Night Crawler

The Chameleon has the hush of a library. The cozy bar area is packed with the usual beer swillers, but absent are the normal raucous ramblings and punk rock profanities. There is something about the Sunday night crowd that almost seems deferential. Even the several dogs in attendance seem to understand the sanctity of the evening, sitting quietly under their masters' barstools, gently accepting the occasional proffered popcorn kernel. It is a special evening for the Chameleon crowd, as is every Sunday night. A striking woman with dreadlocks lifts her pint glass to her lips and gently places it back on the bar half empty. She wipes away a foamy Red Hook mustache with a pale, slender forearm and simultaneously checks her oversize man's watch.

"Almost time," she says to no one in particular. Smoke from her cigarette mingles with that of half a dozen others among a sea of large, silvery stars that hang from the ceiling. A small disco ball spins lazily, catching the warm light emitted by several household lamps and casting yellow bubbles upon the nearest wall. In one corner of the bar an electric stoplight blinks above a television screen flickering with cereal and nail polish commercials. Red. Yellow. Green. The stoplight blinks without notice until the familiar sound of The Simpsons' theme song roars into life and, suddenly, green means go. All eyes turn. Faint smiles soften the surrounding faces as Bart Simpson writes "I am not licensed to do anything." The opening sequence alone is enough to elicit chuckles, and everyone is all ears when Dave, a regular Chameleon customer and the most recent Simpsons host, stands up during the first commercial break to announce tonight's prizes: a couple of music posters and a hat that reads "I'm filthy and I'm stinking, but I'm still not rich."

"Two out of three ain't bad," says Dave cheerfully. In keeping with the, er, lived-in quality of the Chameleon, the hat is really kind of filthy, but Dave assures us that it still has the price tag on it. "A $5 value."

Not surprisingly the crowd is still more interested in the nature of the rolled-up music posters. Several overanxious folks try to determine their subject matter without waiting for the promised audio clue. ABBA is a popular choice, as is Metallica and, strangely, Cheap Trick. But of course, all conjecture proves fruitless and one impatient regular must attempt an underhanded sneak-a-peak. He is quickly and loudly disqualified from the poster round just in time for the return of The Simpsons, on which Marge Simpson receives a brow-beating from her ladies' group for failing to support their sponsorship of a masked Mexican wrestler. All superfluous conversation halts. Through the ensuing television segment beer orders are whispered and even the musician onstage setting up equipment is careful to wait for bursts of laughter before he will move anything that is noisy.

During the next break, the crowd erupts with unabashed hilarity as if they can hardly contain themselves anymore. Beers are raised in toast, past episodes are discussed and laughed over, and dogs scurry among the tables looking for stray bar snacks. The first poster is a near giveaway. Several people shout out Heart before the third chord is struck. One man, clearly a newcomer, finds fascination in the black velvet art that adorns the bar's walls. He smiles, pointing at tacky images of E.T., Snoopy, Mickey Mouse, and Bigfoot. This is all old hat for his friends.

"I've been watching The Simpsons religiously for years," says David Ozier, a Vancouver native who works for the National Film Board, "but I found myself feeling vaguely self-conscious watching the show with so many strangers and laughing out loud. I don't know, it was kind of like being caught masturbating."

In a corner by the door, a man who has clearly logged in some serious drinking time begins a potentially explosive rant about society's decline. "This country is going down the tubes!" he shouts, slamming down his glass. "There is no culture here!" He takes a deep breath, preparing for another attack, but is suddenly struck dumb by Homer Simpson's return to the screen. "Shhh, Simpsons," says the ranter, motioning to the screen with his once-again full beer. The crowd turns to face the screen. It is once more quiet.

Halfway into Homer's negotiations with the Mafia regarding Marge's mobile snack business, two Johnny-come-latelies stumble through the Chameleon door. They make it as far as the middle of the room before they realize that, aside from the strike of a match, the bar they have entered is busy but dead silent. They look around for a moment, perplexed, until one of them chuckles, "Oh, look, everybody gets all quiet during The Simpsons." He turns toward the door, but already his friend is lost, frozen to the spot with his eyes riveted on the screen. Only the next commercial break and bids for a Captain & Tennille poster seem able to pry him loose.

"You've gotta watch [The Simpsons]," says one regular, "but I don't want to be stuck in my living room every single Sunday night." She pauses during the beer round, which features songs by Def Leppard and Fine Young Cannibals. "I won a Ghostbusters TV tray once."

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