With Robert Frost, at Walmart

Town officials are considering zoning changes that would permit strip malls, fast-food outlets and big-box stores to be built a short distance from Robert Frost’s farm.

                   The Boston Globe


Frost

It’s Saturday morning, time for my weekly check on my fellow rustic poet, old man Frost, who lives down the road less travelled. He’s a cranky old cuss, but you would be too if you’d fallen as far as he has. In 1960, he was America’s most revered poet and spoke at Kennedy’s inauguration. Today, he’s seen his star eclipsed by a Republican surety bond lawyer, Wallace Stevens, whose poetry Frost dismisses as “bric-a-brac.” You’ve got to love the old fart. Frost, that is, not Stevens, who’s an unloveable old fart.

Stevens
Wallace Stevens, going out for ice cream.

 

I stop at Frost’s mailbox. A few flyers, an oil and lube job offer from the local tire and battery store, an expiration notice from plangent voices, the quarterly journal of avant-garde poetry edited by my former lover, elena gotchko.


“my love is like a red, red rose/that’s somehow stuck inside my nose.”

 

elena and I had parted ways when she showed up at our little apartment with a skunk-streak dyed into her hair a few years back to announce that she’d had the capital letters removed from her name–and was leaving me.

“you stultify me,” she had said, eschewing the upper case as she spoke with emotion not yet recollected in tranquility. “you’re holding me back–you with your insistence on meter and rhyme.” Fine, I said, and I’d never regretted it. How she ever roped Frost into subscribing was a mystery to me, although he was a sucker for those Publisher’s Clearing House come-ons.


“This Frost guy’s apparently gone for a walk in woods. Who’s next on the list?”

 

I knock on the door and Frost opens it up right away–he’s always eager for a little company and to get out of the house. It must be lonely out here, living all by himself with nothing but the sound of cars rushing by.

“I’m ready,” he says, the cheap polyester “gimme” hat already on his head. I don’t know what it is with old men and free baseball caps–they can’t resist them.

“Hey, Bob,” I say as I try to straighten his cockeyed hat a bit. “I got your mail.”

He looks at it without interest and, as usual, launches into perfectly-formed verse:

A hushed October morning mild,
with leaves as frail as Kleenex tissue;
tomorrow’s mail, if it be wild
would bring, perhaps, a swimsuit issue.

I allow myself a little laugh. There are two things about being an old man I’m looking forward to: one, you can wear just about anything you want; and two, you can be a complete lecher, and say just about anything you want to women, and no one seems to mind.  At some point, you become entitled to a presumption of not innocence, but incompetence.

“No, that won’t come until February,” I say to him.

“Okay,” he says after he absorbs this information. He turns to close the door and his cat, an orange tabby named Demiurge, stakes out a wary watch on the threshold.

“I shan’t be gone long,” he says to the cat. “You come too.”

“Bob, we’ve gone over this before,” I say with repressed exasperation. “You can’t bring a cat into McDonald’s.”


Senior citizen coffee at McDonald’s

The thought of the golden arches causes him to lose interest in his cat. I can see by the far-away look in his eyes he’s thinking of the Senior Citizens coffee special and again, he can’t deny his muse.

I’m going to get my elderly java
by riding with you over dales and hills.
It tastes like ash and is hot as lava
but I can’t resist those free refills.

We head out towards State Highway 28 with the more distinguished poet in the car staring out the passenger side window at the bright fall colors; the orange of Home Depot, the red of Staples, the yellow Walmart smiley face on a billboard.

“Turn here,” Frost says sharply.

“Don’t you want to get something to eat first?”

“Depends.”

“Depends on what? Your only choice is fast food.”

“No–I need some Depends.”

Dawn breaks on Marblehead, as we say in New England.

“Okay,” I say, a little chagrined that I’ve forced him to disclose the one aspect of growing old I’m really not looking forward to.

We make our way through the parking lot and enter the store where we are met by one of the chain’s ever-present greeters, a white-haired old man in a blue vest festooned with inoffensive buttons. I try to avoid eye contact and accelerate past him when I hear Frost’s voice boom out–to the extent that he’s capable of producing such a sound, even metaphorically–”Well if it isn’t The Emperor of Ice Cream–Wallace Stevens!”

Stevens’ face registers the shock of recognition that Herman Melville spoke of, when a man of letters comes face to face with one of his rivals while working a minimum-wage job to make ends meet. Being the darling of the academy doesn’t do you much good if you have to mix wet cat food and pinto beans to make chili.

“Hello, Frost,” Stevens says in a frosty tone. “How’s the poet of–subjects.” He says this last word with a sneer.

“Fine,” says Frost. “Tell me, since you must know–down which aisle would I find–bric-a-brac?”

Stevens draws himself up to his full six feet, seven inches, looks down at Frost as if from Olympus, and begins to speak:

I placed a Hummel figurine,
Down to your left, in aisle three.
‘Twas much too tacky for myself
But not too gauche for one such as thee.

I can tell that Frost is pissed, but he’s trying hard not to let it show.

“C’mon Bob–we haven’t got time for this nonsense,” I say as I take him by the elbow. “We’ve got miles to go, and . . . ”

He cuts me off and glares at Stevens, not about to back off in this mano-a-mano poetry throwdown.

He squares his shoulders and even I can’t believe the fearful symmetry of what comes out of his mouth next:

Two aisles diverged ‘neath a yellow face,
that bore a sickly, foolish grin. And I–
I took the one marked “Incontinence,”
and that has made all the difference.

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

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Mayor Demands Recount as Boston Slips to 7th on Rudest City List

BOSTON.  Mayor Marty Walsh lashed out angrily today at a survey that ranked Boston the seventh-rudest city in America, saying “We take a back seat to no one when it comes to pissing people off.”

walsh
“You know what you can do with yer bleepin’ rudeness survey, pal!”

 

“That’s gotta be wrong,” Walsh said in a freewheeling press conference that touched on a variety of lifestyle issues. “People come here for the culture, but they stay for the rudeness.”

 

rings
So many rings, so little time.

Bostonians’ rudeness has traditionally taken many forms, from the uplifted middle finger, signifying a act that is physically impossible except for conjoined twins, to more complex initiation rites such as the theft of vans filled with personal belongings of naive first-year college students.  “Boston was once a smorgasbord of rudeness that ran the gamut from snobbish indifference on Beacon Hill to intentional acts of  hostility by reckless drivers on dangerously quaint traffic ‘rotaries,’” says tourism director Angela Gomes.  “The upraised middle finger is the state bird of Massachusetts, and residents would playfully invoke it when greeting tourists who say ‘milk shake’ instead of ‘frappe.’”

boston1
Fistfight at–I kid you not–the Boston Symphony.

 

The survey by Kristin Salaky for “thisisinsider.com” noted that Bostonians have lost their edge due to the recent success of their professional sports teams, and have now become almost as gracious as the St. Louis Cardinals fans who gave up their tickets in 2004 so that Red Sox fans could see the team’s first World Series win in 86 years.  “I felt sorry for the guy,” said Dave Durham from Centralia, Illinois.  “He’s begging for something but he’s got this awful accent so nobody can understand him.”

Psychologist Morton Adelman notes that “A Boston boy in his twenties today will have experienced three World Series wins by the Red Sox, five Super Bowl victories by the Patriots, a Stanley Cup for the Bruins, an NBA championship for the Celtics and something called a North American Super Liga by the Revolution, whoever they are.  His apartment will typically be littered with foam ‘We’re #1!’ fingers, unless his girlfriend threw them out.”

boston2
Maggot Puke, winners of the 2017 Battle of the Obnoxious Bands

 

Walsh pointed to Allston-Brighton, Boston’s “student ghetto” whose youthful population uses loud music and drunken parties to endear themselves to permanent residents.  “We may not be as rude as some of the great bands that preceded us,” said Tweeze, bassist for Maggot Puke, a local band that is one of the leading practitioners of the “Deliberately Annoying” sound.  “On the other hand, there aren’t as many major record labels as there used to be, so there’s more competition.”

Walsh is a former state legislator who has been known to use his political power to retaliate against those who have crossed him.  “You gonna write sumpin’ nice, right?” he asks as this reporter takes notes at the press conference. “You bettah, cause I know where you pahked your cah and I wouldn’t want nothin’ to happen to it.’”

Angered by School Switch, Buyout King Retaliates

WELLESLEY FALLS, Mass.  Newcomers to this upscale suburb of Boston, Don and Sherry Fagles thought their five year-old, Brett, was set when they bought a house in the affluent Fulton school district.  “We were comforted by the fact that he’d be playing with some of the wealthiest children in America,” says Sherry, a former commercial real estate broker.  “Then our dreams came crashing down around us.”


In happier times.

The cause of Sherry’s dismay is a redistricting plan that shifted them from Fulton Elementary School to the less-desirable Gates district, where the median home price is $800,000, less than half the $2.8 million the Fagles paid for theirs.


Home Sweet de-valued Home

“I’m not the kind of guy who sues somebody at the drop of a hat,” says Don, principal in a leveraged buy-out firm in Boston.  “But if I’d been wearing a hat when Sherry called me with the news, I would’ve sued somebody.”

home
The Horror:  $750,000 starter home.

Instead, Don and Sherry and other couples who were redistricted out of Fulton and into Gates due to a population shift and space constraints sat down and analyzed their predicament as a business proposition.  “When we put our heads together and looked at the situation objectively,” Don says, “we were able to come up with a rational business plan that’s a win-win for everyone involved.”


“Are you gonna take our slide, mister?”

The plan?  A $20 million leveraged buy-out of Fulton Elementary School, lock, stock, barrel, modeling clay and principal.  “It’s really a unique solution,” says Eric Tines of the Boston Merchant, a regional business publication.  “Most people would just say ‘Screw it–let’s send little Evan or Emily to private school’, but not these folks.”

The hostile takeover is being funded by high-yield bonds in minimum denominations of $100,000, secured by future earnings of the pre-schoolers who have yet to pronounce their first “See Spot run!”  “Grandparents are our most active buyers,” says Scott Wherling of Bache Securities.  “They’re looking for good returns, gilt-edged security and a picture of their little darling on the face of the instrument.”


“Grammy and Gramps–Thank you for buying my Baaa+ Rated Kindergarden Buy-Out Bond.”

Gates School principal Allan Watkins, a career educator who makes around $87,000 a year not including benefits, says he’s giving the buyout offer serious consideration.  “I’d be remiss if I didn’t weigh the pros and cons of a proposal that will have a profound affect on the lives of so many young children,” he says, his brow furrowed with the apparent gravity of the decision he faces.  “That plus I’d get a BMW, which makes me wet my pants just thinking about it.”

To Make Ends Meet, More Poets Turn to Discounters

NEEDHAM, Mass.  Curtis Bascomb, Jr. is a third-generation family business owner, so he has more than just his time and money invested in his workplace.  “Grandad founded this place on a promise,” he says with a trace of a lump in his throat.  “He believed no poet should ever go without a figure of speech because of high prices.”


“I’m looking for a synechdoche for wine.”

 

And so the Poets Discount Supply House was born, a harmonic convergence of New England thrift and the historically impecunious nature of the poet’s trade.  “I’m entering my coming-of-age collection in twenty chapbook contests at an average of $22.50 a pop,” says would-be poet Todd Heftwig, who prowls the aisles looking for bargains.  “If I can pick up a slightly-used simile or metaphor at half-price, I may be able to recoup my investment.”

poetry1
“There’s a size 7 and a half sestina back here with seagulls in it.”

 

In addition to garden variety figures of speech such as similes and metaphors, the Poets Discount Supply House carries more exotic forms such as synechdoches and metonyms, as well as a deli case stocked with onomatopeia and tropes.  “We buy this stuff fresh every day,” says Bob Vibeck, who started with the company when it was run by Bascomb’s father, Curtis Sr., in the 1960s.  “That’s why poets come back to us even when they hit the big time, which is really still the little time.”

The store is located in an undistinguished warehouse off a busy commercial street, part of the family’s business plan to keep costs down.  “We can sell you a package of three generic themes–seagulls, unrequited love, the effect John Coltrane’s music had on you in college–at half the cost of the high-end retailers,” says Curtis Senior.  “That’s our sweet spot.”


“If you need a rhyme for the word ‘love,’ line up on the right.”

 

The store is ramping up for what is usually its busiest time of the year, as shoppers stop in for a turn of phrase for a Thanksgiving toast, or get ready for Christmas proposals, when the family will bring in temporary sales help to handle the crush of smitten but unlettered Romeos.  “These guys come in here with something scratched on a cocktail napkin looking for le mot juste,” says Curtis Junior, shaking his head.  “I tell ‘em you can’t bring in your own stuff, you got to buy it here.”

 

Available in print and Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “poetry is kind of important.”

As Evil Spreads, States Try to Halt Commercial Child Abuse

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.  It’s 1:30 a.m. in this western suburb of Boston known for a long strip of shopping centers called “The Golden Mile.”  The malls are closed now, but a late model American make car can be seen cruising the parking lots with its headlights out.


“I eat a lot of Tums, ’cause my stomach churns all the time.”

At the wheel is Detective Jim Hampy of the Massachusetts State Police, a member of the force’s Commercial Child Abuse Unit, on a stake-out.  “I don’t know how much longer I can take this beat,” he says wearily to this reporter.  “The things you see, I tell ya, it breaks your heart.”

He takes out a pair of night vision goggles and scans the sidewalk in front of a large furniture store, then stops when he sees two men lugging video equipment in a service entrance.  “I think we got ’em,” he says, and after checking his belt for his gun, his Taser and a can of pepper spray, he opens his car door and says “Let’s roll.”

We make our way cautiously across the lot and flatten ourselves against the building when we get there so as to reduce our profile in case there are “spotters” watching for law enforcement.  Hampy puts his ear to the door, hears the telltale cries that reveal the suffering within, and signals with a nod of his head that the moment of truth has arrived.  “Brace yourself,” he says.  “This is gonna turn your stomach.”


“Okay, now tell me how your daddy will beat any price around!”

 

He gently opens the door and we see a camera man setting up and a voice coach working with two children, the son and daughter of the store owner.  “We will NOT be undersold!” the girl chirps, and her brother seconds her by saying “That’s RIGHT!” with enthusiasm.

“Hold it right there,” Hampy shouts, catching the adults by surprise.  “By the power vested in me by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, you are hereby ordered to cease and desist from using your kids in a broadcast commercial!”


“I love my kids–they’re great for business.”

 

The owner is having makeup applied for his star turn but he bats aside the blusher brush to state his case.  “Really, it’s not a commercial, we’re making a home movie,” he says, but Hampy’s not buying it.

“I seen a lot of sick things in my day,” he snaps as the video crew grabs their gear and heads for the exit, “but using your own flesh and blood to announce a final clearance on sofas and sectionals is about as low as it goes.”

Hampy and law enforcement officials like him in other states are the leading edge of a nationwide movement to end the abuse of children in commercials, a segment of overall crime statistics that has grown dramatically in the past decade.  “Tire and battery stores are bad, as are car dealerships,” says Norton Bienstock, a professor of criminology at Northeastern University.  “But for sheer, unadulterated evil, I’d have to say furniture retailers are the worst.”


“At Suburban Community Bank, your trust is our biggest asset!”

 

Last year Massachusetts made the use of children in commercials by family-owned businesses a crime, following the lead of Minnesota, another state known for cockamamie ideas that eventually spread to the rest of the country.  “I put the collar on a GMC-Chevy dealer the other day and the guy was totally unrepentant,” says Sergeant Mike Twilhig of the Mankato, Minn. police force.  “I told him–‘Hey, if I wanted to watch movies of your kids, I’d bust into your home entertainment center.’”


“So instead of a football for you, daddy bought himself a watch that he’ll leave to you when he dies!”

 

Hampy reserves his greatest scorn for companies who use children to persuade adults to buy expensive gifts for themselves, such as designer wristwatches, on the grounds they will become an heirloom handed down for generations.  “Sometimes I hear the kids cry, and I start bawlin’ myself,” he says, an audible lump in his throat.  “They scream ‘But I don’t want Bordeaux futures, I want a football NOW!’”

Speaking Truth to Librarian Power

The mid-1980s were a time when, due to several unsettling changes in my life, I did not have much confidence in myself, personally or professionally.  My long-time girlfriend had moved out of our apartment and taken up with a guy who ran a bike shop, leaving me with a big rent check to write each month for our expensive Beacon Hill apartment.  I had just changed jobs, leaving a small, unpleasant firm for a much bigger one whose unpleasantness was more widely-dispersed and thus, in a way, more treacherous.  In a place with ten professionals you knew where the enemy was at all times; at my new job, danger lurked unseen, like those punji-stake traps the Viet Cong used to set for American soldiers in the jungle.


“Are you sure that’s a ‘U.S.’ cite?  Sounds more like a ‘Sup. Ct. Rptr.’ to me.”

 

And so I sailed into what appeared to be a congenial port in a storm.  I found in the firm librarian a smiling buoy in a sea of unknown hazards, if I may be allowed to extend my nautical conceit.  I liked books, she was surrounded by books!  I needed help with my research, she could provide it!  I favored the Dewey Decimal System while she was a firm devotee of Library of Congress Classification, but sometimes a little difference like that can be the spark that starts the fire that consumes two . . . but I’m getting ahead of myself.


“Is it just me . . . or is it hot in here?”

 

Over time, we became more than mere office acquaintances.  She’d invite–perhaps “direct” is the more accurate term–me to take a seat in her office to discuss knotty questions of citation, then subtly steer the conversation towards topics more social in nature.  Did I have plans for the weekend?  Was I dating anybody?  Did I know that my fly was open?  That sort of thing.


“Would you help me re-shelve ‘Chapman on Brain Injuries’?”

 

And so it developed that, into one of these little “chats,” she dropped a casual invitation.  “Would you like to go see The Sick Puppies with some of us this weekend?”

“Who are The Sick Puppies?” I asked, all wide-eyed innocence and wing-tip-shod boy with cheeks of tan.

“You don’t know who The Sick Puppies are?” she asked, with unaffected incredulity.  “They just signed a record contract, they’re about to hit the big time,” she said.  “This is your last chance to hear them before they become famous, playing before sold-out houses in gigantic mega-venues!”

With a bally-hoo like that, it was hard to say no, I had weekend plans to alphabetize my collection of Johnny “Guitar” Watson albums.

“Who else is going?” I asked, dipping my toe in the potentially dangerous waters of intra-office dating.

“Charlie and Sharon are coming, and Anne and Michael,” she said, naming two long-time couples of about our age.

“So it’s not a date, it’s more like the National Honor Society all going to see Simon & Garfunkel together?”

“Right,” she said, drawing on her cigarette and blowing out a little ring of desire.  You could smoke indoors back then, and those who did so were able to envelop themselves in an air of mystery, like a noir movie set–with file cabinets.


“We have a three-volume treatise titled ‘Couch on Insurance.’  Want to give it a try?”

“Okay, sure,” I said.  I didn’t want to become known as a joyless stick-in-the-mud of a wet blanket party pooper around the office.  It would seriously inhibit productivity if every time I passed a little group of colleagues they had to repeat that scornful mouthful of epithets.

 

And so I arrived at my librarian’s apartment punctually at 7 p.m. on a Saturday night, ready for some fun with the gang, but I noticed as I entered her apartment that the gang was not all there.

“Where are Charlie and Sharon?”

“Something came up with Charlie’s family in Maine.  Somebody died or got married or something.”

“Oh.  Too bad.  How about Michael and Anne?”

“You know those two,” which I did–sorta.  Always squabbling at summer outings over badminton, or volleyball, or croquet.  Then, they’d withdraw from the group to work out their differences, and would end up leaving early to go have mad, passionate make-up sex.

“So–they had an argument?”

“Yeah.  By now they’re probably listening to Marvin Gaye and making the beast with two backs.”  You know how librarians are, always with the literary euphemisms for sex.

“Oh, okay,” I said, and so off we went to hear The Sick Puppies.  They were your typical Cambridge band of the era.  They couldn’t decide whether they wanted to be rock stars or novelists, and so instead of producing music people might actually want to dance to, they sang lyrics that my former neurotic girlfriend would underline on the cover if she ever bought one of their albums.  Which she wouldn’t.  She had better taste than that–why else would she dump me?

“Did you like them?” my librarian asked as we walked out.

“Like them?” I replied.  “If you ever ask me to see them again, I’ll be washing my hair.”

She put on a little pouty face and said “I’m sorry.  Would you like to come back to my place for a drink?”

“Sure,” I said, sorry that I’d been critical of her fav rad group, as Tiger Beat would say.

We had a drink or two at her tiny home down a cul-de-sac in a quiet little neighborhood, then I stood up and said I should probably be going.

“It’s a long walk back to Harvard Square,” she said.

“Yeah, but I want to get up early tomorrow.”

“It’s kind of late.  There are some rough characters who hang out in the T station.”

“I can handle myself,” I said.  “When I scream, it’s really loud.”

“We could do something else,” she said, as if she found the prospect of a dull Sunday ahead of her depressing.

“Like what?” I asked.

She was quiet for a moment.  “Like have sex.”

I was, to say the least, taken aback.  “But . . . we work together.”


“I’d like to break the Rule Against Perpetuities . . . with you.”

 

“That doesn’t stop anybody else,” she said, and began to tick off the names of co-workers who were sleeping with each other across several pay grades–administrative, exempt and non-exempt, summer associates, associates, equity, non-equity and contract partners, temps, etc.

I stopped her–I didn’t want to hear any more.  “You mean . . . there’s no rule against it?”

“That’s how Anne and Michael met,” she said, “and Ariel and Clark, and Bob and Marie–she was his secretary first, and Susan and Jeff, and . . .”

And so I succumbed (succame?) to her wiles.  What else could I do?  She held my entire future as a researcher in her hands.  Wanna know about the Rule in Dumpor’s Case?  The Noerr-Pennington Doctrine?  The holding in Hadley v. Baxendale?  The road to that knowledge ran right through her office, and there was no way around it.

It ended badly, as these things tend to do.  When she was done with me I still needed to use the library, and she knew it.  “I’ll be with you when I get through with these people,” she’d say, pointing to interns, senile partners, the maintenance guys changing the fluorescent light bulbs.  “You should check the card catalog before you come to me,” she’d say with haughty disdain.  I was cruelly cast aside, like an outdated paperback copy of the Internal Revenue Code.

Eventually, one of us had to go, and it was me.  I was forced to take a job for twice as much money at a place where–I kid you not–there was no librarian.  If you needed something, you looked it up yourself, and fetched it from the shelves.  I had had it with the nightmare of librarian harassment she’d put me through.  I wasn’t going to go down that road again–Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress.

As for her?  Well, I see her in the train station every now and then.  She got married and late in life had a daughter to whom she’s a devoted mother.  When she posted a picture of the young woman’s graduation from college on Facebook, I asked whether she’d be going on to get a Master of Library Science, like her mother.

“No,” she replied tersely.  “We’re trying to make an honest woman out of her.”

Across US More Teens Dump Family for Olive Garden

FRAMINGHAM, Mass.  It’s Saturday night at the Olive Garden restaurant here, and as the line snakes up to the hostess station, Emily Nilson is offering some helpful but pointed criticism of her daughter, Alicia.  “You need to pluck your eyebrows,” she says.  “That zit on your forehead just won’t go away, will it, sweetie?” she adds as she brushes her daughter’s bangs downward.

“Mother–please!” Alicia seethes through clenched teeth, then folds her arms across her chest to express in body language that she doesn’t want to talk about beauty right now.

The Nilson’s table is ready, and after they are seated, veteran bread-and-water man Tony DiFillipo appears to fill the glasses and drop off some rolls.  “Hey, Princess,” he says to Alicia.  “How’s my little beauty queen?”


“Your momma–she’s got a poker up her butt.  Stay with us!”

 

“Hi, Tony,” Alicia says as she smiles for the first time tonight.  “I’m okay–except for le genitori”–her parents.

“Eesa no gooda to notta respecta your momma and-a poppa,” Tony says in the bogus Italian stage accent that Olive Garden employees are required to use during working hours.  “Onna the other handa, soma-times these things don’ta work out,” he says with an arched eyebrow, a veiled threat to Alicia’s parents.

Alicia is part of a growing phenomenon across America; sullen teenagers of the “baby boom echo” generation who have sought sanctuary among waitstaff and kitchen help at Olive Garden, the Italian restaurant chain whose slogan–“When you’re here, you’re family”–appeals to youths whose high-pressure upbringing results in frequent disputes and intra-family sniping.

Alicia disappeared for a week last November before the Nilsons obtained a court order forcing her to return to the family home.  “It was terrible,” says her father, Lloyd, an executive at an insurance company.  “All that pasta–she gained ten pounds.”

Three tables over, seventeen-year-old Charles Barker, whose parents are hoping he’ll get into one of two Ivy League colleges at the top of his list, buries his head in his entree when his father peppers him with questions about his essays.  “Dad, I don’t want to talk about it all the time!” he snaps as Maria della Famina appears at their table.  “Wassa matter?” she asks in a display of warmth that the chain’s “hospitaliano” policy requires staff to display, if not feel.

“He won’t shut up about my Harvard and Penn applications,” Charles says, a bit mollified by the waitress’s friendly tone.

“You no need to go to college!” she says, gesturing broadly with her hands.  “My brother Gaetano, he no go to college–he’s inna crushed stone business.  My father, Giuseppe–he no go to college.  He make-a good-a living in hees-a shoe repair business.  Fugeddabouta da college–do whatta makes-a you happy!”

A look of enlightenment comes over the young man’s face.  “You’re right,” he says, half to himself, looking off into the distance.  “I’d like to take a year off, learn how to make stained-glass windows.”

His father, sensing trouble, looks desperately around for the owner, then spotting him at the cash register, yells “Check please!”