Chapter 16 Lies and Lasagna

The First big lie. Bob took me to meet his mother, Connie. She had divorced Bob’s father after having three children. She then remarried Robert Hoppel and had a daughter with him. I had graduated from High School with his half-sister. His mother had made a nice traditional dinner of homemade lasagna. She informed me that she rolled the pasta herself. I wasn’t impressed. I used to watch my grandmother make pasta from scratch. She would hang the strips on the clothes line in the cellar to dry. After dinner and a game of Gin Rummy, we went into the parlor. She looked at me incredulously and said, “What are you doing with him?”. I said we were in love and getting married in November. That’s when she told me that his name had been changed from Riccardo to Hoppel when she remarried. I was upset. First, because he hadn’t told me himself. Secondly, because I wanted to continue to identify as Italian. Now I found out I would have a German surname. The Second big lie. Bob told me he was taking me to Las Vegas for our honeymoon. The night before our wedding, he informed me the money he was counting on didn’t come through. So instead, we were going to Washington, D.C.I had packed for sunny Vegas and now had to repack for frigid Washington. After our short “honeymoon” I went back to bartending. I loved working at the Silhouette. Al had nothing but 40’s music on the jukebox. Jimmy T. had already introduced me to some of the great jazz and blues musicians of that era. My favorite on the jukebox was "I CAN'T GET STARTED" – sung by Bunny Berigan 1937, written by Ira Gershwin. “I've flown around the world in a plane I've settled revolutions in Spain The North Pole I have charted but can't get started with you.” That song spoke to my soul. Stuck, not getting started was how I felt about my life. The Silhouette lounge was so slow during the day, that my only customers were usually the Military Recruiters that had an office next door. We would play liar's poker with dollar bills and I usually won. I guess I had a good poker face. I would do the daily crossword puzzle from the Scranton Times every day. The Navy recruiter was impressed that it took me 30 minutes or less and that I did it in ink not pencil. There was one guy that always flirted with me. His name was Terry and he worked at one of the banks downtown. He would come in after work and always had a funny story about one of the customers. Sometimes we would be the only two people in the bar. We had some deep conversations. It was nice to have someone to talk to that shared some of my ideas on life. After a few weeks he begged me to have a drink with him outside of my workplace. I was planning on going out with my friend that night at a place called Papa Joe’s. He met me and my friend Sally at the bar. It was a large place with lots of tables and a dance floor. Sally had brought a date that night. So, there were four of us. Sally was the first to notice Bob barreling through the door. Terry got up and went to the men’s room and I put his drink in front of Sally’s friend. That was a close call. One of his spies must have told him I was there. The lesson learned was never to sit with your back to the door. You always needed to see who or what was coming. When he saw that I seemed to be the third wheel at the table, he calmed down. He gave me $20 and advised me that he didn’t like this bar. He then left to go back to his job at the El Dorado. That night I gave into my desires and slept with Terry. In the history of my sex life, Bob was a dismal failure, a one out of ten. I don’t remember enough to rate Terry but I do remember he was tender and gentle. After that it became very clear that Terry was more smitten than I. He would tell me that at home he couldn’t stop thinking of me. He would pretend to read the newspaper, but he was really fantasizing about me. I had been hearing these tales from supposedly love-struck men since I was sixteen. I let him know that it was a one-time thing and would never happen again. Disillusioned, he vowed he could not frequent this place any longer. If there was no hope for us, then there were only painful memories for him. He never came back. Ciao bello. On Sundays when the bar was closed. Al and Helen would have us over to hang out at the bar. There was a Bocce court out back. Bocce, also known as Italian lawn bowling, is one of the most widely played games in the world and is one of the oldest yard games. Best known in Italy, where you may see a group of retired Sicilians gathered in a town square for a daily afternoon game.  We would play Bocce ball and Helen would make Polenta. Even though I grew up in an Italian house I had never tasted it. Polenta is a northern Italian dish made of corn meal. Freshly cooked, polenta is soft and creamy, like porridge or grits, and makes a terrific bed for tomato sauce. My family was from Southern Italy so I guess it was not as popular there. Bob continued to make an erratic income as a “hustler”. One of his scams had a buddy of his go into a bar and start playing pool. He was quite good and would win. At that time if you wanted to play the winner, you put a quarter on the table. Bob would come in and pretend not to know his buddy. He would put a quarter on the table for the next game. Then he would lose badly. The next game, the onlookers would want to bet on the game. Of course, they bet on the first guy who had won three games in a row. Bob would take their bets and then thrash his buddy. He would get all their money and leave and meet his cohort later to split the take. Bob was a con artist and a gambler. But he wasn’t very good at cards so he cheated. He learned how to mark cards and read them. He would spend hours making little bends, crimps and tiny pinprick bumps known as "blisters", resembling Braille script. He might also alter the designs on the backs of the cards. He used various scratches, to add or remove lines of patterns. He even had a deck that he sealed up as if it was a new deck, just in case the players were getting suspicious. One night we were playing Gin Rummy, just the two of us. He won game after game. Now I am pretty good at Gin Rummy so I couldn’t understand how I kept losing. When we went to bed that night, he confessed that he had been practicing his mark reading skills. I was furious. His cronies would not play poker with him. They didn’t trust him, but he would always find a sucker or two. We lived upstairs of my parents. He ran a weekly card party. One of the players, Sonny was a paraplegic. Bob would carry him up the stairs to the game, then take all his money by using marked cards. He also ran poker games for some of the downtown crew. He would take what’s called a vig. Vigorish (also known as the cut, the take, the margin, the house edge or simply the Vig). So, whether the players won or lost, he would win. His job was just dealing the cards, he wasn’t allowed to play. The El Dorado changed its named and remodeled when disco became popular around 1971. The new name was The Fantasia. A dance floor complete with a silver disco ball was installed. They had a coat check room. Corky, one of the owners said I could charge a dollar a coat and keep the charge and all my tips. It was a tiny room located between the entrance where Bob collected the entrance fee and the ‘mezzanine’. The mezzanine to my left was a raised section of tables for people that didn’t want to sit at the bar. One night a girl was having a bachelorette party. She kept giving Bob glasses of champagne. Bob was not a big drinker, but when he had too much to drink, he would get mean. Also, he was 6’4 and 250 pounds, it was a little difficult to control that big a person. I asked her to stop giving my husband drinks because he was starting to get mean to me. She called me a bitch and threw her champagne in my face, glass, and all. My eyes were stinging from the alcohol and my blouse was wet. I saw red. I was on the mezzanine in two seconds flat. I grabbed her by the hair and ripped her top off. Sam and Babe jumped over the bar to pull me from her. Everyone stayed clear of me after that night. We didn’t have a lot of friends outside of the bar nightlife. Bob and I went to a house party with a couple we met at the bar one night. After some drinking and pot, they brought out a big bowl. Each guy threw his keys in the bowl. The intention was that the wife or girlfriend would pull out a pair of keys. Whoever the keys belonged to would then go to another room or the car to have sex. Bob almost lost his mind. He grabbed my arm and we got the hell out of there. The summer of 1972 I got pregnant. That had been the main reason I got married again. My biological clock had been ticking louder and louder. Bob had insisted I quit the Silhouette the minute I was pregnant. I still worked the coat check at the Fantasia on the weekends, but I had to promise there would be no more brawling with bar trash.


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