My Life as a Lug Nut

Debi Snider
Copyright 2003
This is a true story and took place in El Paso in 1987

“The Red Rose Lounge”……….hearing the name by itself suggests it might
be a nice place to relax at the end of a long day, with some nice piano bar music, some greenery here and there, polished brass railings along a shiny oak bar, a handsome Tom Cruise-type bartender mixing and serving exotic drinks to the yuppie crowd. But when you add the street name to the location of this lounge, the locals know it is on one of the worst streets in town and is more commonly known as a “dive”. I’m still not sure where the term “dive” originated, but I feel it may have something to do with a person taking a headlong dive into a world of alcoholic misery, for that is what I was about to do.

I was in rehearsals with a surefire up and coming rock band during the week (whatever happened to them?), when the drummer pulled me aside one day to talk. J.R. was playing on weekends with a three-piece band at the Red Rose Lounge, and would I like to bring my equipment out and sit in with them sometime……of course there would be no money involved, but it would be “fun”. Well, being the ham musician I am, I rarely ever turned down a chance to perform, so there I was! I soon became a regular fixture at the Rose, and before too long, I was on the payroll at a whopping $15 a night, every Friday and Saturday night from 9 till 2AM.

The stage, such as it was, was very small, and only about 8 inches above the dance floor, and barely enough room for the three guys, so I set up on the side near the fire exit (good thing there was never a fire!). The band’s unofficial name was “Mixed Nuts”, and since I was off to the side, I became affectionately known as the “Lug Nut”. My trademark song was ‘The Rose”, appropriately enough, and I sang it twice every night. Sometimes people noticed, but most times they didn’t. The clientele at the Red Rose Lounge, was a very serious drinking bunch no white wine spritzers or fancy drinks for these folks. Beer, the cheaper the better, the occasional whiskey and Coke and not even any pretzels on the bar in cute little baskets. No, if you happened to get hungry during the night, there was a vending machine in the back hallway, full of stale cheese and crackers, and candy bars.

One of the regular patrons, was a down on his luck fellow named (for the purpose of this story) Larry. Now, Larry had a very serious drinking problem, which probably explained why he was homeless. He would rather drink than do anything else in the world, including working to make money for a place to live. Rose, the bar owner, was one tough cookie most of the time, but had a soft spot for Larry, and let him sleep in the back office when it was really cold or wet outside, and Larry did a few odd jobs in order to get his beer for free. The rest of the time, Larry, I was told, slept in the desert under a shrub, and wandered the streets looking for handouts.

Larry began sitting at the table nearest my keyboard every night that I was there, and really paying attention to my music, to the point where he was heckling the band because I wasn’t singing enough songs. He would try to talk to me on breaks, but I was trying to keep my distance, not knowing exactly what his motives might be. Because he was usually so drunk and hard to talk with, I was polite, and tried to laugh things off, until one fateful Saturday night. Larry finally drank enough to get the nerve to tell me that not only had he fallen in love with me, but I was the “love of his life”, and he would do anything for a chance to prove his love to me. My pulse quickened, my heart was racing, but not for the declaration of his love, it was time to panic here I was slowly inching my way towards the fire exit door, while this poor guy is earnestly promising he will cut his long hair, give up his earring, get a job and find a place to live, if only I will give him a chance. But he didn’t want to do any of those things for himself, to make his life better, only for me. I tried to explain as gently as I could, that a person couldn’t, and shouldn’t have to change himself just to make another person love him, to make himself worthy of love. I assured him that he could put his life back together, then surely there would be someone in his future that would find him to be the perfect mate, but for now, it wasn’t me. I wasn’t the cause of his current problems, and I couldn’t be the solution for his future. I was not very convincing, and Larry didn’t take this very well, he said he cared only about me, not himself, not his family, and since I wasn’t going to give him a chance, he might as well have a few more drinks and he did. I was very anxious about this turn of events, as I had never had an “admirer” such as Larry, and didn’t realize until then just how dangerous it can be, to be in the “spotlight” so to speak, even in a low class place like the Red Rose Lounge.

One Monday morning not long after my encounter with Larry, I went to the club to pick up my equipment for my other band’s rehearsal, and had to wait a few minutes for them to open. The bar opened at 10 AM every day, and as I sat in my 20-year-old station wagon with 150,000 miles on the odometer, I saw several of the “regulars” walking up, they weren’t fortunate enough to even own a car, to wait by the door. These were the same people who I saw every Friday and Saturday night, and here they were, bright and early on Monday morning……waiting to get in. I wondered what kind of lives these men and women had lived in the past, and what road had led them to spend most of their waking hours in a dim, smoke-filled dive like the Red Rose Lounge. If I kept playing here and drinking like I was, could my future be staring me in the face? How in the world did I get involved in this place? At that moment I realized I had a choice to make.

As I loaded the last of my equipment into my car (by myself), one of the fellows hopped off his bar stool long enough to hold the door open for me while I carried out a single mic stand……he told me how much he enjoyed my music and hoped I’d play there a long time. I looked into his tired, worn face, smiled my best smile, said thank you, got into my car, drove away, and never returned to the Red Rose Lounge. I’m sure it’s still in business today. I wonder if Larry is still there……….

Sureshot, El Paso, 1987

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My Life as a Lug Nut

Debi Snider
Copyright 2003
This is a true story and took place in El Paso in 1987

“The Red Rose Lounge”……….hearing the name by itself suggests it might
be a nice place to relax at the end of a long day, with some nice piano bar music, some greenery here and there, polished brass railings along a shiny oak bar, a handsome Tom Cruise-type bartender mixing and serving exotic drinks to the yuppie crowd. But when you add the street name to the location of this lounge, the locals know it is on one of the worst streets in town and is more commonly known as a “dive”. I’m still not sure where the term “dive” originated, but I feel it may have something to do with a person taking a headlong dive into a world of alcoholic misery, for that is what I was about to do.

I was in rehearsals with a surefire up and coming rock band during the week (whatever happened to them?), when the drummer pulled me aside one day to talk. J.R. was playing on weekends with a three-piece band at the Red Rose Lounge, and would I like to bring my equipment out and sit in with them sometime……of course there would be no money involved, but it would be “fun”. Well, being the ham musician I am, I rarely ever turned down a chance to perform, so there I was! I soon became a regular fixture at the Rose, and before too long, I was on the payroll at a whopping $15 a night, every Friday and Saturday night from 9 till 2AM.

The stage, such as it was, was very small, and only about 8 inches above the dance floor, and barely enough room for the three guys, so I set up on the side near the fire exit (good thing there was never a fire!). The band’s unofficial name was “Mixed Nuts”, and since I was off to the side, I became affectionately known as the “Lug Nut”. My trademark song was ‘The Rose”, appropriately enough, and I sang it twice every night. Sometimes people noticed, but most times they didn’t. The clientele at the Red Rose Lounge, was a very serious drinking bunch no white wine spritzers or fancy drinks for these folks. Beer, the cheaper the better, the occasional whiskey and Coke and not even any pretzels on the bar in cute little baskets. No, if you happened to get hungry during the night, there was a vending machine in the back hallway, full of stale cheese and crackers, and candy bars.

One of the regular patrons, was a down on his luck fellow named (for the purpose of this story) Larry. Now, Larry had a very serious drinking problem, which probably explained why he was homeless. He would rather drink than do anything else in the world, including working to make money for a place to live. Rose, the bar owner, was one tough cookie most of the time, but had a soft spot for Larry, and let him sleep in the back office when it was really cold or wet outside, and Larry did a few odd jobs in order to get his beer for free. The rest of the time, Larry, I was told, slept in the desert under a shrub, and wandered the streets looking for handouts.

Larry began sitting at the table nearest my keyboard every night that I was there, and really paying attention to my music, to the point where he was heckling the band because I wasn’t singing enough songs. He would try to talk to me on breaks, but I was trying to keep my distance, not knowing exactly what his motives might be. Because he was usually so drunk and hard to talk with, I was polite, and tried to laugh things off, until one fateful Saturday night. Larry finally drank enough to get the nerve to tell me that not only had he fallen in love with me, but I was the “love of his life”, and he would do anything for a chance to prove his love to me. My pulse quickened, my heart was racing, but not for the declaration of his love, it was time to panic here I was slowly inching my way towards the fire exit door, while this poor guy is earnestly promising he will cut his long hair, give up his earring, get a job and find a place to live, if only I will give him a chance. But he didn’t want to do any of those things for himself, to make his life better, only for me. I tried to explain as gently as I could, that a person couldn’t, and shouldn’t have to change himself just to make another person love him, to make himself worthy of love. I assured him that he could put his life back together, then surely there would be someone in his future that would find him to be the perfect mate, but for now, it wasn’t me. I wasn’t the cause of his current problems, and I couldn’t be the solution for his future. I was not very convincing, and Larry didn’t take this very well, he said he cared only about me, not himself, not his family, and since I wasn’t going to give him a chance, he might as well have a few more drinks and he did. I was very anxious about this turn of events, as I had never had an “admirer” such as Larry, and didn’t realize until then just how dangerous it can be, to be in the “spotlight” so to speak, even in a low class place like the Red Rose Lounge.

One Monday morning not long after my encounter with Larry, I went to the club to pick up my equipment for my other band’s rehearsal, and had to wait a few minutes for them to open. The bar opened at 10 AM every day, and as I sat in my 20-year-old station wagon with 150,000 miles on the odometer, I saw several of the “regulars” walking up, they weren’t fortunate enough to even own a car, to wait by the door. These were the same people who I saw every Friday and Saturday night, and here they were, bright and early on Monday morning……waiting to get in. I wondered what kind of lives these men and women had lived in the past, and what road had led them to spend most of their waking hours in a dim, smoke-filled dive like the Red Rose Lounge. If I kept playing here and drinking like I was, could my future be staring me in the face? How in the world did I get involved in this place? At that moment I realized I had a choice to make.

As I loaded the last of my equipment into my car (by myself), one of the fellows hopped off his bar stool long enough to hold the door open for me while I carried out a single mic stand……he told me how much he enjoyed my music and hoped I’d play there a long time. I looked into his tired, worn face, smiled my best smile, said thank you, got into my car, drove away, and never returned to the Red Rose Lounge. I’m sure it’s still in business today. I wonder if Larry is still there……..

Sureshot 1987

Sureshot, El Paso, 1987

It’s Okay, I *AM* the Band….

Today while I was deleting old files to make space on my hard drive for more photos, I stumbled over this draft that I started…..who knows when….of course, I’m not going to finish it now. Just posting it, because it’s all true……

I lived a very sheltered life until my divorce at the age of 31. I didn’t drink alcohol, I never learned to smoke, didn’t use foul language and I didn’t know what the world was like outside my small circle of friends. Of course I saw these things on TV, but I couldn’t visualize living in that world.

My life changed one day when I answered an ad for a band that was looking for a piano player. I played piano, I should be able to do that, I thought. I auditioned on a borrowed keyboard, and even though I had never played with a band, had no idea what to do I got the job. This meant I had to acquire a piano and an amplifier on my minimum wage paycheck. That was no small feat right there. They also asked me to sing backup harmony, since there was another girl who sang lead. Yikes…..most of the singing I had done was at church and a few times at a local Opry show. I managed to fake my way through that also. I was beginning to get good at faking things.

The name of the band was “Burgundy and Lace”. Catchy and descriptive….Burgundy was the masculine part and Lace was the other girl and me.

The band picked up a few gigs locally, and I gained more and more confidence and experience. I also began drinking, simply because that is what people do in a bar or nightclub. You go there to drink, to mingle, to dance; to live the nightlife. Ah, the nightlife.

I will admit to being quite conceited in those days. I admit it now, but not then. My mother told me once, when she was annoyed and disgusted with my new hobby, that all I wanted to do was “get dressed up, go out and let men tell me how pretty I was”. I was appalled that she would say such a horrible thing to me, I was a “professional” musician now, and I was going to be famous! It was a few years before I could acknowledge the stark truth in what my mom said to me. It was the truth. I loved it, I was thin, didn’t look my age, I was cute and the men liked me.

Even on my off nights from the band, I couldn’t just sit at home. I would go out to a club with my new girlfriends; I learned to dance, sort of. For a musician, I’m not a very good dancer, but I loved trying. The most popular place in the 1980s was Calhoon’s, on Breezy Hill between Denison and Sherman. Thursday was “Ladies Night”….which meant no cover charge and maybe even free beer. If not free, then it was 25 or 50 cents. That was my price range in those days. At a place like Calhoon’s, the crowd was constantly moving, back and forth from one end of the club to the other. We never, ever sat down at a table; that was for the married people, or the ones on dates. As single ladies, we were there to “see and be seen” by all the (hopefully) single men. The three of us heard every lame pick-up line ever uttered, and some never heard before. My favorite was the obviously drunk guy who came up to us right before closing time and said he’d been watching us all evening long, but was so intimidated by our beauty that he had to work up the nerve to approach us. Sure, buddy, sure. We know; we all get prettier at closing time! But, you didn’t get better looking or smarter…..take a hike!

My Love Affair….with the Piano….

I’ve written a lot about my musical background, including my shady days as a bar-fly, but music still is my heart’s desire, even at my age. I grew up with piano music in my house, and as a small child, I think I just assumed everyone’s mother played the piano like mine did. I must have thought every house had a piano, just like a sofa or dining table. I didn’t know that not everyone heard the music of Chopin, Beethoven or Rachmaninoff being played in their own living room. What wonders these kids missed out on, for sure!

So, of course, I think the piano is the best musical instrument ever invented by mankind. The piano, under the right touch, can produce any style of music, from classical to ragtime to country to pop. Nothing against guitarists, because I do know some really awesome players, but I feel the piano outshines them all. My mother, who is a mere 18 years older than me, has such a lyrical, melodic style that I have tried to emulate for 50+ years, without success. She was classically trained and it shines through in whatever she plays. Someone once described my style as “Broadway”, but I think it’s Broadway meets country meets Southern Baptist……it just depends on where and what I’m playing.

My talent is just a shade past its prime these days, as arthritis has made my hands slow and my fingers clumsy; and my style has become simpler, less adorned….playing safer means fewer mistakes. It breaks my heart at times, because I love to sit down and play; and now I get a little frustrated because of the limitations. Ah, well….such is life, though. I’m still blessed to be able to play and I’m thankful that my mother shared her knowledge with me at an early age and instilled in my heart my love of good music.

Midnight Lady

In 1985 I was playing with the band “Burgundy and Lace” in my hometown and having a blast, learning the ropes, learning to drink, etc. The drummer was a laid back guy named LaVaden (LV for short) Reynolds, and one night at rehearsal, he told me about a song he had written. He had a page full of lyrics with a good premise, the title was “A Midnight Lady named Sadie”…….I saw potential and asked if I could work with the words and see if I could come up with something. He was excited that I was willing to try, so that’s how “Midnight Lady” was born.

I tweaked the lyrics, condensing them to make them more cohesive, and came up with a melody and some chord changes that I really liked. The band learned the song, we performed it regularly in clubs and it was well received. Of course, it was sung by the lead singer, Randy, with me and Linda singing harmony. The version at the top of the page is mine, made with Band in a Box, with my vocals. I really think it could have been a great song in the right hands. I suppose we’ll never know.

LV died about 4 years ago, much too young. It’s a shame that he never got to hear our song on the Internet…….he would have said “wow, man, that’s really cool”. I can hear him saying just those words.

Midnight Lady

She’s a midnight lady, always on the go
sometimes saying maybe, sometimes saying no.
She’s always on the dance floor, at a local bar
living out her fantasy of being someone’s star.

She never goes home before midnight,
but always goes alone
running from the spotlight
never a diamond, just a rhinestone.

She’s a midnight lady, living all alone
looking out the window, listening for the phone,
but when the phone is silent and she cannot sleep
she remembers all the promises that he just couldn’t keep.

Now the midnight lady recalls a love gone by
but the memory is so faded now, she finds it hard to cry,
’cause now that she is older and wiser than before
she realized a broken heart doesn’t matter anymore.

She never goes home before midnight,
but always goes alone
running from the spotlight
never a diamond, just a rhinestone.

ooh..midnight lady
sad and lonely lady
ooh midnight lady
all alone…….

Nightlife

*When the evenin’ sun goes down

you will find me hangin’ round

oh the nightlife, it ain’t no good life

but it’s my life.

She sat in front of the mirror applying another coat of mascara to her lashes. Her dark brown eyes were her best feature, everyone said so, therefore she tried to make them look even more seductive. It was always dark in the nightclubs, and she wanted to be noticed. She wanted very much to be noticed over all the other single women vying to be noticed.

The garage apartment Jeannie rented was very small, furnished with hand-me-down furniture, odds and ends, but was very homey and comfortable. Her clothes hung behind a curtain suspended from the ceiling. Satin jackets, sequined tops, jeans, prairie dresses, cowboy boots and assorted high heels, most verging on stiletto. She was the shortest child in her family, at 5′ 4″…..everyone else seemed to tower above her, so the heels were a must have. Tonight’s costume would be the red satin camisole, black satin pants, black satin jacket with rhinestone adorned lapels, and heels in a silver/black pattern. She fastened the rhinestone necklace carefully behind her neck, and checked her reflection in the mirror. “Looking pretty good for 30-something” she thought.

“Don’t the girls all get prettier at closing time…. Don’t they all begin to look like movie stars… Don’t the girls all get prettier at closing time… When the change starts takin’ place… It puts a glow on every face….. Of the fallen angels of the backstreet bars”

It was the same routine she followed almost every night that she didn’t work. Jeannie sang with a local band, and loved being on stage, in the spotlight, it was a rush like none other. But, the nights that she wasn’t on stage, those were the lonely, empty nights that she tried to fill. She and her two best friends made the rounds between the two neighboring towns.

First stop was the club at The Sheraton Hotel because it was an early crowd, and happy hour included a buffet. She could kill two birds with one stone. Heads turned when the three women walked in together, they joked between themselves, that they looked like “Charlie’s Angels”, without the firearms, of course. They would stake their claim to a small table near the dance floor, and hold court while sipping slowly on their drinks. Next stop was a rabble-rousing country bar, full of good old boys, drugstore cowboys and more single women to compete against for attention. The “meat market” she called it, because the crowd of single women moved from one end of the building to the other in a well-organized throng, constantly moving, looking at every man as a potential dance partner, or more. Jeannie was glad it was ladies night here so she could drink for free. Last stop for the night, the other country bar in town, more of a couples atmosphere there. Not any good prospects there, because Jeannie was determined to never be a home-wrecker. Jeannie and both her friends had been hit on by many married men; it was just part of the nightlife, but having been on the receiving end of that betrayal, she swore she’d never be the reason another woman would lose her man. This was just the place to relax and have fun, the house band was laid back and would let Jeannie sit in on piano and sing later, so it was the perfect end to the night.

The waitress appeared at the table with a Colorado Bulldog, “complements of the gentleman at the bar” she said, nodding toward the man in the teal colored shirt. Jeannie caught her breath, and mumbled thank you to the waitress, all the while keeping her eye on the man. The man who once belonged to her, until some sweet young thing stepped in and took him away. Why was he here? She hadn’t seen him in over a year. Had it really been a year since she moved 700 miles to get away from the pain and memories of the two years they had spent together?

Alex started walking toward the table, and Jeannie began to panic. What would she say? How should she act? Offended? Hostile? Cool, indifferent? He held out his hand and led her to the dance floor. They began to dance like they had done so many times before, and everything seemed so natural and comfortable, but surreal all at the same time. Her head fit perfectly in the crook of his neck and the smell of his cologne brought memories rushing back into her head and her heart. At the end of the dance, he held her tight and asked if he could see her home safely. It would be so easy to say yes, to let him take over and be her protector again; it would be so nice to have someone to share her laughter and tears with. But, she could still feel the hurt, the pain, and she knew she could never forget.

The bartender called “last call” and the lights came on in the club. Nothing is worse than the harsh reality of fluorescent lights after being in a dimly lit building for hours, then you see the real person in front of you, the one you’ve romanticized over, danced and flirted with….and you realize, he’s just a man. A man who has realized what a mistake he made.

Jeannie looked at her reflection in the mirror as she removed her makeup. Her brown eyes were still her best feature, but now she noticed something new. Just a glimmer…….Self respect? Hope? Yes, maybe a bit of both. She had just discovered how strong she had become in the past year. She said “no” to the man who once was the center of her world, who she loved more than anything and who had hurt her beyond comprehension. She said “no”…..and walked away.

* Nightlife…by Willie Nelson

Dreamin’ Jeannie

The story of Dreamin’ Jeannie is a simple one. It’s my life. My middle name is Jeanne, easy enough to turn that into Jeannie….then use the play on words from the old Stephen Foster song “I Dream of Jeannie with the Light Brown Hair”….Because, it seemed I was always day-dreaming about things that I could never have, or could never be…I dreamed of being a musician, not necessarily being famous, but of being known for my music. I was a *stay-at-home-mom* long before that became a popular catch-phrase; what it really meant was, I had never worked, had no education or job skills, and a controlling husband. My (ex) husband didn’t like it when I would get lost in music, probably because he wasn’t musical, and he just didn’t understand. He did buy me a lovely piano once, but didn’t like for me to play when he was in the house; only if we had company would he say “play something”…..most of all he was jealous of my love of music because it took me away from him. It was my escape. I escaped a lot.

I wrote this song in 1979…I was sure that it could have been a big hit if the right artist would record it…..(I’m still dreamin’ about that)…..I had all of my original songs from that era copyrighted in the early 1980s thinking I would someday do something with them. So far, all I’ve done is sing them over and over to myself, and record a few for my satisfaction.

Below is the video slide show I set to the song a few years ago……filled with photos of the house we lived in once, my kids, and my days in the clubs….and the last frame is my daughter Kelly and me, performing together on a local talent show.

Dreamin’ Jeannie

Breakfast dishes sittin’ on the table till noon,

dirty clothes piled up in the hall so soon,

the kids are outside playin’, she knows her mama’s prayin’,

that someday she’ll grow up and stop dreamin’ all the time;

Her husband’s workin’ hard and extra hours these days,

to try to pay the bills and get ahead some way,

he loves her all he can, but he just don’t understand,

only hopes that someday she’ll stop dreamin’ all the time.

But Jeannie can’t stop dreamin’ when the music’s in her head,

cause if the music ever stops, she might as well be dead;

Well, someday they’ll remember how they teased her years ago,

when they hear her music playin’, on the radio…………………

She’s livin’ in a fantasy, well that’s what they all think,

just cause she’s not worried ‘bout dishes in the sink,

the telephone is ringin’, but Jeannie keeps on singin’,

and hopes she won’t ever stop dreamin’ all the time;

She knows the house is dusty, and the beds have not been made,

and the ironing’s where she left it, sometime yesterday,

so she gives a little smile, when he says he’ll be gone awhile,

and he knows she’ll never stop dreamin’ all the time..

chorus

second chorus:

They’ll say “Jeannie keep on dreamin’ makin’ music all day long”

someday the world will recognize, Dreamin’ Jeannie’s songs,

and her friends will say “oh yes, I knew Jeannie way back when,

wonder if she thinks about us every now and then”?

I can say that I have accomplished one goal, because most people who have known me for more than a short time, know my love for music; they know I love to sing, to play piano, to record, and to write songs. New people I meet are always surprised, no, shocked to learn that I once played in a country band, in bars and honky-tonks. I sure don’t look the part now. I just laugh and tell them “I wasn’t always this old”!

Copies of my labor of love, my very first hand printed lead sheet for Dreamin’ Jeannie…I’m still impressed that I was able to do that without knowing “how”…..

I’m still waiting for someone to discover my music ……..the dream has never died.

Jeannie is still dreamin’…..