I learned most of my driving social principles in the bar where my mom worked. I was young, too young for a bar really, 15 16 17. It was a small place you couldn’t get lost in, at least I never did. I drank sodas and soaked in what I saw.
Everyone would pay me attention. It always felt good. 30 40 50 somethings would come up and talk to me. I didn’t know yet that it is much easier to hide whatever you have than deal with the folks who feel entitled to some piece of it. So, I put the pieces out there. I was bubbly and confident and excitable. And I was young and fit and taut. Jeans clung to my new hips, perched on a bar stool, weight shifting lightly back and forth. And the boys came to talk to me, I would give out long and overly intimate hugs to them. We were friends, great friends, I thought.
I would listen to the old men hassle my mom and then they would hassle me. And my mom would get fierce and subtle and all she would say was the name of whoever it was. Jimmy. She would say a little quiet and intense and Jimmy or whoever would always back off. They would back off like a hunter when he realizes the bear is a momma, knowing instinctually they have no chance of winning that fight. The most respected lady in the West Virginia woods.
I would listen to them hassle her and she would give them nothing. “I’ll show ya how a real man fucks.” Whoever would say and she would telepathically tell me not to listen to him, her face remaining totally unmoved, unchanged. And whoever would lose their nerve most of the time, “I’m just kiddin, Kel.” They’d falter.
As I aged, 20 21 22, when that would happen we would go through the whole routine but then mom would do this incredible thing. She would let them say their musings and then she would say, “Jimmy, have you met my daughter Carmen?” And I would say, “Hello, it’s awfully nice to meet you!” I would deliver it all over the top and flowery and they would get all quiet and intense and they would say, “Uh, nice to meetcha.” And they would stay quiet and usually pay their tab and get the hell outta there. Couldn’t stand to sit in their own shame and garbage anymore.
They’d go off to the next watering hole where the bartended doesn’t have a kid staring them in the face. Where the bartender isn’t a mother or a daughter or anything except tonight’s potential piece of ass because who gives a shit what you say to tonight’s potential piece of ass. I heard a lot of men say terrible things to the potential pieces of ass in my town. Things about chicks thinking they’re bad bitches and some whore that cheated on Jimmy two years ago and aint never told until now.
Once in the place where my mom worked, I saw a girl flop her tits out on the bar. Boys threw 20s at them, the bills grazing her nipples as they fell in a crinkly pile on the wooden top. She was country pretty and her face lit up when she pulled her tank top down and let herself fall out. Fully electrified. She and I rode the bus together. I never thought I would see her tits until that moment and then I thought, she has pretty good ones, good for her. She collected her 20s and shoved them in her raggedy jeans pocket, not showing a lick of anything on her face. It just sat there freckled, surrounded by dirty blonde hair and a whole lotta cigarette smoke.
I saw a lot of middle-aged folks rub up on each other in that place. They would come in and get drunk. Some shitty power ballad would play and a wife would say to a husband, this is our song! and off they would go to the black-lit linoleum dancefloor. Their plump bodies would squish into the other and their worn in t-shirts would twist and stretch as they groped at each other’s backs. They would kiss, their tongues intertwining. Graphic.
I saw a lot of folks cheat and swing and lie in that little bar in that little town. They would find whoever would commit the sin with them and get in over their own head, feeling realized for the first time in however many years. They would feel the temptation and the pull and then they’d end up in the women’s restroom behind the cheap curtain hanging on a cheap rod. They would be in there doing terrible things to each other, feet going crazy, trying to keep their asses picked up off the dirty toilet.
I used to look at myself in that bathroom mirror and think I looked real good. Too good for those curtains hanging on those rods. Too good for those dirty toilet seats. I never once let my feet go crazy. Not in that place. We just kept on walking.
We walked to Morgantown and then we walked all over the damned country. And now I know that there are plenty of other bars where folks do all sorts of things over dirty toilet seats. It’s the way of people. And I might not have let my feet go crazy in the place, but they have broke loose quite a few times elsewhere.
I learned pretty quickly that place was too damned small to let your feet get away from you. I saw how deeply bad it went for some of those folks. They lost all sorts of things in that bar, themselves included. I learned from my mom that there just aren’t enough pieces of yourself running around to give them out like that. You have to keep them tucked in, nice and neat.