and the couple grew apart. The next three were short-lived. "I just can't keep a man after 18 months," she says. "My last three husbands were 18 months." She raised two girls by herself: Tina and Tanya, a good one and a bad one, she says with a laugh. Their initials are T.L.C. She also raised a stepson. The girls were teenagers when Margaret first opened her bar, and they darted about, scooping ice, moving beer boxes. Sure, Margaret has lived in other places, but never for long, always returning to La Porte, where she has five grandchildren, where her twin brother lives right over in Baytown.
La Porte is a blue-collar town that covets, of all things, the calculated suburban sprawl of First Colony. The city dreams of cruise ships docking and waterfront condos, large shopping centers inhabited by chain stores and fountains surrounded by carefully placed trees. After all, it already possesses the lovely French name appropriate for such aspirations.
But at 32,000 people, it remains a small town. La Porte is the kind of place where you meet people when you're five and grow up with them. Your classmates marry each other, and you think they're your friends, until one day they turn their backs on you even though they know that what the city did to you was wrong. They know the city doesn't want to see your eyesore of a bar right smack in the middle of town, doesn't want those blue-collar types hanging around so close to the nice new hotels. They saw your loan papers approved at the bank but didn't say a thing when, abruptly, your loan was denied. What the city did to you, it could do to me, they explain weakly. They know, and they're sorry, but they sure aren't going to speak up for you, not if it means doing it in front of the city. Not in a town where people are afraid to talk.
Margaret's not afraid to talk, though, getting straight to the point with blunt words. One time the city refused to cover a ditch after sewer work; Margaret didn't want her intoxicated customers stumbling into a ditch. "I went down to city hall and threw a Tasmanian fit, talking real bad, 'motherfucker' this and that," she says. The city filled the trench promptly. Margaret is sometimes naive, but always hardheaded. She has picked herself up from the dirt so many times that if someone pushes her now, she pushes back. She has been so furious that she has passed out. She felt so angry, so singled out, that she scraped her money together and sued the city for violating her civil rights.