This is the third installment of a four-part story that weaves songs of the 70s and early 1980 with a look back at my job as assistant manager of the Belle Drive-In from June 1979 to October 1980. One of the more colorful characters was Doug, a troubled drug/alcohol abuser whose singing voice perfectly mimicked Bob Seger.
Moving eight miles a minute for months at a time
Breaking all of the rules that would bend
I began to find myself searching
Searching for shelter again and again
Against the wind
“Little Preach.” Doug was the only person who ever called me that. “Tell me, Little Preach,” he said, raising his voice above the hum of the ice cream machine and the low roar of the deep fryer. “How do you put up with those snooty old bitties with the tall hair?”
I walked out of the kitchen, wiping my hands. He was fascinated that I – a 16-year-old — had been preaching off and on for about a year at my home church and a couple of country road rural churches. His disdain for “going to church” was clear. Besides, I knew exactly the type of self-righteous, holier-than-thou group of women he was talking about – they attended the other Baptist church in town, of course, but I pretended not to know.
I wanted to know what he meant by “tall hair.” Doug was all about the hair. His was just past his shoulders, a length that got him kicked out of school some years earlier. He’d even answered an altar call during a revival service and claimed he was told he’d have to cut his hair and “clean up” before he could be baptized. So he didn’t go back to school. And he never went back to church.
I wanted to tell him I wouldn’t have gone back, either.
“You know, Little Preach,” and he scooted off his stool at the counter and walked across the room on tip-toes, mimicking the gait and snooty, nose-turned-up manner of women who still wore their hair like it was the 1960s. Doug continued his impression all the way into the game room when my boss, E.J., his wife Mary, and another couple came in the back entrance.
E.J.’s good mood disappeared as quickly as Doug punched in Pink Floyd on the jukebox and broke a rack of pool balls.
We don’t need no education
We don’t need no thought control
No dark sarcasm in the classroom
Teachers leave them kids alone
Hey! Teachers! Leave them kids alone!
All in all it’s just another brick in the wall.
All in all you’re just another brick in the wall.
“Another Brick in the Wall (Part 2),” Pink Floyd, The Wall, December 1979
The song that became an anti-apartheid anthem in South Africa (it was eventually banned there) was Doug’s personal anthem that announced his distrust of authority – teachers, the fuzz (cops), preachers (except me), “the man” (E.J.).
E.J. offered to finish up his late-night meal order. “You go ahead and mop, and lock up.”
I suppose he meant for me to tell Doug to hit the road.
Not a chance. I’d done that once before and Doug hopped over the counter.
The most unpleasant but necessary part of having the “assistant manager” title was the authority to “kick out” unruly customers – usually my friends or classmates.
“Bruce, you’re out of here. Two weeks!”
The clipboard on the wall just inside the kitchen was where E.J. and our dollar-an-hour staff kept track of who was banned, for how long and why. It seemed that most of the entries were made in my handwriting.
My buddy Stacy once de-pantsed another trouble-maker. It was hilarious, but …
“Stacy, that’s a week!”
Alan tossed a lit firecracker under a pool table. “Alan, you’re OUT!” I shouted.
He didn’t argue. “How long?”
“A month. Four weeks. And you gotta talk to E.J. before you can come back.”
I jotted down my edict on the clipboard as Alan stormed out. I cranked up the volume for one-hit wonder Larry Van Warmer’s “Just When I Needed You Most,” probably the most popular B-side song of any seven-inch LP in the history of the Drive-In.
“Pssst! Little Preach.” Doug got my attention and leaned over the counter toward me. “Just heard Alan say he knows when you get off tonight. He’s bringing Bruce and Shane. They’re gonna jump you and kick your ass.”