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 were on.
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.