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Black Watchers

[whitespace] Ritual of drinking, watching 'the fights' endures in Los Gatos--at 11:30am

By Michael Learmonth

ALONG THE BAR are five sets of elbows, one water, two coffees, a chardonnay and a Bloody Mary. The bartender perks up with four fingers of Jager. It's 11:30 in the morning at the Black Watch in Los Gatos, and the sleepy crowd is assembled for a morning ritual they call "the fights."

The crowd stares up from their ringside seats at a well-built blonde named Diamond sitting on stage with her legs crossed tightly in a stretchy leopard-skin dress. She has a confession to make, and everyone in the Black Watch is waiting.

Diamond turns and faces her fiance, a heavy bearded man several years her senior. "I want you to know I've been with somebody else," she says, not a trace of regret crossing her face.

Scott, the fiance, feigns shock, then concern: "You been with them, or you been with them?"

On cue another blonde walks on stage, takes a seat and snuggles up to Diamond. Oh, yes, and just as everyone at the Black Watch suspected, she's who Diamond's been with, and her name is Monique.

"I was hoping we could still be friends," Diamond says to Scott. "If you weren't so stuffy, we could do it right in front of your face."

"I'll be your friend," bartender Paul Thompson pipes up.

Weekday mornings at 11am sharp, the volume on the overhead TV comes up and the bar patrons twist around on their stools to take in another installment of The Jerry Springer Show, known affectionately here as "the fights." Today's controversial topic, "Guess What ... I'm Bisexual!," is unusually tame. There are no hair-tearing brawls, and bisexuality is hardly the morals-shattering revelation it once was. The women are striking nonetheless, and more than one patron seems to muse at the possibilities.

In the morning, the Black Watch turns back the clock and returns to its roots. Thompson pours free coffee, a tradition that began when the bar was founded in 1948, long before it was discovered by the college-grad, white-collar crowd. The bar becomes a relaxed place, no too-loud conversations, no pushy suds-seekers, just a cadre of local underachievers who see no shame in taking a mid-morning nip.

"The bar is like my living room," says Leslie Quinn, who first walked into the bar in 1951, soon after getting off the boat from Ireland.

"The fights" are the newest morning pastime, just like "Judge Judy" before it. It all started when a bar patron, who asked to remain nameless, cajoled the bartender into changing the channel to Jerry.

"It's taken on a life of its own, and anyone who is present will watch and even request quiet during the fights," says Daryl Glen, a morning-watch regular and self-described "failed intellectual." "I personally liken the show to gladiator fights of ancient Rome, or throwing Christians to the lions. It's also the exploitation of the most depraved and marginal of society's rejects solely for profit, which is to say it's what makes America what it is today."

Quinn can't understand why the Springer phenomenon has caused such public hand-wringing. A veteran of three wars and survivor of 108 parachute jumps, Quinn says he's seen much worse. Like the time when he was one of several thousand troops in Cairo treated to a sexual performance between a woman and a donkey. "Women had sex on stage, and people paid to see it," he says. "And that was 50 years ago!"

Springer's morning titillation is just another Black Watch attraction, not unlike the $3.20 steak-and-wine meals the bar offered in the '60s, the pitchers of Kamikazes that came to the bar in 1980 or the pinball machine that bar owner Brad Anzalone is thinking about installing up front. Brad's father, Tony, bought the bar in 1959 and named it the Black Watch after the 43rd Scottish Military Regiment. The crossed swords, tartan design and slogan "Nemo me impune lacesset" ("No one impugns me without my revenging them") are the symbols of the regiment.

"An Italian-American owner of a Scottish-themed bar--go figure," Glen says.

The Black Watchers were expecting a drop-off in sparring on Springer after June 5, the date Jerry told viewers he planned to tone down the show. But yesterday's edition, "I'm 16 and in a Love Triangle," featured no less than five bare-knuckle melées.

Glen is keeping hope alive. "We're all crossing our fingers that the show maintains its vigor."

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From the June 18-24, 1998 issue of Metro.

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