There was a drinking establishment in Bremerton, Washington called the White Pig Tavern. Some wag hung the name on it of “Albino Swine-o,” one of the great nicknames I have ever come across (see: Emil “Hillbilly” Billdilli; Arlie “The Freshest Man on Earth” Latham; and Bob “Death to Flying Things” Ferguson).
This is not about the Swine-o – I didn’t live in Bremerton long enough to darken its door or vomit in its alley. My post-21 years of age era overlapped with my residency in Kitsap County long enough to make only one place a regular haunt – the Nite Shift, located at 242 Burwell Street.
I had no friends, no roommates, no girlfriends in the area – I couldn’t wait to hit the legal drinking age: Well, I did have friends but they were all of age. I overheard tales of the tender underbelly of Bremerton nightlife: the Swine-o, the El Camino, The Crow’s Nest, Our Place (actually in Silverdale), the Black Angus.
Sinclair’s (named after the inlet of Puget Sound that it sat on) was the class joint in town. But its denizens mistook posturing and stuffiness for sophistication and aplomb. You needed a collared shirt to get past the bouncer, and the women there smelled of too much cheap perfume. The music was loud and unfamiliar, and when the door to the balcony opened the wind blowing off the inlet blew cocktail napkins everywhere.
I liked the Black Angus, and it would have become my Cheers and I its Norm were it not for a girl that I met there one Saturday night. After a whirlwind courtship over late night Denny’s the night I met her, we briefly dated. Our courtship consisted of a ferry ride the following Saturday night to Seattle’s Pioneer Square, my first post-21 trip to the Jet City. We went to the J&M Cafe, where I guzzled pitcher after pitcher (MGD) before having my first (but not last) post-21 bout of suds-inspired incontinence in Seattle – I wet my pants in the ferry terminal.
It has been said that a possible defense for a rape victim is to pee all over the raper, but pee didn’t deter my date. If anything, it might have gotten the animal in her up. We went back to her place back in Bremerton (I had to get my car), and ended up in her room to fool around. But she was a biter, and the carpet mound downstairs wasn’t plush and downy but coarse and sinewy, like horsemeat covered in Brillo material. I left without consummating the relationship; and in addition to unplugging my phone for a few days I had to disengage from the Black Angus and her side of the Manette Bridge.
I had never been to the Nite Shift, though it was the closest bar to my house, in downtown Bremerton. The city center had by this point become a ghost town – no movie theatres, the JC Penney long gone, not even the antique stores that are there now. Aside from me, the Nite Shift, and the Crow’s Nest, all downtown had to offer was a McDonald’s and the ferry terminal. I can’t recall who referred it to me or who went there with me – I usually went out by myself.
The bouncer who was usually on duty, who I recall as a Frank Stallone manqué (see: Barfly), checked my ID several dozens of times though he never bothered to learn my name. He was every bit a himbo – broad shoulders in a polo shirt tucked into tight jeans, softer than Stallone but tougher than Dennis Eckersley, probably a subscription to a magazine for Trans-Am enthusiasts. But I saw him take down some bad-ass sailors who were too rowdy, so I just said yes sir and showed him my driver’s license when asked.
After one made it past Sylvester’s brother (some did get in with just a nod, no identification necessary), you were in the Nite Shift proper. The DJ booth was inside the door to your right, the bar just ahead of you to the left. Keep walking straight and there was a space with three pool tables, continue past them and you found the restrooms. The rest of the space was given over to a number of tables with mismatched chairs and plastic ashtrays, as well as a dance floor about one-quarter the size of a regulation basketball court. The lighting was dim, and what light existed was reflected by framed mirrors on the walls advertising the usual suspects – Bud, Coors Light, Oly, MGD, etc.
The Shift was a tavern, God only knows what the vibe would have been if liquor was in the offing. I’m not the first person to write about the place, some years ago someone wrote a book called Easy Money that was set in part at the Nite Shift. I haven’t read it, just small excerpts but just from the excerpts I can tell that the author fucked it up. She describes the bartender pouring scotch from a well, akin to writing about McDonald’s and the filet mignon it serves. It was beer glorious beer, with the bartender on occasion pouring a quaffable red wine.
The disc jockey ostensibly took requests, though because he was lazy or had strict payola instructions the playlist rarely wavered. In the summer that Grunge took the world by storm, “The Bartman” was the extent of the playlist’s cultural relevance. You were guaranteed to hear the following on a steamy summer Friday or Saturday night at the Nite Shift:
AC/DC – “You Shook Me All Night Long”
Garth Brooks – “Friends in Low Places”
C+C Music Factory – “Gonna Make You Sweat”
Tony! Toni! Tone! – “Feels Good”
Madonna – “Vogue”
Hank Williams, Jr. – “Family Tradition”
Snap! – “The Power”
Rob Base & DJ EZ Rock – “Joy and Pain”
It’s embarrassing to think about how hokey it was to dance in the Nite Shift but I did. Oh good God yes I got down to AC/DC and Snap! because that was step one of my MO for landing a one-night stand. Other props for getting my swerve on were a pack of Camel Filters and a pitcher of MGD. There were a couple of class acts that I hooked up with, one of whom had unbeknownst to me had a baby a week or so before I met her, a child that she gave up for adoption before hitting the Bremerton tavern scene that she must have sorely missed. I found out post-coitally, when her mammary glands began to weep (“Excuse me, but I think you’re lactating” is what I said).
My Nite Shift muse though was a tall gawky regular who tried her damnedest to ape Madonna’s look, the one she had in “Dick Tracy” and the “Vogue” video – bleached short hair, red lipstick, a bustier, etc. To her credit she didn’t seem as grotesque as the tens of thousands of similar gals in the American hinterlands who were doing the same thing, though even looking at her in the dim light through the bottom of a pitcher in a 1:00 a.m. haze I was 100% sure she wasn’t Madge. She wouldn’t look at me, but I grew mad for her. I went through a brief phase (very brief) of showing up at the Shift with a notebook and pen, and sit in her line of sight in the hope that the Faux-donna would grow curious at what this bookish fellow was up to, and send over a pitcher of whatever it is that he’s drinking.
It never went down like that, surprise surprise, though I did attract the attention of a rather tall and hefty woman, who took a shine to me the way other women do to Chihuahuas. Instead of putting me in a purse she wanted to put me behind the wheel one night of her brand new Corvette, even though I was bombed. Even if I didn’t crash it, I was liable to vomit all over the interior.
At this point I had a drinking buddy, a sad fellow named Tony, who – over my protests – told her to get bent. I never saw her at the Nite Shift again, though I did see her a month or so later at the Kitsap County courthouse. I was the duty driver for Subase Bangor, and one of my duties was giving sailors who ran afoul of the local laws a ride to and from court. In the cattle call arraignment I saw her on the television that was used for the accused to appear remotely from the county jail. The judge arraigned her on an assault charge – the gist of it was that she beat the shit out of her husband. My guess is that the Corvette was his.