A bar story

by Brian Clarey

I worked the graveyard shift and Big Tiny pulled the swing — that’s how we did it back then at Igor’s, the 24-hour bar, Laundromat and grill where we worked.

The bar was in the Lower Garden District — still is, in fact — on St. Charles Avenue at Jackson Street, right on the streetcar line near a batch of hotels that assured us a steady stream of tourists to mingle with the waiters, bartenders, cab drivers, strippers, college kids and burnt-out locals that comprised our regular clientele. By the time I came in a 2 a.m., Big Tiny usually had the crowd liquored up pretty good.

That night I was running late, and the Aussie barmaid I was to relieve had already left. Things were slow, I remember: No bodies filled the stool at the bar when I came in, but the jukebox played and I could hear shouts from a scrum at the back of the room, where the washers and pool tables lived. Also, there were small piles of hair — on the bartop, on the floor, near the video poker machines. And there was a lone figure passed out at the bar, a tourist who had been coming in over the last couple days, hanging out until past dawn, playing country music on the juke and singing along — poorly — at the top of his lungs.

Then I noticed that everyone in the back room was bald. Not middleaged man bald, but Mr. Clean bald. Telly Savalas bald. Moby bald.

There must have been eight guys back there carrying on. They looked to me like a bunch of thumbs.

When they noticed me they moved as a group up front and told me the deal.

Big Tiny got his name because of his size, which could be described as “tremendous.” He stood half a head taller than me, and was big and strong enough to lift me high off the ground. We used to just call him “Tiny,” until one night we discovered a midget-porn flick starring a male actor who looked just like him — except, of course, he was a midget. When the film came up in later discussions, we referred to this actor as “Tiny Tiny,” at which point it only made sense to amend the original nickname.

Big Tiny came charging to the front of the bar, his bald entourage rumbling behind him. His head was bare, too, shaved down to its strangely smooth scalp. He brandished a pair of electric clippers, plugged them in and they buzzed in his hand like a fistful of angry bees.

“You’re next,” he said to me. This was almost 20 years ago, before male pattern baldness introduced itself into my life and became too pronounced to ignore. I wore my hair in a long mane that reached down to the middle of my back. Sometimes I’d twist a couple of thin braids into it, or let the New Orleans humidity crinkle it into ringlets that made me resemble, just a little bit, a young Robert Plant. Or so I fancied.

I did not want Big Tiny to shave my head that night, but I knew that if it came down to it I would be powerless to stop him — one of his confederates was an old philosophy professor of mine who manned the offensive line for the Georgia Bulldogs before discovering the pre-Socratics, standing there now as bald as Thomas Hobbes and looking at my locks as if they were a theorem he’d like to disprove. The two of them could have thrown me around like a large, screaming beanbag if they wanted.

Still I girded myself to defend the head of hair it had taken me years to grow. And as they moved lustily towards me I snarled and showed my teeth. It might have been intimidation that stopped them from committing their depilatory vandalism upon me, and it might have been an uncharacteristic bout of mercy. But more probably they just sensed easier pickings.

“What about that guy?” Big Tiny said, gesturing to the slumbering tourist at the bar. And before I had a chance to retreat to the beer taps, Big Tiny had buzzed the man’s scalp clean as a perfect pearl.

The guy woke up a couple hours later, after the crowd had gone and the sky wore the first streaks of dawn. I saw him rise from his prone position and see the pile of hair around his place, watched him puzzle it out and, astonished, slap his hands on his bare scalp, read the expression of bewilderment on his face.

“What the hell happened?” he asked me. I gestured to big Tiny, still in the bar, feeding the last of his tips into the video poker machines.

“You told that guy you wanted a haircut,” I said. “He only knows one haircut,” I added. The man stood up like a tired bull, made his way to Big Tiny and attempted a haymaker punch from behind, which, admittedly, made solid contact with the side of Big Tiny’s face.

But Big Tiny was built for moments like this. He made short work of the guy using his fists, his knees and a barstool, then shoved the man, stumbling and bleeding, out the door before returning to his video poker machine, the one in the middle which he felt was luckier than the other two.

“You were pretty rough on that guy,” I said to Big Tiny. “Screw that guy,” he said. “Bald asshole.”