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Swamp Thing 

by LUKE BAUMGARTEN & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & t's exactly 11:12 pm and our photographer's wasted. No one at the tavern seems to notice this breach of professionalism because, frankly, everyone else is tanked too. Including me, if I'm honest with myself (and I am). With a slight lean on, Ben, the photographer, has been taking pictures of patrons for the last half-hour. Or trying, anyway.

He's meeting with some resistance and, apparently, threats of violence.

"A guy told me not to shoot him," he says, tottering up to me with a look of incredulous disbelief. "And I was, like, 'Why not?' And he was, like, 'Because I'll punch you.' I was like, 'All right -- whatever, dude.'" It's odd to hear. The crowd seems totally sedate from where I'm sitting. People are alone or paired off or huddled in small groups.

I begin to recognize faces -- Dale from the Elk, Bob from the Baby Bar (neither of whom was Ben's aggressor) and a few other exhausted-looking people from the block. There are a lot of servers here, and bartenders and other miscellaneous scene-facilitators. Things start to make sense. This hard-as-hell-to-find place, tucked in south Browne's Addition between the tracks and the freeway, is where people go when they want to be left to their thoughts.

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & I & lt;/span & myself have been drinking since about 4 pm, when I walked into my aunt's house for Thanksgiving dinner and a cousin promptly dragged me into the basement to take pulls off a wine bottle. It was partially to lubricate social awkwardness but more a desire to drink ourselves even with earlier-arriving relatives. The older I get, the more family events like this seem like an awkward, futile attempt to recapture the joy of the past. Judging by the ferocity with which my cousin was hitting that merlot/cab mix, other relatives feel the same way.

The original idea was to come to the Swamp to write about the Shirkers gig -- which, after a half-week of phone calls, seemed to be the only show happening on Thanksgiving in this town -- but at the moment, being left alone is all I'm really interested in as well. I'm also interested in the Australian Shepherd who's begun nuzzling at my crotch. He seems at home in the place.

By the time the Shirkers go on, my motley little band is huddled up the way everyone else is, talking idly about indie-this and Best-Week-Ever-that, leaving our minds to wander over whatever moroseness (family, work, relationship) strikes. Then the band strikes up and slowly everyone is pulled out of their own navels and into the show. A spare three-piece with lyrics like "My trouble is you," and "I hate everything," the first band that comes to mind is the White Stripes singing songs of woe and populist empowerment. Ben seconds that, adding "Danzig and the Melvins." Melvins makes sense, but I counter his Danzig by going earlier: "Misfits." He nods an assent.

Half an hour later, out of nowhere, Ben levels his gaze on me and says, "I kinda miss the guy who was talking shit."

& lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & A & lt;/span & s we leave, I shake hands with Joe Kaler, the owner. He rips into a long spiel about the community -- family, really -- they've tried to create at the Swamp and how he's really, really stoked about how it's turned out. Fittingly, his voice carries that passion. He ends by saying, nay, shouting, "We'll never close!"

That final exclamation had defiance and a whiff of frustration that makes me think they might close real soon. If not, though, the Swamp is the kind of place where I can imagine myself spending a lot of time -- with an Australian shepherd heeling beside me and gutter-punk populism acting as background music to quiet, boozy reflection.

Annie O'Neill plays the Swamp every Sunday at 8 pm for free. Call 458-2337 or check our Sound Advice listings (page 44) weekly for other shows.
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