Sunday, 28 March 2010

The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me by, Shawn M. Cohen

When somebody loves you,
Its no good unless they love you,
All the Way
Happy to be near you if you need a friend to cheer you,
Come what may.
Who knows where the road will lead us,
only a fool can say but
If you let me love you, it's for sure I'm gonna love you,
All the Way, All the Way.

All The Way, sung by, Frank Sinatra

The next 4 weeks were like a whirlwind. My Aunt left with the good news I was hired and due to start work at the Encore II, downtown in 2 days. I was to wear a crisp white cotton, long sleeved shirt and black pressed pants and high heels. I told her I had those things and she said, "Don't worry, I told Bobby to watch out for you." That was somehow supposed to make me feel better.
Anne and I had our catching up. She understood well just how much craziness went on in my family, she and I had shared this element our whole friendship. Her own family had plenty of stuff, too. Her being my only non Jewish friend, she had some Irish ancestry as well, and we clicked on that and many other levels. She was always a great confidante, too, so I told her of my mother's latest craze. She listened on the phone in amazement.
"My mother wants me to go to a shrink" I told her matter of fact.
"Shawn, What!? You're kidding! Shouldn't that be Kalvin??!" she knew full well the details of his particular "touch" of madness.
"Well, you would think, huh? But since I am the one home and he has gone off to live with my dad, guess it's me now..actually she is the one who needs a shrink!" We both laughed.
I explained to Anne my mother's reasoning. It was really insane in itself. I told Anne that my mother said she was sad to see me so upset. That she knew I wanted to be back in L.A. or going to college like other girls my age. She also told me about a friend of hers whose kid was seeing this psychotherapist. I have to say, knowing this messed up girl , I was really insulted!"
"So what did you say to her?" Anne knew the girl and agreed.
"I said, 'Ma, I am not her! Thanks so much for the offer, but NO thanks!'
She knew I was being sarcastic, but she didn't give up." I continued telling Anne.
"In the end, she told me how she was a terrible mother, that she did things to us kids she shouldn't have done, and so it was because of this she wanted me to go to therapy, and that when she started doing therapy, when I was about 16, it helped her a lot."
"Jesus! What did she say she did to you?" Anne asked.
"She told me when I was barely two years old she gave me two black eyes. Beat me up. She didn't know why she had done it, she was angry, that's all. And because of this she wants
ME to go to a shrink!" I was livid.
"Oh my God! What did you say to her, after she told you this?" I heard Anne's worry in her voice.
"I told her, forget about it, because I don't remember, in fact, I don't remember any of my childhood, so who cares!"
"So, how did you leave it?" Anne wondered.
"She started to cry Anne, and begged me to try it. My mother never cries, it was awful. What could I do? I said "ok".
"Shawn, I really feel sorry for you, that is terrible, huh?"
"I know, but what else is new??Meanwhile, tomorrow, I start working at a place I am under age to work at...God help me, eh?"
Anne wished me luck and the next day, dressed as requested ,my mother drove me downtown to start work at the jazz bar and restaurant nightclub called, "The Encore II" on Liberty Avenue. My shift began at 5:00 pm. I opened the heavy door and found it took time for my eyes to adjust to the darkness. I met with Bobby Davis, the manager, who was a rather short, heavyset black man who walked with a limp. I was very nervous but he put me at ease right away, kidding around with me and talking about my Aunt to me. He told me the other waitresses would help me to get the hang of it and they did. The first night I sold 100 drinks! It was like a baptism of fire! I spilled plenty, too, but I learned to carry them eventually on my waitress tray. And I learned their various names and what they were. It took me a few weeks to understand the difference between top shelf alcohol and what was in the bartender's well. I also made a few friends, all older than me, these waitresses, and most of them seemed like they had been around the block. Sauvy, funny and full of quips, they took me on as the newbie I was. One thing that was a topic of conversation where ever I seemed to go in this long, dark, candle lit, rectangular restaurant was this man named Art Swiden. The waitresses at the service bar would say to me, "Shawn, have you met Art yet?" "No." would be my reply, not knowing or caring, really. The bartenders would say to me, "You know Swiden? They say he killed a man in the ring, when he was a fighter!" I would nod my head like I cared but really, I didn't. I was too busy remembering what fruits you put on a toothpick for a Pina Collada for my customers. Then in the kitchen, way in the back of the restaurant, when I would put my order in for surf and turf, which was the main feature of the menu at the Encore, Al, the Chef, would say to me, "Hey, Shawn, did anyone warn you about Art yet?" And I would answer politely "No.", but of course many had. And Al would continue, "Well, you know he was a heavyweight boxer, and you better watch out for him! He is a bit crazy , punch drunk really, too many knocks to the head! He can fly off the handle at anything! You know he manages the Shadyside Encore?" Al felt it his duty to warn me but all I cared about was not spilling anything on my customers and making a good tip.
"OK, Thanks, Al." I took out my two hot rib eye steaks with fries , fresh from the kitchen. I learned to pour wine and champagne without the cork popping or the fizz spilling everywhere. I began remembering all the different bottled beers we sold, as well as what was on tap. It took me a few tries, but I seem to be getting the hang of it. Always the jazz musicians were blasting their instruments from the stage, in the background.There was a different one each week.Chuck Mangione was playing that week. I knew nothing of jazz, so this too was the beginning of another type of education. Each night, after a 10 hour shift, and a heavy jangle of coins and dollars in my pocket, I would go home , in a yellow cab at 2:30 am, with my feet throbbing, absolutely exhausted. Walking the miles of serving in heels while holding trays of drinks and food was not what I had intended for my young life. I was only there to help my mother, and gave her what I could from my tips. Soon my friends would be home from Penn State, and I was really looking forward to that.
One sort of slow evening, towards the beginning of June, about 7pm, on a Monday night, I had to go back to the bread bin to get some rolls that accompanied the salad as a appetizer. It was dark back there, and I was trying to find the softest rolls when all of a sudden a voice came into my right ear. I stood still listening to a man's voice, clearly imitating Clark Gable's Rhett Butler, saying, "Now, see here, Scarlett!" I started to laugh. I turned around to see who was saying this to me but realized I had to look up. There was this tall, somewhat curly and thick dark haired , personable man standing there wearing a black,three piece pin stripped suit, smiling at me with the whitest teeth I had ever seen. He had a rather handsome face, with penetrating dark brown eyes. His eyes seemed to be gleaming at me. It took me a second, but I thought..."This must be Art. Well, what are they all talking about?? He seems nice to me." And with that, I wiped the bread crumbs of my right hand on my waitress apron and extended my hand to shake his, "Hello, I am Shawn Cohen, you must be Art, nice to meet you." He took my hand and shook it firmly. It was big and warm.
Delight filled his face. He said to me in an Irish accent this time, "Oh, an Irish Jew are ye? Ah, a little leprechaun are ya?" and I laughed. Then he changed his accent again , this time to Bella Lugosi, and reached over to my ear and said, in true vampire format, "I vant to suck yur blood!" and I pulled away and said, "Listen, I really like the Scarlett O'Hara stuff , keep that coming but not that Vampire stuff, OK? I better get going now, my customers are waiting for these rolls, and since you are one of the Bosses, I know you wouldn't want them to wait. But very nice to meet you, Art." With that I turned on my high heels to walk toward the restaurant but he followed me, tripping over his own feet to say in my ear, " Now,Scarlett!" and I laughed again, waved my free hand to him and walked on. I brought the rolls to my customers, who also ordered more drinks. I thought about that funny guy, who was so tall, big, not at all scary, like they all had said. Why did they say those terrible things about him? He seemed charming and sweet. I wondered where he was. I looked up from the table I had been serving the drinks to and he was gone. I scoured the entire restaurant and bar. He was nowhere in sight! How could he be gone so quickly? Mmm, I wondered where he went, it's like he

The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me by, Shawn M. Cohen. Copyright 2010.
This is a true account, but some names will be changed to protect privacy.