My mother has never tasted alcohol. Once, when she was in college, she went to a party, and it almost happened, but it didn’t. My father, who’d been her steady boyfriend since they were both 15, had to work late that night. He didn’t like the idea of Eve going alone. “What can happen to me Morty, I’m not a china doll,” she said. So what could he do? He went to work, but he worried. And he had good reason to worry.
Some bozo, not to name names but it was Warren Nussbaum, sees my mother standing in a corner, no Morty hovering protectively at her side. Warren approaches. He asks Eve if he can get her a drink. She says, “No thank you, Warren.” It’s not exactly a brush-off, she doesn’t mean to hurt his feelings, but she doesn’t want a drink. Warren isn’t used to the word no. Especially not from a woman. He’s never heard it from his mother. So when Eve says no, he doesn’t get it.
“Wait right there,” he says, “I’ll be back in a second with a rum and coke.” He returns with two glasses, one for him and one for her. He pushes a glass right into her hand, so she holds it. But she doesn’t drink from it. Warren notices. “Bottoms up,” he says, and Eve, who has never heard the expression before, but who assumes it’s something dirty, blushes. The room is dark, Warren doesn’t see the blush, he’s just set on one thing: Get this girl drunk.
But he doesn’t know my mother very well. She’s innocent as a lambchop and she would never do anything rude or, God forbid, inappropriate. But also she will never do anything she does not want to do. So she says, “Good night, Warren,” and she walks off in search of her friend Big Bella.
Big Bella is not big. She is, in fact, tiny; not even five feet tall and barely 100 pounds. But she was born three days before her cousin who was, quite naturally, called Little Bella. That’s the way things were done in those days. Anyway, Eve finds a coaster to put her drink on, so it won’t leave a water ring, and spends the rest of the night hanging out with Big Bella. Just to be on the safe side. Because she knows that when you’re a good girl it pays to have a friend with a mouth on her. Big Bella has a mouth. And while you and I would never consider her bodyguard material, she did okay by my mom that night.
Warren Nussbaum eventually discovered Natalie Klein, (who he did not end up marrying, he married Barbara Glassman, who wasn’t even at that party), but still, Warren and Natalie hit it off great for an hour or two. She was very fond of rum and coke.
Years later Warren and his second wife, Elaine, shared a table with my mom and dad, and a few other old friends, at somebody’s son’s bar mitzvah party, and the whole story about the drink-that-was-not-drunk came out.
It was the first time my father heard it. He didn't like it one bit. He almost stabbed Warren Nussbaum with a herring fork. Big Bella had to restrain him.
My mother was not pleased. “No bloodshed, Morty,” she said. “This is a white tablecloth. Show some respect.”