by Tim Gilmore, 5/28/2017
There’s a bullet hole in the urinal.
The recent spring night The Jug reopened after being shut down for code violations for several months, a 6’5” “monster named Matt” dropped his gun in the urinal while relieving himself.
“It’s a good thing he didn’t shoot his dick off,” someone says.
“Naw,” says Pookie. “He couldn’t hit that little weasel. It’d have to be a perfect shot.”
A tall blond woman climbs into a nearby pickup and Pookie yells, “Hey! Ever’ time I drink with you, I forget stuff and you lose your belt!”
We’re sitting outside The Jug where Lenox Avenue curves into Verna Boulevard. Pookie and Lisa and Dog Track and Ray all insist this was the bar that made its way into Lynyrd Skynyrd’s 1973 song “Gimme Three Steps.” Anyone who says it was The Little Brown Jug at 2517 Edison Avenue, they say, is wrong.
“The Little Brown Jug was a liquor store where you cashed your paychecks,” Dog Track says. Then he quotes the song.
“I was cuttin’ the rug / Down at a place called The Jug / With a girl named Linda Lou / When in walked a man / With a gun in his hand / And he was lookin’ for you know who.”
Dog Track leans over me, his faded neck tattoos in my eyes, blows smoke, and asks chummily, “You think you could cut the rug down in that liquor store?”
He points abruptly at Lisa, the bartender, and says, “Me and her’s been divorced nine times.” He shows me his elbows, says he was in the Marines in the late ’70s, and says, “Motherfuckers shot off both my elbows.” He says Jimmy Carter was “the most-failed president ’til Obama. Motherfucker. Now don’t go talkin’ no politics.”
When I ask him in what part of the world his elbows were “shot off,” he says, “Motherfuckers come right up outta the sand! I used to run the dog track’s why they call me Dog Track. Now I run the gun range.”
Lisa hands a Michelob Ultra across the bar and the fringes on her dark dress shimmy. Dog Track sings, “Gimme three steps, gimme three steps, Mister. / Gimme three steps toward the door.”
The tattooed letters FTW, for “Fuck the world,” descend her spine between the straps of her dress while she dances. “Gimme three steps, gimme three steps, Mister. / And you’ll never see me no more.”
Ricky Cason, one of Pookie’s best friends, says surprisingly and randomly, “Canadians love Lynyrd Skynyrd!” Then he says that when Pookie bought the place in 2012, one of the first things he did was raise the Confederate flag out front.
Later I ask Pookie why. I’m surprised when a black couple comes in, surprised Pookie’s not the only black person in this redneck bar, surprised Pookie owns a redneck bar.
“I had to tell everybody,” he says, “just because there’s a change of ownership don’t mean there’s a change in heritage. Everybody here is gonna get along.”
A character named David comes over, the only hair on his head is the white hair on his chin, wears a gray wife-beater, arms sleeved with tattoos, a pair of sunglasses atop his head. He walks slowly around the table with a slight smile and squint, never says a word. Finally he crouches next to Pookie, puts his arm around him, looks into Pookie’s face, and continues to smile.
Then Ricky and Pookie and Liz are talking about the minor-league professional “wrasslin’” The Jug occasionally hosts in its front parking lot along Lenox Avenue. Last year, two obese United States Championship Wrestling league “wrasslers” named Kubiak and Abdullah the Butcher faced off, spilling out of their spandex singlets and tossing each other to the ground.
Ricky grew up a few blocks behind The Jug. His father sang “Gimme Three Steps” every time he drove past the bar.
Now Pookie’s yelling through the open garage door into the bar, “Hey, Denny! Hey, man! Hey, Denny! Hey, bring me a beer, Denny!”
And Denny, a short chubby man wearing a tight black t-shirt and jean shorts, walks halfway to Pookie’s table, turns back around and says, “Aw hell, man. I know better than that! I’m gonna get in trouble.”
And Pookie’s laughing hard. “You don’t wanna talk about the time you was dancin’ on the pool table, and you was, you know, shower-ready?”
Redheaded Billie Jo, whose breasts will surely jiggle free, any moment, from the top of the dress that barely covers her, says, “My mama had her first legal beer here, and when my daughter’s old enough in September, she’s gonna have her first legal beer here too.”
Pookie’s brought from his office the iron-ringed oval marker than once hung on the front of the bar and reads, “Established 1948.”
Somebody says she’s come here so long she’s glad the walls can’t talk. Somebody says, “If this here parkin’ lot could talk, you’d need a goddam typewriter.” Somebody wonders how many virginities Lynyrd Skynyrd did away with at The Jug.
Somebody’s talking about Jesse, sad that he’s not here. I see Jesse riding his bike up and down Riverside several times a week. With his sour and resentful bald head, his giant glasses, his sweatpants pulled up over his belly and swelled out by what appears to be an underlying layer of pants? shorts? what?, he’s one of the strangest-looking people I’ve ever seen.
He usually sits at the back bar inside wearing a do-rag, an upgrade from the flap of cloth he used to perch atop his skull.
“Yeah, man,” Pookie says, “Jesse was in jail for a couple months there.”
Billie Jo explains: “Somebody stirred ’im up, so he poked ’em.”
Jesse’s been living in a tent tucked away behind a store somewhere in tony Avondale for 16 or 17 years. He hits three bars a day: Pat’s, Across the Street, and The Jug. Sometimes he brings in steaks, says, “Y’all mind if we grill these?” and everyone partakes. His girlfriend manages a McDonald’s.
“Let me tell you somethin’!” Pookie says. “This is the number-one dive bar in Jacksonville, I said so, and I’ll challenge any other bar to the title!”
Then he backs his claim. $2 16-oz. Pabst Blue Ribbon all day every day, $1.50 from 6 a.m. to 10 every morning but Thursday, $1 all Thursday long.
“I keep a thousand pounds of ice at all times. When we say ‘ice cold beer,’ it’s ice cold beer.”
All times of day have their particular clientele. Graveyard shift workers come by first thing in the morning, sometimes before the sun’s up. Others stop by first thing in the morning before work. Some regulars come by some mornings wearing flip-fops, which means they’re ready to start drinking beer, but on other mornings wear gaiters, which means they’ll have a coffee and head to work.
Liz points to Potter’s House, the black evangelical church across the street and asks if they mind his being here. Potter’s House occupies the former Normandy Shopping Mall. Before the church moved in, Pookie says, the mall was abandoned and full of homeless people.
“Naw, we’re good,” Pookie says about The Jug and Potter’s House. The church hosts concerts sometimes that blast out the neighborhood and The Jug sometimes hosts bands in its back yard.
When Pookie laughs and says, “I’m a small-time guy and a God-fearin’ man, and we’re gonna get along even if I have to adapt for them,” he reminds me of what he says about raising the Confederate flag over the bar. “They don’t complain, I don’t complain,” he says. “I’m a good neighbor.”
A short grizzled man named Raymond gets on his motorcycle to leave. “Get’cher’selfs some barbecue,” he says, pointing back inside. “It’s on the house.” Ray’s been coming here for years, “but add it all up together,” he laughs, “I prob’ly been here a few months.”
“I love it here, man,” Pookie says. He used to run Seven Seas Crab House on North Main Street, but says that was too much work. “Here,” he says, “the overhead is low and the people are easy.” He pauses. “Just don’t shoot the fuckin’ place up when you’re takin’ a goddamn piss.”