The one thing you should never do is lead my mother to the bar.
But that’s what the doorman did; then, he put the quiet word into the bartender’s ear. And so we had our “drink” on the house; diet Coke for me, a brandy Alexander for my mother. And perhaps it was true that the first drink was on the house; the remaining five or six were not. But there were credit cards, so who cared?
In short, my mother was getting sloshed, and she did what drunks do. Her speech slurred, her thoughts muddled, and she began to get a bit weepy with the bartender.
“Who knows what I might have become, if I had stayed in the city,” she told the bartender.
“Mom—do you have to? This guy probably doesn’t care…”
“Well, of course he cares! Bartenders love talking to people—that’s why they do what they do.”
Right—I thought. This guy woke up one day and wanted to spend a lifetime seeing middle-aged women from the Midwest get sloshed in a high-class bar. So he hoofed it down to the Ritz, and here he is, twenty happy years later!
“Oh, I was young and fancy-free, and living in the Village. That was back when you could—rent was low, all the boys were off fighting in the war, and all of us girls were having the times of our lives. Everywhere you went, there were signs telling us to support the war effort, buy bonds, plant victory gardens. But mostly what I remember was how free we all were! I remember coming home and walking through the Village at three in the morning, and never thinking the least of it. Oh, there was the occasional burglary, or pickpocket, but never anything serious. And then, well…then I met my future husband, and everything changed. Are you married, dear?”
The bartender had been looking for an escape, but it was still early in the afternoon; the lunch crowd was gone, the serious drinkers had not arrived. So he was stuck with us.
“Well, don’t be in too much of a hurry. Though men have a better time of it than women; men have their careers, they have their lives. But we women, well—we just tag along, somehow, and then we wake up one day and we’re forty or fifty, and things are sagging, but the men are still good looking. Better than ever, in fact, since that grey-haired temple is even sexier than it was before. So there we are, and our husbands have their careers, but we’ve never had much of anything—we’ve been teachers or nurses, if anything. So then the husbands are flying out to give their keynote speeches in conventions in Dallas or Denver, and of course you don’t go, because you can’t get off work, or because who will look after the kids? And that’s when…”
‘I will kill her,’ I thought, ‘if she actually goes there. Because you’ve been throwing this into father’s face for the last three years, now. Yes, I’ve heard you. I hear the fights, the recriminations, the glasses thrown, the doors slam. Listen, Mom, the best thing that ever happened to you was that stupid affair. Now you get to be the perfect bitch all the time—lording it over Dad, blackmailing him, making him feel guilty. Oh, and you probably haven’t given it to him forever, since he came back!’
She was fumbling for a tissue—the bartender handed her one.
“I’m sorry,” she said, “you just seem like a very nice fellow. Kind, understanding….”
“I hope you find someone nice to love you, dear,” she said. “And when you do, well, promise me, promise me…”
“Well, you won’t let anyone or anything come between….”
“No, Ma’am,” said the bartender, who did not want to get where this was going.
“There’s no pain like it,” said my mother. “The hurt! The betrayal! You can never fully trust again! Every day when he comes home, you look at his shirt collar. He has an emergency at the hospital, and do you believe that? Or do you think about getting in the car, and driving past all the likely places where a man takes a woman? The bars, first. The restaurants where you can’t even see the menus. Then there’s the motels. Well, by that time, he really will be home—and what will you say if you come home and he’s there? So you go and buy a bag of groceries that you don’t need, and then, then….”
She was slurring her speech badly, now, and beginning to wobble in her chair—‘God,’ I thought, ‘don’t, please don’t let her fall off that bar stool!’
“So there you are, coming in the door, and what do you have in that grocery bag of yours? Because there he is, hungry and irritable, and well on his way into the third or fourth drink…”
‘Thank you SO much, mother!’
“…and all you have to give him is cookies and chocolate chip ice cream, ‘cause you’re so miserable that all you want is something sweet, and then he looks at all that shit—excuse my French—you bought, and he looks down at your waist. And he just keeps staring, and he can still wear his army uniform, but now you’re just an old, fat, ugly, good-for-nothing woman and then you remember that he had an affair, oh, he had an affair! Oh, how could he! Three years it’s been, and the pain is like it was yesterday! Whatever happened to us! Tell me, dear man, where did my husband go? Where did I go? Because I’m spinning, spinning…I don’t know where I’ll fall…the pain of it all…”
“Oh, I’m sorry for being a silly old cow…”
“No, Ma’am,” he said, and looked at me. I nodded.
“It’s just that I think you should let your daughter…”
I already had her arm—I was hoping that she’d go without a fight. Fortunately, she was just sober enough to realize what an ass she was being.
“Perhaps I should rest before dinner,” she said. “You’ll put the tab on the room bill, won’t you, honey?”
The bartender probably would have paid the damn drinks, just to get her out of the bar.
So it was a weepy ride up to the 12th floor, and a struggle to get her down to the room, and then it was the hell of getting the key out of the bottom of her purse and opening the door. So I propped her up against the wall, leaned into her to keep her from falling, and opened the door. We both nearly fell into the room.
“Now, where is….”
“Here, Mom,” and I led her into the bedroom. She was asleep almost before she hit the bed. Still, I figured I’d wait until the first snore….
Five minutes later, I was sailing out the door of the Ritz-Carlton, about to taste the city for the first time!