June 20, 1955
“This is a terrible neighborhood!”
Driving west on Madison Street, two blocks east of the Chicago Stadium, they were on the fringe of Chicago’s skid row.
“You’re right, but daddy makes a good living out of the store.” Pointing to the south side of the street, “There it is.”
“There! See the sign?”
Vienna Meat Products
Hot Dogs — Hamburgers
“Yeah, I see it now.” Passing “Eli’s,” making a U turn at the next corner, coming back, the car stopped in front of the store.
11:05: With the exception of a man behind the counter dicing onions at the steamtable, the store was empty. Hearing the bell above the door, turning, the man smiled.
If pressed, he would have to admit that, after his wife, his daughter was his second love, although, truly, Marsha was the only warmth in Eli Goldman’s life.
Smiling warmly, “Hi, baby!” Wiping his hands on the unstained, white apron he wore about his waist, coming from behind the counter, taking Marsha in his arms, hugging her tightly, Eli looked over her shoulder, to the boy she had brought to meet him.
Having pleasing features, seeing Eli as slightly shorter than Marsha, with sandy-colored hair, striking blue eyes, a warm, very infectious smile, and a squarely built, powerful body. Mitchell’s first, and everlasting impression of Eli Goldman was, Nice man!
“Daddy, this is Mitchell.”
Holding his hand forward, “Mitchell.”
“Mister Goldman,” shaking the offered hand, “Marsha talks about you all the time, and I’m so glad to meet you.”
Noting the sincerity in his voice, instantly liking the look and mannerisms of this young man, “I’m glad to meet you too, Mitchell.”
“Daddy, Mitchell says that he’s one of the greatest connoisseurs of hot dogs in the world, and that he’s eaten hot dogs from here to New York, and he says that your hot dogs couldn’t possibly be as good as some of the others he’s eaten!”
“Oh, I did not!” Laughing, “Don’t you believer her, Mister Goldman. I never said any such thing!”
Placing an arm about each of their shoulders, “Oh, yeah?” Eli said jokingly, steering them to a booth, seating them on opposite sides of the table. “I’ll fix you a hot dog that’ll knock your socks off!” Going to the steamtable, “How many you want?” he asked from behind the counter. “Three? Four?”
Reaching across the table, taking Mitchell’s hand, “He’s real bashful, Daddy.”
“Maybe about lots of things, Mister Goldman, but never about food, and especially hot dogs! Two, thank you.”
“Two hot dogs coming up! How you like ’em, Mitch?”
“The works, Mister Goldman.”
“Mustard, onions, celery salt, relish, sport peppers, tomatoes and fries?”
“Tell you what; hold the relish and it sounds like a dream.”
Looking at Marsha, “You, baby?”
“Hamburger today, Daddy.”
“Roger,” Eli called, “we’ve got company, take a break!”
“Yeah,” came a voice from the back room, “be right out.”
A White Sox baseball cap on his head, wearing an apron over jeans and a T-shirt, Roger came from the back room carrying a large pot of peeled and oblong cut potatoes. Seeing his sister, “Hi,” he said unemotively as, walking behind the counter, he dumped the potatoes into a stainless steel bin alongside the deep fryer.
“Roger,” partially standing so she might see him better behind the counter, “this is Mitchell. I don’t know if you remember, but you two met a long time ago, in the country.”
Leaving the pot there, wiping his hands on the apron, going to the booth he sat alongside his sister.
“This is Mitchell,” she repeated. “Mitch, this is Roger.”
Scarcely looking at him, let alone offering to shake hands, reaching into his shirt pocket, “Nah, I don’t remember,” Roger pinched a cigarette out.
Irritated by, and instantly remembering the look of utter indifference he’d received from Roger six years earlier, “Yeah,” he said in a none-too-friendly tone, “but I remember you.” Softening his tone, “And I spoke to you on Friday, when I called from Michigan City.”
Catching Mitchell’s tone, lighting his cigarette, “You called?” Inhaling, “Nah,” he repeated. “I don’t remember.” Looking at the ceiling, exhaling, “Oh, yeah! That was you?”
“Why didn’t you tell me Mitchell called?”
Shooting a look of annoyance at his sister, “’Cause I forgot!”
Provoked, not wanting to let it pass that easily, “Roger,” holding his hand forward, “even if you don’t remember me, and even if you forgot to tell Marcie I called, I’m glad—like hell I am—to meet you anyway.”
Exhaling twin streams of smoke, Roger looked at the offered hand, then begrudgingly lifted his.
Deliberately tightening his hand, “Yeah,” Mitchell said, in his none-too-friendly voice, “you may not remember me, but I sure remember you!” You schmuck!
Ignoring Mitchell’s tone. Changing the subject, “So, you dating my sister?”
“Yeah,” he answered belligerently, as though challenging him to make it an issue. “I am!”
“What’d you do? You a student?”
“No. I’m in the service.”
“No. Coast Guard. I’m stationed in New York.”
“Here you go!” Holding two tissue-covered plastic baskets, each containing a hot dog, two wedges of kosher pickle, and a mound of French fried potatoes, Eli placed both in front of Mitchell, who…
Returning to the griddle, Eli flipped, then, pressing it flat with a wide spatula, scoped the sizzling hamburger up, put it into a bun in another tissue-covered plastic basket, heaped a mound of fries next to it, went back to the booth and, “Here you are, baby,” put it in front of Marsha. “What’d you kids like to drink?”
“Me, too, Daddy.”
“Lunch crowd’ll be starting soon.” Standing, “Sit down and talk to ’em. I’ll get the drinks.”
“Thanks, Roge.” Sitting next to his daughter, “So, Mitch, my hot dogs as good as those in New York?”
“New Yorkers don’t know what’s good; they just grill ’em. But nothing’s better’er’n’a good old- fashioned steamed Chicago hot dog, and to tell the truth, Mister Goldman,” starting on the second hot dog, “Marsha’s right. These are the best, and I’ve eaten’em from here to there.” Pinching a small mound of chopped onion that had fallen from the bun, putting the onion back in the bun, he took another bite.
“Here.” Placing two bottles of Nedlog’s Orange onto the table.
Glancing at him, “Thanks, Roger,” Mitchell said.
Taking a pack of Old Golds out of his shirt pocket, reaching under the apron, into his pants pocket for a lighter, “You about ready for another, Mitch?” Eli lit a cigarette.
“Well…” He did want another hot dog, but did not want Marsha’s father’s first impression of him to be that of a pig.
“Roger…” Choking on the smoke, coughing, his eyes tearing, his face becoming a deep crimson, Eli coughed ’till… catching his breath, “Roger,” he said, “fix Mitch another dog with everything, hold the relish.” Drawing on the cigarette again, becoming red in the face again, this time Eli was able to hold his cough down. “Marsha tells me you’re in the service and home on leave. When do you have to report back?”
Washing down a mouthful before answering, “I got in on Thursday. Today’s Monday, and I’ve got to be aboard ship by 2400…” glancing at Marsha, “uh, midnight on the second. So I guess I’ve got about twelve days left.”
Without Mitchell! Now, suddenly Marsha could not imagine how she would be able to go back to living as she’d lived before. Without Mitchell? “Twelve days,” her voice breaking, snapping her fingers, “will go like that…”
Looking at his daughter, Eli realized that this young man was different than any of the other young men his daughter had introduced him to in the past.
“… and if you don’t mind,” Marsha said, fighting back tears, “I’d just as soon not talk about when you have to leave.”
Looking at her, suddenly finding it difficult to swallow his mouthful of hot dog around the lump in his throat, “Yeah,” Mitchell said, “me, too.”