So, just the other night Rod and I were thoroughly enjoying RATATOUILLE the animated film about the little rat that aspires to be a great chef when we get a call from my brother-in-law Paul.
This amazes and delights me for a few reasons.
He was calling from Victoria, B.C.
When my Dad was on the road as a traveling sales man for Roux hair products calling long distance was be a big deal. Usually just after dinner on a Sunday night all 5 of us kids would crowd around the phone at a pre-arranged time waiting for his call and our turn to say hi and hear his voice barely audible through the static. My imagination would soar as I visualized his description of where he was and what he’d been doing through the week. Even if he was calling from a run down hotel in Windsor on a blistering hot and humid 104 degree day in August, lying on the bed in his undershirt and pants while a metal fan whirred from a bedside table - it was all very exotic and exciting to me.
I got as excited as Remy in seeing Gusteau’s restaurant when Paul mentioned that he and Sue (my sister-in-law) were at that very moment sitting at a table in my favourite restaurant of all time Pagliacci’s.
“You’ve gotta have the chocolate cheesecake!” I shouted to Sue who was, she said, at that very moment “stuffing myself with their delicious bread.”
“Oh, they still have the foccacia bread!” I was so excited you’d think I was the one eating it as anything I’ve had since pales in comparison.
“And, get the soup too. You’ve gotta try the soup.”
Pagliacci’s was more than a restaurant to me; it was a refuge in the early 80’s. I was house-sitting, working on my cartoon strip, freezing my butt off modeling for art groups and teaching yoga; living on about $200. a month - $50. of which went for my studio rental at Xchanges Gallery.
Now, I have to say that I’m going nuts writing this. As I Google these places it’s like meeting up with old friends and getting caught up with them as I find out what has transpired over the years. The amazement and delight centres in my brain are firing like mad at this very moment and I feel very warm and fuzzy inside.
Anyway, I got paid once a month for the yoga classes ($6. per hour) and every few weeks for modeling (at a whopping $10. per hour) and was perpetually living on my last few bucks til payday. But that didn’t matter cus at Pag’s I savoured every forkful of chocolate cheesecake, or every spoonful of soup, or every bite of foccaccia or every sip of cappuccino…ahhh. And, when I felt really flush I’d have maybe all 4 items!
My more moneyed friends often commented that my money would perhaps be better spent if I used it only for groceries but what they couldn’t see was that this nourished my soul.
It was worth every penny. I could sit there for hours writing, reading, listening to the chatter of others (gathering much dialogue and inspiration for my strip) and be carried away by the sax, guitar, bass and vocals of Big Band Trio as they performed in front of the window overlooking Broad Street. In contrast to my solitary lifestyle, I felt part of a lively scene where I could mingle with others just by being present at a table.
What’s more as a single female diner they always treated me well and looked out for me, finding me just the right table where I wouldn’t be bothered by undesired attention and take in the atmosphere. I felt safe and welcome, especially important as I’d often come in late at night after my last yoga class. And then when it was time to leave I’d get on my trusty blue 5 speed boys’ bike and head off in the direction of my newest place of residence.
“I wonder if Howie still owns the place.” I commented to Sue.
“Wait…” I overheard muffled voices. “Yes, the waitress says he does.”
That’s just so cool that this question is answered on the spot from a few thousand miles away by someone sitting in a place I used to sit years ago.
And I’m happy that he does.
I’m sure you’ve had one of those times when you felt you just couldn’t make anything happen, nothing’s going right, like the God’s have conspired to kick your butt and you find yourself saying to yourself and to any guiding spirits who might have separated from the pack that’s picking on you, “just give me a break, pleeeeease!” Well I was going through one of those times. I know, it’s hard to imagine, but I was – people who know me well will catch the sarcasm in this disclaimer.
Anyway on such a day Howie Siegel, flamboyant transplanted Brooklynite, gave me a gift that every time I think about it I am filled to overflowing with gratitude, even to this day.
He refused my money when I came to the till to pay him.
“It’s on the house” he said without fanfare; just as a fact.
The beauty is that he knew nothing about me or my circumstances. I’m sure he didn’t realize the huge impact his action had on me and how in need I felt.
And in that simple act he gave me a pass it forward, and confirmed that maybe just maybe helping spirits do exist and appear in the oddest guises at the oddest of times.