Title blurb

"From one LIGHT come many colors." ~GJ Dürrschmidt

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Saturday Night at Fratelli's: A Story of Snakes, Steaks, and Sausages

I walk into Fratelli’s Restaurant with a Greek boy, a Little Penguin, and some Italian take-out in mind. The place looks deserted, which is odd for 7:00 PM on a Saturday. The black BMW in the parking lot says that George is tending bar tonight. That car has lured me in here more often than I’d like to admit. The dark-haired, Adonis son of the Greek owner, probably twenty three now, became a fantasy of mine since I first set foot in the door back when he first began waiting tables at sixteen. He’s consistently worn the same outfit: a pair of beige slacks that nicely promote his near perfect posterior – an attribute he’s well aware of, and knows how to work – and a black, Abercrombie polo that he loves to pull upward, revealing his smooth, flat abs whenever talking to me. His back is turned, so he hasn’t noticed my arrival. He’s busy making drinks for Amber, a new, very adorable server with the longest, most lovely strawberry blond hair.

“A round for the whole bar!”  I shout, to announce my presence. There’s no one at the bar other than he, Amber, and myself.

“Hey! What it be, Gregory?” greets George. “That generous round of yours also include the bartender?”

“Always, Georgie Porgie,” I say. “I think I’ll start off with some Little Penguin, before it goes the way of the polar bear.” It’s a stupid remark, but he laughs as he’s always done, and so convincingly, at all my silliness over the years.

As he hunts for the bottle and pours the wine, I grab a menu. Reaching for it I catch the stare of a young woman in the mirror who is seated directly behind me in the railed, raised section. She looks to be twenty-something, with long brown hair hanging well over her shoulders. She's dressed quite elegantly for this local family run restaurant. It must be some special evening for her, as she definitely had invested a lot of time on her appearance. She can't possibly be dining alone. Has she been stood up?  Is she a lonely, battered wife, who's treating herself to a special night out? Might she be contemplating something drastic? Could this be her last meal? Okay, enough with my wild imagination.

Even at its busiest, this is a very tranquil place, but she doesn’t appear relaxed at all. She looks more like someone seated in the waiting room at the doctor’s office surrounded by strangers: fidgety, nervous, not knowing exactly where to look, or what to do with herself. This could be my imagination again, but for awhile now, her gaze seems to have been fixed upon me through the looking glass, and I can’t help but wonder which character from Wonderland this Alice imagines me to be.

“Watch him closely tonight,” Amber instructs, pointing over to George “He’s been awful at making change. I gave him a “fifty” and got seventy-six cents back. He said I gave him a single. But, even so, the change he gave back made no sense at all!”

“What should she expect,” the boy says, setting down a glass of wine before me. “She shoved it down my shirt! She distracted me.”

“You threw him off, Amber.” I say in his defense. “He’s not accustomed to that. He’s only used to having dollar bills stuffed into his thong.” 

 “Eww! I’d be afraid to put it in there,” she laughs. “I might get bitten by a snake!”

“Aha!” George proclaims, pointing upward. “Did you hear that, Gregory? She said snake!”

“Of course she did, George,” I confirm. “But are we talking about the garden variety, or an anaconda?”

“We’ll, that one will just have to remain a mystery, “the slight, somewhat effeminate boy says with a new found manly pride. Following a brief silence, he surprisingly adds, “For now.”

That having been said, he excuses himself and darts off to the restroom. I suppose his imaginary thong may have gotten a little tight and twisted from all the attention it had just received, and he had to go readjust things. He soon returns and immediately shifts the topic of conversation to teaching. 

George has always expressed an interest in my life as a college professor, and our conversations almost always seem to go there. He interviews. I more than willingly share. Amazingly, he’s never grown tired of the topic. As we converse, I can’t help noticing him periodically reaching down, and attempting to discreetly tug at his package. I try to maintain eye contact, not letting the distraction show in my speech. Apparently, something’s still not adjusted properly, or perhaps, unknowingly, in some delightful way, I may be charming the "snake."

“I’ve decided on the Italian sausage fettuccine, Georgie.”  He steadfastly adheres to despising being called Georgie, especially now that he’s no longer a teenager. Every time I say it, I get the same look of mock disapproval. We both know he loves it.

“For here, or to go,” he asks.

“To go, please,” I say. “And do you think I could get a little extra sausage?”

“For you?” he says, and after briefly pausing adds, “Always.”

This rare, but enjoyable private time with George is suddenly interrupted when an older couple enters the restaurant and takes a seat at the bar. George immediately breaks away to greet them. Christina, a healthy blonde farm girl from Russia, passes behind me with a tray of food. My nose quickly tells me that it’s Fratelli’s New York prime rib smothered in peppers and onions, served with one of their award-winning crab cakes. The huge entrée steams like a locomotive right over to the brunette back against the wall. Her look of surprise gives away that she had no inkling how much food she had ordered. Fratelli’s is known for their generous portions. Speaking of generous portions, George is still caught up in conversation with the cute elderly couple.

Before long, the place fills to its usual Saturday night dinner crowd. George is steadily juggling bottles and serving up cocktails. No matter how busy it gets, he keeps an eye on my glass, and never lets it hit empty. Each additional glass is delivered with a wink and a smile. Sitting casually at the bar, I take in the sights, sounds, and smells of another Saturday night at Fratelli’s. 

Amid the very controlled frenzy, I fix my attentions on steak girl in the mirror, as she navigates her way around the huge bowl of tossed salad, mountain of bread sticks, the succulent slab of meat, and heaping sides. During her meal, she catches me looking at her several times. God, how rusty I’ve become in the art of restaurant stalking.

I’d bet anything that she’s married and came out alone tonight to take comfort in food and drink. Perhaps I should take my glass of wine over to her table and ask if I may join her. I could explain how much I disliked having to dine alone, and if she preferred, I’d be pleased to keep her company. I toss this thought around in my head through another glass of wine. What a miserable coward, just sitting here watching her in the mirror; watching as she seek solace, alone, one fork full at a time.

I imagine how the conversation might’ve gone, had I the courage to get off my ass. She would invite me to join her out of politeness. In no time at all, I would have her laughing at my silly comments, as I tried my best to pull her out of the doldrums. I would point over to my food order waiting to go, and ask her if she would like to continue our conversation over a glass of wine at my place. Of course, in her very vulnerable state, she would accept. 

As I fantasize, she seems to be patiently waiting, but for what? She's paid her check, had put her wrap on minutes ago, but now is just sitting there looking at me in the mirror. Could she be waiting for me to leave, as well? I’ve had enough liquid courage by now to not hide my looking back. Perhaps I still have what it takes to play this game.

Steak girl makes a move. My eyes track her in the mirror as she gets up from the table and makes her way past the railing and down from the raised area. She’s headed my way. I follow her reflection as she passes directly behind me and continues toward the restrooms. Suddenly the air around me fills with a hypnotic fragrance – nothing I’m familiar with, but definitely one that begs familiarity. I cock slightly on the stool in the direction of the Ladies Room, and await her return.

As she emerges, I summon the courage to make direct eye contact, something she appears more confident with than I. With each step her eyes stay fixed upon mine. We’re in a staring contest, and I refuse to lose.

“Well, good evening,” I say to her, as she brushes by.

“Well, hello there,” she responds, not slowing. I'm satisfied with that. Not sure, but I think I saw a bruise on her face. Was that all? I hope not. Why do I hope not? Analyze later, doofus.

Paying my check, I see that she’s slowly collecting her things. To-go box in hand, and looking my way, she heads to the door. I grab my food, wave to George, and scurry outside to find her. There she is, standing by a minivan right next to where I had parked. She fumbles around for her keys as I walk up to her.

“How was dinner?” I ask.

“Oh, it was heavenly,” she replies. “I almost forgot how wonderful it is to have someone else do the cooking and wait on me for a change.”

“My name’s Greg, by the way,” I offer, trying not to look down at her very round, full breasts. All the while, she consciously pulls her hair over the left side of her face. I think I already saw why.

“Destiny,” she smiles back. “Nice to meet you, Greg.”

“Destiny. What a lovely name,” I say. “Very fitting for such a lovely young lady.” God, I am SO rusty!

“Thank you.” she says, her face turning a deep pink. “I couldn’t help noticing you inside, as well.”

“Yes, I noticed you noticing,” I say. “And, I’m sure you noticed me noticing back.”

“Busted,” she says smiling while looking down. “You seemed like…”

“Like your dad?” I interrupt without thinking. Jesus, I’m way off base here!

“Oh no, definitely not my dad.” she laughs. “Like a very strong, yet kind and gentle man; like a man I would like to know.”

“Aw, you’re too kind,” I say. “Would you care to get to know me some more over a cup of coffee, perhaps?”

“Yes, very much so,” she says with no hesitation whatsoever. “But, unfortunately I have to get going now. It’s already passed time for my baby’s feeding. I'm so sorry. Maybe another time?”

“No need to be sorry. I look forward,” I say handing her my card. “Call me anytime. And, I mean anytime.” With that, she gives me a very long hug, and then climbs up into her van. Rolling the window down, she adds, “Thank you, Greg. You have no idea what this means to me.” I watch as she slowly drives away, noticing not one, but two child safety seats in the back.

I get in my car and simply sit and reflect in the silence before starting the engine. I believe things worked out for the best that I’m leaving here alone...for now. I’ll go home, light candles, put on some relaxing music, and enjoy a romantic, lukewarm dinner for one. I’ll let my imagination wander freely as my mouth waters to Italian sausage fettuccine... 

 ...and sweet thoughts of a certain young snake handler in a black thong.

 Perhaps, I’ll uncork – no, I know I’ll uncork - a bottle of Little Penguin, and raise a glass to the future - to destiny.

  ~gj duerrschmidt 

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