“Excuse me, young man,” asks an elderly gentleman. “But do you have a hat check?”
“I’m sorry, what?” I say.
“A hat check. Is there a girl I can leave my hat with?”
“Ummm, no sir… I’m sorry but there isn’t.”
Elaine Stritch’s voice scratches through my brain as I wonder where this man has been for the last fifty years. A hat check? A fucking hat check? Is is he next going to ask me where the nearest Automat can be found? The median age of the show’s audience tonight is somewhere between 85 and death. The performer is celebrating his 80th birthday by putting on a show so naturally, most of his audience has their platinum AARP cards and Life Alert bracelets.
“Ah, well, I guess I will just have to hold it then'” says the old man as he shuffles back to his seat.
As I watch him walk away, it looks like he is clutching his hat as tightly as he is clenching his butt cheeks and I wonder how many spoonfuls of Metamucil he has had so far today. He sits down and looks around the room as if awaiting a cigarette girl to walk by and sell him a pack of Lucky Strikes that he can take with him to the USO show later on tonight.
“Cheese and crackers,” he says to his friend. “Can you believe this place doesn’t have a hat check? What is this world coming to?”
“I hear ya, buddy,” says the other old man. “Why just yesterday, I was looking for a shoe shine boy and I couldn’t find one anywhere. It’s disgraceful. I had to do it myself.”
“By the way, I noticed your shoes tonight were looking quite nice. Is that a new pair of spats?”
“Thank you for noticing. They are new spats. Aren’t they dandy? I found them in my basement last night when I was looking for a new tube for my radio. It blew out last night when I was listening to a broadcast of The Baby Snooks Show.”
The two old men seem happy in their world of of yesteryear. As the hostess walks by, I watch them give her the once over.
“Get a load of them gams, will ya? She’s one hot tomato. Whoever catches that one is a lucky so and so.”
I approach the table. “Hello, gentleman. Can I get you anything to drink tonight?”
One man orders an Old Fashioned and the other wants a martini with gin. Sadly, we are all out of our house made bathtub gin and I ring in Bulldog instead. When I place the drinks down I ask if they need anything else.
“No, I think I’m alright for now. Thank you, you’re the top. You’re the coliseum.”
The other continues, “You’re the top. You’re the Louvre Museum.”
They both begin laughing. “That Cole Porter is a genius, I tell ya, a genius.” They continue chuckling.
“Okay,” I say. “Enjoy the show.”
“Oh you bet we will. It’s gonna be a real ring-a-ding-ding. But can we get a couple of city juices?”
“I’m sorry, what?”
“A city juice. Ya know, dog soup? A glass of water?”
“Sure, I’ll be right back.”
I return with their waters and step away from the time warp they are living in. I serve them another round and after the show, I give them their check.
“How much do we owe ya, sport?” one asks me.
He throws a roll of money onto the table. “There’s ten sawbucks, buddy. The rest of the cabbage is yours. We gotta 23-skidoo outta here ’cause this one here is dizzy with a dame and we’re gonna go try to find her at the Automat.”
They place their hats on their heads and make their way out of the room.
“Thank you. Have a good night,” I say as they walk towards the exit.
“Our pleasure, kiddo.”
And with that, they are gone. They vanish into the night and fade away into memories of speakeasies, coppers, flappers and places where a hat check girl with amazing gams is happy to sell you a pack of Lucky Strikes.
Yes, a man really did ask me if we had a hat check. He was serious. He was old.