“Second Hand Rose”

Deciding to not serve someone can either be easy or hard, depending of course on the person and reason for refusal. But one thing you can count on, regardless of the reason, you’re going to offend that person no matter what. It just a fact. Cause you’re either saying they’ve had too much and can’t have any more, which in essence is telling them they can’t hold their liquor, or you’re telling them they have to leave because they’re being a pain… too loud, too argumentative or too aggressive. Either way, as I said, a situation.

But there’s another reason I’ve had to refuse and this one’s definitely not easy, it has to do with dealing with an incoming street person. In other words a homeless guy. And it’s not that I don’t have empathy for someone on the outside looking in, ostracized from the city of which they’re a part, it’s just that the situation is open for problems. Big problems. Because some might have a mental disorder and a glass of booze might take them over the edge, while others (and believe me I hate to say this) might just be too dirty and smelly for patronage. Their very proximity is going to offend who’s already there. And on those very rare occasions when these people do wander in, my powers of tact and diplomacy get stretched to the limit.  It’s anything from, “Geez, we have a dress code, my friend,” when the person walks in the door, to “This ain’t your kinda’ place, my man, too many stuffed shirts, you might want to try that Blarney Stone just up the road. It’s much friendlier.” And even though I’m sure they see clearly through that second example, and know what I’m really saying under that bullshit, for the most part they understand, they nod and move on. Which brings me now to the title, “Second Hand Rose”.

If you remember the lyrics from that Streisand song, “Second Hand Rose” from Funny Girl, about a gal whose entire life was receiving hand-me-downs, you’ll know that her Rose hailed from Second Avenue. “Everyone knows that I’m just Second Hand Rose, from Second Av-a-nuuuuu!” Remember? Well I myself once worked in a bar in midtown on Second Avenue, and I had my very own Rose just like in that song. But a much sadder one. Rose wasn’t really her name of course but because of where we were and how she dressed, which was shabbily and in appearance pure second hand, I decided to call her Second Hand Rose in my mind. Not to be disrespectful but just ’cause it fit.

Rose only showed up every other week about three in the afternoon when the place was empty, and all she’d ever have was one glass of wine. One Chardonnay which I assume was all she could afford. She’d nurse that drink for almost two hours til the Happy Hour crowd wandered in, pay the four dollar cost before they surrounded her, and always leave a one dollar tip by her glass. Which was sometimes in quarters and dimes and which broke my heart. Well I started to notice a trend with this Rose, and one, I regret, not pretty, in fact it was something quite sad which kept getting worse. See it happened on each of her subsequent visits over a period of two or three months, her physical appearance declined in both dress and hygiene. She now for all the wold looked like a homeless person. But she always had those four damn dollars which somehow she’d scraped together, and still always left  her appropriate one dollar tip. Which I found to be amazing. Until things soon got to the point where I had a dilemma to face.

Would I eventually have to say something, I worried, if her downward spiral continued into “dirty and smelly”? (Please, dear God, don’t make me!) And even if I did, what the hell could I say? I mean I couldn’t bring up the dress code thing, she was wearing the same kind of clothes she had always worn. Just dirtier. And I couldn’t just out of nowhere say, “This ain’t your kind of place,” it had been her quiet oasis for over three months. Like I said, a dilemma. Fuck! And yet the spiral continued. Until one day it actually hit the limit of acceptance. Her hands were grimy, her clothes were filthy and sadly she did give off a terrible odor. It was worse case scenario. And she knew it was worst case scenario too as everything in her body language screamed apprehension. And I thought to myself as she stared at the mirror… stared  deeply as if she were hiding inside that mirror… This is a life in ruins, man, how can you tell her she no longer qualifies to drink here? Maybe she’s seeing reflected in that mirror the person she used to be, perhaps when she was attractive and even popular. The life of the party. How can you shatter that mirror, her last refuge?

Which I couldn’t so I served her.

And fortunately for me she did something then she’d never done before, she downed her drink and headed straight to the ladies room. Where she stayed quite a while. Well of course it finally dawned on me, thick-headed as I am, especially when I saw her walk out looking much cleaner, the whole purpose of her visit was to do this toilette. To use soap and water. But she had enough class to buy a drink to pay for that singular privilege, her usual five dollar leave which had to be huge. I was  just sorry at that point I’d rung up the sale before she’d gone in there, if ever a buy back was in order it was then. But I didn’t,  that was that, and out she walked.

And what was her state of affairs two weeks later? I’ll never know. That was the last time I saw my Second Hand Rose.

God bless you, Rose, wherever the hell you are now.

Over and out from Barland, see ya’ next week-end.

PS: If you’ve never heard that song before, all you youngin’s out there, Google Streisand with  “Second Hand Rose” and watch her sing it on You Tube, the lyrics are not only worth it they’ll give you a lift!

16 Responses to ““Second Hand Rose””


  1. 1 Ken January 22, 2011 at 10:46 pm

    I know the type and I’ve dealt with similar situations, though not at bars. It’s never easy to tell someone, anyone, in a place that exists to be open to all, that “all” doesn’t include them. It’s those moments when your idealism and your decency collide with your responsibility to keep your joint in good order.

    The bottom line, Scrib: It’s a bar, not a social service agency.

  2. 2 Donna B. January 23, 2011 at 1:38 am

    Now you done gone and made me cry.

  3. 3 Comrade PhysioProf January 23, 2011 at 8:10 am

    One time I staggered drunkenly into a bar late at night in Glasgow, Scotland, and ordered a pint of ale. The bartender said firmly, “My man, it’s late, you’ve already had a lot to drink, and I think it’s time for you to switch to something else.” He poured me a large coke and said, “On the house.”

  4. 4 Goosenyc January 23, 2011 at 8:15 am

    Thought provoking post….thanks for sharing it.

  5. 5 MikeQ January 23, 2011 at 9:34 am

    I’ve always liked the line – “I want to make sure you get home OK” – when shutting people off. Some take it better than others, but it’s true and most people understand the pressure on a bartender serving in today’s climate. I don’t want anyone’s life on my conscience, and I don’t want the lawsuit.

    “Second Hand Rose” is a beautiful story. I love this business . . . and I love your blog. Very thoughtful, clearly drawn from experience, and well-written. I’m going to link you on http://www.lifeonacocktailnapkin.com.

  6. 6 scribbler50 January 23, 2011 at 10:32 am

    Ken: You’re right, responsibility is the key and I sometimes mention it when cutting someone off. I’ll put it all on me with something like, “Look, man, don’t take it personal but I have a responsibility to do my job here. It’s my ass. Try and understand, I just can’t serve you.”

    Donna B.: Well go watch that Streisand video, I’m sure it’ll bring a smile. 🙂

    Comrade Physioprof: A wise man and I’ve done the same myself. It’s a way of showing respect while holding fast.

    Goosenyc: You’re welcome, glad you enjoyed.

    Mike Q: Thanks for all of that and for putting me on your blog roll, always nice to find another bartender site. By the way, one thing in my favor being a bartender here in New York, almost none of my customers drive themselves home. They stumble… er-ah.. they walk outside and hail a cab.
    Thanks again, Mike.

  7. 7 Jennifer January 24, 2011 at 10:09 am

    I wonder what happened to her… and even though you’re not a social service, it sounds like she knew that and did her best to honor you and the joint while getting what she needed.

  8. 8 scribbler50 January 24, 2011 at 10:33 am

    Jennifer: Well said, she always did the right thing, even though she barely could afford it.
    Thanks, Jennifer.

  9. 9 Irishirritant January 24, 2011 at 2:22 pm

    Good on you, ya big softy, usually it is not a life one chooses for reasons that are none of my fekin business. My job has given me the experience of meeting some great resourceful folks.
    Thanks again

    hope your Steeler defense is as soft on my team.
    It’s great the blue collar cities will be Dallas, just for Jerry.

  10. 10 JSaw January 24, 2011 at 2:59 pm

    That was an amazing story! Unfortunately, our fair city seems to have more than our fair share of these. There’s a special place for you my friend, and it was really great to allow her to keep some modicum of dignity.

    On another note, let me say that I am both thankful and appropriately chagrined when I’m cut off late night. (Sometimes the evening gets away from you.) For me at least, a bartender that cares enough to cut me off deserves a lot of repeat business, and also an apologetic tip the day after.

  11. 11 Anonymoustache January 24, 2011 at 6:49 pm

    Dude,
    Beautiful, and incredibly moving, post.
    Wherever the Rose from your story happens to be, I hope she is doing well….and that she has a bartender like you nearby…

  12. 12 scribbler50 January 24, 2011 at 7:39 pm

    Irish: Good on you too, and thanks.
    Steelers and Green Bay… has a nice ring, huh?

    JSaw: As I said, shutting someone off is tricky stuff. And sometimes difficult. But if we had more people like you who understand what we’re trying to do, without taking offense and getting their shorts in a knot, it would be a breeze.
    Thanks, JSaw.

    Anonymoustache: In the words of Smokey Robinson, “I second that emotion”, I hope she’s doing well! And thanks, man.

  13. 13 Xenocrates January 25, 2011 at 1:52 pm

    Another gem! You sir, are probably a darned good bartender, but if you ever get tired of “riding the rail,” turn to writing full-time. You got “it” when putting words together. A minor, minor quibble; “Second Hand Rose” was originally popularized by Fanny Brice, not La Streisand. And yes, Streisand played Brice in “Funny Girl,” but imho, the original is always better than the imitation. Thanks again for another fascinating post.

  14. 14 scribbler50 January 25, 2011 at 2:48 pm

    Xenocrates: Thanks for the correction, I knew funny Girl was about Brice’s life but I thought the song was written for the Streisand movie. And obviously thanks for your kind words re: my writing. I’m working on that.
    Cheers, friend!

  15. 15 mvpalex January 30, 2011 at 5:51 am

    Don’t fret, she took all the money she had stashed under her mattress and moved to Aruba.

  16. 16 scribbler50 January 30, 2011 at 1:21 pm

    MVP Alex: Hope you’re right, pal, hope you’re right.


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