Remembering Jim Porter's Good Time Emporium In Louisville

Hospital Town
Dan Canon.

I look over the singer’s shoulder at his lyric sheet. He doesn’t drink, so the ring at the bottom of the page must be the sweat from a watered-down glass of Diet Coke. I do drink, and so I confront him. 

“‘In the weight of the moss bone eater?’ What the fuck is that?” 

“It’s what I sing,” he says, edging away from me. “I don’t know the real words.”

“It’s ‘tú eres la más bonita.’ That’s a basic Spanish phrase, ya eedjit. Have you been singing it that way the whole time?” He shrugs. I laugh and stumble back to stage left. I look out at the dance floor, a square of laminate flooring demarcated by four padded safety rails; an island in a sea of forest-green carpet stained with decades of tobacco smoke and party fouls. The rails are necessary. They keep the boiling center of the room separate from the current of flesh that flows all night from the adjoining mainstage area to the bar and back again. 

Most weekends, we are a “second stage” act, which means we share the night with a DJ. We play a 45-minute set of classic rock, then the DJ has the room for another 45 minutes. This pattern is repeated four times, adding up to an agonizingly long percentage of a musician’s existence, an eternity rife with opportunities to eat stale grilled cheese and waffle fries, get drunk and sober and drunk again, and lose the ability to hear certain frequencies. It could be worse: We could have been stuck on the “third stage,” the one the size of a big-screen TV that sits in a nook behind the bar at the front entrance. There are no set breaks on that stage; you just play until the night is over or until you die, whichever comes first. 

A geriatric DJ in a cowboy hat starts his set, and the full range of biodiversity at Jim Porter’s Good Time Emporium is on display. Here the human animal is indiscriminate in its affections after 1 a.m., and so my bandmates and I watch as transgressive relationships begin, end and continue: Nuns and bikers, 19-year-old furries and aging Black Panthers, popped pastel collars and tennis-ball walkers, mullets and rainbow mohawks. That’s why you can’t fuck up the Spanish in a Los Lonely Boys song: Someone out there is a native speaker who knows that the words are not about “moss bone eaters,” and if they’re not soaked out of their minds or distracted by the gyrations of the conjoined twins from Fern Creek, they might call you out. 

Outkast’s “I Like the Way You Move,” the runaway hit of two summers ago, is thundering through the house speakers. The DJ, granted the godlike power of the mic in an environment where people are not supposed to hear each other, pointedly tells a group of middle-aged women dressed like Madonna, “I sure like the way y’all move.” A wild-looking man of about 50, his goatee dyed black, is performing a carefully choreographed dance routine with a woman who might be 20 years his junior, or maybe not, it’s hard to tell from the stage, and I can’t climb down into the current of bodies for fear of drowning in Old Spice, or the warm folds of a bearded giantess, or the brain-melting loudness of it all. Forty-five minutes are up, and we launch into Deep Purple’s “Hush.” Everyone leaves except a polite collection of band spouses and those too inebriated to move. 

Five years later, I follow the woman I will someday marry up a narrow, twisting passageway to the second floor of this same dilapidated bar, where there is a small library abutting a game room. The library is stocked with mismatched Victorian furniture, including a crusty yellow couch that patrons use to get each other pregnant. The whole thing should seem impossibly out of place, especially the books, which are mostly 19th-century literature, but in this unholy temple of syncretism, it works. My future wife pulls a copy of “A Christmas Carol” off the shelf and urges me to write our names in it. “No fucking way,” I say. “Someone will see it, and we’ll get in trouble.” It’s like the whole building is made of wet cardboard, about to crumble at any moment, but it’s always been that way and yet it still stands. The place is eternal, the library is eternal, the books and the words we write in them will be there forever. I try to get her to sit next to me on the couch. “No fucking way,” she says. 

In five more years, the owner announces that the club will close someday but would remain open “for the foreseeable future.” Weeks later, the employees are locked out and the windows are boarded up. There is no opportunity for one last visit. The owner promises that a bigger, better Jim Porter’s would open someday. It doesn’t. It won’t. One day the whole building is gone, razed to the ground to make way for a sewer overflow reduction project. I regret not writing my name in that copy of “A Christmas Carol” because the damn thing would just have been bulldozed anyway. Or perhaps it would have made its way into someone’s living room, ensuring that we would at least be remembered by someone for as long as it takes the glue to dissolve and the pages to fall out. 

At this time of year, I tend to finally abandon concern about my weight, or my liver, or my dopamine imbalance, or my daily step count. As I wait to be swallowed whole by entropy, my memory of Jim Porter’s Good Time Emporium reminds me to cherish the things that I love, even the sweaty, gross, misshapen things that I might not love all that much; things that I mistakenly assume will be there the next day, and the day after, perpetually decaying but never vanishing altogether. 

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