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By Pat Lisi/Southern Utah Vets Aid

            A Sergeant E-5 didn’t make a whole lot of money back in 1969.  The pay was downright pitiful as you well remember if you were serving back then.  I was a Drill Instructor at MCRD San Diego at the time which included an extra fifty bucks a month, and I was still poor as the proverbial church mouse.  So, I had to go out and find something part time like most of the DI’s I knew also did.  As luck would have it one of my fellows DI’s, Sgt John Presnall, worked evenings as a doorman at a downtown tavern and his boss told him he needed another peacekeeper at the joint.  I landed the job without any difficulty.

The name of the establishment was The Apache Club.  It had two front doorways for two separate bars but it all connected in the back with an archway.  So, it was like two bars in one.  At the back of each bar area in the corner was a small stage where scantily-clad young ladies danced for the drunken sailors and Marines who frequented the club.  There were two brass poles on the stages and a few other ‘props’ that I probably don’t need to describe to you.  I think I’ve painted a pretty good picture already, and by now you’ve figured out that the place was seedy at best and that the patrons didn’t always behave themselves.  The gals were allowed to tease the guests by going topless, which they always did by the end of any particular “set”.

On our nights to work it was up to me and Sgt Presnall, also a Vietnam veteran who fought with the 5th Marines like me, to keep things to a dull roar and uneventful.   John was slight of stature for a Marine but he was quick as a mongoose to avoid a punch, which was almost always followed by a swift and accurate kick to his opponent’s groin.  This proved very effective for quieting down a feisty patron at the tavern.

My ‘signature move’ back then was a sudden, vicious and unexpected strike to my opponent’s solar plexus using the extended middle knuckle of the middle finger of either hand.  You’d be surprised how quickly a fighter stops fighting when they get hit hard enough there with such a small point of contact.  They double up with pain and clutch their sternum, and then you just lead them out of the tavern to the sidewalk.

John and I were both pretty fresh out of Nam and had ‘issues’ with what we saw and did over there.  We were also frustrated a lot with the recruit marines back at the base who did their best most of the time to piss us off, particularly in phase 1 of their training when no one could march in step, yet.  All of this only meant that we weren’t to be toyed with at the Apache Club.

The basic duties at the club was to post ourselves at the 2 front doors and check ID cards; to come to the rescue of any of the dancers who may be in danger of being accosted while performing; to escort unruly patrons out of the tavern; to respond to any ‘situations’ that the bartenders needed help with; and to accompany the girls to their vehicles at the end of the night and make sure they got out of the parking lot alive and with all their clothing intact.  The Apache Club was where men, mostly sailors, came to drink and have a good yet rowdy time after being out to sea for awhile.  As you might guess John and I got into a lot of scrapes at the club with drunken patrons.  The crap would usually hit the fan around 11 PM and could re-erupt anytime up until the lights came on signaling “last call” at 1:30 AM.

John and I always had each other’s back and, as I remember, the bartenders were typically big guys with mean streaks all their own, which came in handy almost every night.  It also helped that both John and I loved to fight and we didn’t take any you-know-what from anyone,  and certainly not from any Navy “swabby”  bent on putting his hands on one of the girls or mixing it up with any of our more peaceful patrons.  John and I were very efficient and proficient at ‘coaxing’ trouble makers out of the bar without really having to hurt them or us.  It was only a matter of minutes before the offender was out on the sidewalk and heading to the next tavern up or down the street.  And, there were many to choose from.  If you’re familiar with San Diego the part of town where the Apache Club and other such establishments existed is the same neighborhood where you now find the PetcoBaseballPark, the San DiegoConvention Center, and part of what is known as the Gaslight District.  It was sort of fun and games to us peace keepers at the club and it took very little real effort to keep things in order, with only one exception: Commercial Fishermen.

Commercial fishers, particularly the ones who worked on the tuna boats, were mostly huge brutes with legs and arms the size of NFL football players.  They stayed out to sea until they filled the boats with tuna, which could take weeks.  During that time they worked like no other humans on earth.  And, the ones that John and I met at the Apache Club seemed much more ‘owly’ and nasty than any of the local sailors who came into the club.  The tuna fishers were trouble with a capital “T”.  Kicking one of these blokes in the nads or hitting him in his solar plexus was a mute point as it only served to make the guy REALLY angry, kind of like The Hulk on the old TV series!  So, John and I improved our verbal judo skills and put them to work at the Apache.

Verbal judo of course means talking your way out of a situation or, in this case, talking a patron out of the tavern without a physical confrontation at all.  I wasn’t opposed to pleading for my life once in awhile, either.  Hey, I needed to go home at the end of my shift to my wife and kid, not to the hospital for a few weeks of repair!

The trick that seemed to work best was to tell Tuna Boy that the girls at the so-and-so club up the street were much better looking, and the drinks were way stronger than ours.  (I’m sure the doormen at those places appreciated us sending business their way).  The most important thing, though, was to get them out of our place and into the next as early in the evening as possible before they got too hammered and belligerent.  If that happened it usually took me, John, and the bartenders to wrestle the guy out.  If it got that bad there would be a couple of cops waiting at curbside with a cruiser and they’d take custody of subject.

By-and-by that part of the city got cleaned up and I don’t even know if places like the Apache Club still exist in San Diego, but I suspect they do – just in a different part of town.  And, I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some young Marine, or two, is working the doors just like Sgt Presnall and I did back in 1969.    If you are, and if you’re reading this, I say to you “Good Luck” my brother, and Semper Fi!




One Response to “A Little Verbal Judo Goes a Long Way”

  • Hello everyone. My name is Sheila and I work in the office for Vistelar, which is the parent company to Verbal Judo and Verbal Defense and Influence.

    I spent 8 years in the Army National Guard and did one tour to Iraq within those 8 years. I can understand the challenges that can be created by rowdy service members back from my deployment, and even here on American soil! I know they had a protector and not an enforcer mindset but what they had to figure out on their own, we now have a system for teaching.

    Verbal Defense and Influence, Verbal Judo, plays a huge role in every day life, in military life and much more. I am glad we can now offer trainings on such material rather then anyone having to figure it out on their own.

    Nice article.

    Thank you

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