12 blue bars 

“My jail cell had 12 blue bars. Pretty damn funny, isn’t it? For two days I looked at 12 blue bars and tried to calm myself down. Tried to have some grace. Tried to have some patience. But it was hard. There was a junkie who was getting really sick right across from me. It’s hard to watch a thing like that, to watch a man go without his medicine, to watch a man in that much pain.”

Dan Halen got nabbed on the Lodge. He had just worked the door at a sadomasochistic fetish show. His job was to make sure that all patrons were properly prepared for the festivities. They had to have the right frame of mind. If they weren’t wearing the right gear, he would tell them to take their clothes off. He would wrap them in Saran Wrap and offer the ladies Styrofoam cups as ersatz brassieres. If he got a break, he would sneak down to where the people were spanking and pinching and poking and grab a few tortilla chips, maybe a drink or two.

His run-in with “da man” is recounted at Telly’s — Since 1974, a Grecian-themed dive on the gaudiest section of Van Dyke in Warren. Halen lives in Warren. He calls his place “The Bunker.” He lives there with an old rocker dude named Valentine.

Telly’s has an item called french fries supreme. It’s a huge plate of fries covered with chili and green pepper and onion and tomato and topped off with “our very own zesty sauce.” Now, you can fool drunks from the Butterfly Disco right across the street with that shit, but Halen and I know that the “zesty sauce” is Frank’s Red Hot. Any man who possesses the worldly attributes necessary to work in a rubber-dick store, as Halen does, is fully capable of discerning between “our very own zesty sauce” and store-bought. I mean, this guy can tell the difference between an authentic Burmese scrotal clip and a Chilean knockoff. All in a day’s work for Danny boy.

I ask if shy customers try to communicate what they want with him by writing it on a piece of paper.

“Only the mutes,” he quickly responds.

“How many mutes you got coming into that place?”

“Two.”

The cops found a knife in Halen’s car.

“It was one of those goofy fucking things some metal dude would have on his dresser and look at every day and think about how cool he was. It had two blades that extended into a kind of boomerang. When they found that, I was fucked.”

Two days in the 13th Precinct jail. Two days of bologna sandwiches and juice boxes and guys screaming “Turnkey!” and men who were growing ripe without the proper toilette.

“It’s really funny how they have it set up down there. Half the cells have telephones. Half the cells have toilets. But no cell has both. Guys would be asking each other to make calls for them, asking each other to take pisses for them. They never shut up. There was always someone screaming about something. One nonstop kvetch. I could only sleep for an hour or so at a time. It was maddening.”

He had a cold, and his lips were chapped, and there was a guy jonesing right across from those 12 blue bars. All night long this stranger’s moans filled his ears and his heart with pain.

Our waitress dumps a whole tray of plates, loaded with kebab and spinach pie, onto the floor right next to our booth. That idiot (you know him) who always says “dropped something ... heeheehee” is in residence. He complies with his compulsion for the obvious. The waitress doesn’t hear him. But I do. And I hate him. I hate him deeply.

The cop who busted Halen kept screaming at him on the side of the Lodge Freeway while his partner searched the car. “What number’s between nine and 11? Huh? What number’s between nine and 11?! Tell me! Tell me, boy!”

“It reminded me of a fetish show I did once, where they had me hanging on this wheel wearing nothing but a leather G-string,” Halen muses.

I’m not getting the connection. The mental image of the wheel spinning, Halen’s blond hair flying, the crowd’s eyes focused on that leather strap, is making the pilaf tumble uncomfortably in my stomach.

“Trapped. Both times I was trapped.”

Dan Demaggio dines with interesting people for Metro Times. E-mail him at letters@metrotimes.com

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