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It’s 6 p.m. on a Wednesday evening when former Ward 8 D.C. Council candidate Sandy Allen strolls through the door of Player’s Lounge, smiling and confident. Allen slides into a booth, leans back on the old-fashioned, black-vinyl-covered seats, asks Earlene for a rum-and-coke, and starts talking strategy with her boothmates, Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Mary Cuthbert and community activist Helyn Boone. Allen’s fiancé, Bob Bethea—wearing his trademark kufi—trails her into the bar. He eases his stocky frame into the adjacent booth, also crowded with Allen supporters.

When Sandy Allen came up one vote short in the May council race, she could have turned tail; she could have jumped off a bridge; she could have gone to church and prayed. She went to Player’s instead. But she didn’t come to the Congress Heights bar to get sauced: Allen came to regroup, gather her forces, and mount her counterattack.

With Allen’s arrival, the joint starts buzzing with intrigue. Every time the door opens, the bargoers pause in conversation and turn to see if the new arrival is a player. William Lockridge, O.V. Johnson, and Raheem Jenkins, three more defeated council candidates, mosey in and greet Allen. Robert Yeldell, a Ward 8 political activist, crouches at the bar, nursing a beer and reading the newspaper.

After a few minutes of schmoozing, the politicos—now numbering more than a dozen—carry their drinks to the back room, where the real business begins. For the next hour, Allen, her legal advisers, and her supporters swarm together, plotting their assault. The group is out to slay dragons—election victor Eydie Whittington and her mentors, Mayor Marion Barry and Cora Masters Barry. When the meeting ends, they’ve completed a battle plan. Allen will fight in court, filing lawsuits to overturn Whittington’s single-vote victory and stop her swearing-in. And if the legal challenge fails, promises community activist Sandra Seegars, a group of Ward 8 residents will mount a campaign to recall Whittington.

Back in the front room, Player’s owner Georgene Thompson and her three partners are oblivious to the political yakking. The four women are playing their regular game of bid whist. They keep slapping cards on the table, joking, and drinking their beer and vodka. Sheila, Hattie, and Lucille—Georgene’s friends—are Southern women. They work down the street at the city’s Department of Human Services, but they eat lunch and relax at Player’s Lounge.

“I come in here and I feel like I’m on Cheers,” says Sheila.

“It reminds me of a place in South Carolina,” adds Hattie. “You got one door in and one door out. It’s down home.

“And she calls me Ms. Hattie,” Hattie continues proudly, gesturing at Georgene.

“She calls me Ms. Lucille,” Lucille adds.

“She does?” asks Hattie, surprised—and a little annoyed—that the title before her first name isn’t her personal possession. Georgene buries her head deeper in her cards.

“Well, I guess she calls us both Ms., then,” resolves Ms. Hattie.

Like Ward 8 itself, the eclectic, east-of-the-river region that academics and government officials dismiss with unflattering sociological terms, Player’s Lounge defies categorization and rejection.

“It’s the only place in the ward you can come and drink and socialize. It has grown into a household word,” says Allen.

A recovering strip joint, Player’s was reborn in 1994, the same year Ward 8 “hero” Barry completed his own political resurrection. Today, Player’s is the ward’s living room—a neighborhood bar, cafeteria, unofficial social service agency, and political nerve center. In Ward 8, Player’s Lounge is the place to be.

The building at 2737 Martin Luther King Jr. Ave. SE doesn’t look like much. A glossy-red-painted metal door offers no clue about what lies on the other side. Two octagonal windows flank the door, but red curtains block any glimpse of Player’s interior.

“The first time I saw it, I thought it was a hole in the wall,” says perennial Ward 8 political candidate Don Folden.

Inside, Player’s Lounge appears caught in a time warp, scrambling the 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s. It smells and sounds like a South Carolina or Mississippi juke joint. When the door opens, the pungent odor of cooking pigs’ feet invades the nostrils. B.B. King groans on the turntable to the right. Farther inside, patrons sit on vinyl-covered stools pulled up to the formica-topped bar. They watch the early news on a color television—the only visible sign of technological advancement—above the cash register. Behind the bar, an upright freezer of the kind found in convenience stores cools the wines, beers, and liquor. Player’s sells its drinks rock cheap: A bottle of Heineken costs $2.50. Strategically placed mirrors line the walls, offering the vain quick reflection. A chalkboard is nailed to the wall near the cash register, laying out the day’s menu—and revealing chef Gerri Tate’s roots. Today it advertises baked chicken, pan-fried fish, smothered pork chops, cabbage, ribs, greens, and cornbread.

In the back, across a tile floor riven with cracks and bumps, is the war room where Allen and the other pols conspire. This is a smaller, dressier affair. Plastic roses adorn cloth-covered tables. A square stage is draped with glittering icicle streamers: It’s empty now, but it’s where Player’s’ strippers used to dance. The bathrooms are also in the back. The door to the ladies’ room bears scars from too much slamming. It’s permanently ajar, prohibiting real privacy.

This Friday afternoon, Georgene Thompson, half of the husband-and-wife team that owns the club, stands behind the bar taking orders. It’s a warm day, and she’s dressed in her summer uniform—shorts and tennis shoes. Her husband, Stephen Thompson, works the kitchen. He and Gerri are frying fish and wilting the collard greens.

Stephen comes out to the counter where Georgene hands a small green order sheet to her husband. “OK, Mr. Thompson,” she says cheerfully, “This one is for here, but they want to take the banana pudding when they leave. I’m just telling you now so you don’t say I didn’t make it clear.”

The joke hints at a past of confused orders and disagreeable words, but today the Thompsons are all smiles. The 52-year-old Stephen, a short, stocky man who skimps on conversation, takes his wife’s ribbing with a grin. Georgene, 51, is her usual cheerful self. She returns to her bar duties and starts joking with the customers. A couple arrives for lunch—the first visit for the man and the second for the woman. Georgene remembers that the woman drinks Heineken and places a bottle of the beer in front of her—before she even asks for it. Then Georgene lets the couple in on a Player’s secret. She flips over their white cocktail napkins to reveal the green writing on their bottom side: “Unity Inaugural 1995: Because Every One Matters, Marion Barry, Jr.” The couple grins. “They had so many of these left, so they gave them to us,” Georgene says with a laugh.

A few minutes later a young man—no older than 30—rushes in, looking for Stephen. He wants to borrow some money. Stephen’s been his bank before. But today, the Player’s owner can’t help him out. Stephen comes out of the kitchen and tells the visitor that it’s payday and he needs all his cash to pay his employees. The young man insists. Stephen doesn’t budge.

“What part of “no’ don’t you understand—the N or the O?” Stephen asks. The young man understands. He leaves dejected. Stephen returns to frying fish.

The Thompsons are Virginia natives, but they’ve made the District their home. Stephen’s mother lived in Arlington, but when she was pregnant with Stephen in the ’40s, Jim Crow gripped Virginia. She delivered her son at Howard University’s Freedman’s Hospital. The pattern of coming to the District for protection and service stuck: Stephen grew up spending more time in the District than in his native state. “Everything out there was segregated. If you wanted to do anything you had to cross that bridge,” he says.

And on one of his haunts, Stephen met a girl from Front Royal, Va. He couldn’t get her out of his mind, but she didn’t feel quite the same way. “I didn’t like him at first. I went back home ’cause he kept following me,” Georgene says, retelling the story shyly. “Then he came up there after me and we just wound up together.” They married in 1964.

In 1972, the Thompsons weren’t looking to buy a nightclub. They were both working regular jobs—he labored at the Navy Yard and she wrapped wires for several government contractors—and they were raising a young son and daughter. Stephen was a little involved in local entertainment: He promoted some small-time bands. (He played piano as a schoolboy, and promoting concerts made him feel connected to the music scene.) But he wasn’t looking for any more work on the side.

“Then a friend of mine by the name of Moses Smith said he knew of a guy who had this particular place and wanted to sell it, so [he] said I could get in. So I came over, talked to him, thought I’d give it a shot,” says Stephen.

Player’s Lounge was then Massey’s Club, one of several noisy bars in Congress Heights. Two blocks south on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue stood the Manhole and Galaxy clubs, which slaked the thirst of black residents. Walker’s Tavern across the street catered to whites, who were as rowdy as their African-American counterparts. The Thompsons bought Massey’s, renamed it, and Stephen got down to business.

“When we first came here, it was a little rough,” recalls Georgene.

How rough?

“Put it this way, they used to throw chairs in here every Friday night,” chuckles Stephen. “I guess it was just a matter of earning their respect and them earning ours.

“James Curtis—he was the manager of the Holly Farms [fast-food chicken restaurant]—and the guy that owned the motorcycle shop down the street, they used to come in and help me keep the peace,” continues Stephen. “Then James Curtis would come in and help me run the place. He’d give me his technical knowledge. I guess we sort of managed it together as a large family.”

Soon after the Thompsons bought the place, Georgene quit her job and joined her husband. She wanted to reduce the impact on their home life.

“If I wanted to see him, I had to be there with him,” she says. “So this is where I am.”

Georgene’s presence at Player’s takes on a new meaning when you consider this: For more than 20 years, Player’s was a titty bar. It began with topless go-go dancers—bare-chested women who made tips on the size of their frontal assaults and the amount of wiggle in their butts. And eventually the market demanded even greater exposure.

“I stayed topless for quite a while,” says Stephen. “But the rest of the bars went nude and business fell off. So to stay competitive I went nude. That was from about 1986 to 1994.”

Until 1994, in fact, many of the players who now frequent Player’s not only steered clear of the joint, they tried to close it. “I wouldn’t dream of coming in here,” in the old days, says Advisory Neighborhood Commissioner Mary Cuthbert one evening at Player’s. Disgusted by the strip bars that puked drunks onto the streets and whipped up weekend fights, Cuthbert led the battle to drive the Manhole, the Galaxy, and Player’s out of business.

“The Manhole was the worst,” recalls Cuthbert, calmly sipping her beer. “People hung out in the street. The buses could barely get by. There had been four or five killings. They had high-school and even junior high-school girls dancing half naked in there.

“We went to Don Matthews, who owned the Manhole then, and he just ignored me,” Cuthbert continues. “And anybody who knows me knows I hate being ignored.”

So in the mid-’80s Cuthbert and the Congress Heights Civic Association launched a campaign to clean up Ward 8’s entertainment centers. Soon the Manhole and the Galaxy were in deep trouble. Community pressure intensified. The bars lost their liquor licenses and closed. Today, the Manhole is Martin’s Cafe. The Galaxy retains a fondness for females: It’s a women’s clothing store.

“That is when I got the nickname “cutthroat,’ ” Cuthbert says with a smile.

But Player’s survived Cuthbert’s assault. Local business leaders had befriended the Thompsons. They rallied around Player’s when it faced the loss of its liquor license and saved the bar. Player’s is still around, Cuthbert says, because it was “the only establishment willing to work with the community.”

Two middle-aged men are sitting in a booth, laughing. They’re jonin’ on Smithy, the tall, mild-mannered guy who works as part-time security guard and bartender.

“Damn, Smithy, what else you done broke now?” the fellow in the green T-shirt says. “You broke your ankle, your arm.” He’s shouting his insults, hoping to attract the attention of the crowd in the bar—the more people who hear his verbal attacks, the better.

“I bet there isn’t one part of you that hasn’t been broken. Even your teeth,” Green Shirt adds.

“All that happened to him when he was at the Manhole,” Georgene chimes in, playing the game as well as the boys.

The two men in the booth laugh at Georgene’s swipe. It’s an inside joke. Green Shirt’s companion is Don Matthews, the Manhole’s old proprietor. He’s come to Player’s for lunch—fried fish, lima beans, macaroni and cheese, and cornbread.

“When I had my business, it was doing real good,” says Matthews with a hint of bitterness. “I lived in the community. I started to move over there on the Gold Coast, but I decided to stay in Ward 8. All my employees lived in Ward 8.“People would go from one bar to another; I kept a lot of the [other] black businesses in business,” Matthews brags. “My place was supposed to just have space for 94 people. But sometimes there’d be 150 or 200 people.

“People who put me out of business did more harm to the ward; they just don’t know that,” Matthews says.

So how does he feel about eating at his former competitor’s place? “The food is good,” he says. Besides, Matthews shrugs, now “this the only bar in all of Ward 8.”

If there is anyone who helped Player’s make the transformation from strip joint to community center and political watering hole, it’s Phil Pannell—gay activist, chairman of the Ward 8 Democrats, and the life of every party he’s ever attended.

On a recent afternoon, Pannell strolls down Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue from his job at the Anacostia Coordinating Council (ACC), bursts in the door, grabs a stool, tosses his black bag on a nearby seat, and orders his usual brandy Alexander. Pannell begins musing on the history of the bar, finishes his first drink, and orders a second. This is interrupted when he remembers that he left something back at the office. He returns to ACC. His drink remains on the bar. When he comes back 15 minutes later, Pannell picks up the drink and his conversation right where he left off.

When the DJ puts on “Beat With Your Black Drawers On,” Pannell stops his story and rises from his stool. Then, wearing black khaki pants and a black T-shirt, he swishes up and down the narrow aisle between the stools and booths. He snaps his fingers, shakes his ass, and raises his voice with the refrain: “Beat with your black drawers on.”

Pannell wasn’t always so comfortable in Player’s that he could strut up and down the aisle like he owns it. “I had never gone into the place,” he recalls about his 1984 introduction to the then-strip club. “I was petitioning for Jesse Jackson’s slate for the Democratic convention. One night I decided, “What the hell?’ So I asked the owner if I could come and get signatures. Steve said sure. And I started coming back. I registered hundreds of people [there].

“Then when I got more and more into the AIDS stuff, handing out condoms and things, Steve let me come in,” continues Pannell. “Next thing I know, one night I ran out of money. I said, “I’d like another beer but I don’t have any money.’ They let me have the beer.

“So I started telling more and more people about Player’s Lounge.” (Pretty soon, Pannell was giving his own dancing lessons at the club, pulling off his own shirt and teaching the strippers a few of his best moves.)

“The political types started coming when Marion ran for councilmember [in 1992]. I remember the first time he was here,” Pannell continues. “A friend of mine had gotten killed and I had gone to [Barry’s] office and raised hell because Marion hadn’t stopped by to pay his respects to the family.”

Barry offered Pannell a ride home. Pannell told Barry he was going to Player’s and invited the ex-mayor to join him. “He said, “But that’s a topless/bottomless place. I can’t be seen there. And another thing, you’re supposed to be gay, so what are you doing there?’ ”

Barry came along anyway. But the self-proclaimed recovering sex addict did not go into the joint. “What he did was drive around back. And all he did was stand outside because they were having a cookout,” Pannell says. “But from there stuff started to roll.”

And roll it has. Local politicians have made Player’s a second home. Pannell held his inauguration as chairman of the Ward 8 Democrats at Player’s in 1991. Earlier this year, former D.C. Council Chairman Arrington Dixon invited local ANC reps to Player’s for a special reception. In May, representatives from the city’s leading gay and lesbian organizations sponsored a Ward 8 candidates’ forum, then trotted over to Player’s for a celebration. Following Whittington’s swearing-in as new councilmember last month, she partied with Cora Barry and others at Player’s. And if you stroll into the bar most any evening after work, you’ll see local pols, community activists, Ward 8 Board of Education member Linda Moody, and maybe even the mayor himself kicking back with the Thompsons.

“I was always afraid of politicians because I had an ABC [alcohol] license,” Stephen says. “If this faction liked you, you were OK. If this one didn’t, they would protest your license, and they would have the power to send the health department around. So I sort of stayed away from all of it.”

“I got drawn into it, [during the last election],” Stephen continues. “The people that were coming really didn’t want to come in and out of a go-go place. So I said, well, let’s see if I can make a change, see if I could get some support from the community and make a nice restaurant.”

Now, Stephen says, Player’s Lounge is in a “transformation period.”

“I want to find a way that I can make some additional money to make the restaurant a little larger. I have an upstairs. I can make that a meeting room—it’s used for storage now. And [I want] to have a few shows with small-time entertainment, but good entertainment, for people that don’t want to put on a suit and tie every time they go out. For people around the age I am, a place they can sit down and be comfortable in.”

Since Congress Heights saved Player’s in the ’80s, it seems fair that the club should try to save Congress Heights.

No question, the neighborhood needs salvation. More than the rest of D.C., Ward 8 remains lodged in the economic recession of the past decade. A lone Safeway supermarket serves thousands of people; it wears a new blacktop parking lot, but residents complain the shelf stock is poor and the service poorer. Andre’s Brushless Car Wash does a brisk business on sunny days—but not enough to employ the crowds of young and old black men who loiter at the corner of Martin Luther King Avenue and Lebaum Street. Across the avenue, cars pull in and out of the city’s major mental health hospital, St. Elizabeths. Sometimes patients leak onto the street, holding elaborate conversations with invisible companions or frightening passers-by, jumping into their faces and asking questions for which there are not answers.

The neighborhood has been, and continues to be, plagued by drugs, violence, and government indifference. In 1984 several local children, including a 9-year-old girl and 13-year-old boy, were abducted and raped. (The District government’s answer? It picked Congress Heights as the site of the city’s new prison. Neighborhood protest killed the scheme.) In 1989, Derrick Conner was shot to death in Congress Heights. According to the Washington Post, he was a crack dealer—a 13-year-old crack dealer. Local schools report some of the lowest test scores in the city. Middle-class residents and some elegant single-family homes with gorgeous vistas remain, but the community is overwhelmed by low-income housing.

But Player’s serves as a community anchor, a protected space. Just ask Thomas Glenn, who’s sitting in a booth on Saturday night listening to the DJ spin oldies-but-goodies. In the early ’80s, fresh from six years in the Coast Guard, Glenn worked at the Holly Farms down the street. He struck up a friendship with Stephen and Georgene and started hanging out at Player’s with a group of buddies.

“We were on our way to Atlantic City—it was five of us. And we tried to come up with a name for the group. The only thing we could think of was “fat boys,’ ” Glenn smiles, glancing at his thickening waistline.

“But it was a singing group around here with that name, so we decided to put “Ltd.’ to it—Fat Boys, Ltd.,” continues Glenn, who now owns a private limousine service and works at Curtis Properties—an east-of-the-river landmark as famous as Player’s. Georgene printed T-shirts for the Boys at the Player’s Variety Shop next door. (The Thompsons used to run the shop. They currently rent it out. “It was too much running that and the nightclub,” says Georgene.)

The Fat Boys began sporting dark blue hats with white lettering. They made Player’s their clubhouse. They added members. Twenty guys belong now, down from 40 at the peak.

The Fat Boys became a down-home, Congress Heights version of the Masons, Shriners, or Elks—a group of guys who get together to have fun and do good. Many of them are like Glenn, men who moved out of the old neighborhood but haven’t forgotten the folks back home. The Fat Boys each pay about $10 a month in dues and meet every fourth Sunday at Player’s. They catch up on each others’ lives—who changed jobs, who bought a car, who has a new kid. They play Spades, drink a beer or two, and, when a good football or basketball game is on, pay undivided attention to the TV. In between, they take care of Fat Boys’ business: planning fundraisers and special outings. “Last year we had a picnic in Charles County,” says Glenn. “The proceeds went to eight different charities in Ward 8.”

Loaves of Mrs. Wright’s whole wheat bread fill a cardboard box on the bar at Player’s one recent afternoon. A hand-printed sign falls from its side: “Free Bread,” it says. No one makes a big deal out of it.

“That’s the kind of thing they do,” community activist Attiba Mayers says matter-of-factly.

“Steve is one of the few business people in the community to give back. He pays people’s rents, electric bills, everything,” Mayers continues. “For over 10 years, he has given me $100 each year for the basketball team uniforms. And on Congress Heights Day [in May], the Fat Boys bought 700 hot dogs, 700 buns, and sodas. It’s not like they are making millions here.

“You could be homeless, alcoholic, whatever—if you want to eat, they’ll give you something to eat,” continues Mayers. “Steve is just a good man.”

Helyn Boone, a rotund woman with a snaggle-toothed smile, proudly receives the Thompsons’ and Fat Boys’ largess. Boone, whose own heart is laden with so much gold that she is known throughout the ward as “Mother Boone,” says: “I come here all the time for food. Sometimes if I don’t have the money or if I’m short, they still give me the food.”

For Boone’s 60th birthday, Stephen and Georgene threw her a party. More than 300 guests stopped by: “You should have seen the place. And they all was singing “Rough Side of the Mountain’ right in here. Can you believe that?” asks a beaming Boone.

If you want fast food, McDonald’s is down the street. Good food takes time,” reads a sign outside Player’s’ kitchen. Those who have tasted a bite of Gerri Tate’s cooking know which they want. They order a huge helping of baked chicken, pass the plate, and praise the chef.

“Southern food is not greasy, but it should be bulky,” says Gerri as she bustles around the kitchen ladling macaroni-and-cheese and stirring a pot of beans. A plump woman herself, Gerri believes in giving folks plenty to eat. “This is not a ritzy place where you serve a teeny dab of this and a teeny dab of that.”

Gerri sinks a piece of fish into hot grease. “It’s like making people feel they got their money’s worth. Black people want something nice, but they might not have a lot of money. You have to work with their budget,” she says.

Gerri moves calmly and confidently between pots on two stoves, two grills, a steam table, and an upright food warmer. She directs Santos and Sophia around the kitchen. The Hispanic couple, who speak very little English, help Gerri and live in a Southeast apartment owned by the Thompsons.

“When Santos first came here, he couldn’t speak any English. When I wanted him to get the pig feet, I had to do this,” Gerri says, wiggling her feet. “And when I wanted him to get the chicken I had to move my arms or hit my thighs.

“But now he knows a lot of English. He can even curse a little,” Gerri teases, as she stirs the smothered pork chops.

Gerri is quick to smile and count her blessings, but her pleasant demeanor belies the hardship of her life. Born in Hilton Head, S.C., she lost her mother when she was 6. She was reared by a succession of maternal aunts and moved to the District when she was 14. Two years later, she became pregnant. When she said she wanted to keep the baby, her aunt kicked her out.

“I stayed with my children’s father a short time, then it was just me and my children,” says the chef. “I went on welfare, but I always worked. I got off in 1980 and I stayed off.”

Now remarried, the 41-year-old Gerri thinks she has found a nearly perfect life and a good man to boot—Jeffrey Michael Tate. “He bought me a house and has given me things that I thought I would never have. My husband is great,” she exclaims. The Tates have an 18-month-old daughter. Gerri’s other children are grown, and she has four grandchildren. Trouble is never far away, though. Her eldest son was shot and killed last year in Northwest D.C.

“That had me so sad; I’m still not over it yet,” she says.

Gerri has been cooking professionally for 25 years: “I love doing it. Just like God gives everybody a gift, this is the only gift I have,” she says. She helped open the Southern Dining Room on 7th Street NW, worked at a variety of restaurants and cafés, and joined the Thompsons in 1991.

“Me and Steve have a special love; it’s a bond,” she says. They’re partners in S and G—Stephen and Gerri—Catering.

“I’m into people; I always will be,” says Gerri. “I’ve catered for Jesse Jackson, I’ve catered for Marion Barry, and to me, he is no better than the man out there. I treat everybody right. Steve calls me a human rights activist.

“I take pride in what I do. I get upset if a customer is sitting out there and theyhaven’t gotten their water or knife and fork,” she continues, placing a cover on the simmering greens. “It’s about trying to bring class to a black place you want to survive. If you were working for the white man, you’d do things right. So I say, do the same thing for [Steve] to help him survive.

“The reason Steve loves me is because he knows I care about this place. I wanted my own place. I definitely want my own place,” Gerri says. “But working for him is like having my own place.”

Saturday has come again, and Georgene is tired—she and Gerri catered two weddings today. She’s sitting in a booth with Stephen, her arm draped across his shoulders.

In the aisle next to them, the Amazing Josini, a ventriloquist, is trading jokes with his stuffed monkey Clyde. The puppet is complaining about the hand that goes up his ass and stops at his mouth to flap his lips. The crowd—close to 75 people jammed in booths and perched on stools—is roaring with laughter.

“You finally got an audience,” Josini’s hairy double says. “You must have paid them to come in.”

Not quite. DJ Dieago passes around an oversize plastic cup—the kind used for casino slots. From the looks of the bills being folded inside, man and stuffed monkey aren’t doing too badly.

The talking heads and politicos are gone, but Player’s is still the place to be. Dieago starts spinning records. Earlene, who tended bar earlier in the week, dances to the mirrors. She looks good in white jeans and a white shirt decorated by black diamonds and clovers. She won’t dance alone for long. The men file in, and pretty soon any woman who wants a partner can have one. A man sits down in a booth with women he doesn’t know. Pretty soon they’re sharing wide-mouthed laughter and knowing glances. Tracey, a cousin of the Thompsons, is celebrating her 25th birthday. She giggles over her present, a cup filled with condoms. Earlier in the evening, everyone sang “Happy Birthday” to her and ate the free barbecue chicken, macaroni salad, and string beans served by Stephen and Georgene.

It’s nearly 1:30 Sunday morning and nobody’s complaining about the lateness of the hour. Josini’s finished up his act, and he’s mixing with the locals. Georgene has retreated to her bed. Steve is still tending bar. Dieago pumps up the volume. Player’s starts to sweat. The crowd thickens at the sides. This house party ain’t going anywhere.

Art accompanying story in the printed newspaper is not available in this archive: Susan Pardys.