57-year-old Kathy in Bentley's Place in Kensington. I asked her if she was doing alright economically, and she said, "I'm doing great! I'm always doing great! I have three beautiful daughters and eight grandchildren and I can't be happier!"
"Are you always this happy?"
"I'm always happy, baby, and no one can take that away from me!"
Suspecting she might be a manic depressive, I asked, "You're never depressed?"
"Never! I've never felt down a day in my life! If you go to bed angry, you'll wake up angry, but I always go to bed happy, and I wake up happy!"
Laughing, I asked a younger woman sitting to Kathy, "Is she always like this?"
"Yes, she's always like that. That's my mom. She's like that at eight in the morning."
"What do you do, Kathy?"
"I've been with a man for 28 years. He's a security guard. He's been doing it for 40 years."
"But what do you do, Kathy?"
"I don't have to sell my body. I don't sell drugs. I get my SSI checks, and all of my children are taken care of. One is 35, another 32, and Dana is 31. Today is her birthday!"
She played the Supremes' "You Keep Me Hanging On" several times, and made me dance with her, so I had no choice but to show off my unique sense of rhythm.
At Bentley's Place that day, I also talked to a new bartender, Melissa. Thirty-years-old, she has twin 12-year-old sons and they're all living with Melissa's mom. She's not from Kensington, but Bridesburg, a white, working class neighborhood a few miles away. She got her new job through a Craigslist ad. Kensington is a lot more dangerous than Bridesburg, so I asked Melissa if she had anything for self-defense. She showed me a large folding knife given to her by her sister, who's in the Marines. She also has a pistol and knows how to shoot it, since she once dated a cop, but she can't take her gun out of the house without a permit.
Junkies come into Bentley's Place and there have been many shootings in the immediate vicinity. Last year, a guy was hacked to death with machetes across the street.
The outside of this bar appears in Rocky V.
When Melissa visited her sister in California, they hung out in San Diego, but never hopped over to Tijuana because "it's too dangerous."
"Melissa," I said, "Kensington is a lot more dangerous than Tijuana." Seriously.
Melissa is trying to save so she and her kids can move out. She commutes to work by the elevated train, which stops just across the street, so at least she doesn't have to walk several blocks to a car.
Speaking of Tijuana, here's a post about it. Originally published in 2008 at the Poetry Foundation, it has a translation of mine of Tijuana poet Roberto Castillo Udiarte's "Vita Canis."