Everyone Must Have Their Own "Tom"
Many Sunday nights can bring on the feeling and literal reality of unfinished business. Sometimes the end of a weekend greets us like an evil mocking clock; as if in a cartoon the clock has eyes, sinister brows, hands that spin and spin out of control while cackling at our naïve attempt to utilize the two days wisely.
As this particular Sunday came to an end laundry continued to rain down upon us like never-ending tropical dew, dishes and crumbs sprinkled themselves all over the kitchen with the help of lazy children and homework woes rang loudly from the dining room table like an off key chorus,
“I can’t do this!”
“I don’t get it!”
“Home school me!” (As if I wouldn’t give them homework!)
My husband and I looked at each other in silence, eye ball to eye ball; our visual standoff ending in a simple unified nod. I called in a “to go” order from our newly discovered and now one of our favorite restaurants, Café La Bellitalia. Time was not on my side that day anyway so I left very early to go pick up our dinner. When I got out of my car the gorgeous smell wafted through their doors like spiraling steam from a chicken soup pot straight to my nose, my head; I followed half afloat like Bugs Bunny trailing his carrots without wings.
As I opened the door to this charming, sweet place I was instantly transported to my past, like in a scene from The Christmas Carol. In the corner I saw a small cozy table for two. I was sitting with my father for dinner in our old, weekly stomping ground, Albanese’s. This place was hilarious, magical, a bit sketchy and adorable. The tiny place was located in a shady part of downtown Milwaukee. When we walked in the head (most likely only) bartender, Tom, would always make a B line straight to my father, say “Hi Doc, your room temp Chianti is on its way” and then he would swiftly disappear down into what I assumed was the basement. We would sit at the bar and wait for our table. When I got bored I pretended to play the video game machines without using quarters of course. My dad would say, “Drek! Jessie those things are just Drek.” NO amount of convincing would work so I used the best of what my imagination could muddle up. Soon the most friendly, 4 "11" waitress would come get us and sit us at the same small table for two. Then another waitress, who seemed to be her tiny twin sister, would bring us garlic bread that made me feel as if I was sucked into the belly of the bulb itself. While the bread melted instantly in my mouth, I believed we were having dinner in heaven. There were about six of these tiny waitresses (Though believe you me they would beat anyone if challenged to a brawl) who served the meal as if it was a choreographed number – no water glass ever empty, Chianti glass always half full and room temp and the food – perfect. My father always ended his meal (homemade angel hair pasta with sausage marinara) with a slice of garlic bread absorbing the last drop of crimson liquid gold.
I was never ready; but I knew we’d be back in exactly a week.
As the ghost of Sunday night present brought me back to reality I made my way to the hostess station and watched as the energetic, youthful and lovely staff worked together like a well-oiled machine. It was like stepping into a scene of the movie Mystic Pizza – the hostess, waitress and bus staff all lifted their heads to say hi to me. The hostess checked my order, immediately remembered me and asked me how my kids were and if my son was still willing to tolerate Spumoni (long story short -our picky middle child refused to like it, but he did!!)
She then told me the order was not quite ready, but would I enjoy a small glass of room temperature Chianti while I waited?
A single tear spilled from one of my eyes and I said yes, please. She pulled out a chair for me to sit and then brought me a half glass of room temperature Chianti. She asked if I was ok. I laughed, told her she was “my Tom” and said someday when I had more time I would tell her the whole story.