Wednesday, 14 April 2010

The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me by, Shawn M. Cohen

Baby, you're improvable,
It won't take long,
Mountains can be movable,
If the spirit's strong,
You've got possibilities,
Takes a fella to tell,
You've got possibilities,
Let me pry you from you're shell.

Somewhere way down deep in you, There's life no doubt.
It's just been asleep in you, Let me bring it out, Yes,
You've got possibilities, Maybe even a lot,
Red hot possibilities, You don't even know you've got,
You won't be shy when I get through,
I'll make you purr, you pussycat you,
Somewhere way down deep in you, There's life no doubt.
It's just been asleep in you, Let me bring it out, Yes,
You've got possibilities, Maybe even a lot,
Red hot possibilities, You don't even know you've got.

sung by, Matt Monro

I was still seated there at the first table as you walk into the Encore, which Art told me was known as "A1". He also introduced me to a waitress, who he said usually works daytime, named Fran. She was working late, as they were short a waitress, and here is where I think I came in. The quiet Mr. Shiner, the owner of the Encores, excused himself to get up and go. I let him out of the booth and he slid out and turned to me shaking my hand, "Nice to meet you, Shawn, I am sure you will do very well here at The Encore." I thanked him and he said his good-byes to Art, whispering something in his ear. Art laughed and he left. I didn't know whether to sit down again but Art just signalled for me to do so. As soon as Mr. Shiner was gone, Art said to me, "Shawn, are you hungry? You didn't get a chance to have dinner yet, would you like to have dinner with me now?"
At this point, since he clearly was the Boss, I just shook my head and said, "Yes." ( I was starving, most waitresses and bar staff come in and have their dinner at 4:30 then start their shift at 5:00, it was now 7:00pm, and the Encore downstairs was getting busy.) Noticing this, I then thought about the fact that we were taking up a booth, that maybe a customer needed. In the Encore Downtown there was a booth in the back and no one but the staff sat there to eat. Art signalled Fran to bring him a menu for me, and some silverware for us both. I had to ask, so I did.
"Art, are we taking up a booth, is there a staff booth where we should be sitting?" He just laughed aloud, saying, "Honey, let me worry about that, ok? Now how about a nice juicy steak?"
Usually the staff got a salad, hamburger or something similar, steaks and all other more expensive items on the menu were for the customers, unless we bought it ourselves, for a generous discount, of course.
Again, inquiring minds want to know, I asked, "Art, I think I should have a salad, ok?" Art looked at me, actually it would be more accurate to say, Art starred right into my soul, and then said, "Listen, Champ, when you sit with me, you eat steak, ya here?! SO, go on, have one, on me, ok? Have anything you want, it's ok, you don't have to be afraid, not of anything. I want you to have whatever you want, and enjoy it, ok, Champ!?" I was a bit embarrassed, because he was, after all, the Boss, my Boss now, and if he said that I could have a steak, well, then I guess I could. I laughed at him calling me, "Champ". Little then did I know, as Art was this so called famous ex Heavyweight boxer years ago, that he called everyone, from staff, customers to the musicians and et all, "Champ". It was his thing.
I braved it again, "Art, am I ever going to work tonight, just curious, if not, it's ok, just wondering, and by the way, I see people going upstairs, what's up there?"
Imitating Clark Cable he said, "Baby, that's the restaurant, down here is for the bar, band and during the day, lunch, also we do appetizers in the evening. You are with me, Baby, so don't you go worrying about any little thing, ya hear me, Scarlett!"
I was mesmerized. He was funny, charming and clearly wasn't worried about me working. Why he was treating me so nice, I just didn't know, but I just let it be. When the waitress came to take our order, Art just ordered for me. He told Fran, "We want the best fillets back there! Both rare. Tell Al they're for me! Ok, and bring us some fries and some salad, and bring us some rolls, cause I'm staving. Thanks, Fran." He did all of that in a James Cagney voice, sounding just like him. Fran just nodded her head, unimpressed. There were two other waitresses on, but Fran, who Art said was there since the Encore opened, was busy. Art got up himself and set our table, first with the place mats that had the Encore's emblems and addresses on them, which we also used Downtown, and then, the silverware. I felt bad watching him do this, like somehow I should be doing this, but he did it with a smile on his face.
Fran brought out the salads, and Art took a white napkin and tucked it under his chin, where his shirt buttoned and his big tie was, and spread it out over his chest, covering his dark pinned striped suit, with the matching waistcoat underneath. I tried not to laugh, but he caught me. He was so funny, in his moves, his voices, and just the way his facial expressions came. In that dark bar room, I saw his cheeks go red. "Better on the napkin, then on me, eh?" he offered me his reasoning. "Yep." I agreed. I also noticed that the chef here was named Al, as well. Interesting.
"So, Shawn Cohen, the Irish Jew, tell me about yourself? " Art chewed on his salad with his mouth closed, as if he was really making the effort to eat politely. His dark brown eyes never left my face in anticipation for the answer.
I wanted to tell him why I came to work at the Encore, but it just didn't seem like a good idea, being he was now my new Boss, so I decided to say this, "Well, I was living in California, a couple of months ago, going to college in L.A." His eyes lit up.
"California, I love California! Always wanted to go back there to live. I fought a few fights there, you know?" He seemed excited about it all. I didn't know.
"I hope to go back there, too, one day, and finish my degree. But for now, I am home. I grew up in Stanton Heights, and that is where I am living now, back home. Just helping my mother out."
I offered him this, nothing more, for what more could I say?
"Ah, I see, from Stanton Heights. Nice neighborhood. I grew up in Kennywood! You know where Kennywood is?!" Art spat that out in one breath, excitedly. I laughed again because Kennywood was Pittsburgh's answer to Disney Land, an amusement park that we all went to as kids. Nobody grows up there, but I got he meant near by. "Yes, I know where Kennywood is." I said smiling.
The steaks came and Art asked me if I wanted a drink. I said a Diet Coke, and he said, "You can have some wine or a beer, whatever you want, ok?" He got up to get them himself. "No, a Diet Coke is fine, thanks." I was amazed again, that he was asking me if I wanted a "drink" drink. Art got himself a lager, and handed me my Diet Coke. He talked about when he was a boxer, that he fought Zora Folley in Las Vegas, and that fight he was robbed as he had the guy "down for the count!" Then he talked about another boxer, and another. I never heard of any of them. But I just listened.He also told me that his boxing name was "The Pittsburgh Phantom." Which made me laugh again. He said because he was fast, like a Phantom and he put his "dukes" up in the air, and did the old "one, two". I guess I should have been impressed but the truth was Boxing, or any sport for that matter was as boring to me as watching paint dry. I had 18 years of my father and two brothers watching the Steelers, Pirates, Penquins and all other manner of sports downstairs in our den. There was screaming and hollering every time there was a goal scored, a ball batted and a hockey put thrown across ice. It was "male domain" and I was not interested in any of it. But I listened as Art told me more, this time with a sad grimace on his face. "Ah, I could have been a contender!" That was said as Marlon Brandon said it in , "On the Waterfront". Luckily for me (and him) that I had watched all those old movies. Old movies were my joy, the black and white, the film noir, and the musicals. I loved them all. My mother, being an actress, a dancer and a choreographer, and even directed some plays, turned me on to these movies when I was younger and we watched so many together. She would critique them all the way through. And when I was in California there was always a good old movie on. So for every voice over, or line from a movie, I did recognize it, and he so made me laugh, I was a captive audience.
We both finished eating dinner, and I was sure now that this was some sort of test. Did I pass? I hoped so, because I wanted to work. Art said to me, after coffee, "Ok, Kid, let's see what you got..Fran is going to help you, but if you're ready, go get an apron under the service bar,and a tray and she'll tell you what tables you have. Dinner is upstairs, but if a customer wants an appetizer, or the bartender needs one for his customer at the bar, you take the order and give it to Al in the kitchen back there. You'll be doing mostly cocktails. The Harold Betters Quartet will be in at 9:00, if people ask.They are our house Band." He stood up and showed me that the kitchen was behind the bandstand. He was so tall, I looked up to say to him, "Ok, Art and thank you for dinner and everything." His tanned face looked down at me, he gazed deep into my eyes, smiled at me with those unbelievably white teeth and said, "You know, Kid, you've got some very pretty blue eyes. " I really wasn't expecting that and I blushed like crazy. He must have realized he had embarrassed me as he quickly changed the subject..."Ok, Fran, take care of our new Girl. Show her the ropes, and I'll see you later, Shawn, good luck, Champ!" And with that, he quickly walked toward and went out the front door.

The Pittsburgh Phantom and Me, by, Shawn M. Cohen copyright 2010. These are excepts from my book, all events are true but some names will be changed to protect people's privacy.