Alice seems to be in a bit of a prickly mood tonight. After I order another Lone Star I think I even hear a "hrrrmph" as she retrieves a glass from the kitchen fridge. Despite her sour attitude, she manages to force a smile.
"That'll be $1.25."
Five quarters is quite a bargain for the icy fishbowl-sized goblet. This working-class version of a Lil' Jon pimp cup is the signature of Alice's Tall Texan. It's what people remember about the place. Alice's pep and good nature are also memorable, but not tonight. Tonight she appears put out, and I can't help but think it's my fault.
During a recent concert at the Aladdin Casino in Las Vegas, Linda Ronstadt dedicated "Desperado" to Fahrenheit 9/11 director Michael Moore. Half her crowd walked out booing, ripping down her posters and demanding their money back from an unprepared box office. Aladdin management promptly showed Ms. Ronstadt the door, not even allowing her to retrieve her belongings. Their explanation for such a quick and brash reaction was that they'd hired her "to entertain, not espouse her political views."
Wow. Has it really become this heated in America? I've come to Alice's to find out. My plan is to run my mouth to all and sundry about what an outstanding picture Fahrenheit 9/11 is. I've been here before, so I'm positive this is just the kind of place I'm looking for: The honkiest, tonkiest beer joint in the Heights has always seemed far more Toby Keith than Dixie Chick. Sure, I've never actually seen Moore's flick, but I want to see just how agitated this conservative beehive will become around such hot talk. As a precaution, I've loaded up on enough beer to make the inevitable punches hurt less. Either way, tomorrow morning's going to be a bitch.
Here goes. "Have you seen Fahrenheit 9/11?" I ask Gary, a guy who has been sitting next to me eating peanuts and nursing a can of Bud Light.
He's never heard of it, which forces me into an ignorant synopsis about "corrupt government" this, "a country divided" that, "most important election of our lifetime," yadda, yadda, yadda. To drive home just how polarized the country is, I even tell him about Linda Ronstadt's bad bet in Vegas. I brace for a kiss with his fists.
"It's a movie about the government being crooked? That's not exactly a shock, is it?" As far as I can tell, Gary couldn't give a shit.
Since I'm going nowhere with Gary and getting under the skin of a usually chipper Alice, I join my buddy Steve at the pool table. He's playing a guy wearing a "this isn't for carpal tunnel" glove and playing with a fancy "I'm better than you at this game" screw-together stick.
"Who's your friend, Steve?"
"This is Ralph. Ralph, this is Brian."
"Good to meet you, Ralph. That's a pretty serious glove there."
"I used to be the captain of a professional nine-ball team."
Captain? Professional nine-ball team. He runs it down for me in a speech that lasts two eternities times infinity. All this because I don't know pool has teams. I also don't know how I'm going to segue our "all things cue and cushion" conversation into Michael Moore-worship. To hell with grace, I decide, I'm diving right in.
"I just saw Fahrenheit 9/11 today. It's still got me thinking. It's really great. You should see it."
I'm pretty sure Ralph is going to break his expensive, fancy stick across my chest. Beer, don't fail me now.
"Man, I want to see it," he says. "Haven't been able to get to the theaters."
What the fuck? Come on, Ralph, give it to me!
"You should take some time off between nine-ball tournaments and go see it," I offer.
"I'm a machine-shop worker now," he says. "The hours are a lot longer."
This is going terribly. No one's even disagreeing with me, much less cracking a goblet over my dome. Maybe I'm not trying hard enough.
The former nine-ball champ is beaten pretty handily by Steve. He says his good-byes and heads out the door, but not before pledging to go see the movie over the weekend. I feel like crying.
A brick of a man in an Astros cap approaches the table. He's been watching Steve dissect Ralph and wants a go at him.
"My name's David."
"I'm Steve, he's Brian."
David's voice sounds as though he has barbed wire in place of vocal chords, no doubt the result of years of smoking and drinking whiskey -- or gasoline. I don't even know if I want to run my bullshit shtick on this guy. I'm pretty sure he will fucking kill me.
Steve's not making it any easier. He beats him. Second verse, same as the first. Our new grizzly-bear friend is zero for two.
"Pool shark! You're a goddamn pool shark, ain't you Steve!"
His throat, I'm convinced, is made of molten lava. Is he mad about losing, or just kidding? I can't tell. I glance at the TV. It's tuned to ESPN, and they're showing the Yankees-BoSox fight. Presidential hopeful John Kerry is in the stands looking on and smiling. It's my only shot -- here goes nothing.
"God, I hope John Kerry wins this election. I saw Fahrenheit 9/11 today and, man, Bush is an asshole!"
David looks at me, flashes some teeth and says, "I don't trust him either."
If you like this story, consider signing up for our email newsletters.
SHOW ME HOW
You have successfully signed up for your selected newsletter(s) - please keep an eye on your mailbox, we're movin' in!
He tells us to enjoy the rest of our night -- he's taking off. This leaves the bar empty except for me and ol' Color of Money Steve, and it's clear that my experiment was a total failure. I expected to be run out of here on a rail with a few less teeth. The only person who seemed at all affected was Alice, and I'm beginning to think that I've read her wrong, too.
"You boys want anything else from up here?" she says, sweet as pie. "If not, I'm going to count out my register and lock up."
"What do you think, Brian? Do you want to play a game?"
I'll pass. My pool game is subpar when I'm sober. With this much beer in me, it would be a Reaganesque landslide.