On The Rocks
It was a very strange, very busy evening; lots of walk-in business which overwhelmed the short floor and kitchen. We were expecting a chill, cold October evening, and got just the opposite. Predicting restaurant business is an impossible science.
A woman called in for such a substantial carryout that I had to go back to the kitchen to make sure they'd approve. Chef gave me the usual, colorful hand gesture, and I took the order anyway. When she arrived to pick it up, I was taken by how beautiful and stylish she was. Probably in her mid-sixties; she radiated grace and light.
"The kitchen's a little behind tonight, and it's going to be a short while," I tell her.
"Long enough for a drink?" she asks with a smile.
"Oh, absolutely. Maybe two."
She orders a Makers Perfect Manhattan on the rocks, and asks me to add just a touch of cherry juice. As she stirs it, the smell of bourbon eventually reaches a customer at the far end of the bar, and he kind of purrs.
I ask her if she likes her cocktail, and she replies, "Oh yes, especially because I just really needed one." The barkeep in me snaps to attention, and it's not difficult to read the cue that she needs someone to talk to.
"Are you OK?" I ask, and she pauses before answering, "My father died today. I'm just here to get all this food to take home to everyone."
I draw my breath involuntarily, trying to silence a gasp. "I'm so sorry. Drink's on me, of course."
She looks down at her Manhattan, stirring the drink again, and the bar is so quiet you can hear the ice cubes clinking into one another. When she looks up at me, she says, "You know what? It was a blessing. He was 91. He wanted to go ten years ago. It's really OK." I could see her fighting tears, but something came over her, as if some lovely memory crossed her mind, when she smiled and repeated, "It's really OK. It is."
On what must have been one of the saddest days in her life, she managed to carry herself with such elegance that I don't think I'm ever going to be able to forget her.
To cap off my melancholy evening, after my shift I learned from the online Enquirer that Willie DeLuca had died, after suffering a heart attack in his home. I knew he hadn't been well, but it came as a shock to me. Willie was an old regular at a bar I worked at years ago, and he was one of the most memorable characters of my career. Anyone who knows Willie knows his special talent... the man could balance a bar stool, the old-school, really heavy kind with metal legs, on the end of his nose. It was astounding, and for my money goes down in history as the most impressive bar trick ever. He will be missed; it makes me profoundly sad to realize I'm never going to see him walk into my bar, or any bar, again.
Rest in peace, to a man I knew, and a man I didn't.
You don't have to put up a fight
You don't have to always be right
Let me take some of the punches for you tonight
Listen to me now
I need to let you know
You don't have to go it alone
And it's you when I look in the mirror
And it's you when I don't pick up the phone
Sometimes you can't make it on your own
- U2, "Sometimes You Can't Make It On Your Own"