Jan. 14 2004 12:00 AM

ON A SCUMBAG'S TAILChasing $200 down Clairemont Mesa Boulevard


    A bartender friend of mine, Herb from the La Jolla Hard Rock Café, was sharing his story about a customer who skipped out on a $150 credit-card tab over the holidays. Apparently, the card was bunk.

    Credit-card scams are just one of a myriad of nightclub rip-offs a bartender must be wary of-especially since the server is usually responsible for unpaid tabs, which, of course, is powerful motivation for us to thwart the people who run these scams.

    It works.

    Lord knows I would have never permitted myself to be dragged down Clairemont Mesa Boulevard by that red Honda-hanging on to the protruding legs of an evil credit card stealer scumbag who stuck me with a $200 bar tab-if I wasn't the one responsible for paying it.

    It was back in the early 90s. I was working at the old Bacchanal in Kearny Mesa during a Concrete Blonde show. We had just opened the doors and these two couples (double-daters) came to the bar. One of the men opened a tab with what I later learned was a stolen credit card.

    The four of them proceeded to run it up over $200.

    There was something suspicious about the demeanor of the guy who opened the tab. I'll call him SCCUMBAGA (Stolen-Credit-Card-Using-Manipulative-Bastard-Asshole-Gyp-Artist). So, before the show ended, I swiped his card through the base unit and waited for a response.

    DECLINED!

    ... it said in bold, angry typeface; as though it were very declined; as though he were a serial killer on a cross-country murder spree using his victim's credit cards to purchase gas and beer. I tapped him on the back of the shoulder and said, "Hey man, your card is declined. I need to see your I.D."

    His reaction revealed he was guilty of something. He hadn't expected this. What he was expecting-I have no doubt-was to skip out before the show ended. But now he just stood there stone-cold busted. I could see his mind desperately configuring a way out of this jam. That's when he started running for the door.

    Game time!

    This is the part I like. I swept the bartop clear of drinks and vaulted over while yelling ahead to the doorman-a 300-pound bouncer artiodactyls named Paul. "Stop that guy!"

    And Paul did stop that guy, swatting SCCUMBAGA off his feet with a huge hoof, sending him flying outside and onto the sidewalk face down. Then Paul put a girder-sized knee into his back and pinned him to the pavement.

    "Hold him there," I said, and ran back inside to call the cops.

    When I returned, however, the situation had changed for the worse. While on the phone with the cops, the Concrete Blonde show had ended and everyone flushed outside. I returned to find a crowd had gathered and were seething over what they surmised to be a case of bouncer brutality. "Let him go!" and "You're hurting him!" they shouted, as SCCUMBAGA twisted under the massive girth of the bouncerpotamus

    "We've got a problem," said Paul when I arrived at his side. Then, as if on cue, somebody stepped forward to confront us. More shouting from the mob. Then another person stepped forward, and another, until Paul finally said, "Screw this," and released the detainee, who instantly sprang up and dashed toward Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

    I glared at the crowd. Stupid bovines, I thought. That's half my goddamn rent running down Clairemont Mesa Boulevard.

    Half my rent? Holy shit! Two hundred dollars is half my rent! And before my brain knew what my legs were thinking, I dashed off after him.

    Game time, second half.

    SCCUMBAGA had a sizeable lead, but he was also wasted and running badly-flapping his arms and legs like a cheerleader in a blender. When he heard my footfalls, he turned, saw me coming and tried to surge faster, but the degenerate only flailed more wildly. He turned again, saw me gaining and kept running-I was gaining, and he was looking back, and I was gaining, and just as I came within about five feet of his heels-an automobile pulled up with a bunch of people yelling from inside.

    I recognized them immediately. It is SCCUMBAGA's three friends: the ASSHOLAS (Acquaintances Of Stealer Scumbags Helping Out Larcenous Assholes), coming to save their man.

    The red Honda slowed to a crawl. The passenger opened his door and yelled, "Get in! Get in!" SCCUMBAGA leapt inside. His head and torso landed on the lap of the passenger, but his legs were dangling from the car. Then, before the passenger could reel the rest of him in, I leapt also-laying out for a line drive-latching onto his leg and holding on for sweet life.

    We struggled like that for a minute or two, the Honda dragging us along at about 8 miles an hour, the ASSHOLAS screaming like Sleestacks in a bonfire, and my nemesis trying desperately to shake me off his leg. Then with one hard kick into my chest, SCUMBAGGA knocked me off and onto to the curb and the red Honda sped away with laughter fluting out of open windows.

    But, the last laugh will be mine, I thought as I committed the Honda's license to memory.

    You can guess the rest. Suffice to say, the license number led police directly to the driver, who coughed up SCCUMBAGA's name. About a week later I correctly picked him out of a photo lineup and, well, the sweet juice of justice was finally mine.

    For more less is more or less, visit www.edwindecker.com. E-mail ed@edwin decker.com.

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