Life in a Skinner Box: A Memoir [Chapter 4.8]

If I wanted to see my mom, more often than not, I had to meet up with her at a little tavern she frequented. It was the only bar in her town, so there was an interesting mix of people there, everyone from a practically homeless person to the town doctors and judges. Opening the tavern each morning were the hard-core alcoholics, who’d lost their jobs and wives long ago, and who had reserved seating at the bar. There was the after-work crowd, also mostly regulars, who couldn’t make it home to their spouses without at least a few cocktails first. And then, on Friday and Saturday nights, there was the party crowd. They were made up of scowling local women, clearly dressed to flaunt their assets, and jovial local men, who persisted in trying to get me and Mom drunk and who couldn’t stop guffawing loudly at their own sexist or racist, or homophobic jokes.

The men were obnoxious but mostly harmless, and I’d put up with them ogling my “tits”—which I’d heard at least a few times were as “spectacular” as my mother’s—and I fielded the occasional grope. Still, I’d rather deal with the bar men than the bar women. Egads. What nasty attitudes. They bitched bitterly—in between long, dramatic drags on their cigarettes—about their husbands, their mothers, and their own children, who were either “driving them crazy” or were “little assholes like their fathers.” One woman barged in to pick up a pizza and I overheard her tell the bartender that her husband had gotten so pissed off at her son the night before that he had tipped over the refrigerator. I pictured him rocking the thing back and forth enough times until it finally fell. It was both scary and ridiculous.

Several of them had lost custody of their children or had preteens who were already in trouble with the law for trafficking their Ritalin at school. I also sensed the women didn’t like me by proxy, as they didn’t appear to like the attention the men gave to my mother, who was still very beautiful and popular with them. The dynamics were sometimes awkward, so I’d try to keep centered. I never vied for anyone’s attention, but I also tried to go along so they wouldn’t think I was putting on airs.

I appreciatively drank darn near every shot poured for me, and I cheered Mom on with the rest of the crowd when she was urged to perform her famous “waterfall” trick, which involved holding a shot of beer between her thumb and pointer finger, while also holding a shot of Hot Damn! in the same hand between her middle and ring finger. She’d tip her hand so the cinnamon schnapps shot flowed into her mouth first, followed closely by the cascading “chaser” of Michelob.

Although the party women weren’t big fans of her, my mother was adored by many of the daytime and after-work tavern regulars. No sooner would Mom get up for something, leaving me sitting at the bar, than someone would lean over and rave about what a wonderful woman she was. I learned that Mom was the only person who remembered their birthdays, that she made people dinner when they were sick, and that she’d have special plaques engraved for people who’d lost their pets. She’d visited people in the hospital and had given people rides when their cars were broken.

To many, my mom was the most considerate person they knew, as well as a wonderful, amazing friend to them. On one level, I was happy for my mom that she was so well-liked and seemed to be so happy around these strangers. Yet part of me couldn’t help feeling a bit jealous. My mother didn’t know a fraction of the details about my life she knew about everyone else’s. I gave myself a talking to and concluded that I should just be happy she’d found a way to feel good about herself. She’d found a way to “give” that apparently didn’t cause her pain.

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