In my downtown Brooklyn neighborhood were raised a breed of men who are check thieves. A rare breed of men who are slowly becoming extinct. Their turf is Court Street to Smith, Degraw Street to President.
These are the sons of the older generation men, who would never let a woman pay for a check. And, who consider it right and honorable to pick up the tab for any person or group of persons with whom they are associated or have just a mild acquaintance.
Each weekend I frequent a local diner (Nick’s, some call it Joe’s.), sometimes alone, sometimes with my clique of friends. There is one guy, his name is actually Guy, who will always pick up my check. This makes me uncomfortable, I don’t want him to do that. There are times when I want to order my full egg breakfast, but when he walks through the door, I immediately change my order to a lonely bagel or dry toast. As many times as I have argued with him, it has all been vain. I recently figured out how to beat him at his own game. When I enter the restaurant, I will sometimes give the owner a twenty dollar bill up front before I sit and order. I tell Asia to charge me later and give me the change when I’m done.
It’s not just him. I have another friend who sells Christmas Trees on the corner of Smith and President Street. Two years ago I bought a tree from him, but he adamantly refused the money. He has the best trees in the neighborhood, but I have been forced to shop elsewhere ever since. How can I go back, it is embarrassing? Now I am stuck with inferior trees at high cost, so what favor has Jay done for me?
If I am making a purchase in D’Amico, and my cousin happens to walk in, bill paid, done. I once had a friend who would spot me getting my nails done in the local salon. He’d walk in, pay for my manicure and leave. Then he would call me a week later to borrow fifty bucks. His heart was in the right place, but he never had money, yet wanted to do the “right thing”.
Last week I was invited to dine with two brothers, one I’ve know for years and one I recently met. We met at Vinny’s on Smith Street, a real Italian neighborhood place. I knew better than to offer to pay. However, sitting at the table across from us was another neighborhood friend with his family. Of course the friend I was dining with immediately and without hesitation picked up that table’s tab, while a third friend walked in and picked up our table tab. It really gets confusing, everyone paying everyone else’s bill. I thought to myself, if anyone else we know walks in, there might be an all-out war over who will pay their check.
And I will admit this phenomenon has rubbed off on myself and my best friend Barbara. When we dine together it is a real battle for the check. We have torn checks into pieces in tug of war, cursed each other out, leaped over the table for that scribbled piece of paper. I have grabbed the check and sat on it til dinner was over, while she has warned the restaurant proprietor not to give me the check at all or else. What is it with us?
Barbara and I, we laugh at the newcomers in the neighborhood who calculate the exact amount of a tip from the check, when we ourselves leave almost as much as the check itself.
When I thought I had seen everything in the way of big tippers, I was yet again amazed. On my way home from work, on a ninety five-degree summer day, I had run into my longtime friend (and neighborhood undertaker), who invited me to join him for a drink. At a local restaurant, just two blocks away, we strolled to the bar for some martinis and wine. As we left the restaurant, the parking valet outside the restaurant bid us goodnight. My friend proceeded to tip the parking attendant. He gave him $20 just for saying goodnight. Remember, we walked the two blocks to the place, no car was involved.
This neighborhood of high rollers is disappearing fast before my eyes. And while I may complain about it, I love the absolute old world chivalry of it all.