Recently, my sister and I were reminiscing about our wild party days when we were younger- when we’d stay out until 5 in the morning and hide out in my car around the corner from the house, waiting for our mom to leave for work so that we wouldn’t walk in while she was eating breakfast in her nightgown. Inevitably, our conversation turned to drunken nights at a bar in Bellmore that we used to frequent called The Band Box Tavern.
Now, The Band Box was a special place for my sister and I… we’d been Sunday afternoon regulars there since we were toddlers (literally, not figuratively). My dad, like so many others, played Sunday morning softball, and the experience wasn’t complete without a trip to the bar afterward- beer for the men, Shirley Temples with extra cherries for the kids. I know times have changed drastically and nowadays bringing a child to a bar will provoke a visit from Child Protective Services, but in the 1970’s and early 80’s, it was commonplace and we were certainly not the only children running around like ragamuffins.
One Sunday, when I was about 9 years old and my dad was feeling no pain, he gave me a few dollars to put in the Jukebox (the kind that spun 45’s- eek! I’m old!). I was- and still am- a big Blondie fan, and my favorite song at the time was Rapture (you know, Fab Five Freddie and the man from Mars, eating cars, bars, and guitars…) Well, anyway, I was old enough to like music and old enough to put the money in the machine and find the songs I wanted to play, but I was not experienced enough to realize that once I punched in the code to play Rapture, there would be a sizable delay before the song actually played. When the music didn’t start immediately, I thought I had done something wrong, so I punched in the number again. It still didn’t play, so now I thought the jukebox was broken and punched in the number for Rapture a third time,…and a fourth. By the time Rapture played for the seventh time in a row, I was getting dirty looks from the entire bar (remember this was before remote control, and you couldn’t “skip” through songs), and the bartender finally unplugged the jukebox.
It was a homecoming of sorts when we returned to The Band Box as patrons ourselves, and we quickly reestablished our status as regulars. During one of these blurry nights, another regular, whose name escapes me entirely, so I’m going to call him Bear, invited me to accompany him the next day to Atlantic City. Bear looked like an overweight and aging Magnum PI, complete with semi-unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, showcasing a thick gold chain and tangles of coarse chest hair. I’d guess he was in his mid to late 30’s, with thick, curly salt & pepper hair, and a Hell’s Angels mustache. I found him physically repulsive, so, of course, I agreed to go (insert shooting- myself- in- the- eye emoticon here).
He picked me up the next morning at 7 am, and in my bleary-eyed, hung-over, sleep-deprived state, I wanted nothing more than to cancel the trip and stay in bed. But, he was outside, honking and he had already paid for my coach bus fare the night before. I had told Bear that I’d go with him to AC, but I had also told him that I was broke… in fact, I think I had less than $10 in my wallet. Bear had agreed to pay my way, so I felt obligated to get up and go. I didn’t shower, or even change my clothes from the night before, so I can only imagine how I looked as I stumbled to his car. We drove to The Band Box, where the bus we were taking was leaving from.
When I stepped onto the bus, it was as if I’d walked onto the set of the movie, Cocoon. If you don’t remember, that was the movie with all of the old people who swim in the pool with extraterrestrial eggs and regain their youth by sapping the life force from the alien embryos. In other words, I could have been the great-granddaughter of 75% of the group that we were traveling with. Bear seemed to know everyone on the bus; I’m assuming from his affiliation with the local K of C, rotary club, or VFW. I tried to escape at this point, and called my sister to come get me, but she just laughed and told me to sleep in the messy bed I had made.
I took her advice. I dozed during the 4 ½ hour ride to Jersey, and, even when I wasn’t sleeping, I pretended to. Like a fly on the wall, I overheard the conversations of those around me as they complimented Bear on his pretty, young girlfriend and asked how long he and I had been dating. His boastful reply of how this was our first date almost made my ears bleed and my stomach convulse. I was groaning silently in my head and devising a plan to sabotage any notion that Bear had that he was going to kiss me within the next 8 hours.
It turns out that being a bored, whining, foul-smelling girl was all I needed to do.
I stood next to Bear while he played Black Jack, yawning obnoxiously and making sure that no part of my body touched any part of his. I could smell the stale cigarette smoke in my hair from the night before and the sour smell of alcohol seeping through my skin, and I gave thanks and praise for my disgustingness… I was hoping it would act as garlic to a vampire. Bear had given me $20 so that I could eat while we were there, and we went to some restaurant in the casino. He ordered steak, baked potato, salad… the works. I had already spent some of my $20 on drinks, because, since I wasn’t gambling, I wasn’t entitled to drink for free in the casino. So, I didn’t have enough money to buy a decent meal, and settled for a sandwich and chips. I complained about my food loudly (and sincerely, actually- it was terrible), while I watched with envy as Bear ate his shrimp cocktail. I was tired, hungry, in company that I didn’t want to be in, and I did not hesitate to let Bear know how miserable I was. By the time we returned to the bus to leave, he not only wasn’t speaking to me, he wouldn’t even sit next to me on the ride home.
Moral of the story: The most painless way to get out of a bad date is to be a worse one.