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Michelangelo’s: Death of a Bistro

backlight musician playing trumpet on orange background

MICHELANGELO’S: DEATH OF A BISTRO

by Geoffrey P. Jones

 

Summer like a fever broke… And a sigh of

Relief is expelled by the seven million people

Who live here in this restless city… As a crisp

October breeze arrives from someplace out

West… As the valet parks my car with casual

Inattention while flicking a cigarette on the

Pavement… He hands me a ticket without

A smile even though he has known me for

Years…

 

This will be the last supper as a wrecking ball

Is poised to crush and crumble this place in a

Matter of days… The valet and I share the

Misery… As each of us wrestle with the certain

Knowledge that this trove of memories will

Come tumbling down and disappear forever

Like so many other sacred places in this town…

Places that have been torn down and replaced

By something that is shiny and new… Progress

Is subjective and is often disrespectful of the

Past…

 

Angie and Nick greet me at the front door

With great ceremony and a hint of sadness

For they know that the end is near… I value

The greeting… Very few things feed a man’s

Ego more than being recognized the moment

He arrives… My friends escort me to my favorite

Table in the Red Room for the very last time…

 

 

A black lacquered Steinway is staged near a

Giant oak that grows through the roof in an

Alcove near the bar from which a Martini

Will soon be requisitioned and delivered

To my table… Familiar melodies earn their

Escape from the Steinway… I smile at the

Piano player… His name is Benjamin… He has

Played here since the sixties in obscurity that

He seems to enjoy… Playing whatever he

Wants… All while creating a mood where

Music isn’t heard as much as it is felt… Music

With barely a trace…

 

A fireplace with an elaborate mantle cradles

Dying embers that will be brought back to life

With kindling and a match… Bottles of wine…

Chianti… Brunello… Amarone… Reside on

Tabletops where diners dine and the posers

Pose… A beveled mirror reflects back the light

From the chandelier that hangs from the ceiling

In the center of the room… An unscented candle

Burns next to an open menu that is displayed

Like a travelogue on an easel… Vintage street

Art and Tuscan landscapes cling to walls covered

In red satin fabric with serpentine strands of

Gold… I know the menu by heart…

 

A Martini is brought to my table by a waitress

I have not seen before… She could not possibly

Know the history I have here… Children were

Christened in this room…And anniversaries were

Celebrated… And mothers were feted with roses

And champagne in May…

 

It is at this very table where my grandmother

Sat quietly one spring afternoon not long after

MJ passed away… Married sixty-three years…

She would go on to live another decade without

Him… She never fully recovered… But she would

Insist that we return to this table every spring…

 

It is here that my wife and I had our first date…

All dressed up like adults, but we were kids… I

Saved nickels and dimes for weeks and still came

Up short… I borrowed a few bucks from a friend

So I could cover the tab… In a sense, this is where

We began…

 

The Red Room is filled with familiar faces… The

Gentry is out on the town tonight… A local

Pastor with a Sunday morning TV show is sitting

Across the room… He’s sincere but confused…

I’ve listened to his message, but it rings untrue…

His faith is transactional… Prayer in exchange

For good fortune instead of prayer for the sake

Of prayer… Negotiating with God… Horse trading

With deities… This gospel of prosperity makes

Little sense to me… A quid for a quo… It’s

Provisional… “I’ll pray as long as my prayers are

Answered”… Really…

 

The mayor is seated at a table in the far corner

Of the room with a young staffer who stares at

Him with starry eyes… You can tell there is some

Heavy politicking going on, but I try not to jump

To conclusions… Hizzoner slowly pushes his way

From the table in the warm afterglow of an

Agreeable meal… He grabs the young staffer’s

Ass with impunity as though he owns her… You

Can tell she doesn’t like this very much, but she

Doesn’t utter a word…

 

There is a small gathering near the trellis outside

Where a young couple weds in the twilight… A

Dozen guests bear witness to the joy… I admire

The beauty of the ceremony… But I resent the

Passage of years…And the brevity of my life and

Times… It’s a longing for that which can no longer

Be touched… They’re just beginning… And well…

I’m not… I want more…

 

I catch a glimpse of my father near the bar… He’s

Gone now twenty-two years but I’ll be damned

If I don’t see him… We had a spot over there

Next to the wine room where bottles of all sizes

And shapes are stored with care… We’d meet

Here for drinks every Thursday night… We’d talk…

We would laugh… We’d bicker and fight over

Something stupid I may have said… And so it is

With fathers and sons… But our squabbles always

Ended in laughter…

 

You can catch a glimpse of the boulevard through

French doors that stretch from the floor to

The ceiling on either side of the fireplace… Ah…

There it is… The Montrose… In all its defiance…

As decadent or dignified as it needs to be to satisfy

The wants and the whims of anyone who visits…

Every great city has a Montrose of its own… This

Is ours… Both carnal and chaste…

 

A squad of vaping Goths with body piercings

And exquisite tattoos gather near the Chinese

Embassy while harshly judging a tuxedoed couple

Climbing the stairs to Maxim’s… The couple looks

Back at the Goths with scorn… A disheartened

Doorman overcomes the monotony of greeting

People with a smile… He stares at the Goths and

The couple with equal disdain… He knows that

But for a minor wrinkle here… Or a subtle twist of

Fate there… That everyone is essentially the

Same…

 

A traffic light splashes color on the street… A

Theatre marquee flashes the title of a foreign

Movie that no one is sure how to pronounce…

A cop casts a wary eye at the Goths while

Assuming they’re up to no good… The power

Couple disappears into Maxim’s as the doorman

Smiles insincerely…There’s nothing accidental

About a person’s station in life… Life is a

Consequence… And the doorman must face up

To the choices he has made…

 

The mayor slips into the back seat of a black limo

And wraps his arms around the staffer as if no

One can see inside… In the dark spaces and

Dubious places… In the back alleys where

Sexuality… Willingly or unwillingly merge in

Conquest or surrender… All while me too

Moments are doubted or dismissed because no

Seems to care…

 

The mayor will never get my vote…

 

I return to my Martini… Droplets of ice float

Benignly on a sea of vodka… Dinner arrives and

I eat alone… My wife would not join me here

Tonight… She wanted no part of this wake… She

Hates goodbyes… I respect her feelings, but I

Wish she were here just the same…

 

 

There is a moment of sadness as the check is

Delivered to the table… I tip the waitress amply…

Waiting tables can be hazardous duty and she

Should be rewarded… Especially on a night like

Tonight… A red and gold book of matches is

Tucked in with the bill… I grab it and shove it in

My shirt pocket… A souvenir… A relic to remind

Me that this place once existed long after it is

Gone…

 

I pat Benjamin on the back as I make a move

For the door… He stops playing in the middle of

A song… He wishes me well with a handshake

And hug… No words are traded between us…

There’s nothing to say… I glance around the

Room looking for Angie and Nick, but they’re

Nowhere to be found… It’s not important

Anyway… They know how I feel…

 

My throat tightens and my palms sweat as I

Turn to take a final inventory of this place…

Sighs… Smiles… Tears… And laughter rise up

From tabletops where others grapple in their

Own way with the sadness… Like a death

Warrant, there’s a permit tacked to the door

That authorizes the razing of this place… A

Chill runs down my spine…

 

The valet sees me coming and retrieves my car…

He gives me a wink and a thumbs up as though

Everything is fine… But we both know that

Nothing will be same again as an office building…

Or a gym… Or a day care center will someday

Occupy this corner of the galaxy…

 

The engine turns over and I am gone…

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