Everything old is new again…

It’s probably because his youth is now an image in the rear view mirror… an ever diminishing remembrance of wild days past… that your friendly bartender reacted the way he did. Because when he heard the much younger customer say, “Damn, now that’s old!” he immediately channeled his inner Robert DeNiro.

“You talkin’ to me? Are you talkin’ to me?” he thought, as he wondered whether to set this whipper snapper straight. “Doesn’t this kid know that age gets better with age?” But when he realized the comment was not about him but rather his backbar co-star, he immediately changed the channel and canceled his Mohawk appointment.

And who is this co-star, you ask, who shines behind the stick along with the Scribbler? Why it’s that hulking, jangling, bell-ringing, banging, classic NCR cash register I’ll call Big Bertha. That’s right, for next to the endless flood of high praise that is heaped on your friendly bartender (at least two kudos per annum) few things exact more favorable reviews than Big Bertha. The minute she’s noticed hovering behind me by some curious first-time customer, who is staring as if in a museum at a T-Rex display, the focus is off of me and the questions begin.

“Wow… is that thing real?” “Hey, does that thing actually work or is it just a prop?” “Jesus, man, how old is that baby?”

“Well, that baby is circa: the 1950’s and if you want to see if she works just give me some money!”

I’m glad we’ve never replaced Big Bertha with some new-fangled, Slim-Jim computer, and not just because I’m still as tech savvy as Tarzan. It’s because a computer wouldn’t make sense in our classic surroundings. For just as that song repeats in refrain, “Everything old is new again”, why replace our “old” which is cool to new eyes? Yes, everything else you see in our place is just as it was when we opened back in the Speakeasy Era, so to throw a computer into that would be decorative malfeasance. Like hanging a pair of dice from a Stutz rear view mirror. Like redoing the rooms in the Neuschwanstein Castle with IKEA. And another reason it wouldn’t be right is the story I’m about to share with you never would have happened…

This gal came in a few weeks back with a group apparently from work, when I noticed this woman’s immediate fascination with the cash register. She was probably around thirty. And while her colleagues were bantering cost-per-thousand and who did what to whom at “that fucking meeting”, this gal just kept on staring at the big metal box. Then she spoke. “Ya’ know something, bartender, my parents had that exact same register when I was a kid. I swear to God. They were third generation owners of a candy store on the lower eastside, and that’s the kind of machine they used to use. Just looking at that thing takes me back to my childhood. Man, I remember how as a little girl I used to sit right next to the counter and wait to hear that rat-a-tat-tat and the bell go off. I just loved it!”

“Did you ever get to operate it?” I asked.

“Nah,” she said, “they sold the place before I was ever old enough. Too bad.”

“Not too bad.  C’mon behind the bar,” I said, “you can give it a whirl right now, how does that sound?”

Well, dear reader, you would’ve thought I’d handed a Stradivarius to a budding violinist. This woman was ecstatic. And after I showed her what to do (Cash Sale 101), she stepped up and did her thing on the very next transaction. “Yayyyyyy!!” she shrieked, and actually jumped up and down, as the bell went off announcing the end of her concert. She was no less proud at that very instant than had her fingers just played Mendelssohn or Brahms on that Strad. For it also announced a time in her life well remembered. “Oh, thank you,” she said, “thank you for letting me do that. You have no idea what wonderful memories this brings back. “You’re welcome,” I said, then watched her go back to her seat like that little girl again. Imagine, a little thing like that bringing so much joy. Truly sweet. And truly not ever possible with “HAL” the computer.

The guy who does the inking on Bertha when he was in the other day, had this dire prognosis after he’d finished. He said, “Ya’ know, if anything ever goes wrong with this thing it’s all over. There aren’t any parts in the first place to fix her and there ain’t no one who can fix her even if there were. She’d be ka-pooey!!”

Well, to that I say, “ka-phooey!” Big Bertha ain’t going anywhere anytime soon. She’s too much a part of what’s been not to be, and just like the great divas past… she does have her adoring public out there to think about.

Brava, Bertha!!!

Over and out from Bar-land… see ya’ next week-end!

28 Responses to “Everything old is new again…”


  1. 1 Fargo August 1, 2009 at 5:16 pm

    That’s awesome. If it ever has something fail you’ll have to find a friendly machinist to lovingly replicate the part.

    Of course that decision probably isn’t up to you, so it’ll likely be sold on eBay to reimburse the failomatic computer station that replaces it.

  2. 2 Comrade PhysioProf August 1, 2009 at 5:33 pm

    Magnificent post, my friend. Just one question: What’s “doing the inking” mean?

  3. 3 scribbler50 August 1, 2009 at 6:17 pm

    CPP: There’s a mechanism in the housing that holds the ink that stamps the tape and the numbers on your tab. Eventually the ink gets low which you can see by a faint read-out, and that’s when Mr. Ink Guy comes in and re-inks.

  4. 4 Toaster August 1, 2009 at 7:50 pm

    If I saw a working model of the first computer I ever had I’d probably do something similar. It was a corporate cast off that they ditched when Windows released the first graphic user interface operating system; it ran DOS. It had a couple megs of hard drive and a few kilohertz of processing power, but it was enough to run 8-bit games on 5″ vinyl floppies, which were just then being phased out and could be bought for $0.10 a piece. Somethingorother eventually burned out in it and I was allowed to reverentially dissect it, although never allowed to plug it back in for fear I’d start another fire indoors. Come to think of it, I’d probably also have the same reaction if confronted with the first model of computer I ever used: an Apple II.

    Are you certain that even a steampunk-modded computer like this wouldn’t fit in?

  5. 5 scribbler50 August 1, 2009 at 8:09 pm

    Toaster: With all due respect, others of my readers will get what you said but almost that whole thing went over my head. (Recall the Tarzan reference?) All I know is no computer of any kind would fit in where I work. Like an old Buick suddenly showing up in a cowboy movie, even though the Buick’s old it’s still too new.

  6. 6 Catharine August 2, 2009 at 4:57 am

    Great story. I can understand the woman’s nostalgia considering candy stores have basically disappeared along with their old cash registers. (The M&M – or is it Hershey’s? – atrocity in Times Square does not count as a candy store in my estimation.)

  7. 7 jc August 2, 2009 at 6:48 am

    Oh, you have me thinking about candy stores too. There was a penny candy store that had 10 cent baggies of red hot dollars, fish, candy buttons, flying saucers. Every time my mother went into the bank, I went for a sugar high across the street with 2 quarters.

    All divas need adoration from fans to keep going. Bertha will outlive the ink dude. She ain’t made of the crap material of today. Pfft, warranty.

  8. 8 Anonymoustache August 2, 2009 at 7:51 am

    Outstanding post, Scrib50.
    Nostalgia’s a powerful thing and you’re a good man to bringing the lady back “to a time well remembered”.
    And BTW, I know exactly what kind of NCR machine you’re writing about—they’re beauties! (Quicken software uses a jangling sound very similar to the NCR genre when you enter transactions into it). Here’s hoping that Bertha will continue the jangling bell ringing transactions for decades to come!

  9. 9 Anonymoustache August 2, 2009 at 7:52 am

    //you’re a good man for bringing the lady back….

  10. 10 Isis the Scientist August 2, 2009 at 10:40 am

    Fantastic story, Scribbly. I have developed a recent obsession interest in refinishing old furniture. Right now my house is a jumble of mixed up pieces, but I am convinced that when it is done it’s going to look amazing.

    XOXOXOX

  11. 11 JaJa August 2, 2009 at 10:41 am

    Great post Scribbler. Toaster, very H. G. Wells, your steampunk do hicky!

  12. 12 scribbler50 August 2, 2009 at 10:49 am

    Catharine: No, the atrocity in Times Square does not count. The “true” candy stores, just like the malt shops and the tiny book stores are sadly a thing of the past. Thanks for your comment.

    JC: You’re right, Bertha will outlive us all. I swear to God she looks like a miniature Sherman tank. If the term hadn’t been applied to Margaret Thatcher, I would’ve named it The Iron Lady.

    Anonymoustache: Believe me the pleasure was mine… her joy was my joy. It was one of those rare, sweet little moments that don’t often happen in my Biz.
    Thanks, Bud, as always for checking in.

  13. 13 scribbler50 August 2, 2009 at 10:58 am

    Isis: Let me get this straight… Goddess, mother, scientist, advice columnist, teacher, career counselor, shoe diva, (and of course) blogger extraordinaire…. and now it’s on to furniture refinishing and Interior Design? When do you have the time to breath, woman? That said, thank you for taking the time to check in on me.
    XOXOXOX back at ya’

  14. 14 Isis the Scientist August 2, 2009 at 11:10 am

    I don’t sleep Scibbly-pants. I just don’t sleep.

  15. 15 scribbler50 August 2, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Toaster: Apologies, man, I told you I was technically challenged. When I read your comment yesterday I didn’t notice that the “this” at the end was to be clicked. I just clicked it on and may I say, Brilliant!!!!! Yeah, that baby would fit in my joint just fine. Thank you very much for doing that, much appreciated!

  16. 16 Katherine August 2, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    At my parents’ favourite restaurant, there is a really old cash register. Not sure if it still works, because they never pay cash (there’s an EFTPOS terminal next to it, but you don’t really notice it next to the register). It’s in pounds, shillings and pence too. I’ll ask them next time I’m there.

  17. 17 Sven DiMilo August 2, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    I love old mechanical technology ever so much more than the newfangled digital shit. For my undergrad thesis I ran a bunch of linear regressions on a huge old mechanical statistics calculator, with cogs and gears and rotating number-wheels, cash-registery pushbuttons, and a one-armed-bandit handle to make it go; that thing was so cool. And I still have the transistor radio with which I listened to the 1966 World Series with a suruptitious earpiece in school.

    I would love to see Bertha in action. Fun post.

  18. 18 scribbler50 August 2, 2009 at 8:00 pm

    Katherine: Where is their restaurant? By the way you’re spelling “favourite” I suspect it’s in “Jolly Old”. (Hmmm, or maybe it was the pounds, pence thing what clued me in.) But if it is over there, I’ll bet there is a plethora of classic old cash registers… what is considered an old pub here would be thought of as still in Grand Opening mode over there.

    Sven DiMilo: Glad you enjoyed the post and it’s nice to see you have an affection for good old nostalgia. Hope your team won the series.

  19. 19 Donna B. August 2, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    The last real candy shop I visited was in Ayrshire. But they had a fancy computerized cash register. Can’t have everything, eh?

    Sven, I think I know the machine you’re talking about. When my father’s business outgrew my Mom’s shoebox bookkeeping system, he hired a “real” bookkeeper who used a machine with rows upon rows and columns upon columns of buttons… and a one-armed bandit lever. I truly wish I’d paid more attention when he attempted to show me how to use it.

    Fargo… I fear friendly machinists are going ‘out of style’ too. My Dad was recently lamenting that “his” machinist was retiring. Our disposable society advances.

  20. 21 scribbler50 August 3, 2009 at 12:47 pm

    Jennifer: I know, pathetic! If ever one of my blogs happened to scream for a damn picture this is it. But… as I’ve mentioned over and over… I don’t know how to do all those things on the computer yet. I repeat… PATHETIC!!! (Also LAZY!!!) I have to either take a course or get someone over here with as much patience as know-how to walk me through a few things. And I promised myself I will do that very soon.

    But until such time, (if you would, dear blog friend) try and picture a big tan-colored metal cash register, a foot-and-a-half high and just as wide, probably weighing about four hundred pounds, a big convex belly filled with buttons and keys (the register’s belly not mine, silly!!) and where the eyes would go up on top (the window to its soul) there is a clear horizontal window that stretches the entire width of Madame where the numbers appear. She also has quite a few nicks and scratches from some of her former partners less patient than me! I hope that helps.
    And thanks for the subtle scolding… perhaps the final inducement for me to get cracking!

  21. 22 Dave K. August 3, 2009 at 2:05 pm

    There are many antique shops along US 12 in Southeast Michigan, between Coldwater and Jackson. My wife and I were passing through last summer, and one of the shops had at least a dozen of the massive old cash registers, many different makes and models. Sorry I can’t recall the name of the shop, I know it was in the “Irish Hills” area. I agree. Very, very cool machines!

  22. 23 scribbler50 August 3, 2009 at 2:28 pm

    Dave K.: Thanks for that and thanks for dropping by.

  23. 24 Jennifer August 3, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    Wow- I was not picturing tan… but more of a shiny silver. I can definitely remember big tan ones… made me think of the grocery store my mother went to when I was a wee girl, or the Woolworth’s. I was going to mention a department store of my youth, but then remembered they used pneumatic tubes to shoot your transaction up to the money dept. 🙂 That might be interesting to have at a bar… a pain in the ass, but interesting.

  24. 25 d-a-p August 5, 2009 at 12:15 pm

    what a total delight the last 2 stories have been…big bertha,long may she live,has a wonderful home at the bar..i can identify with that young lady’s enthusiasm…great to go home again,even for just a few minutes…
    still on the road…
    d-a-p

  25. 26 terrifiedtabetic August 5, 2009 at 4:26 pm

    I need to get my ass to NY so I can buy a drink from you. You rock!


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