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Rosie Fabulous

Some people hit the bars in the afternoon. Ninety-two-year-old Rosie Hirsch Leckart is one of those people. Sure, she's only drinking soda water -- a drop of liquor and she might fall asleep right there in her chair-- but, she's on the prowl. Her not-quite-five-foot frame teeters on the edge...
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Some people hit the bars in the afternoon. Ninety-two-year-old Rosie Hirsch Leckart is one of those people. Sure, she's only drinking soda water -- a drop of liquor and she might fall asleep right there in her chair-- but, she's on the prowl. Her not-quite-five-foot frame teeters on the edge of a stool as she looks around the bar that curves around Richard Williams' piano at Ireland's Inn (2220 N. Atlantic Blvd., Fort Lauderdale).

Four o' clock every Sunday afternoon is her hunting hour.

Resisting Rosie is futile. A waiter in his 30s blushes when she tells him he'd be in trouble if she were 50 years younger. Her pale blue eyes have a naughty glow. She even challenges me to a leg contest and, just when I think I have the thing in the bag, she pulls out the most finely aged pair of stems ever to tread the planet. She's not your usual too-tattooed, pierced Himmarshee hipster, and this is not your regular, testosterone-filled gin joint.

Beyond the bay windows at the back of the dark-wood lounge, the ocean laps the beach, and evening sets in with a purplish-gray glow. The casual outdoor bar is crowded with a younger set of people. Inside, behind the piano, sits Williams, a pleasant, composed showman who says he toured with Brenda Lee for 17 years. He likes to tease the crowd, dedicating the randy number "I Like My Woman a Little on the Trashy Side" to a couple celebrating their 60th anniversary. His easy smile beams from the shadow beneath his nose as he looks around the room with a romantic glint in his eye. Then he serenades Rosie with "One in a Million."

She lifts her elbow onto the back of the chair, scans the room for a partner, and slips out of her chair, hopping and swinging an arm to the beat of the music. "There goes Rosie," the pianist says into his mic, and everyone at the bar chuckles. Her tiny, red-suit-clad figure makes its way around the main bar, and approaches the man of her choice: a five-foot-ten, slightly balding fellow in his 60s who wears nice, dark-gray pants and a gray silk shirt. He towers over her.

She opens her hands, and gestures him toward the dance floor. When he answers the call, Rosie smiles up at him and takes tiny, agile steps. Sometimes, she pulls the flap of her skirt up to reveal a thin leg enclosed in a dark, transparent stocking. Then, she clasps her partner's hands and executes a spin before returning to his arms and resuming the rhythm.

When the song is over, Rosie makes her way back to the piano bar.

She climbs up on the stool, and says, "That guy is a great dancer. I always like to dance with him. I don't know if his girlfriend likes it, but I'm 92, so she shouldn't be too worried. If I were 40 years younger, she'd have some trouble." When Rosie talks about men, she calculates sums of years twice my lifespan as if they're nothing and scrunches up her shoulder like a giddy teenager. She's a wise old lady with the charm of a little girl, who places herself somewhere in between. "I feel like I'm 50. I act like I'm 50, and this is not an act. This is me."

"I don't like that anybody says, 'You shouldn't do that.' I flip my skirt. I think that's cute. I mean, listen, everybody is so stiff. Every now and then I see a man and I like to say, 'You look fine; you look handsome,' and that always brings a smile. I can't describe me, I'm kind of a... I say I'm a nut. I'm not like the rest of the world: Everybody's sane; I'm not. I'm a little offbeat, but I like being that way, and it's hard to find a companion. Do you have a grandfather? Tell him to come over here."

A Brooklyn girl of Italian descent, Rosie says she's making up for her stifled childhood. "My mom was very... well, up to age 20, I never dated. I never went anywhere. We had a little supermarket, and I stayed after school and helped mama. But, by age 20, I was getting restless. So I met a nice guy and we eloped."

There was no dash to Vegas in those days. Rosie and her first husband were wed and lived in Brooklyn. Did her penchant for partying start then? "No, I married a guy without a job. Now this was 1931, long before your father had a gleam in his eyes." (Or my father's father.) "This was during the Great Depression, and things were very bad. But we made it and had two kids. After 22 years we got divorced, and I was alone for quite awhile."

Rosie has the life-lustful frankness of a Northeastern woman who has lived through the Great Depression. Yeah, maybe they're so practical that they wash their tin foil and reuse it, but they're brazen. This trait stands out when she talks about the 28-year gap between her first and second marriages. "I got around a little bit: I used to go to this famous ballroom in Manhattan." She struggles to remember the name. "I met lots of nice men and had love affairs. It was wonderful. Then I met my second husband. We were having a love affair, but he wanted to get married. I didn't. But, I got married to him, and we were married for 15 years."

Williams starts playing an upbeat number, the kind Rosie likes, and her predatory instincts kick in. She gets up and starts bopping, picking up the male half of a couple that's been married for 65 years.

Watching them move, it seems that Rosie might be leading. So, I ask her first partner, John, about this. "No, she takes my lead. I'm a good leader, she says," he laughs.

Is Rosie any good on the floor.

"Oh, yeah, she's an excellent dancer. And she finds me no matter where I go," he says dramatically and chuckles.

I turn to his girlfriend, Janet, a pretty, broad-cheeked brunette who appears to be in her 50s, and ask her, "Do you get jealous when Rosie dances with John?"

Janet replies with a thick New York accent, "Terribly. I mean, Rose is so sexy she has to show her legs. Always with the skirt or the dress up. Rose is a very large flirter. The men love her, and she loves the men."

"If she were 40 years younger, would you be worried?" I ask.

"Yeah, if she were two years younger, I'd be worried. Actually, I'm a little worried now. Every outfit she wears, there's always a slit up the skirt. She's sexy. Look at her legs. My legs are falling apart. Hers are still going. I wonder if we can get her DNA and expand it and inject it into ourselves," she concludes.

As the evening fades, the cocktail glasses are drained and refilled. The lights grow fuzzy, and Williams is letting people up on the stage to sing jazz and Christmas songs. Rosie's mouthing along and stuffing bills into the tip jar on the piano. "I've been coming here for 20 years," she says. "I used to come here with my second husband. And then, seven years ago in January, he died. I just kept coming. I enjoy the place very much.

"I live alone. I stay home every night and watch the boob tube. I like Law and Order. I solve every problem with them: I'm becoming a lawyer. Then, I wait all the way till Sunday and get here early so I can sit here in my favorite spot and watch the dancers. The fellows that know me know that I sit at the piano bar, not at the other one. And anyways," she wiggles her head and closes her eyes, "I just love this place. It's the family I haven't got."

As 7 p.m. approaches, Rosie scurries to get a few last dances in.

On the hour, Williams starts packing up. As Rosie's gathering her things and calling it a night, I pump her for a gem of wisdom: What advice do you have for young women?

"Take your makeup off every night before bed. And don't trust men too much, 'cause a lot of them are pretty funny. Keep things to yourself. Don't tell them everything. Have something that you own."

Gentlemen, if you can handle her independence, Rosie's dance card has a few open slots on Sunday afternoons, indefinitely.

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