“Hey Sam, did you know there’s a really nice upright piano locked up behind the spare wash basins?”
Wednesday, March 21, 2012
“Hey Sam, did you know there’s a really nice upright piano locked up behind the spare wash basins?”
Samantha Frankel placed the opal-polished index finger of her right hand on the next evening’s reservation book, checked that her new Macintosh reservation system and the hostess’s notes agreed, and then raised a laconic eye to Dimitri. “So?”
“Why in hell is it here if nobody plays it?”
“Don’t ask me; I just work here.”
“But you’re boss. You know everything, don’t you?”
“Don’t you forget it. I can set up a party for New Year’s 2012, but I don’t know about pianos.”
Dimitri froze. The world’s ending in 2012, don’t’cha know? Just ask the Mayans.
“Don’t you have tables active, Dim?”
“Yeah, I wonder if they’d like to hear Chopin or show tunes.”
This time, Sam froze. Something had always added up wrong about this guy. Twenty-three, vaguish accent, claimed a degree from Western Galilee College in Israel. She knew she should have taken Hebrew seriously at Temple Beth Sholom. How the hell did she know that she’d never leave South Jersey, and still have to verify a diploma from some place that could be hit by a Katyusha rocket?
“Go ask ‘em.”
Dimitri disappeared. Samantha punched a few keys on her Mac, set the beach ball screensaver rolling, patted the hostess on the butt in a way that would have drawn a scowl or a come-on from a man, and headed in the direction of the kitchen.
Dimitri had two tables still eating dinner at 9:40. Dimitri’s section reflected his seniority; he had the tables nearest the windows on the side parking lot. For the waitresses, the section nearer to the bar was a better bet; proximity breeds orders, and orders breed tips. The side road, Buttonwood Street, looked out on a new theme restaurant and bar that seemed destined to run the Red Lobster out of Maple Shade. Bartenders wore football referee’s uniforms complete with whistles. The draw was the wait staff. All female. All young. All in orange go-go pants. Most with bare midriffs. All paid to smile nonstop and to put some extra bounce in more than their steps. More than a few evenings when the weather was warm, the server in that section would “work” through a break.
This evening, Dimitri had other thoughts in mind, especially since with snow on the ground, even the most exhibitionist Hooters waitress arrived in sweat pants and an overcoat.
“OK, folks, our manager Samantha wants to know, would you rather hear Chopin or show tunes?”
It took most of the diners at the two adjoining tables several seconds to hear “Chopin” instead of “show-pan.”
“No, for real. We have a shiny black upright in the back. What would you rather hear, Chopin or show-tunes?”
“Right now?” One patron spoke up after the general twittering subsided.
“No, I have to tune the piano, but you come back on the same night, at the same time, and I’ll buy the pitchers.” Did Dimitri really say this? He began calculating, “twelve people, half a pitcher each, a few glasses left over, say, nine pitchers. I can get Sheila to give me half-off, that’s $4.50 a pitcher…”
Five votes for Chopin, three for show tunes. One person came up with a suggestion of a nocturne or intermezzo, and then two suggestions from the house.
“OK, this time next month good for you guys?”
Dimitri ignored the inconvenient fact that the two groups of diners never saw each other before in their lives.
And so “Second Tuesday By Request” was born. And now, Dimitri had a piano to practice on that didn’t require a bus ride to the JCC, or to the synagogue he’d never set foot in.
Setting up “Second Tuesday” was no problem. Samantha saw a wasted evening converted to a profit maker. She even let people enter their mailing addresses into her Mac Office mailing list if they wanted a reminder postcard. Response had been surprisingly strong. Samantha took stock near closing time on Saturday night, just over two weeks to go before Showtime in Maple Shade.
Database of 60. Ten tables already booked. That could be half the dinner crowd for a Tuesday in February. Now we’ve got an event. I’m SO toast if the kid can’t play.
“Dim,” Samantha tossed her golden curls with just a touch of flirtation. Up and over her right shoulder crept a designer lock. She flicked it away without setting down the pen she held in her right hand.
“Yes, Sam.” Throwing his left hip forward, and placing his hands on his hips, the would-be lounge lizard upped the ante.
“When do I get my private concert, huh?”
Dimitri knew what was up, but his thoughts flashed back to a girl he’d accompanied four years ago, on the Kibbutz. Same height, same hair past the shoulders. Smoker. He couldn’t tell exactly with clothes on, but same slim waistline. Yasmeena. OK, I can do this. Just pretend, but keep in check. You don’t make garab where you eat.
“I’m coming in to tune the piano on Monday morning. You’re here to open, yes?”
“I get here at 10.”
“Well, because you gave me the key, and trusted me not to take all the seafood, I come at 8.” But only because those lazy bums who clean up won’t let me get to the piano until 2:30.
“See you Monday.”
“Formal wear. Backless.”
“In your dreams.” Samantha flipped the curls, tilted her head, and swished over to the bar.
Samantha had more than a little trouble getting to sleep that Saturday night WMMR. Nope, Aerosmith at 3am?! WLIT. ABBA? Gag me with a spoon. OK, WRTI. Jazz all night. At least…Ornette Coleman. Shit. Who goes to sleep with Ornette Coleman on? Samantha had a screaming flash. It’s Sunday in Israel. They don’t have to go to church in Israel. Now did he say Western Jezreel University? No, it’s not a university, it’s a college. Shit. All I know is the Technion. Oh, yeah, and Bir-Zeit, but isn’t that Palestinian? No, Galilee. That’s it, Western Galilee College. If he’s lying, it might as well be Western Gethsemane College, and his name is Judas. OK. How do you say, “What’s the number?” in Hebrew? I can’t even remember how to say, “Bat Mitzvah.”
Samantha got the international exchange code. She called the operator for the number.
“KJFGHJGHFF azor l’cha” Samantha could barely think, let alone remember a phrase she probably hadn’t learned in Hebrew school.
“Tov, tov, connect you now.” The operator bypassed procedures and connected the call. So do they charge me for an international collect call, operator assist?
“Oniversitat Galil Mizrachi, OUYFYUYUF azor l’cha?” crackled the voice across the Atlantic.
“Diber Anglit?” Samantha asked hopefully. She didn’t know that she had just said, “He spoke English.”
“Yes, sure.” The receptionist lost her Hebrew accent. “I was born in Columbus. How can I help you?”
Several points fell off Samantha’s systolic blood pressure, and the rushing of blood in her ear stopped competing with the receptionist’s voice.
“Shalom, thanks, I’m from Cherry Hill. Can you verify a student’s enrollment? I’m a hiring manager.”
“Does the student go to school here now?”
“No, he says he was there from 1985-1987. He lived on Kibbutz Halivat… Halivat…”
“Hadarat Haderech. Most of their olim go here. But I don’t have the records for former students.”
“Oh, shit – sorry, I didn’t mean that. Just transfer me to someone who speaks English?”
“I’ll get Shachar Dvoretzky in Student Records. She’s from New York.” Please, please don’t be a Giants fan.
Samantha was relieved to hear that there was music on the line while she held on. At least the connection was still live. For what I’m paying, this better be the best music in the Middle East. It was Gevatron, the most famous Israeli live music group. R’kudei am, Israeli dance music. Barefoot in the fields. “Hava netzei b’machol…” Sam was, despite her insomnia and anxiety, tapping her toes against her nightstand. When Sam was in Hebrew school, people knew Israel for the dances. And Jaffa oranges. And June 5, 1967, her birthday. No, not Israel, Samantha. The Six-Day War started on Samantha’s birthday. Had she been a boy, it would have been over before her circumcision. The music switched to a driving hora. Up went Samantha, wide awake, pretending she was at the dance hall at Kibbutz Hadarat Haderech. The full-length mirror on her closet danced in time, glancing back at the dancer in a T-shirt and all legs. I’d’a killed ‘em.
Shachar Dvoretsky, whose first name means “dawn,” answered in a voice that sounded like it was born on a mucosal, gravelly February morning. The receptionist from Columbus introduced the manager from Maple Shade to the registrar from Queens, and they tracked down the records of the renegade from Rhawnhurst there in the Jezreel Valley. Sure enough, Dimitri Katz had earned an associate’s degree with a performance diploma in piano.
“Todah rabbah.” Samantha thanked the women, who answered, “B’vakashah” two octaves apart. Within five minutes, still before the dawn in Maple Shade, the dancer fell asleep.
Less than thirty hours earlier, Samantha couldn’t sleep worrying if her multinational waiter was a fraud; now she had arrived at work more than two hours early on a Monday morning to listen to Dimitri play a few numbers. She pulled her shiny black 1988 BMW 325i into the handicapped spot nearest the door. She wrinkled her upper lip at the 1978 Datsun 280ZX with the low-hanging muffler sitting in the other handicapped spot.
At least he has some conscience. She experienced no cognitive dissonance with this thought.
She unsnapped her Lobster key ring from inside her fake Fendi bag, inserted it into the lock on the glass doors of the restaurant, and almost tripped on the doorjamb when the door opened itself.
“Dimitri, if you don’t want to serve breakfast, you’d better lock the door, yo!”
Duingduingduingduing. The response was that of a piano string being lowered, and then raised in pitch until the Russian-Northeast Philly-Israeli-Jerseyite was satisfied with its temperament.
“Samantha, since when does anyone eat seafood for breakfast, yo?” Two can play that game.
“Since when they invented shrimp cocktail, yo!”
Check and mate.
“So do I get my concert now?”
“I still have some work to do on the piano.”
“How much work?”
“I think a half an hour, no more.”
Samantha was none too interested in hearing the squawks and peeps of a half-hour piano tuning session, and Cherry Hill Mall was right down the road.
“Dim, I’ll be back. Want anything?”
“Yes. Lox and a bagel from Bain’s. Lobster pays.”
“You’re pushin’ it, Dimbo.”
“Yep, I love you too.”