Owen’s Pool Hall, Sparta, Wisconsin

This is a sea-story from the time in my life that today I call, “In a galaxy far, far away”. Sharing stories like this reminds me that I wish my father had shared more stories of his youth with me.

So my intent is to spin a yarn and we’ll consider it historic fact in this form. If my kids ever read this I hope they see the wisdom in my asking them to “be careful” and to “enjoy yourself in moderation” when they go out at night. I’ve been there and know why I share the advice.

This story doesn’t involve me almost dying, like the time I fell off the back of Mike Waldron’s van driving through that field in South Oklahoma City, or the dozen times I probably shouldn’t have driven home after this or that party. Too many of my stories have that element to them. Mrs. OkieRover has heard many of the stories of my youth and once said, “It’s a miracle we got to meet.”

Click to continue with my sea story….

Let’s set the scene. August, 1984, United States Marine Corps Combined Arms Exercise (CAX), Fort McCoy, Wisconsin. I was a lowly Lance Corporal and we had been granted a 48 hour liberty. At this time in my life I was attending the University of Oklahoma and serving in the USMCR. My friends called it playing “G.I. Joe”. The money for my two weeks in the summer and one weekend a month went to my car and school.

We got liberty call and we’d been paid the day before being released. I knew once I got paid I’d blow it all if I didn’t put some aside. I remember the first thing I did when we hit town was go to the bank and I bought a cashier’s check in my dad’s name. This would prevent me from blowing all my money.

It was a late start for the few of us who decided NOT to go to Madison. Madison boasted of having the second most bars per-capita in America and was the farthest approved liberty destination. Our plans were not so ambitious. Our small band consisted of Owens, Macias, Hysoon, and myself. We talked about what we do. It was decided we would go into Sparta. We put on our best clothes. The guys wore what would be considered “preppy” for the time. I owned one “Polo shirt” I put it on with my jeans and we caught the bus to town.

We hit town a little before 1000 and looked for an open bar. We stumbled on a tattoo parlor where Gunny Jones was already lit and getting a tattoo. He got one every summer. We hung out there for a while. We all thought about what kind of tattoo we should get and looked through the books. I didn’t see anything I wanted on my body forever so it was off to a bar.

I can’t remember how we got these tokens.
I’ve kept mine all these years.

As it turned out Owen’s Pool Hall was the only open bar in town. We thought it was our destiny to drink there because we had the one and only LCPL Owens in our party. We busted in the door like we owned the place. What we found was some of the hardest looking bikers I’ve ever seen in my life.

They glared at us. Our exuberance melted away. Being outnumbered somewhere in the 3 to 1 range we collectively thought, finding a quiet table and getting a pitcher was a good idea. The glaring continued. To say we felt uncomfortable would be an understatement.

I got the big idea to go put some money in the jukebox and at least break up the awkward silence with some music. Besides, I’ve never seen a bar fight in a movie that didn’t have music playing in the background. If I was going to be mopping the floor with some biker I figured it would need a soundtrack (more likely it would have been me on the floor, but what the hell, we were Marines and bulletproof).  I asked the waitress for some quarters for the jukebox and went to select some music.

“Born to Be Wild” by Steppenwolf was the first song I played.

I can’t remember the second song, but I’m pretty sure it was a song by Credence Clear Water Revival. By the middle of the second song, the bikers were becoming very congenial and by the middle of the third song, one even came over to talk to us. His name was “Fish”. He gave us nothing more. He was a scraggly fellow festooned in leather with a few of his teeth missing. We chatted about us and them for quite a while.

As it turned out this was the biker’s evening time. They started milking at local dairies by 0200 and when morning broke they were enjoying the end of their day. Fish told us that the bikers would milk for a while, get some money together and then head out on the road again.

We drank some more and eventually the rest of Fish’s crew worked their way over to our table and we began mixing. We played pool with them and drank some more. It was around 1300 when I woke up with my head laying in a bowl of pretzels on the bar. I remember the bartender telling my friends “if they didn’t get him out of the pretzels we’d have to leave.” Three hours of hard drinking took its toll on me.

I sobered up and a while later Macias decided to promote Fish to the rank of Major. It seemed appropriate and so we got the bikers lined up in formation. Macias recited the promotion warrant every Marine has heard a dozen or more times. Captain Fish was now Major Fish. Owens ordered a “hand salute” to which every biker raised their hand and saluted.

I don’t remember what time it was that Fish and his mates needed some sleep. Fish told us the place to be to “meet some women” was “The Theater”. It was a dance club next door that opened at 2100 and he would be there. We had a lot of time to kill. I remember walking around town, but I don’t remember much else. We waited there until 2100.

When we noticed The Theater was open we went in. It was a dance hall for sure. We got a table and ordered a pitcher of beer. It took awhile for the place to begin hopping. Our original mission “to meet some chicks” was in jeopardy of being a failure. The guys to girls ratio was two to one. And these were not women we were accustom to seeing. Most of them were taller than me and had me by twenty pounds.

I’m trying not to exaggerate but these were “healthy-corn-fed” women. We were taken aback. Only after we decided to give up on finding what we considered women did we start mixing. We danced and generally had a good time. Culturally speaking, we must of appeared like fish riding bicycles. When the “Chicken Song” came on and everyone was flapping their arms I felt like I was on Mars.

I am not shitting you…they played that song…on purpose….and everyone liked it.

At some point Major Fish showed up. He had the same clothes on he had before except he had two new accessories. Two of the cutest women we had seen in at least two weeks. Really, compared to the other women there they were normal sized and attractive by anyone’s standards.

How Major Fish with his scraggly hair and missing teeth could have scored these women can only be explained by one thing….COCAINE. We asked him repeatedly where he came up with these girls and he would only say, “…you know…” At the time it did not occur to us that Major Fish was probably the biggest drug dealer in Sparta. He stayed a little while. His women danced a couple of songs with our crew and just as quickly as he arrived, he was gone.

The evening was mostly a bust after that. We were tired. I was in quite possibly in the best shape I’ve ever been in my life. One long day of hard drinking and two weeks of mild sleep deprivation brought on by camping in a CAX had taken its toll. I was also broke. I remember saving something like two dollars so I could ride the bus back to the base. We stumbled out of the Theater and got on the last bus. Finding our barracks was fairly entertaining and took up at least another hour as we wandered from building to building looking for our bunks.

That’s how I remember it. It’s funny how seeing a picture of a t-shirt (MellowJihadi.com) with a base name on it can bring on memories of a time so very, very long ago…in a galaxy far, far away.

Thanks for reading and Happy Rovering.

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