Within 20 feet of Mikey the Cardinals fan's newsstand is The Italian Deli. It goes by another name, but that's what I'll call it here.
The Deli is owned and operated by friends of mine, Vito and Maria. They're Italian.
About 10 years ago this beautiful blond, Maria, pulls into my shop and tells me she needs a new front door. Says she and her husband have spent about $12,000 on front doors in the last 10 years.
I'm not kidding. 12 grand on doors. So I ask Maria the obvious question....."Do you replace the front door every year because you like changing doors?"
"No!" she says " They keep falling apart! We buy these $2500 doors with these big fancy leaded glass windows in them, and within two years the damn things fall out and can't be fixed!"
"Fall out? The doors?"
"No. The fancy glass. The frame thing that holds the glass in the door gets heated up by the sun, our house faces west, and it gets twisted up so that it can't hold the glass in the door."
"The PVC moulding around the glass gets twisted up and lets the glass fall out?"
"Right, 4 times in 10 years we've replaced the door. And we like a nice front door."
"I figured that out already" I said looking out at her black BMW in the parking lot. "And these 4 doors in 10 years....let me guess....you got them all from the same door guy, and now you decided to try a new door guy."
"Did the old door guy ever mention anything called an "HP Frame"?
"Kinda figured that out too, just thought I'd ask."
"What's that mean?"
"An HP frame is a "high performance frame". It's the same PVC moulding, but with a steel stiffener inside. It's used on doors that take a beating from the sun. Like...ahem... doors that face south and west. Especially for doors that have large pieces of decorative, leaded glass....."
"You're kidding me."
"No I'm not."
"Are you telling me that I didn't need to....."
"That's what I'm telling you."
"Why that.....oh .....that is just....." (Maria was pissed off. A rare occurrence as I've come to learn over the years.)
"So if I buy a door from you, and we put the.....HP Frame thing in it, this won't happen again?"
"You guarantee it."
"I guarantee it."
"Maybe I can find an HP Frame that I can use to fix your old door."
"No. We have duct tape holding in the window. I want a new door."
So we haggle a little bit, she looks at some catalogs, and Maria chooses a lovely front door. $2500 installed. Deal. Handshake. I start writing the contract and she says.....
"If this works. You'll have a friend and customer for life."
"It'll work Maria. I've been doing this for a long time. Trust me."
"Okay, I will."
That's the before picture. Nice door. $1000 worth of window in it, but it's worthless if the thing's falling apart. I think the entire entryway needs to be brightened up......
Aaaaats more like it. What a sweet entryway. Just goes to show you what a real fucking professional can do.
So I got to be a popular guy with Maria and her husband Vito right away. Not long after meeting them 10 years ago, I discovered that they own a Deli right by Mikey. Not only that, it's a real popular, and fairly famous Deli. One of them neighborhood joints that attracts people from all over, the kind that make Chicago famous for its neighborhood charm.
I began stopping by the Deli to buy my meats.
There's something very cool about standing in a crowd of people holding their numbers and having the owners wave at me. Local recognition. I love the way Vito says..."Ay Mikey! 'Ow ya doin' my friend?" The old ladies look at me in awe, almost dropping their numbers wondering who this famous guy is.
Vito and Maria became good friends of mine. And Maria was right. They've become friends and customers for life. Friends first, customers second. (I hate when that happens. Working for friends is tricky.) I've gotten to know their family, who all work at the Deli. Their two daughters, Josie and Jenny are both absolute knockouts with personalities to match, and their son Freddie is an absolute prince. Nicest fucking kids you ever met in your life. Young adults I should say, when I first met them.
Got to a point where I'd park by Mikey's newsstand, bullshit with him a little, and then go in the back door of the Deli (famous!!!), and wait for Vito to come out on break and have a smoke. Half the time, I don't even buy anything, and they couldn't care less. I love these people.
About 3 years ago Maria and Vito decided they wanted me to replace all the windows on their house. Big job. Almost 11 grand. No arguments, no haggling, no nothing. Just go ahead and do it, and do I need a deposit?
"I could use half."
"Stop by the Deli tomorrow Mikey. I'll have your money." (My money. Already he's calling it "my money". I love this fucking guy. He's one in a million.)
So I stop by, we're having a smoke, and Vito hands me a fucking brown bag with "my money" in it.
$6000 in twenty dollar bills. Still smelling like calzones.
About a month later, we installed the windows. My guys did a beautiful job. They asked me if it was a COD, and I told them of course not. I'll stop by the Deli.
Waited a day or two, and called Vito.
"Hey V. Okay if I stop by?"
"No. Not today. I'll call you Monday. I can't talk."
It occurred to me instantly that this was very unlike my friend Vito. I was worried about him. Something was wrong. Fuck the money, I knew he always paid his bills, always, but something was wrong.
The following Monday, my phone rang and it was Vito, of course. Tells me to come by the Deli at noon to pick up my bag of calzone smelling twenties.
"Noon? That's lunch time. You're always busy at lunchtime. Why not later so we can smoke and tell each other how great we are?"
"I'm leaving at 1:00 to go to the hospital."
"To visit my son."
"Freddie? What the fuck's wrong with Freddie?"
That was 3 years ago, and Freddie underwent 3 different treatments of chemotherapy. Each time, it seemed as if they'd caught it in time, and then it would come back.
About 3 months ago I got a phone call. It was Maria calling me from her car.
"Maria, how are you?"
"Good. I was just driving up Milwaukee Ave., saw your shop, and thought that I never just call you to say hello. So I'm calling to say hello."
"Oh bullshit Maria. You want to tell me about Josie's wedding. How did it go?"
"Oh my God Mike it was fantastic! She looked gorgeous....the hall was fantastic....if we had more room we'd have invited you but she wanted it small."
"Yeah sure! You were afraid I'd show up with a hooker or something."
For about twenty minutes I smiled and listened to this proud mother tell me about this wonderful event. I thought of how nice it is to be a small businessman who gets to know his customers, some of them like Maria and Vito, on a very personal level.
"He's good Mike. Fingers crossed."
Yesterday, some people came in my shop to buy a door. Nice folks. An older Italian lady, and her son.
She saw the stack of Italian Deli menus sitting on the counter (hey, I promote my friends), and she asked me if I shop at the Italian Deli.
I told her I sure do, and that those were some good friends of mine.
And she said..."What a shame about their son."
My fucking heart sank into my shoes. It was all I could do to compose myself and close the deal. Not out of selfish reasons, but because I wanted them out of the shop. I needed to search the internet.
And there it was in the Tribune obits.
Freddie D~August 1987- Feb 22, 2009.
Closed up the shop and made the drive to The Deli.
Walked in the back door and there was Vito leaning against a door jamb staring into space. He looked at me, and frowned.
I hugged him like a brother, and cried like a fucking baby.
Told him how sorry I was for his and Maria's loss, and how sorry I was that I had just heard. That I didn't even get to go to Fred's wake and funeral.
I felt like......bad.
Mad, ....once again, ......at fucking god.
"Aw, that's no problem Mikey. Lots of people still don't know."
Went out back, and smoked a few cigarettes with my friend Vito.
Cried some more, and talked about Freddie.
My friends just buried their 22 year old son.