It was bound to happen sooner or later and in reality it only cost the bar about two bucks.
It’s pool league night and the bar is pretty hopping. I normally don’t work Saturdays unless a band is playing but I was needed to cover, so in I went. The leagues run an eight-five dollar tab and work off of that. It brings the bar easy money since it’s paid upfront, and generally the players buy over and above that.
One of the old-timers came in this evening. I heart him. He has wonderful stories and is extremely charming. He’s got a lovely girlfriend who can’t get out much due to infirmary and age, but he speaks of her so fondly. He smokes a pipe and has this ancient Zippo lighter that flares like a mini-nova when he opens it. As he often will, he buys the entire bar a round, even his favorite barmaids. This is already on top of the two rounds our friend Jochen has bought me earlier in the evening. Lucky for me it’s the cheap stuff and I metabolize it quickly.
A woman and a younger man wander in. She’s dressed in a leopard print tunic with matching stretch pants (you heard me) and had gigantic boobs untethered by any support garments. Seriously, they are swinging down around her waist. She’s not fat but she’s not skinny either. She’s what most Black women look like after a life of baby-birthin, fried chicken, and the kind of exercise as strenuous as a walk to the corner bus stop. They (that would be the woman and guy, not her boobs) look around (but god, that would be funny), seemingly undecided if they are going to stay. The pool league has pretty much broken up by this time and there are only a handful of players left. She remarks on how not busy it is. Our charming gentleman (we’ll call him Winston) offers to buy them a drink and they willingly accept. She says she’s from down the street and was just stopping buy to check the place out. I erroneously think she means the bar down the street as it’s not uncommon for fellow owners to drop by to check the place out.
She bellies up and she and the younger man have a Corona and a Mike’s Hard Lemonade. She remarks (and repeatedly over the course of the evening) what a nice place the bar is and she just might have her birthday there. Winston strikes up a conversation about everything and nothing, and they pretty much spend the evening talking. It means I don’t have to babysit her or worry that she’s not having a good time. While I personally despise bartenders who hover, the people who frequent out little bar seem to like the attention. Meanwhile the younger man plays a round of pool with the straggling members of the league. About thirty minutes later, two girls walk in, introduced as the daughters of the woman and one of them is married to the younger gentleman who has found himself involved in a game of pool. Winston also offers them a drink, and after complaining how we don’t carry Colt 45 they settle on strawberry daiquiris, which are always a challenge to make because the blender is ancient.
Winston buys another round, and the woman tells me that her son in law wants another Corona but he’ll be paying for it himself. He’s not there to confirm this but one is set out for him anyway.
The younger guy leaves and the girls engage the pool league, now down to one member, to a game. They cobble money together to play tunes on the jukebox, which is fine, except they held up a game in progress to do it. Ten minutes. At one point after breaking, one of the girls actually left the bar to go buy smokes. They also complained that they needed stronger drinks because the daiquiris just weren’t cutting it. They bummed smokes off of me and complained that we really should sell them. By then Winston has stopped offering drinks because he was heading home.
The younger gentleman returned because he was tired of sitting with his kids (two little one, maybe three years old and a newborn) with the kidlets in tow. Since they obviously couldn’t be brought into the bar the girls and guy left to find a babysitter.
It’s now about eleven. Winston has left. The woman has left and one of the girls and the husband return. She’s dressed in a tight red t-shirt, clearly advertising the fact that she’s nursing (yep, with daiquiris). Everything about her screams ghetto low class – the way she walks, the way she talks, the way she complains about every damn thing. They want to play pool, and her husband asks where the money is to play pool. I tell him the money is probably in his pocket since the table is pay for play. He was under the assumption that the stack of quarters left out earlier was just to keep the table going, when in reality it belonged to the pool league and it left when they did. They decide to not stay and play.
I remind him that he still owes for the Corona. He tries to argue with me that the guy that was buying everyone drinks had already paid for it. The first one, yes, but not the second one, which I told him his mother in law informed me he was definitely buying, in fact made it a point to ask me what would happen to it if he didn’t pay for it. Anther warning sign I choose to ignore. She also had two bags of sour cream an onion potato chips which probably amounted to dinner.
After a few minutes, my uncle tells them they needed to run home and get three dollars. Of course they scurried out and probably won’t ever be back, which really is fine. Found out that they live behind our building in a few run down shacks, probably squatting, but perhaps legitimately paying rent to some slumlord.
Now, I was prepared for people to come in and claim my uncle said for me to give out free beer. I don’t run tabs without a credit card and I don’t let people buy rounds for the bar (Winston excluded) unless I see money first. I didn’t expect barflies to wander in, mooch off of other customers, stay forever and stiff the bar out of a three-dollar drink, all wide-eyed and surprised like they had no idea the drinks had a charge attached to them.
My uncle says you can always tell people who don’t have anything because they complain about everything. They also expect things to just be given to them because they’ve spent their lives with their hands out. The thing is, we get the homeless that wander in every once in a while. We have a recovering heroin addict who’s really nice, just missing a few marbles, and it’s not a hardship to give her a Milwaukee’s Best and wave the dollar-fifty charge. We have a woman who comes in and exchanged the change she’s collected for dollar bills, reminding her that we only take quarters since that’s what the machines run off of. We even have a guy that pops up asking to borrow forty-eight cents. We call him the Forty-eight Cents Guy and he never seems to remember that he’s asked us for that odd amount at least ten times over the last few months.
But seriously – this is how people live, quite literally off the kindness of strangers. My dad can tell stories about people like that all day long, but I’m pretty sheltered. I’m a City girl with a private-school Suburban upbringing, who’s worked for golf courses and fast food restaurants, upscale fruit markets and architectural firms. I’ve never had to work with or for or around people who spend their days thinking about how they’re going to screw the next patsy that walks by. Doesn’t change my outlook on my job at the bar or anything like that, but it does sting a little, that whole “so long rose-colored existence” death I was hoping I wouldn’t actually have to deal with until I was in my eighties and let a “utilities worker” into my home to check my water lines and rob me of my TV, some jewelry, and four thousand dollars.