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The Band Box Tavern
Recently, my sister and I have been reminiscing about our wild partying days when we were younger, when we would stay out until 5 in the morning and hide in my car around the corner from the house, waiting for our mother to leave for the work so we didn’t go in while she was having breakfast in her nightgown. Inevitably, our conversation turned to drunken nights at a Bellmore bar we used to frequent called The Band Box Tavern.
Now, The Band Box was a special place for my sister and I…we’ve been Sunday afternoon regulars there since we were little (literally, not figuratively). My dad, like so many others, played softball on Sunday mornings, 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 kid into a bar will result in a visit from Child Protective Services, but back in the 70’s and early 80’s it was commonplace and we weren’t the only kids running around like ragamuffins.
One Sunday, when I was about 9 years old and my dad wasn’t in pain, he gave me a few dollars to put in the Jukebox (the one that was 45, eek! I’m old!). I was, and still am, a huge Blondie fan, and my favorite song back then 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 to put money in the machine and find the songs I wanted to play, but I wasn’t experienced enough to realize that once I entered the code to play Rapture, there would be a considerable delay. before he actually played the song. When the music didn’t start immediately, I thought I must have done something wrong, so I redialed the number. It still didn’t play, so I thought the jukebox was broken and dialed Rapture’s number a third time… and a fourth. By the time Rapture played for the seventh time in a row, the whole bar was looking dirty (remember, this was before the remote control, and you couldn’t “skip” songs), and the bartender finally turned off the jukebox.
It was a homecoming of sorts when we returned to The Band Box as patrons, and quickly re-established our status as regulars. During one of these blurry nights, another regular, whose name completely escapes me, so I’ll call him Bear, invited me to accompany him the next day to Atlantic City. Bear looked like an aging, overweight Magnum PI, with his Hawaiian shirt half unbuttoned, showing a thick gold chain and tangles of thick chest hair. I’d guess he was in his mid-to-late 30s, with thick, curly salt-and-pepper hair, and a Hell’s Angels mustache. I found it physically repulsive, so of course I agreed to go (insert eyeball emoticon here).
He picked me up the next morning at 7am, and in my sleep-deprived, hungover, bleary-eyed state, I wanted nothing more than to cancel the trip and stay in bed. But, I was out, honking, and I had already paid my bus fare the night before. I told Bear I’d go with him to AC, but I’d also told him 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 obliged to get up and go. I didn’t shower, or even change out of my clothes from the night before, so I can only imagine what I looked like when I ran into his car. We drove to The Band Box, where the bus we were taking left.
When I got on the bus, it was like walking into the set of the movie, Cocoon. If you don’t remember, that was the movie with all the old guys swimming in the pool with alien eggs and regaining their youth by draining the life force of the alien embryos. In other words, she could be the great-granddaughter of 75% of the group we travel with. Oso seemed to know everyone on the bus; I guess because of his affiliation with the local K of C, rotary club or VFW. At that point I tried to escape and called my sister to come get me, but she just laughed and told me to sleep on the messy bed I had made.
I took his advice. I slept during the 4 1/2 hour drive to Jersey, and even when I wasn’t, I pretended to be. Like a fly on the wall, I listened to the conversations of those around me as they congratulated Bear on his beautiful young girlfriend and asked how long he and I had been dating. His snarky response about how this was our first date almost made my ears bleed and my stomach convulse. I was moaning silently in my head and coming up with a plan to sabotage any idea Bear had that he was going to kiss me in the next 8 hours.
Turns out being a boring, whiny, smelly girl was all she needed to do.
I stood next to Bear as he played Black Jack, yawning obnoxiously and making sure 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 thanked and praised my disgust… I expected him to act like garlic to a vampire. Bear had given me $20 so 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 part of my $20 on drinks, because since I wasn’t gambling, I wasn’t entitled to free drinks at the casino. So I didn’t have enough money to buy a decent meal and settled for a sandwich and chips. I complained loudly about my food (and honestly, it was actually terrible), while I watched enviously as Bear ate his shrimp cocktail. I was tired, hungry, in company I didn’t want to be in, and I didn’t hesitate to let Oso know how miserable I was. When we got back on the bus to leave, not only wouldn’t he talk to me, he wouldn’t even sit next to me on the way home.
Moral of the story: The most painless way to get out of a bad date is to be worse.
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