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Photographs by Stephen Laufer

Suddenly Stacked: Poet & Patriot regulars kneel at the chance to be topped by Kim Gardner, the ultimate anti-cheerleader.

Pyramid Scheme

The patrons of our local downtown bars are doing more out there than just drinking and dancing. Follow our staff cheerleader into the weird, pyramid-shaped psyche of downtown Santa Cruz bars and clubs.

By Mike Connor

Many a bar stool sociologist has held forth on the lone, underlying reason single people go to bars: They want to get laid. Call us idealistic, visionary, heroic or just plain naive, but we think that's a cynical view of what actually goes on in our town's bars and clubs.

Go into the Garage Bar and you'll find plenty of friendly drinkers just enjoying one another's company. A visit to the Poet & Patriot is like being on the set of Cheers, except instead of Norm's snappy one-liners, you get a load of Bush-bashing. Dancing at home in your underwear is fun-fun-fun, but for some, nothing beats a roomful of hot, sweaty strangers sharing a groove, and for that you can hit clubs like the Blue Lagoon, Club Caution and Club Dakota.

The point is, bars and clubs offer a sense of community, and we feel there's no better expression of community than for people to get down on their hands and knees, climb atop each other in a geometric formation and say, "Cheese!"

Some of you know where this is going, don't you? Oh yes, you do--remember when you hit the bars downtown a couple of weeks ago? And that night you had a dream that someone from Metro Santa Cruz asked you to join them in a human pyramid? And you totally said yes? Well, that actually happened. And if you're reading this right now, it's a bit too late to bribe us not to run the photos. Relax--they're in good hands.

The $25,000 question of course is, "Why?" Well, we chose the human pyramid not only for its storied and mystical history (Aleister Crowley is said to have been a huge fan of human pyramids as a child), but also for the subtle transgression of social boundaries it requires of its participants. No one ever formed a human pyramid without suffering someone else's knee in their spine, or using someone else's butt as a living footstool--or have they?

In our quest to find the truth, we toured the bars downtown on a Friday and a Saturday night hoping to find the cosmic combination of people, places and booze that would enable us to conjure the ultimate all-human pyramid, the likes of which have never been seen (on Pacific Avenue).

Getting to Yes

After reviewing the latest self-help books on persuasion and mind control, I decided the best way to recruit people to form human pyramids was to get other people to do it for me. I called my friend Kimmy and explained what I intended to do: tease out the character of various bars using a somewhat nonscientific barometer--people's willingness to form human pyramids. Hopefully, hilarity would also ensue.

"It's a great idea, but it's also a horrible idea," she said, pointing out that bartenders are never going to let people do that inside a bar. She said something about drunk people forming human pyramids being a "liability." Schmiability.

We pressed on. Kimmy suggested we wear something to set ourselves apart from the crowd. We dropped by the Costume Chambers (118 Pearl Alley) and settled on a cheerleading outfit and megaphone for her and a referee shirt and whistle for me. Thus outfitted, we set out on our mission.

Day One: Friday
10:21pm - The Catalyst

Surmising that the Catalyst during a sold-out Cake show is not the best place to form a human pyramid, we decide to start at the Poet & Patriot. Nevertheless, my cute and cuddly girlfriend, Brandy--a.k.a. the Brandinator--stopped at the Catalyst merch table and tried to recruit the opening act, Tegan and Sara, to join us at the Poet.

"That's hilarious!" said Sara. "Maybe we'll come by! But maybe not."

With photographer, the Brandinator and Kimmy in tow, I was experiencing what I'd like to call trepidation, but will honestly describe as fear--which I intended to overcome by sheer force of will. The patrons of the Poet would be my human pyramid ...

11:17pm - The Poet & Patriot

We all agreed we'd be better off starting someplace else--someplace not so well lit; someplace less real. Working class to the core, the Poet was crowded with the closest that downtown Santa Cruz has to the salt of the earth--people who seemed to be enjoying their pints and cigarettes and dart games, with no readily apparent interest in joining a human pyramid.

11:25pm - Club Dakota

As accepting as the Dakota is of all races, creeds and sexual orientations, we thought it would warmly welcome a few well-meaning hooligans and their photographer to recruit their smartly dressed patrons for a human pyramid. We were wrong. Owner Jeffrey Stout denied us entrance into the dark, pulsing club, telling us they don't allow any sort of solicitation--not even for free publicity. Already our plan is falling apart. Doubt is rushing in and, despite Kimmy's cheerleading outfit, our spirits are sinking.

11:31pm - The Corner of Pacific and Cooper

Finally, as originally decided upon in my master plan, the Brandinator took over the mission. She grabbed the megaphone and started barking--in her charmingly persuasive way--at passers-by, assuring them that they wanted to be in a human pyramid. Her aggressive technique worked immediately--within five minutes, in front of O'Neill at the corner of Pacific and Cooper, five young twentysomething, baggy-jeans-and-hoodie-type dudes formed the first human pyramid of the evening. They were rowdy and more than willing to help us out. With the lights of the Cinema 9 in the background, the sight was truly almost glorious. Still, as we had yet to successfully recruit in a bar, confidence was low.

12:09am - The Rush Inn

Praise Dionysus! We ran into media star Kirby Scudder, who promptly put down his pool cue and joined the effort. The college kids have apparently forgotten about this once hip dive bar, leaving it to be enjoyed by the locals (at least for the evening). There were only about 30 people there, which is actually a lot for the tiny hole in the wall that is the Rush. We recruited over 10 percent of the bar, which is to say we got Kirby, Buck, Dallas and Bambi to step outside and do the funky pyramid while others joined us to watch. Besides the occasional cries like "I am not an animal, I am a drunk!" and "Why do I see flashes?" they were a good-natured group. We sang "I'm Too Sexy" together and shared Buck's apprehension about anyone touching his butt. Our first human pyramid composed of bar patrons was a sloppy, raucous success. Bidding us farewell, one of the participants warned us, "You can get me to do that any time of the day, but a lot of people need some preparation." Not knowing exactly what that meant, we left the bar with expectations at their lowest for the too-hip-to-be-triangular Red Room crowd.

12:33am - The Red Room

Only now am I beginning to realize the true prowess of the Brandinator's powers of persuasion. The Red Room, devilishly lit as advertised, was smoky and packed with ultrahip college students. Dressed as a referee, I wasn't blending in. We pushed past the throngs gathered around the bar to the backroom where people sat comfortably low in their seats around tables covered with drinks. In short, they looked unmovable. The Brandinator sprang into action, working her way through a group of guys in the center of the room. Sadly, more than one had a "bad back," but most of them happily pointed out a friend who might be more able. My efforts were shot down with a "Cool man, good luck with that" torpedo, but the Brandinator was more successful. Shouting above the din of indie rock coming from the jukebox, she called one guy out with the old "You want to be in a human pyramid--I can see it in your eyes" Jedi mind trick. He froze like a deer in headlights for a moment, then counted himself in and enlisted his friend to join up. The Brandinator suggested they ask the two attractive girls behind them to come too, assuring them they could take the women home after the pyramid. Thus armed with an oddly disarming pickup line, the fellas got the ladies' consent. On the way outside we snagged two more guys, who adjourned to the alley beside the bar to form a beautiful human pyramid that was appreciated by many, but maligned by one.

"Do not settle for that!" yelled the guy who had dismissively wished me luck earlier. "That's a terrible pyramid," he continued, jumping into the mix between the two girls, "We can do better!" And they did--thanks to the Red Room security, who were about to regulate, but decided to humor us instead. Feeling blessed and generous, we bought a round of drinks for the participants, whose recently cemented pyramid-shaped bond we hope will last forever.

1:05am - The Garage Bar

About 10 people who all seemed to know each other were huddled at the front of this chilly little sports bar carved into the hulking parking garage at the corner of Front and Soquel. One of the patrons mistook us for someone who stole his lighter, and rejoined our request for human pyramid volunteers with a big, fat "I just want my fuckin' lighter back!" We moved on.

Holding Their Own: The Brandinator helps these bachelorette party girls adjust their positions in an impending human pyramid at Rosie McCann's.

1:28am - The Poet and Patriot

Since we left a couple of hours ago, the crowd here had settled into seats at the long tables in the front room. As we walked back in, a woman standing in the back of the room apparently took offense to Kimmy's cheerleading outfit and promptly flipped her off. The Brandinator interpreted the greeting as a sign of friendship, and asked the girl to be in our pyramid. She wouldn't, but her friend would. A pattern had emerged. Yes, people wanted to be a part of a random human pyramid, but only vicariously, through their gullible--er, adventurous friends. Fortunately, we found seven of them at the Poet and formed our largest and most stable pyramid of the evening out in the ally, where a police cruiser stopped to watch the formation. It waited patiently until we were finished. We found out one of the participants was celebrating his recent layoff. Given his symbolic position on the bottom of our human pyramid, we can only hope that he and the rest of the workers of the world one day make it to the top.

Cherry on Top: No, that's not whipped cream on top of this all-girl pyramid, it's the bridal veil of Crystal, the bride-to-be. Aw!

Day Two: Saturday
11pm - Rosie McCann's

Exhausted from the previous night's exertions, we followed a bachelorette party up the stairs to Rosie McCann's. Immediately we spotted the group at the bar and popped the question: Wanna be in a human pyramid? They accepted and we ducked into the back of the club onto the darkened dance floor. House music drowned out our directions, but within minutes we had eight women lined up on their hands and knees, topped by a blushing bride-to-be. It was almost too easy.

Asti as They Wanna Be: If you look closely, you can see the face of the baby Jesus beneath our cheerleader's skirt.

11:28pm - The Asti

We knew they were tough, but we never expected the Asti's rough-and-tumble clientele to be so willing to stack themselves up on a sidewalk. The Asti is essentially one long corridor with a bar on the left side and booths on the right; we left the pool players in the back alone and fanned out along the booths. Soon we had our volunteers, and even though security asked us to move outside, as soon as the Brandinator flashed our pyramiders a picture of a pyramid from the night before, it was on. The ladies planned to out-pyramid the other bars with a better show of cleavage--one young woman yanked roughly at her neckline to make it happen; another, wearing a skirt, didn't hesitate to rest her bare knees on the sidewalk. One of our volunteers sized himself up and liked what he found: "I'm pretty strong," he said, examining his arms through his sport coat. "I could be on the bottom." Strangely enough, when the pyramid fell apart it was as if a spell had been broken. Brushing out the bits of sidewalk debris embedded in her knees, the skirted girl asked aloud, "Why did we all just do that?" We can only hope she's come to feel about it the way the guy next to her did. We ran into him later in the evening while still trying to recruit, and he vouched for us. "The pyramid was sick," he said. "I'd do it again."

12:15 - The Blue Lagoon

Friendly folks, dancing folks; not enough takers. On we went.

Size Matters: It may be Club Caution's motto, but it's also true at the Rush Inn, which tries really hard to keep its big drink recipes secret.

12:25 - Club Caution

There's really no getting around the fact that Club Caution is bigger and swankier than ever. Our penultimate destination was clean, well-lit, has a huge bar, a cushiony chill room, a sit down and snack room, a game room and a dance club in the back--complete with stage, disco ball, a pole and a DJ booth. After getting permission from one of the owners ("As long as nobody gets hurt," Daryl said), we headed straight for the stage. With some friendly solicitation, some blowing of my whistle and some "come hither" gestures, we arranged our happy volunteers on the stage in a lovely pyramid formation. With hip-hop still pulsing in their ears and through their veins, some couldn't help but continuously wag their booties, which made this the least stable, yet most visible pyramid of all. Way to go, team.

Who's Ready For Their Close Up?: Is it the Brandinator on the top left, or the media star on the bottom right?

Epilogue: Sunday
2:52pm - A Field in the Santa Cruz Mountains

No human pyramids today--just a .357 Magnum, two .22s, a shotgun and a 30-odd six. As some friends and I opened fire on some old car doors--part of an art project--we heard competing gunfire in the distance, and I realized Santa Cruz is not exactly the liberal, politically correct place it's painted to be. It's full of surprises, and full of spontaneous people who will gladly join your human pyramid--even if they have no idea why. I think my friend Kimmy summed it up best when she said, "If somebody came up to me and said, 'Do you want to do a human pyramid?' I'd be like, 'Fuck you, I'm smoking and drinking!'

"So I was surprised," she added, wistfully aiming her revolver, "but maybe everyone's not as bitter as I am."

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From the October 26-November 2, 2005 issue of Metro Santa Cruz.

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