Relic

Steve's, Famous For Polish Food, sits wistfully on its busy but forgotten corner, waiting for the Poles and ethnics and steelworkers and soap plant assembly-liners who will never return. Every day, pierogis sizzle and sausages steam, waiting for the glove stitchers and pickle brine tenders who long ago were already a distant memory. Luscowicz became Lusk and Glomkowski became Glomm, and they both avoided the fight and retreated to the suburbs, where the neighbors just assume that Stan down the block was born Stanley. Never dreaming that he was once called Stanislaw. And Stan certainly isn't about to set them straight.

Stefan did become Steve, thus getting himself halfway to the American Dream; that is, blending in. But he staked his future on an anachronism, the workingman's lunch counter. It seemed like an excellent idea during the neighborhood's heyday, when factory jobs were plentiful but hard, and workers looking for a reprieve from their punishing toils welcomed a decent meal and maybe even something cold and warming to drink. Steve's was just of several similar escapes in the area, where demand was so great that success was ensured just by opening on time and keeping the temperature warm and the Meister Brau cold. 

So it worked out for a while, but one by one the factories dropped from sight. First it was merely a cutback in overtime, but before long it turned into layoffs which gradually grew in size and ended with front gates being chained shut and the factories mothballed forever.

As the jobs disappeared, so did those workers who used to enjoy a midday reprieve. A few factories remained -- a foundry and a tannery -- but the workers there, now fearful for their jobs, barely left the factory floor long enough to wolf down the lunch they brought from home. Steve's front door now opened only a few times a day, and Steve simply waited, day after endless day. Paralyzed, stuck in limbo. Generating just enough revenue to keep him from giving up completely, but not enough to give him a decent living. And stuck on a corner just small and forlorn enough to keep the real estate developers away.

Across the street, the glove factory became a failed honky tonk and now resigned itself to being -- temporarily, most likely -- a nightclub for the trendy sort of people whose days begins at midnight and ends at dawn, people who were never around while Steve's was open, and wouldn't ever be caught dead eating a pierogi, no matter how drunk they were. The old corner entrance, now unused, had become the permanent home for a homeless man, who parked his shopping cart on the sidewalk while cowering desperately against the night's chill with only a discarded blanket and a cardboard carton.

Just beyond the failed honky tonk, past a pickle factory-turned-microbrewery-turned-
discount appliance dealer, loomed the expressway. Where cars hurtled past at blinding speeds, each bearing a single suburbanite to the gleaming office towers of downtown, every last one of them oblivious to the figure lying restlessly under cardboard, and to the man who every day threw open the front door of his dream to workers who would never return.
 
 

Copyright 2000, P.J. Anderson
 

 

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