The kid seems out of place from the moment she steps into the bar. Her face is open, young and earnest. Her hair is a flaming red. Freckles dominate. She’s nervous, but it’s clear she has an easy smile.
It’s 11:00am and the place is quiet and dark.
Large flat-panel TV screens peer down from various parts of the room. Most are blank – sleeping off their hangover from the night before. Seating is cast around in a seemingly random way. The occasional booth is tossed into the edges of the room and high tables float through the middle of it. It is the long bar which seems to govern the place.
It is a seedy joint. The floors are sticky, the décor cheap. There’s nobody there. Nobody except the owner, polishing glasses behind the bar – and one man with his face planted on it, sleeping. The kid doesn’t know it, but the sleeping man is the in-house bookie. It may not have been legal, but a lotta cash is made off of that bookie.
“Whaddya want?” asks the owner, his voice gruff with cynicism, age and cigarette smoke. He’s middle-aged, gruff. His face has been worn by life.
“Uh,” says the kid, her voice sweet, “You have a sign outside, ‘Help Wanted.’”
“Yup,” says the owner, “But you don’t fit in here. It won’t work.”
“Whaddya mean?” says the kid.
“Have you seen this place?” asks the owner, grabbing a burning cigarette from an ash tray and waving it around, “It ain’t exactly clean cut and young. Our clients are older. They smoke, drink and bet. It doesn’t exactly fit you.”
“Hell,” he continues, “Are you even 21?”
The kid fishes out an ID and hands it over.
The bar owner looks it over carefully. His is an experienced eye.
“Good fake,” he says, with a hint of admiration, “But you ain’t 21.”
“If I fit,” says the kid, “Is the fake good enough?”
“Sure,” says the bar owner, “But you gotta fit.”
“I may look young,” says the kid, “But-“
The owner cuts her off. “Ya barely look like you’ve got yur teeth yet,” he says with a chuckle.
“I know,” says the kid, “But I know this business.”
“Really,” says the owner. “Well, ya got balls – so to speak.”
“I do,” says the kid, “I know all the stats, I’m pretty good with the odds – I can talk the talk. People ‘round here will love somebody a bit ‘different’ to talk to.”
“I’ll quiz later,” says the owner, “But this place ain’t really about the stats and the sports and odds. It’s about givn’ people a place to get together. It’s about community. Sure, there’s betting and a whole lotta watchin’ going on. But you can do all that from home. I may not be the high falutin’ type, but I know my customers and they come here to commiserate with others.”
“And while your community mopin’ around,” says the kid, “You don’t think they’d like some fresh-faced company.”
“No kid,” says the owner, “I don’t. They spend all day fightn’ the rat race with the likes of you. They come here to unwind and get away from it all. If you were middle-aged, overweight and a general screw up – it’d work better.”
“I dunno,” says the kid, looking around, “I think I can help.”
“Last chance,” says the owner, “How?”
The kid thinks for a minute. The owner gives her the time.
“You’ve got a sad community,” says the kid.
“What of it?” says the owner.
“Well,” says the kid, “You gotta mix some joy in. People looking at all these leagues and playoffs and competitions on the TV and they forget that the old exercise is a celebration of life. I can imagine your customers sittin’ here bickering and criticizing coaches and players and playoff setups and whatnot. They aren’t doing that just to be negative. They’re doing that because they love what they’re watching. For all that they bicker, they love the beauty of it all.”
“Okay,” says the owner, “That’s a pretty portrait. Where do you fit in?”
“I can remind them of that beauty,” says the kid. She grabs a drinks platter. She steps away from the bar and twirls through the middle of the room. Her movements are fluid and precise. The tray perfectly control. As she weaves her way between the tables the owner can’t keep his eyes off of her. He can’t help it. When she moves, she is refreshing to watch.
The whole room seems to brighten up.
She floats back to the bar.
“This is a dance bar,” she says, “Those TVs show the National Ballroom League, the Tap Federation and Major League Ballet. They have competitions from Biloxi to Baltimore. Every city has their teams. The money is huge, the competition fierce. People fight about dance. They argue about dance. They bet on dance. They drink their lives away watching it. On some level, they know it’s beautiful. They don’t really realize it, but they come here, to a dance bar because they love the beauty of it. I can remind them of that. I can help them celebrate, not just commiserate.”
The bar owner thinks. The place has gotten a bit run-down. The middle-aged and overweight women who dominate his clientele love to bicker, criticize and fight. But the kid’s little dance between the tables freshened the whole place up.
A dash of joy to remind them all of why they care.
It might bring in a few more customers. Maybe happier people will still buy alcohol.
It’s a pretty good pitch.
“Okay,” he says, “We’ll give it a chance. Be here at 5.”
The kid face breaks out into a large smile – wide lips recklessly casting freckles to the side.
“I’ll be here,” she announces.
She puts down the drinks platter and twirls out of the room.
The owner goes back to polishing glasses. The bookie to sleeping.
The room can’t wait for 5 o’clock.