Spirits of the Dead

Some claim that the ghost of screen star Clifton Webb communicated that he couldn't bear to abandon his beloved Beverly Hills digs, so he opted to hang around years after he died like the last drunken partygoer. It is said that the spook of workaholic Howard Hughes still goes to his office every day. Ichabod Crane's tryst with the Headless Horseman in The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was a veiled autobiographical tale of its author, Washington Irving. And people I have talked to swear that the seditious and inexplicable phenomena that have befallen a punk rock pub in Scottsdale are the pranks of an inhospitable ectoplasmic drunk from the other side.

Employees of the bar, in fact, say they wouldn't be caught dead in the joint after closing. "I don't want to sound like some weirdo," says Lucy Paris, manager of TT Roadhouse, "but I believe the bar is haunted."

This may sound like some B-movie plot precursor involving a group of doe-eyed teens gathered around a Oija board, but they all swear it's true:

Early one afternoon three years ago, Paris had just opened the pub and was tending bar. The day began like most at TT's; a few customers sat on stools at one end of the bar, shooting the shit and nodding over the day's first pint. A tape of Mad Max ran silently on the in-house TVs. The jukebox pumped out British punk clang.

Suddenly, everything changed. The whole scene in the bar became irrational, all out of sorts, and frighteningly new.

The juke's volume dropped as if it had been unplugged. From the television's tiny speakers, a sickly voice boomed forth, thick with rasp, like some malevolent god. It came from nothing, out of nowhere. The language was hardly one of a god, though, more the prose of a soused sailor in a whorehouse bar.

"I don't know what you can print out of this because the ghost was yelling at us using foul language," recalls Paris. "When the TV started screaming, it was really, really screwed up. It said, 'Hey, you fucking cocksuckers.'"

The voice crowed, secure in the knowledge that, at that point, it owned the joint. The same expletives shot from the television speaker again. Then again. The invection was delivered five straight times: "Hey, you fucking cocksuckers."

Then it said, "Don't you know? Don't yooooou knoooow?"

The group sat, petrified, blinking. Then the voice went down, down to nothing. It went away. The juke returned to its earlier volume level. The group bolted out through the bar's front door and stood in the parking lot, gasping.

"It was extraordinary," says John Marinick, one of the five, who was a customer in the pub that day. "What is weird was the voice was really, really angry."

This had absolutely no purpose, they figured. Nothing to do with Mad Max, certainly; that was a movie they'd all seen half a dozen times. It was one of those tricks of reasoning that can only be seen or understood on an abstract level, one dealt with over beer and that anybody not there would not understand, not even attempt to understand.

"When we all split out the door," says Marinick, "I was thinking maybe there could have been someone outside that was doing something. But it wasn't so."

The baffled and emotionally bedraggled bunch huddled in the bar's small parking lot. The sun was still well up in the sky, hardly a time one would think a ghost might lurk about. After a handful of minutes had passed, the group moved hesitantly back into the bar. The surroundings seemed normal again.

"The first thing that went through my mind," continues Marinick, "was that somebody had planted a microphone somewhere in the building and was just messing with us. We took down the TVs, unplugged them and looked at them. We looked at the jukebox and the VCR. There's only one way to control the jukebox and that's with a remote control, which was behind the bar. No one was near it."

They rewound and watched the portion of the Mad Max tape than had been running when the voice boomed out. The tape and the movie's dialogue played fine. Nothing at all was tampered with.

"It was frightening, yeah," he continues with a nervous laugh. "Then we all drank very heavily."

The TT Roadhouse is an anomaly in the otherwise well-kept neighborhood near 68th Street and Thomas. The bar's cockeyed quaintness underscores the prim, homogenous perspective of Scottsdale. There is no streaming sports cackle and no bogus-loft-living cigar smokers wearing sweaters who pitch bleached smiles at saline-fortified blondes. Instead, regulars include punks and poseurs and strippers with the occasional slumming Scottsdalite coming down for a pint of lager.

Inside TT's woodgrain interior, skulls are everywhere. Nearly 60 vacant craniums in varying shapes leer out from all points of the bar -- from Dia de Los Muertos monistics to shrunken Caribbean heads with baneful expressions. The walls are bric-a-brac with loads of motorcycle road racing imagery, decades of heroes from the bar's namesake, the TT Road Race on the Isle of Man; heroes of speed who met with early graves like Joey Dunlap. There are Manx crosses and bits of Celtic folk art. A scruffy collection of multinational flags, all gifts from devout drinkers hailing from various parts of the world, hang above the bar. Damaged motorcycle helmets donated by the unlucky suckers who had put them to good use fit comfortably on a few of the skulls. There is an antiquated wood-burning stove and tables shaped like baby coffins and artist renderings of fetal bird skeletons. The men's pisser still sports a shower stall from days of yore and a bathtub sits behind the woman's john. A vague smell of moist fungus and moldy wood, as in any dank U.K. pub, floats throughout. The TT Roadhouse is loud and warm.

Constructed in 1953, the TT was originally a ranch house surrounded by fertile farmland and orchards rich with citrus. A son of the original owner once shot a coyote in the living room. After suburbia had marched in and conquered the land, the ranch house was purchased by Ralph Moreth who turned the home into a neighborhood bar back in 1963. He called it, fittingly, Ralph's. It later became Lolita's, then the Caddyshack. Brad Henrich took it over, christened it the TT Roadhouse, and last month the pub celebrated its sixth anniversary.

Henrich obtained the Caddyshack with bank loans and a small nest egg from time spent hawking real estate in Hollywood. Anybody who's been around the Phoenix underground long enough would remember Henrich from his days in the early '80s when he managed Roads to Moscow on Mill Avenue.

Henrich reckons that his bar is punk rock in spirit and attitude, that it is more a reaction against the Scottsdale nightlife milieu than part of it. For one thing, it rests in a quiet section of town. Very quiet. Next door is a mortuary.

According to legend, TT's pesky psychic matter is a onetime Caddyshack boozehound struck down by a car on 68th Street, directly in front of the bar. The drunk attempted to cross the street to collect something from his car and left a half-empty glass of beer on the bar. For years, the Caddyshack drinkslingers kept the half-empty glass on a shelf behind the bar as a kind of tribute to the deceased regular. Once Henrich purchased the bar, he spent a month cleaning and remodeling the place, during which time he inadvertently threw out the moldy beverage. He had no idea it was some kind of homage to the dead.

"One day the previous owners called wondering what I'd done with this glass," says Henrich. "They told me the whole story."

"I know the place is haunted," he continues. "Lights flick on for no reason. The volume on the juke just goes up sometimes. I was here alone back in my office one night and I heard what sounded like some kind of spoken-word thing. A kind of a chant. It was fuckin' weird. I was on the phone and it came out of the juke box. And you know what? I have no spoken-word CDs on the jukebox."

"There's just weird stuff in there," Lucy Paris says. "One time Bruce and I were in there and an empty pitcher just flew off the bar and hit the refrigerator. I mean there could have been water on the bar, I don't know. But it would have had to have flown like two and a half, three feet by itself."

Others talk of weird things going on in the bar. Local musicians claim to have seen and heard things. Some customers claim that their beers have toppled over for no reason and things sometimes move at will. The ghost is becoming folklore.

Bartender Bruce Hiembuck, who's worked the TT since it opened, nods his head casually when the subject of the ghost comes up.

"Yeah, he tossed a barstool at me once. It slid off the bar. He turns up the jukebox, too."

Ghosts in literature are a kind of poetic expression of mortal will, a representation of a desire for another world, a world with no moral consequences. Guys like Edgar Allan Poe used ghosts as a way of dealing with the fear of dying, a way to compartmentalize things lost forever.

Nevertheless, we don't want to become so jaded that skepticism replaces curiosity, particularly when dealing with something proven hopeless to substantiate, like a ghost.

As this psychic matter supposedly floats about the TT -- ominously, mysteriously -- people are suggesting that the bar take steps to remove it. Hell, paranormal investigation kits complete with ghost removal tactic brochures can be had for a couple hundred bucks over the Internet.

"I know I'm going to look like an idiot telling this story," says Henrich, laughing. "But you know what? I tell the ghost I'll give him his beer back if that will make him happy. Shit, I owe him one for this publicity."

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Brian Smith
Contact: Brian Smith