IT WAS A Valentine’s Day past, but I still remember her. She was decked out in a way that suggested an attempt at culture, rather than a sustained exposure to it. Manicured nails, high heels, a fur stole and sparkling gems all gave the illusion of sophistication. But on closer inspection one would have noticed her manicure was chipping, her heel was glued on, her stole was stained and her gems weren’t real.
But she was pleasant enough, which was far more important to me than all the illusions in the world. Personally, I don’t care who people think they are, just as long as they are polite.
Perhaps the late actor Patrick Swayze said it best when his “Roadhouse” bouncer character, Dalton, educated the other bouncers by saying, “I want you to be nice.” Of course he also added, “until it’s time to not be nice.”
Twenty-five years in the bar business will reduce everything to this one simple axiom: Just be polite. That’s all it really takes.
Unfortunately her “date” was anything but.
“I’ll have a Long Island,” he said, sitting at the only open bar stool. “Make it strong.”
As if there is a way to make a drink with four different alcohols weak.
“Oh, and she’ll have a shot of tequila,” he added, as she stood next to him. “And make sure and use the good stuff.”
I reached back to grab a bottle of premium tequila.
“No, not for hers. For mine.”
I set the drinks down. He counted out the requisite amount of payment, all in crumpled $1 bills and all from an equally crumpled wallet. Exact change no less. Certainly not more.
“Thanks a lot,” I said with Swayze’s voice thundering in my ears.
The woman looked at me and shrugged her shoulders ever so slightly.
This was not your typical May/December romance: A type of coupling where a younger attractive person is attached to a richer, more secure one. Usually in those types of arrangements the older person is generous to a fault. Think Vivian Leigh in 1961’s “The Roman Spring of Mrs. Stone” or Julia Roberts in 1990’s “Pretty Woman.”
I started to have a feeling about the couple in front of me. I have seen thousands of dates. Rarely is the less attractive of any two people so completely unconcerned with the feelings of the more attractive and, in this case, much younger person. The only times I have witnessed this type of behavior is when one has been “paid for.” Male or female, it doesn’t matter.
Ten minutes later he was still sitting and she was still standing, although she was now alternating her weight from one foot to the other.
“Hey!” he said to me, emphasizing his disdain for polite discourse. “I want another drink. But the last one was a little weak.”
“I’ll tell you what,” he began as his “date” rolled her eyes. “If you buy me the drink, I’ll give you a $5 tip.”
“Let me see if I understand you,” I said calmly. “If I don’t charge you for this $12 drink, you will give me $5?”
“Yep,” very pleased with himself.
“I’ve got an idea. What if I charge you $12 for the drink and instead of ringing it up I just pocket all the money?”
He looked horrified.
“That would be stealing,” he said.
“It would be no different than what your are asking, except that their would be only one beneficiary.”
He stood dumfounded for a second. She leaned in and whispered, “He means only he would benefit.”
“Not that I am willing to do either.”
This little exchange seemed to start an argument between the two of them, of which I only caught bits and pieces.
“Paid you,” “cheap” and “not worth it” were the only words that I heard, at least until she stormed out the door.
“Stupid hooker,” without the least sense of irony. “Ruining my Valentine’s Day.”
“You’ve gotta go too,” I said, looking at him and remembering the last part of Swayze’s comments.
He looked at me for a second before picking up his change — all of it — and leaving.
Which left me with just one thought: No matter how much someone offers to pay someone else for a service, sometimes it’s just not worth it, no matter what it is.