That's when a smoke was a smoke
And groovin' was groovin'

Hazy smoke fell low from the ceiling all the way to the tabletops. I was seventeen and standing at a darkened crowded bar on a Saturday night illegally ordering a double shot of Jack Daniel's and a glass of beer for a chaser. My friends were settled in at a booth across the room. Our cadre of young Turks had driven an hour to find a place where we could drink at a bar like the men we thought we were. The place was Ardmore, Tennessee, and it was famous for letting kids drink as long as they were old enough to reach the bar and hold the glass and were flush enough to pay the tab.

For a man, learning about women is a lifelong venture. I know we're all the same in some dimensions, but in this dimension right here, right now, there are differences that are stark and you had better learn the rules early or there are consequences. I have seen consequences aplenty. Many of them have been life-altering and some have been life-ending.

We were young
And we were improvin'

Webb was the Eagle Scout who, even though fully grown, was a full head shorter than the rest of us. He was the quiet kid who had enough self-confidence not to care that he was usually looking up at his mates. He was also pretty darn cute, as several girls had told me when they wanted to plug their resume via a third party.

The crowd got rowdier as the evening wore on, and we mostly stayed to ourselves and kept clear of the pool tables and pinball machines. We were there to be make-believe adults vis a vis the beverages. We were wearing bar training wheels and realized we should stay on the edges. We were laughing, laughing with our friends. But there was a girl alone in a booth near us and she was making the batty batty eyes at Webb. He said, "That girl is giving me a look." And, before we could offer an assessment or an opinion, he was fleet of foot and soon sitting next to her.

We sort of forgot about it and got back to the important task of seeing how much we could throw down before it came back up. But I eventually looked over to see why Webb wasn't returning and was shocked to see him and this girl laying down in the booth with their hands all over each other. Surely they weren't going to try and get naked right here, were they? And that's when a very large man appeared out of the dark, standing right above the two of them. I would guess the girl was not yet twenty and 5'2" and probably weighed less than 110 lbs. I would guess that her sudden significant other was closer to thirty and was around 6'3" and 230 lbs.

One night me with my big mouth
Some guys had to put me in my place

I shushed my friends and nodded my head over toward the developing situation with our emboldened Boy Scout.

When the boyfriend's hands grabbed Webb by the back of his shirt, the girl's left hand was in Webb's pants and her left leg was firmly wound around both of his. Big boyfriend didn't seem to have much trouble extracting our pal from his friendly confines. He picked our classmate up and stood him on his feet. Some sort of conversation ensued, none of which was audible to us since the juke box was blaring out the Tams' "I've Been Hurt" for about the third time in a row. The conversation didn't last long, and Webb got marched outside with the fellow's hand still firmly in control of the back of his heretofore impeccable Gant bleeding madras shirt.

We followed and had no idea that anything could turn quite as ugly as this was about to. We'd seen fights before and I'd been in enough to know that you can get hurt if you don't watch out. But we were in another land right now and the rules we'd become accustomed to didn't hold sway here outside the club Cherry Bomb in Ardmore, Tennessee, on a Saturday night.

The boyfriend marched Webb outside the front door and around to the side of the white concrete building. A couple of his buddies backed their cars out of the parking lot and pointed them at the side of the club where the crowd was gathering. They turned the lights on bright. We saw our friend standing there: He seemed sort of dazed and amused by the spectacle. I think he thought he might be in for some misery, but he probably assumed that it would be over quickly and we could either talk about it over a couple of more drinks, or we could go ahead and go home with a tale to tell about how he almost got laid right in front of God and us, too.

That's when it began. The boyfriend's hands were the size of Kleenex boxes and he balled up both fists and hit Webb four times on each side of his head. Webb tried to deflect the blows and land one or two of his own. But with their shadows being doubled in size on the white concrete wall, it quickly dawned on us what was about to happen. Two of us jumped into the limelight to try and stop the bully from his murderous intentions. For my efforts, I got knocked down with a blow to the side of the head from some anonymous very large fist in the dark. The other would-be rescuer met a similar fate and when we both looked up, there were several large fellows tsk-tsking us to remain as bystanders or suffer the same fate several times over.

And so we watched helplessly as our friend got beaten like I've never before or since seen one person beaten. When he would fall and not get up, the boyfriend would stand him up against the white bright wall and pound him three or four more times before he fell again.

When his fists got tired and he finally quit, the damage he'd done was catastrophic. We had to ferry Webb an hour back to the hospital in our local town because we didn't know where one might be that would be closer. He almost lost the sight in one eye. He had four broken ribs. He had wires in his face for weeks. His teeth were a reconstructive nightmare.

And the one thing that I remember more clearly than any other one thing from that nightmare of a night? During the massacre, the girl who had started it all was laughing and clapping and jumping up and down, screaming her lungs out, "Kill him, Jimmy! Kill him!!"

Outside the club Cherry Bomb
Our hearts were really thumpin'
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah