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Al Martinez

'She's three times my age, but she can handle more work than I can.' : Notes on the Rose of Pico

December 03, 1987|Al Martinez

Every once in awhile, when I am looking to kick my cholesterol into high numbers, I go to Factor's Famous Deli on West Pico Boulevard and attempt suicide with a mile-high pastrami sandwich.

I do this when a small voice in my head says it is sick of boiled fish and lima beans cooked in rain water, which are staples in the Pritikin Near-Death Diet that I have been on for a year.

When the voice has had it with good health, it screams, For God's sake, Martinez, eat meat!

Sometimes it also says, Hey, keed, how 'bout a little dry martooni? --but not today.

Factor's has been in the same location on the southern edge of Beverly Hills since Eddie Fisher's songs were in the Top 40, which was a very long time ago.

Like most good delis, it is a place of bustle, big talk and occasional loud arguments, but unlike its New York counterparts, Factor's arguments never end in death or permanent injury.

In fact, sometimes the combatants rant at each other with both hands in the air to indicate that, though calamity abounds, there is no physical contact, thus satisfying the rules of encounter laid down in the Code of L. A. Delis.

I was talking about Factor's the other day with old friend Al Broder, who is King of the Kazoos, and he mentioned a waitress there named Rosie, of whom I pleaded ignorance.

"You've been to Factor's and you don't know Rosie?" Al said, amazed. "I can't believe it. Get your tail there right now, palsy, and meet her."

Broder does not speak in terms that invite debate, so I went looking for the person he calls Rosie the Living Legend.

You can't miss her. Well, maybe you can miss her, because Rosie, who is Rose Plener, is just a little over 4 feet tall in sensible flat shoes, and if you stand up, she is nowhere in view.

Perhaps that is how I have missed her over the years. I must have always been standing while in Rosie's presence and she was below my line of sight.

What makes her unique is that she has been waitressing for 60 years and has lost none of her spunk. I hate spunk, but at 84 Rosie has earned the right to spunk if she wants it.

I watched her for awhile before announcing my presence as she strode through the deli in white blouse and black skirt, bright red lipstick flashing like a warning sign, short hair bobbing as she walked.

Finally she zoomed by my table and said "Be right with ya, honey" in the New Jersey accent I had somehow expected. That was even before I knew she was from Newark.

She poured coffee for the guy across the aisle and then for me and said, "You ready to order, honey?"

I asked for the aforementioned killer sandwich while the little voice in my head screamed, More fat, more fat! and then told Rosie who I was.

This did not impress her very much, because, as she informed me later, she has waited on real celebrities like Norman Fell and Jan Murray, honey.

Oh yes, she has also waited on Mel Brooks, whom she described as a "plain, normal guy," which I find a little hard to believe, but since I've never waited on him, I wouldn't know.

Just as Rosie was telling me how she is always friendly and starts each day by wishing everyone good morning individually, another waitress asked if Rosie would take a customer for her.

Rosie replied she was busy being interviewed, which caused the other waitress, whose name was Jeri, to say that she was always doing some damned thing or other.

"Listen, girlie," Rosie said, but before she could finish, Jeri said, "Listen, girlie, yourself . . . "

The argument burned itself out in a few moments, allowing an opportunity to ask Rosie why she continued to work at such an advanced age. She shrugged and said she liked to work, she liked the people at Factor's and what else would she do with her time, honey?

Well, she does go to Vegas every few months and in fact will be there New Year's Eve, gambling and living it up and calling everyone honey.

But other than that, she's a widow and life is pretty dull, so she keeps on working.

"Rosie," I said, "you have been a waitress for 60 years, and during that time you must have had a lot of customers give you a hard time about something. How do you handle them?"

"Guilt, honey," Rosie said, leaning across the table. "When they holler, I just keep acting my damned sweetest and pretty soon they are feeling rotten and begin apologizing. Works every time."

Jeri heard the comment and said, "She does the same thing to us!"

"Listen, girlie," Rosie began, but Jeri ignored her and said to me, "She's three times my age, but she can handle more work than I can." Then she added: "That's because she's figured out how to make everyone else do it."

Jeri went on her way and Rosie said to me, "We kid all the time. I love this place. I'm going to stay until I drop."

Then she strode off on those little short legs and sidled up to a newly occupied table and flashed a red-lipped smile.

"What'll you have, honey?" she asked.

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