|Why do good guys have to die? (Pic: Semi-Charmed|
I’d just arrived in the US and went to see Billy Bragg on my own at the 9:30. Being British, I just stuck a few dollars in my pocket, never for once thinking that a man of my distinguished greyness and thinning top would need to show proof of being younger than 21. On the way in, the woman at the door asked to see my driver’s licence. I began to squeak in protest, but before I could even finish my sentence she stamped my hand and said quite emphatically, “Try to buy an alcoholic drink and we’ll throw you out.”
The first thing I tried to do was to buy an alcoholic drink. It was a wet night, and I was wearing a raincoat, so I ordered a beer by cunningly pulling the sleeve of my jacket down over the stamp on the back of my right hand. “You don’t look under 21,” said the barmaid truthfully as she poured me a beer, “but can I just see your hand?” I sheepishly pulled back the sleeve to reveal my inky stigma and she angrily tossed the drink away.
Incredulous, and still thirsty, I went to one of the toilets and scrubbed the stamp off. It took several minutes, and made me even thirstier. I went to the basement bar and sat down and ordered a beer, and the barman began to pour it. Nice. Sitting next to me was Josh, who on hearing my accent politely asked me where I was from and what I was doing in DC. “By the way,” he said, “you should have gotten a stamp on your hand when you came in here.” It was at this point I realised that there were two kinds of stamp - one for drinkers, and one for non-drinkers, and that my ingenious ruse was in fact as transparent as my teenage daughter’s story that the weekend we were away in Chicago, 15 of her friends “just happened” to pop by our house on a Saturday evening with beer and sleeping bags.
I stammered out an excuse about being from Britain and just wanting an evening out with a couple of leisurely pints, all the while backing out of the bar, then turning to run up two flights of stairs to the club’s farthest corner. I sat down and tried to look inconspicuous, but a few minutes later Josh had tracked me down - it was still early and the club was quiet, so hiding wasn’t really an option. He sat down next to me and patiently explained why the club had to adopt such a strict policy on under-age drinking. I said I understood, and apologised for running away, but added that when I’d come in they’d told me that if I tried to get served, they’d kick me out.
“I know,” he replied, reaching over for my right arm. “That’s why I brought this stamp up.” He gave me a fresh imprint that would continue to ban me from the bar. I didn’t resist, and he didn’t throw me out, no doubt out of sympathy for my age, my status as a foreigner in a new town, and perhaps my general stupidity too. I thanked him, and off he went, and me and my driver’s licence have been regulars at the Club ever since. And I managed to bribe a student who’d been sitting nearby - and watching with some curiosity my exchange with Josh – to go to the bar for me all night in exchange for free drinks, so a double happy ending.
No happy ending to an anecdotal obituary, though. His unmistakable presence was reassurance that things were always under control, and would probably remain so throughout the evening – I’ve never once seen trouble of any kind at the 9:30 Club. Great bloke, great shame.