The Velvet Hammer

Seedy dive barMother not only enjoyed drinking, she also enjoyed hanging out in very seedy drinking establishments (aka dive bars). While she was between husbands and living the single life in California, she apparently frequented one of these bars so often that they offered her a job. The little joint was named “The Velvet Hammer.” Talk about a classy name!

Once I was unlucky enough to visit her when she was employed at the dump. Everyone knew her, of course. But the patrons and the other employees at the establishment seemed quite shocked to learn she had a daughter. The news that she had a second daughter was too much information for them to handle. She had shared so many falsehoods and fabrications that one learned quickly not to be surprised by their comments and reactions.

Cocktail waitress balancing a beer on her headOne evening, with nothing better to do I guess, I was hanging out at the joint while Mother “worked.” She loved to act like a big shot and tried to impress me with how many beers she could carry at one time and other “cocktail waitress tricks.” Little did she know how unimpressed I was. This was not exactly the pinnacle of one’s success.

In fact, I remember thinking how strange the entire experience was. I also recalled how right before I left for the visit to California, Dad had chuckled and told me to write everything down on a match book lid so I could share the funny experiences with him when I returned home.

Dad laughingly asked my sister and I to do this each time we embarked on a visit to Mother, as we all knew the visit would be full of rich and unusual experiences. And, being a smoker himself, Dad thought everyone carried match books with them. Sometimes we improvised by writing our notes on the cocktail napkins provided by the dive.

Smoke-filled barAbby and I once asked him what we should do if the person we were writing about asked what we were doing. He said to just tell them you wanted to remember how special the visit was and so you were taking notes so you would never forget the experience. I could never forget “The Velvet Hammer”: the smoke swirling around my head, the booze flowing freely for all the eager patrons, the filthy restroom that looked like it hadn’t been cleaned in years, and of course the sickly, stale smell everywhere, the stench so common to shit-hole bars like this one.

For Dad’s enjoyment, and because there was no way I could remember the numerous bizarre and amusing sights seen in The Velvet Hammer, I took copious notes about Mother, her lifestyle and her freewheeling ways. I must admit she seemed to enjoy her new life that was filled with misinformation and outright lies. I guess if the truth is not exciting enough or too painful, you reinvent your story. Mother was living in FantasyLand and had not been asked to leave.

Maybe that’s why I have never liked science fiction or fantasy.  It felt like it hit too close to home when my mother was barely holding onto reality.

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