A new restaurant opened up in the neighborhood where I work.
The proprietor and chef of this new eating establishment is an energetic, hard-working guy in his late forties. Charles. Not his real name, but close enough. Charles has paid his dues, and recently convinced a group of backers to finance his dream: his own restaurant. He named the place after his son, put up signs stating he’d be open by last November, and began renovations.
Renovations took longer than Charles intended (contractors, permits, licenses, inspections). Five months later, as the neighborhood was emptying out for the summer, Charles finally opened.
I’d meet Charles on the street and ask how things were going. “The bar is doing great,” he’d say. “But no one’s buying any food.”
Whenever I see him, Charles is dressed in a chef’s uniform. The white uniform is always streaked with dried marinara and obscure stains from his eclectic menu. Charles smokes a lot. In May, the smells of sauces and fresh beef were on his clothes. By mid-June the smell of tobacco was overpowering. And always this: "Everyone in this neighborhood is in the fucking Hamptons. They're going to fucking Europe. I don't know how I'll make it." And his uniform smelling less like food, more like tobacco.
When Ed McMahon died, Charles got an idea, and this idea has become a theme.
The day after McMahon died, the restaurant’s windows were covered with pictures of the man, advertising a “New and Tasty Sidekick Tribute Dish!” I have no idea what the sidekick dish was, but it was called The Hi-Oh! Special, and probably involved cheese.
I saw Charles the day after the Hi-Oh! Special’s introduction, and asked, “So, how’d the McMahon thing go?”
Charles took a step back from me and threw out his arms. “That much better!” he said. “Still a lot of people at the bar, but they ate food!” And yes, his uniform smelled more like his eclectic menu than it smelled like Camel Lights.
The next day, when I saw him again, I asked, “Still picking up?”
“No,” he said. “But Farrah Fawcett just died so we’ve got a new special up. Two angel food cake cups with whip cream and a strawberry on each.”
“It isn’t getting much interest,” Charles said, shrugging. I told him Greg and I were dropping by later for dinner, and assured him that we’d order the Farrah for dessert.
Except we didn’t order it. Didn’t have time. I beat Greg to the restaurant, and opened up my laptop to check the news while waiting on Greg to meander down. And the news was this: Michael Jackson, dead. Charles had come out of the kitchen to say hello to me, took one look at my monitor, and dashed away. Almost immediately, the restaurant was blaring Michael Jackson tunes, and a new special had been put up: free black and white cookies with purchase of any meal.
The next day, I mentioned to Charles that Walter Cronkite was near death. Charles pulled out a cell phone, pressed a button, then began yelling at his manager. “Someone just told me Walter Cronkite’s about to die,” he said. “This is the stuff you should be up on. We’ve got to plan ahead.”
Before Cronkite croaked, though, there were Karl Malden specials, Billy Mays specials. No way the manager was up on those deaths--who could be? When Gidget, the chihuahua famous for Taco Bell ads, sniffed the great fire hydrant in the sky, Charles offered a buffalo-wing special with each Corona sold (he told me the tiny chicken nibblers looked like roasted chihuahua, then laughed a raspy, nicotine-laced laugh).
Things slowed for Charles, then Cronkite’s predicted death came to pass, and he introduced a Cronkite croque monsieur (tastefully spelled “croak anchor”), and business picked up again. Then things died down, and John Hughes dropped dead.
The special tonight at Charles’ restaurant is the Breakfast Club: an omelet with bacon strips, served on a ciabatta roll. And sausage on the side, if you ask for a side of Abe Froman.
Didn't see Charles today, but I’m glad for him. The summer of random celebrity deaths may just keep him in business til the natives return in the fall.
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