The Beauty of Contrition
I wasn't angry when that prick swiped my $12 off the bar.
I was genuinely surprised. The fact that I once considered
tab-stealing one of my part-time jobs is inconsequential.
It wasn't karmic retribution. I got what I deserved, but only
because I was careless. I turned my back, foolishly believing
in the honesty of my fellow barsiders.
Of course stealing off the bar is a shitty thing to do, so
don't sic your favorite letter-writing bartender on me. I'd
never even consider doing it now; when I see a stray fiver
at the customer edge of the bar, I push it onto the glassware
ledge without so much as a second thought. But seven years
ago, I would've placed my own drink on the bill, slid it my
way and bought my next round.
Youth doesn't really justify stealing, but that's all I've
got to explain it. I was in college, 20 years old. And the
victims were -- and I'd like to think that this is something
to my credit -- chumps: hair chicks and slickback boys. I had
a philosophy (which, I almost hate to admit, still retains
an excusable validity in my mind): rob from the rich so I
can drink more. Or, if you refuse to acknowledge the grandiosity
of such scripture, then how about "tough shit on them."
On a regular night, I took in $20 or $30 -- plenty of cash for
the night's boozing. One Friday night, I snagged $90.
Yeah, well, tough shit on me, then -- that little motherfucker
got my $12. I think I know who it was, too. Little retro-dressed
douche bag standing with his two friends, each trying to out-smarm
two nearby women. I didn't bother starting a fight about it,
mostly because I wasn't entirely sure about the theft. Could've
been someone else taking it by accident, I rationalized, choosing
the easy path out of a potentially explosive situation.
For those few who haven't been to the Beauty Bar, the premise
is simple: pick up the lease on an old beauty salon, do not
gut it and open a bar in its place. The Machine-Age hairdryers
are still there; ditto the cosmetics table and dated headshots.
With a few contemporary retro additions, the place smacks
of hipster trap: one wall in the back room is covered with
cocktail album covers; the bathroom wallpaper features adverts
from the 50's and 60's. It is, I think, an attractive bar -- the
perfect contrivance, the kind of bar that was probably overwritten
as soon as it opened. Overwritten and overridden, actually.
The times I've been there, the eye-catcher crowd has been
fashionable. Women in cocktail digs -- some dresses, skirts,
slacks; and stylish guys in crisp button-downs. There are
groups of the usual downtrodders, of course, groups tucked
away here and there, but you don't notice them right off.
When you walk in, your eyes will first dart around the room,
noting the kitsch, then to the trendies sipping whatever mixed
drink is in vogue. Overall, it's a good-looking crowd in a
good-looking bar. A great place, even, to bring your night-tripping
friends. When I'm in the neighborhood, alone or not, I often
stop in for a dependable few.
You wouldn't think it a venue for thieves. And as a rule,
on any given night, I'm sure it isn't. But successful thieves
know when to choose opportunity over location, reflexively
seeking marks unnoticed by other thieves; a seemingly safe
bar is probably the best place to commit a crime. Everyone's
guard is down. And that in mind, somewhat ironically, one
of Beauty Bar's best features might encourage tab theft: there's
a lot of turnover. I don't know if Beauty is, generally, a
stopover bar or maybe a starting place, but the crowd changes
quickly, making recognition a tough trick when (and if) the
victim notices the barside larceny.
The first time I went, the scene was as I've just described:
fashionable lookers filling the place, everyone glancing over
their friends' shoulders at everyone else, spying the meat.
Owing to the turnover, we happened upon a group leaving their
seats in the back corner, so we stayed for a couple rounds
and then went elsewhere. Our seats were taken before our coats
Two weeks later, the night that brings me here, I was alone.
The Tuesday crowd was similar to that from my previous Saturday
visit, only less concentrated. There were no empty seats,
but not many people were standing. It seemed to be more groups,
more friends out together. With some exceptions, I didn't
sense that undercurrent of predatory singles on the move.
I put a 20 on the bar, and, while working my second beer,
the change disappeared. I'd been looking away, into the room,
when someone took over my financial decisions. Naturally,
I didn't notice until I needed another drink.
Tragedy being what it is, that was all the cash in my pocket.
I asked the bartender about the missing money; nothing. The
retro kid was a picture of innocence, presumably too wrapped
up in his pussy quest to bother with my $12. He might not
have even been the culprit -- I might simply have been projecting
my dislike for his type; the thief was probably the 35-year
old woman next to me. Fuck it. I shrugged it off, deciding
that maybe I shouldn't be sitting at the bar for three hours
after all; maybe I should just get home, make some coffee
and get some work done.
I rarely feel repentant. With all the shoplifting, all the
thievery and wrongdoing I'd done in my mostly-younger days,
this was one of the first times I'd felt a sort of contrition.
Like most criminal misgivings, it came from empathy for the
victim. I still don't care about the rich kids who never missed
their five or 10 bucks; I just hate to think I'd stolen from
any hardworking slobs who really just wanted one more drink,
but couldn't because I'd walked away with their cash.