Archive for October, 2012

Lost and Found

No reunion elicits a greater sigh of relief than that of Man and Lost Credit Card. Whether left behind at a local diner the night before or stuffed away in a pocket of a coffee-stained pair of pants, its fortunate recovery stills the rapidly beating heart, clears a furrowed brow, and restores sleep. The reassured owner’s heart-rate now normalized, the worrisome occurrence can now unfurl to reveal its caveat: to remain as vigilant in minding the placement of one’s debit card as one would be in regards to his children’s whereabouts.

An occurrence of similar significance is the fated re-acquaintance of a former, regular customer with a server who has since moved on, such as that which took place last week. The still sleepy noon hour at the eleven-table pizzeria at which I work indicated that most were still on task in their boxy cubicles, doing the business of our country. For that reason, I was rolling polished silverware into pearly white napkins, preparing for the moment their computers were put to sleep and each took his or her thirty-minute lunch break. A few moments passed, when the revolving entrance door spun behind me, simply, like a slow exhalation. Understanding that the sight of a turned backside lacks the warm welcome of a friendly face, I spun, too. Then, I smiled. Anita Alvarez, Cook County State’s Attorney and a friendly face I knew from my days at a velvet-boothed supper club in Chicago’s Theater District, walked into the foyer with another state’s attorney, an equally congenial acquaintance I had made there, too. Our faces brightened when we recognized each other and introductions were made.

They followed me to a seating area on the south side of the rustic dining. Pulling their wooden seats back and unrolling polished utensils from their linen sheaves, they began inquiring about how I had been doing and where I had been employed since our displaced acquaintanceship. My response traced the circuitous route I had followed before my March, 2012, starting date, detailing my experience at another popular restaurant and the valuable lessons it taught me. Next, the conversation’s flavor altered to recall our last meeting, when Ms. Alvarez and a few staff members- my friend at the table included- spotted me in the crowd while passing by on a parade float over the summer. Recalling it, I smiled, remembering the warm feeling it provided in spite of the hot summer day. Last, once we had reflected on that particular moment and the ensuing sentimental note I mailed to her office, we turned our attention to the task at hand once again, lunch. Our tie re-established, we were prepared to walk our well-worn paths as Server and Regular.

I would periodically return to the table over the course of their hour-long lunch, perhaps to fill a drained iced tea or to drag an empty, steel pizza pie plate away from view. It was all very comfortable and familiar, like sitting beside a friend and reading quietly.

Soon, all had been cleared away and the tab requested.  I acquiesced dutifully, returning with the black binder that obscured the check. Soon, a recognizable hand extended outward with the same binder, only, it contained the bill’s content this time. Then, I watched them sliding their chairs back once again, grabbing their lightweight jackets as they did, a comforting sense of déjà-vu levitating above the table.

Chicag”O”

In the late 18th Century, on the happenstance occasion when a child’s curiosity grew so bold as to wrest his self-control, leading him to press open the squeaky-hinged door leading to the family parlor, he would witness an odd exchange of hands taking place among the elders in the room. Focusing his young eyes forward, he would observe a card dealer posted at the head of the table leading everyone with an ante of six red chips, each colliding musically as they struck in the center. Challenged by the staccato nature of this jingle, all others at the table would then ante four of their own, resulting in a slightly louder variation of the first overture. Next, the dealer would distribute the playing cards in provisions of three per participant, each faced down, before flipping a card whose suit would serve as trump throughout the round. A lively roundabout would subsequently ensue: passing of cards to the left, spirited bidding wars, more passing to the left, more lively bidding, large stacks of cards being purchased and slid beneath others, even more vigorous bidding, and then the resultant gasp of surprise and frustration from the first gambler to reveal a Jack or a Five, punitively requiring him to add more red chips to the growing bidding pot. Finally, as the child would begin to tire and retreat to the door through which he had entered, he would be awakened by a scream of joy. His attention newly arrested, he would return his eyes to the table in time to watch as one player amidst the adult congregation revealed the round’s highest trump. Spotting the smiling victor as the cacophony of retracted chips filled the parlor, the adolescent would again reach for the brass doorknob, his curiosity satisfied. Behind him, a rejuvenated, choppy symphony of antes being thrown and conversations re-igniting would sing through the air, as a new dealer refreshed everyone’s hand for a new round of the game called “Speculation”.

Speculation is natural. Similar to those who inhabited the parlors of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, humans tend to reflect on matters for both profit and entertainment. Traders gather en masse within the halls of a Wall Street’s Board of Trade to ferociously buy and sell company stock. Dedicated gamblers commute to Las Vegas casinos to contemplate the spin of a roulette wheel or the toss of the tie. And, locally, Oprah Winfrey-loving tourists pilgrimage to her erstwhile “Harpo” studio, reflecting on its grandeur. Still as popular as ever, the Mississippi-born entertainer made a lasting impression on worldwide cultures, her in-town presence necessitating the capitalization of the “O” in “Chicag’O’”.

“She came in in 1983, when she wasn’t famous,” began Larry Gold, The Wiener Circle’s proprietor.” She was in from Baltimore to do ‘Good Morning America’, I think, and became a frequent customer. Then, she came in right before she did The Color Purple.

As history proves, great success would be due Ms. Winfrey, who would ambitiously navigate foreign waters once The Color Purple was in the can, from producing the film adaptation of a favorite book, Beloved, to teaming with Chicago restaurateur Richard Melman to create The Eccentric, a bistro snugly nestled between northbound city Wells and LaSalle streets. But with recognition came an assured need for great organization, and with that, the need to assemble an entire staff to direct. And to occasionally treat to a special lunch, as well.

“Oprah really helped us to become successful,” stated Rosebud On Taylor’s restaurateur Danny Miller.” She used to come in here all of the time and would talk about us on TV. She’s a good-hearted person, too. She used to call from the studio and order lunch [for her entire staff]. There was a cafeteria [at Harpo Productions], and they would close it. I’d bring the food, a couple servers, and a few busboys to pass it out. When I asked her assistant if [Oprah] wanted anything, she would only ask for a piece of tiramisu.

“But she was very generous, both with us and with her helpers.”

It is common knowledge by now that Ms. Winfrey’s final show aired on a stormy afternoon in the waning days of May, 2011. As a steady rain fell from Chicago-area skies, the host of America’s favorite AM broadcast hugged companion Stedman Graham for one final time under the studio lights as the airing wheezed for breath. Outside, the rain continued, almost as if a team of angels were overhead, crying along with Ms. Winfrey and her worldwide studio audience.

It was certainly an ending that no amount of speculation would ever have surmised.