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