Playing me for a fool



March 18, 1987

            I almost screamed with frustration when I talked to Peggy today.

            Each time we meet I learn more about how lost a soul she is and how she hopelessly looks towards a future she can’t ever achieve.

            I want to tell her she’s missed the boat, that she’s attached herself to ideal that can’t possible support her.
            But she wouldn’t listen.

            Each night proves even more that she is an alcoholic. Even her mother who she calls “El” is suspicious, marking the bottle each time she comes over to see how much Peggy consumes.

            I don’t know why she needs the alcohol so much, but the booze is clearly connected to her life here at the bar, and may be more of a reason for her continuing to dance than the money is: free booze.

            She even seems bored with her job, although she claimed once that her job is varied enough to keep from driving her crazy. Perhaps she already sees its limitations and like many resorts to booze as a cure. Perhaps, she drinks because of some man she once loved.

            She said she attended Montclair State College, making me wonder what her life was like on campus, and if it was as wild as her life is now. Still that was five years ago, and for five years, this has been her existence, working a job by day and this by night, pretending to be a good solid Republican.

            She said her parents are of Ukrainian decent and that she regularly attends church at the First Presbyterian Church of Wallington except during football season.

            “I go to church, but never when the Giants are playing, ha ha,” she said.

            But when I checked, there was no First Presbyterian Church in Wallington, only a Wallington Presbyterian Church. Garfield has a First Presbyterian Church, and I wonder which she meant, or if she was lying about it all together.

            She drives a late model 1970s car, a Plymouth, I think, which she’s never had inspected. She still has the pink card in the front wind shield, a card that doesn’t even belong to her car, but to someone else’s Pinto.  She laughed and said the card isn’t even pink any more. But no one has stopped her yet. She tells me that I should have bought an American car.

            She said someone stole her “Giants on Board” sign and the little Paddington bear wearing a Giants’ football helmet.

            “How cheap can they get?” she asked.

            Her whole philosophy scares me. Sooner or later everything will collapse. It could be the police. There might be a regular DWI check point on the road she takes home. Once they police get a whiff of her breath, they will ask for papers. Then they will notice all the other things.

            Even if the law doesn’t catch up with her, she can’t keep this up physically. This week she worked four nights and as a result went to into her day job late. She’s suffering cramps from her period which had her bent over double on the stage. This didn’t stop her from belting down two drinks in my twenty minutes with her.

            I don’t think she recognized me later on the road when she nearly ran into my car turning from Main Avenue onto Passaic Street. Perhaps she was in too much pain. Maybe she was too drunk. When I slowed to wave at her, she deliberately stayed back, zooming ahead when I put my car into reverse, her tail lights bobbing madly up and down until she stopped for the red light at Market Street. I pulled up behind her, waved again. She sped through the light as I watched her rear of her car vanish, the single Giants sticker grinning back at me, as the mad woman steered the car towards Lodi.


March, 1987


If I knew her last name I might go to her church and talk to the reverend about getting her help, although I’m sure she’d hate me a near stranger for invading her life, a bar fly writer injecting his opinion into a matter where he has no business.

            But in truth there is nothing at all I can do for her. I think that’s the hardest part for me to take. I care for her and I vow not to see her again, to avoid when I know she is dancing at the My Way or other bars.

            It’s just too much for me to watch her life falling apart piece by piece


March 19, 1987


            I got myself in deep shit with Peggy last night.

            She was bent over with pain on the dance floor – another woman would have called in sick, even from her day job, which she went to late – insisting on going as a matter of fact.

            She made no bones about her pain or why, snarling about it at the men watching her, particularly at a big man in a NY Giants jersey who kept telling her he could cure her simply by agreeing to have sex with him. She gulped down the drink I bought her before allowing herself to tell him to fuck off.

            Then she went back to putting herself down, saying what a nasty bitch she was when she was in this condition.  

I tried to cheer her up but put my foot in my mouth.

“I wouldn’t worry,” I said. “You can joint the Giants’ defensive line and be a holy terror once a month.”

A number of people around the bar – already well aware of her problem – started to laugh.

She glared at me, then snarled, “Does everybody in the world need to know what’s wrong with me?”

            My face must have fallen off. I knocked something off the bar and it rattled onto the floor, but I could not look, staring up at her instead.

            “I’m so sorry,” I croaked. “You’re right. I got a big mouth.”

            Immediately, her snarl vanished.

            She’d only been kidding.

            She was used to the rough and ready boys typical of bars like this, not me, a guilt-ridden Catholic boy from the other side of the tracks, who still believed in boundaries and propriety.

            “Hey, guy,” she said. “I didn’t mean anything by it…”

            I guess she figured she’d hurt me, while I was thinking I hurt myself by invading her privacy.

            For her this was all part of the act.

            I crawled out with my tail between my legs.


March 20, 1987

            Peggy called to apologize for mistreating me at the bar.

            She really didn’t mistreat me, but she is so down on herself in a thousands different way, that she blames herself for everything.

            I am beginning to realize that Peggy has more than an average intelligence.

            But she is consumed by the male-dominated world of strip clubs, and clearly never took any feminist courses when she attended Montclair, her opinions forged out of the intense heat of the male sex machine.

            This does not make me think any less of her. But I think she needs another environment that will allow her to widen her perspectives.

            I’m thinking maybe of bringing her up to see Pauly at the lake.

            Our conversation delved into the nitty-gritty of male-female relations, and area I am weakest in. You might call it a long dance which begins with two partners holding each other at arm’s length to look over the prospects before committing to anything closer.

            Peggy naturally is suspicious. She lives in a world where men are not trustworthy.

            This is not to imply that she can trust me, although I find some humor in hearing her quote other men telling her how different they are from all the other men.

            I’m not even sure she can trust any of us, even in a more suitable environment.

            She tells me that since I am not a woman, I can’t fully understand what she is going through and I can never understand what it takes to exist in a world as a woman. She is talking more than just about “that time of the month.”

            I tried to find out her age – although I knew she had to be older than 23 – but she refused to tell me outright and avoided my attempts to find clues.

            Of course, I felt a little disappointed thinking the only reason she called was because she thought she hurt me.

            Then, she sprang the question on me about the date, and when I would like to take her out to dinner. By the time we hung up, we had arranged the date for next Thursday.



March 21, 1987

            I’m not at all sure about Peggy.

            She is very careful and world wise, and dodged me when I tried to get her phone number yesterday, handing me a line men usually hand her, saying, “But hey, baby, I’m different.”

            I’m split in two, lusting after her while at the same time, trying to be “a nice guy.”

            I can’t hide the one side behind the other, and to deny the first is simply stupid.

            We’re locked in a strange dance, and I’m struggling to balance between not too seem too lustful or too shy.

            In some ways, the too-shy angle seems more dangerous to me.

            I want her to know that I want her, but I just don’t want to feel guilty about it.

            I don’t want to chase her away on one hand or make her think I’m not interested on the other.

            We’re on the verge of something and I can’t help think something is about to explode inside and outside of me.

            Still, I can’t see me bringing Peggy back to my place.

            Oh well, life goes on.




March 22, 1987

            I rode out to West Jersey today trying not to think about my upcoming date with Peggy or the vast cultural differences that lie between us.

            We both seem to be lying about ourselves. Oh I believe she is an accountant, and I’m certainly a baker. But we live in different worlds. She is a Republican and I’m a radical. She prowls a dark world, teetering on the edge between straight and crooked, surviving on her wit and her routines.

            While I can laugh at the bar jokes, I can’t quite get myself into the same mindset or adopt the stock phrases and routines she and other use to protect their real selves from the viciousness of the world they live in.

            I keep searching for something deeper and more meaningful, and it always comes up empty.

            I do get clues, suggestions that everyone there that they live in some measure of pain – and Peggy in particular. She bobs and weaves each time I try to find out more about her. She doesn’t like to talk about the past, except for some safe incidents. She will mention some funny incidents with her mother or father. But she rarely mentions lovers, and even then, brushes off any real reference.

            At the bar, she talked about an ex-boyfriend – underlining the ex for me, making certain I am aware of her status, but she leaves me with more questions than she answers, as to what they were like, and what she expected from them that they failed to deliver.

            She keeps telling me she hates when men tell her how different they are, all the time trying to wrestle her phone number out of her.

            Are they macho men?

            Tom – who she always calls “Thomas” – is a man who works at the Meadowlands Sport Complex, one of those guys who carries beer into the stands. He’s struggling because has bad knees, which he often complains about when I sometimes meet him at these bars. He is hardly macho. But when I left the bar the other night, I saw them out in the Main Street parking lot making out in his car. She knew I saw her, too, and the whole thing made me ache, less jealousy than discomfort. I stood there, awkwardly, wondering what I should do next, since she’s the one who asked me to walk out of the bar with them.

            What motivated her remains a mystery, one I can’t unravel.

            I also suspect much of what she says, such as her claim to have attended Montclair. When I pressed her on it, she squirmed and said she never graduated.

            When I talked to her about sports, she spoke freely about how her love of high school football eventually led her to love the Giants. But she doesn’t follow college sports at all.

            “I only follow professional sports,” she said.

            She is very clever at dodging my questions about her age. Some things she simply refuses to talk about, and her age is one of them.

            But she did tell me she has been out on her own since she was 16, and that her parents are divorced and unfriendly towards each other.

            All these clues lead me no where. I really do not know what she is thinking or how thee things tie together in her life. I don’t even know how she feels about me, slightly suspicious I suppose and a little wary about my shyness. I do not even know if she is turned off by my lack of advances or if she is annoyed by my continuing to show up where she dances. She might even be pleased for all I know.

            I get uncomfortable sitting at the bar while she socializes with other men, one of her job requirements.

            I almost feel like her father or like a pet she has tied to a barstool until she is through.

            I’m afraid if I smile at another dancer or a barmaid, Peggy might take offence or think I’m playing her for a fool.

            But is she playing me for a fool instead?


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