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The Band Box Tavern

Recently, my sister and I were reminiscing about our wild party days when we were younger, when we would go out until 5 in the morning and hide in my car around the corner from the house, waiting for our mother to go to the worked. so we wouldn’t come in while she was having breakfast in her nightgown. Inevitably, our conversation turned into 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 had been regulars on Sunday afternoons since we were little kids (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 afterwards: beer for the men, Shirley Temples with extra cherries for the kids. I know times have changed drastically and nowadays taking a child to a bar will trigger a visit from Child Protective Services, but in the 1970s and early 1980s, it was commonplace and we certainly weren’t the only kids. running like rags

One Sunday, when I was about 9 years old and my dad was pain-free, he gave me a few bucks to put on the jukebox (the kind that spins 45’s-eek! I’m old!). I was, and still am, a huge 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 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 entered the code to play Rapture, there would be a considerable delay before the song actually played. When the music didn’t start right away, I thought I had done something wrong, so I redialed the number. It still didn’t ring, so I figured the jukebox was broken and dialed Rapture’s number a third time…and a fourth time. When Rapture played for the seventh time in a row, the whole bar was giving me dirty looks (remember this was before the remote and you couldn’t “skip” songs), and the bartender finally unplugged the jukebox.

It was something of a homecoming when we returned to The Band Box as patrons, and we quickly re-established our status as regular customers. During one of these blurry nights, another regular, whose name completely escapes me, so I’m going to call him Bear, invited me to accompany him the next day to Atlantic City. Bear looked like an overweight, aging Magnum PI, complete with a half-unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt, showing off a thick gold chain and tangles of wiry chest hair. I’m guessing he was in his late 30s, with thick curly hair and a Hell’s Angels mustache. I found it physically repulsive, so of course I agreed to go (insert shooting myself in the eye emoji here).

He picked me up the next morning at 7am, and in my sleepy, hungover, teary-eyed state, I wanted nothing more than to cancel the trip and stay in bed. But he was outside, honking his horn, and he had already paid for my bus ticket the night before. I told Bear that I would go with him to AC, but I also told him that I was broke…in fact, I think I had less than $10 in my wallet. Bear had agreed to pay me, so I felt compelled to get up and leave. I haven’t showered or even changed my clothes since last night, so I can only imagine how he looked at me when I bumped into his car. We drove to The Band Box, where the bus we took left from.

When I got on the bus, it was as if I had stepped on the set of the movie Cocoon. If you don’t remember, that was the movie with all the old men who swim in the pool with alien eggs and regain their youth by extracting the life force from the alien embryos. In other words, she could have been the great-granddaughter of 75% of the group we were traveling with. Bear seemed to know everyone on the bus; I am assuming because of her affiliation with the local K of C, Rotary club or VFW. I tried to escape at this point and called my sister to come find me, but she just laughed and told me to sleep on the messy bed she made.

I followed your advice. I dozed through the 4 1/2 hour drive to Jersey and even when I wasn’t sleeping I pretended to. 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 boastful response of how this was our first date almost made my ears bleed and my stomach convulse. I was silently moaning in my head and coming up with a plan to sabotage any notion 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 unpleasantly and making sure no part of my body touched his. I could smell stale cigarette smoke in my hair from the night before and the sour smell of alcohol cutting through my skin, and I gave thanks and praise for my disgust…I expected it to act like garlic to a vampire. Bear had given me $20 so he could eat while we were there, and we went to a restaurant in the casino. He ordered steak, baked potato, salad…it all works. He had already spent part of my $20 on drinks, because, since he wasn’t gambling, he wasn’t entitled to free drinks at the casino. So, he didn’t have enough money to buy a decent meal, and I settled for a sandwich and fries. I loudly complained 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 Bear know how miserable I felt. When we got back to the bus to leave, he not only wouldn’t talk to me, but 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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