From the street, Tempe's Palo Verde Lounge looks like the sort of janky, pale brick building that might house a meth lab, a massage parlor, or a drop spot where the mob boys stash shipments of disco doughnuts. The only outward signs of drink-slingin' taking place are a neon Bud sign to the left of the doorway, and next to it the words "Palo Verde" in white block letters that seem to have been made with masking tape.
Inside, the PV boasts a jukebox, two pool tables operating at 50 cents a play, a couple of electronic games in the back, one old-school Playboy pinball machine and a seedy little bar area. From the crusty condom machine in the men's pisser to the "hangover helpers" (Tylenol, Bayer, etc.) for sale behind the bar next to the bags of potato chips, the Palo Verde is as familiar as your own messy closet, while you're rooting around in it looking for leftover shwag.
So what the fuck are the L-word Asia Argento and yours truly, the Kreme-Filled One, doing in this hole on a Saturday night? Well, aside from the cheap-as-your-mama well drinks (just two-fiddy a pop, soldier), dive bars are the shizznit right now with a certain class of the citizenry. The grimier, the better. And the PV has been holding down the title of Tempe's divey-est dive since owner David Eng bought the place in 1981 and gave it the name it has today.
Jett and I bounce past the front door 'round 10:30 p.m., and the place could pass for a United Colors of Benetton ad for freaks, with bikers, punks, coeds in short skirts and flip-flops, skinheads shooting stick, and just one black man, who, of course, is the most stylish fella in the establishment. This is none other than Don Fleetwood, a Tempe resident, formerly in the construction biz, who stands before us arrayed in ebony duds, save for a pair of patent-leather white shoes and a white silk tam on his noggin cocked rakishly to the side.
"My name is Donald, but I happen to be a mack, so I call myself Mack Donald," explains the don of Dons. "I'm from Chicago originally. I lived in Glendale my first year here, but then I saw a bunch of cowboys without horses. So I said, fuck it, I'm gonna go to Tempe where the women got asses like melons and faces like peaches."
"What nights do you usually come in?" asks Jett, laughing at The Donald's delivery.
"All of them," he proclaims. "What else is there to do? I'm running out of magazines. You know, Hustler, Larry Flynt. I've been coming in here about a year now."
"What do you like about it?" I query.
"Chuck, the bartender," says the Dapper Don, indicating the main mixologist for the evening, a stiff-drink pourer who always rocks sunglasses while working. "Because he has seen the revolution, and he's writing it in stone."
"Nutty," I reply. "So tell me, Don, what's up with the Third Reich over there in the corner playing pool?"
"They're traditional skinheads," says the Fleetwood Mack, breaking it down. "They're not racist. If they see a racist skinhead, they'll pound the guy into the ground. These guys have character, and they have class. There were some misunderstandings when they first started coming in here, but now that's mostly ironed out. Bottom line is, a congress of different characters can get along in a bar like this, long as there's respect."
Inspired by the Mack Daddy Don's wise words, the Jettster and I approach the braces-and-boots crowd, of whom there are about 10 or so in house. But they decline to be interviewed or photographed, saying they're always portrayed negatively in the media and don't want the attention.
One baby-faced, slight-of-stature stormtrooper does speak to us, albeit off the record, giving us some background on the camera-shy ways of his pals.
"We've been 86'd from every other bar in the Valley," he sighs. "This is the last place we can drink, and we're afraid if you write something about us, cops or other people will come in here looking to mess with us."
Sheesh, this is starting to sound like an episode of Oprah! I can almost see the promo: "On today's show, Oprah talks to skinheads who just wanna be loved; is that so wrong?" Still, one chick at the PV claimed, off the record to us, that a friend of hers, another gal, had been cold-cocked at a party by one of these romper stompers. So just how genteel these "rude boys" are remains an open question.
Disappointed by the button-lipped skins, we perambulate back to the bar and begin to parlay with this hella fine female by the name of Emily Unale, who's drinking a big-assed "red-headed slut," that drink with Jaeger, peach schnapps and cranberry juice. Unale, 21, has Betty Page bangs, red-red lips, horn-rimmed glasses, and cleavage that leaves Anna Nicole's in the dust. Indeed, Jett's so worked up at the sight of that flesh that I have to rein back her lezzy ass to keep her from jumpin' into it.
"Hey, that's like an old-style gangster tattoo," says Jett, eyeballin' Unale's ta-tas, over the top of which is a tatt of two blue birds carrying cherries in their mouths, flying over a flaming purple valentine with the words "broken-hearted" across it.
"I designed it myself," giggles Unale, who's a nursing major at ASU. "You like it?"
I can almost hear Jett gulp, before she gets out, "Uh, yeah. Those cherries are really nice."
"I love cherries," relates Unale, coyly. "I love to suck on them and tie the stems into knots with my tongue."
"Very Twin Peaks," I say. "It's certainly a conversation piece, that tattoo. You must get a lot of horndogs coming up to you with lines. What's the worst one you've ever heard?"
"Let's see, 'I'm not Fred Flintstone, but I'm gonna rock your world,'" she says, laughing. "I seem to attract all the wrong guys. You know, the ones without jobs, who don't have any money. That's why I'm single, I guess."
"Uh-oh," I hear someone say behind me. "Here come the crackheads."
A group of especially thin, somewhat raggedy cats meander in and place their drink orders, but before Jett and I can ask them to hook us up with some bomb rock, this fella by the name of Marshall Reaves slinks up to us. Reaves, 22, wants to show off a pic on his digital camera that he took of him and his pretty, pixie-ish girlfriend Michelle Hayes, 23, in bed together, and buck nekkid from what we can see.
"Not bad," I comment, looking down at the image before us. "Wish we could see all the naughty bits. Wouldn't mind watching you two knock boots."
"Thanks," smiles Reaves, a skinny dude in a bright orange shirt, and fat, navy-blue tie with white dots. "I like to share."
"So what do you do when you're not working on your own amateur porn site?" I josh.
"I'm a senior at ASU," he tells us. "I'm a molecular biotech and biosciences major."
"You must have a really big brain, dude," says Jett.
"A little bit," he grins, his arm around his woman, who's wearing faded jeans and a flashy green jacket over a white tee. "I've got a 4.0 GPA. But I have to wear my head brace sometimes because it's so heavy, you know, so dense with knowledge."
"Wild, wacky stuff," I say. "So why do you come to the PV?"
"I dunno," wonders the smart-assed Stephen Hawking. "There's good people here, I suppose. And I don't get beat up, unless I really ask for it. Actually, there are lots of people here who'd like to go home with me. Unfortunately, they all have penises. Guess I'm pretty, or something."
"Hmm, that is a problem," says Jett, commiserating. "If I were you, I'd avoid prison at all costs."
"Yeah, with that whole prison-rape thing," smirks the Einstein of ASU. "It's not the rape that scares me so much as the cuddling afterwards."
Nearby, drinking a pitcher of Bud Light, is Barney "Barn-dog" Mullins, a true-blue biker wearing a big black cowboy hat, gray tee shirt and leather vest. Tanned and tatted with long hair and a handlebar mustache, Barn-dog works for SRP and has been coming in to the PV for longer than most of the rest of the bar's customers have been breathing.
"I used to come in here and drink underage back when it was the Adobe Lounge," says the easy rider. "We're talking about 33 or 34 years ago. I'm 53 now."
"What kind of a bike do you ride?" asks Jett.
"An old-school chopper, a Harley-Davidson," he says. "Her name's Sweetie. I've been riding Harleys all my life, ever since I was about 17. I've had six Harley-Davidsons and three wives so far. I guess you can tell my preference."
"So what do you like about the PV that you've been coming for so long?" I inquire.
"There are a couple of reasons," he responds. "All these kids who come in here with the black tee shirts, the long sideburns and the tattoos, they're kinda emulating the '60s and '70s, and they think I'm a really cool guy because I was there. The other reason is, if you want culture, this is it. You get a little bit of everything in here."
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