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