The Jailhouse

We subjugate the streets, demanding spoils. Damon and Alan attack the midweek happy hour with a fervor, and as I’m rolling in from another double sided workday, they’re already three sheets. They’re just now catching their second wind, they’re sucking me into an optimistic whirlwind which carries us like styrofoam keg cups all the way down to High.

A Wednesday night equals country music at the Jailhouse, and the first solid lead Damon has produced. Smack dab in the heart of campus, near the northwest corner of Lane and High, the Jailhouse seems an odd host for this weekly hoedown. A fashionable club pouring reservoirs of beer and throbbing dance music to the collegiate legions, the other six days draw an entirely different crowd. But Wednesday comes and the boots return, the ten gallon hats, to the backing of the lonesome western dirges these people know by heart.

A correspondingly older crowd, mostly, though also including two girls Damon knows from school, Laurie and Jessica. Roommates, they’re both majoring in fisheries management, same as Damon, and have invited him to the Jailhouse tonight. He warns us not to expect much from either, but we’re starving for prospects ourselves and are not inclined to miss it.

Even by location, the Jailhouse stands alone. Joined at the hip to a Greek deli, mounted a half dozen steps above the street, the nightclub faces West Lane Avenue in relative aloofness. Dozens of bars dot north campus and far more limn the university’s bottom border, but the ones between are spaced out piecemeal. Fanning further west along Lane finds first a towering cluster of dormitories, one window of which, eighteen or nineteen stories high, proudly harbors a neon Bud Light sign. Visible from blocks away in any direction, this glittering, glowing advertisement reaches people like a beacon, calling everyone within the signal’s radius to cast their cares aside and party. We can’t help but conjecture as to its owner’s identity, whether a polished ladies man leading thousands into battle, or a lonely recluse begging for just one person to arrive upon his doorstep. Or maybe not even a guy at all but a member of the fairer sex, some hedonistic hellcat that can drink every male she knows under the table.

Beyond these dormitories, the Varsity Club, and further down Ashley’s, a Holiday Inn, an all night convenience store, a gas station, a restaurant. But interlacing them like stitches are tiny apartment complexes and houses of every architectural stripe and era, high rises even, and a smattering of university buildings. The St. John Arena, where OSU fields its men’s hockey and basketball teams, though not much longer. Across the bridge spanning our dormant Olentangy, an enormous indoor stadium twice the size of St. John is nearly finished, soon housing these athletic endeavors, a signpost of westerly campus sprawl. Leading the way along Lane through an impressive arboretum, underneath the 315 highway overpass and into the pastoral OSU owned farms, before university owned property terminates uphill in the old money nobility of aptly named Upper Arlington.

Laurie’s a tall, suave blonde, stylish and beautiful like a classic Southern belle. Sophisticated, remote, she says little, but something about her watchful eyes, her fuss free wisps of hair, these imply her age might extend a few years beyond ours. At any rate, in her boots and tight jeans, her button down satin shirt, her demeanor and appearance suggest a sassy gold digger from the 80s soap Dallas. But she’s far too subdued to fit this timeworn stereotype, she’s as cool as winter rain.

Unfortunately, her roommate Jessica more than makes up the difference. Flat as a board, her facial features similarly bland, Jessica wears her brown hair bowlcut short. No dummy, she’s aware of our wandering gaze. Desperate for attention, she stops at nothing to seize it, she drops her pants now and moons us, all in the name of showing off a fish tattoo on her otherwise lackluster ass.

Bottle in hand, Laurie leans against the dance floor railing with impeccable nonchalance, eyeing the crowd packed snugger than her jeans. But upon the lip of the slightly elevated dance floor ourselves, Jessica insures we advance no further, yammering above the clamorous country patter, accosting Damon with a ceaseless rundown of her day’s spectacular achievements. Akin to Raymond on three pots of coffee, she’s shamelessly self exalting, enumerating professors delighted, tests aced, and papers penned with utmost precision.

Having long since given up on Meredith, Damon’s primary interest lies in working Laurie, but Jessica won’t let him. Thankfully Alan and I are not trussed as such, and we leave him nailed without pity upon that cross. We squirm through every dark corner of the bar, we climb into the zipper teeth mesh of this dance floor crowd and unveil our amazing club moves. Throughout, I follow Alan’s lead, waiting patiently for the moment this seasoned veteran approaches some of these genteel foxes. Given his pronounced buzz, what I don’t expect is this sudden timidity, an atypical Alan.

We can’t claim, after all, any misgivings with the atmosphere. Just as unexpected is the warm welcome we’re receiving here, veering sharply away from the glowering indifference those elitist snobs showered upon us at Coeds and the Edge. Here, the guys tip their cowboy hatted heads once by way of wordless hellos, the chicks place gentle hands upon our backs while squeezing past. For a senseless joke I’ve worn my old pizza delivery uniform here tonight and we’re both dancing like flagrant jackasses, but nobody seems to mind either. Twinkle eyed old timers watch from afar with faint, praising smiles, and couples cling tightly, while we hog as many square inches their passivity will allow.

Somehow, nearly five months pass before our next visit. This time around, it’s a Thursday, and the three of us arrive as part of a house party relocating en masse to the establishment.  And while we enjoyed ourselves at country-western night in January, it’s quickly apparent that Thursdays are an altogether different animal, and we need to work this back into our mix pronto. Already one o’clock, which is possibly the perfect clubbing hour, and this Jailhouse, exquisitely named considering the number of clearly underage drinkers here, is packed to the point that idle contemplation a la Maxwell’s is simply not an option. A claustrophobic constituency so potent we virtually have no choice but grind up against the girls in our group, as we collectively storm the dance floor. Which isn’t to say we mind, only that absolutes are appreciated, eliminating second guess.

With the walk and an extended stand in line, lost time and the DJ’s skittering beats add an urgency to these motions. Though joining us out here, Damon does mostly lean against the cell block railing, determined to mentally capture every noteworthy creature prowling these grounds, employing a cigarette smokescreen to dissuade all attempts at making him dance. Alan and I, meanwhile, pounce on these passing moments, determined to master them rather than the other way around.

Keisha slithers between us, trashed and laughing as we mash our bodies against her, a tag team executed in this sanitized playground with all our clothes still on. Her bluish purple satin blouse and tight black slacks, not to mention her proximity, invite textile examination, and as she pumps against him, Alan grips her ass cheeks firmly in his hands, squeezing them, while I support her elephantine breasts in mine. Then he and I switch places, swapping duties, as Keisha continues howling her fool head off, shouting what a blast this is.

Like a gas filled balloon, physical laws dictate that these particles will never hold one constant position. Clusters break apart and scatter, reassemble elsewhere in temporary random sequences. Becky emerges, we drape one loose arm across the opposite’s shoulder, seal our interlocking pelvises together as one as we obey the hyperactive beat. Whereas Damon refuses yet this dance floor’s siren call, he manages hands full with Lauren’s backside, and she gamely shakes everything she has into them. Lauren now turns to face, and gyrate upon, his stationary mass, as I move from Becky in behind her, hands mobile, resurrecting the Keisha skewer executed moments ago.

The hourglass betrays, however, and our disc jockey’s amplified bellow announces, with as much merriment as possible, impending last call. Hordes deplete with tsunami force, depicting Maxwell’s as a Sunday knitting circle by contrast, and I pause for breath along the rail with Damon and Lauren, the three of us bound together, and little hope of locating the others within this mad stampede. But jokes about her looseness aside, Lauren’s dumbfounded gape fails to stir these loins. I can’t quite figure out why, but she bothers me. Striking off into this still grooving swarm, for half have gone nowhere, for the music continues and colored beams swirl where house lights have yet to come up, I stumble by what seems a miracle onto Becky and two of the other nameless girls, stepping lighter now with the rhythm, here where the dance floor cuts off near the bar.

“What’s your number?” I shout into her ear.

Without breaking her backbeat stride, she barks out the seven digit code. “Call me!” she urges, now abruptly throws her arms around me in a parting embrace.

I find Alan and Damon comparing notes by the door, and we exit together. We take only a handful of steps outdoors, however, and a brawl erupts before us, drawing our feet up short on the sidewalk. Two wiry males, shirtless, and one rams the other’s head against the Jailhouse’s brick front wall. Now a smattering of friends join the fray from both sides, and the battle spills out onto Lane Avenue itself. Traffic at an actual standstill, though whether in deference to the brawlers or simple rubbernecked curiosity is impossible to establish. Late breaking cops rush now on foot across this grassy expanse at the southwest corner of High, and all other factions, opposing or otherwise, disperse.

As the years advance and the Campus Partners scourge begins to wipe out all competition, this Jailhouse soldiers on unopposed. Owing to its location, along Lane Avenue and therefore insulated from that south campus cleanup effort, this place is spared that particular wrecking ball campaign. Even so, people for whatever reason aren’t as loyal to dance clubs as they are their favorite dive bars, and for the Jailhouse to hang around as long as it does is impressive.

Steamy and overcrowded to begin with, in the face of withering options it becomes doubly so. Placement of the lights is also such that these swarms of bodies seem to blot out most potential illumination, making for a dim affair before you’ve even started pounding any beverages. Maxwell’s in its heyday is comparable, maybe, but not now and maybe not ever.

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