Little did I realize when I moved back to Michigan seven years ago and found the one and only $750 a month rental house in swanky Bloomfield, that I had positioned myself directly between where my Dad lives and his office, and three blocks from his favorite breakfast place, the Orchard Grill. So, when my Dad’s in town (he and his wife winter in Arizona), we occasionally have breakfast together on his way to work.
Aside from the fact that the Orchard Grill is so close to me, it also has cute waitresses and good service, so both my Dad and I like it.
Unfortunately, however, it was also located directly next to Lennie Melnick’s office, and Lennie went to the Orchard Grill every morning for breakfast.
Lennie is a heavyset, red-faced, 60-year-old real estate developer, with many housing developments in various states of construction. He wears gold chains, has several big rings, drives a pimped-out environment fucker black Hummer with a chrome winch on the front, talks too loud, and never shuts up. And once he starts yapping there’s no getting a word in edgewise. He wears a mink coat in the winter, carries around a giant wad of cash in a fancy clip, has a Blackberry, an iphone, a blu-tooth plug in his ear, and always has an enormous, unlit cigar, like he’s a Borscht Belt comedian or something. Lennie eats three “over-hard” eggs every morning in three bites, and always hits on the cute waitresses in some vulgar, uncomfortable way. Oh, and he’s extremely conservative, and as far as I’m concerned, politically has his head up his fat ass.
And every goddamned time my Dad would see Lennie entering the restaurant he’d invite him to join us for breakfast, and he’d accept.
This was 2003, 2004, into 2005, the most egregious awful time of the Bush years, and I was in a constant state of political rage. Lennie defended every lie and stupid decision of George Bush, and he and I got into quite a few heated, uncomfortable discussions. Soon, I began to dread the sight of Lennie Melnick.
Worst of all, although I’m 50, Lennie treated me like I was a foolishly uninformed kid (which my Dad does, too, but he’s my Dad), and would say shit like, “Of course Iraq’s got weapons of mass destruction, they’ve proven it.”
“No they haven’t.”
“Sure they have, you’re not paying attention. It’s been on the news.”
At which point I was ready to leap over the table and wring his fat throat. He defended torture, the invasion of Iraq, wire-tapping, the mishandling of Hurricane Katrina, everything. He was a mindless mouthpiece for Fox News and Rush Limbaugh.
After Lennie left one time I said to my Dad, “I can’t stand that fucking asshole!”
My Dad grinned a particularly silly grin and said, “I think he’s cute.”
I’m still not 100% sure what he meant. It certainly wasn’t gay, although it could easily be construed that way. What I think my straight, 79-year-old Dad meant was that he liked Lennie’s attitude – a sort of forced joviality, I thought – and the fact that he was clearly a hustler, with all his many housing developments.
Anyway, after I don’t even know, 25 or 30 supremely annoying breakfasts with Lennie Melnick, I finally put my foot down. I told my Dad, “You like Lennie Melnick so much, have breakfast with him, but I’m never having breakfast with him again.”
My Dad said, “So, what do I do when he comes in the restaurant, not invite him over?”
He shook his head. “I can’t do that.”
“Then we’ll have to go somewhere else.”
So we began going to Joe’s Country Kitchen about a half mile away. Neither my Dad nor I liked it very much: the place itself was kind of dingy, the waitresses were not only not cute, they were stupid and frequently screwed up the orders, and the food wasn’t very good. But we never ran into Lennie there, so it was ultimately fine.
The remainder of the Bush presidency dribbled slowly, miserably by. My Dad and I continued going to Joe’s Country Kitchen.
I still went to the Orchard Gril for lunch or dinner sometimes. I saw Lennie a few times, and I’m sure he saw me too, but we never acknowledged each other. And he was never without that big, stupid, unlit cigar of his.
At some point in the past year, though, Dad and I have migrated back to the Orchard Grill. We had both grown weary of the dinginess of Joe’s Country Kitchen, as well as the unattractive, inattentive waitresses. And this all occurred without a word of discussion.
The first ten times or so back, not a glimpse of Lennie Melnick. Not until last week, that is.
I was there first, sitting at a booth reading Philip Roth. I looked up and there was my white-haired Dad entering the place with Lennie Melnick. My heart sank. Oh, shit! Well, at least Obama was now president so we wouldn’t have to argue about Bush. I thought, “My side won, asshole, fuck you!”
Dad sat down next to me and Lennie seated himself across from us. He had his unlit cigar, his Blackberry, and his Blu-Tooth earplug, but he did look a tad thinner – maybe 260. He was still red-faced and seemingly upbeat.
Dad said, “Lennie says he’s been completely wiped out.”
Lennie smiled amiably and nodded. “Totally wiped out. Five different banks called in their loans, equaling nearly a hundred million bucks, which I sure don’t have, so they foreclosed on all of my unsold houses. I’ve had to file a business bankruptcy, and I’ll also have to file a personal bankruptcy soon. I’m now working for my older brother selling insurance.”
He then launched into a long, dull diatribe about insurance, dazzling us with his vast knowledge, and told us in detail how his brother had made a fortune in the business. After he’d talked non-stop for nearly an hour, during which time we had ordered, been served, and eaten our breakfasts, and now Lennie was showing us a slide show of the foreclosed houses – all utterly run-of-the-mill suburban houses reposing on bleak, treeless lots – with Lennie stating over and over, “Aren’t they beautiful. They’re just beautiful . . .”
For the first time ever, my Dad cut Lennie off and said, “Look, Lennie, we’ve got some family business to discuss, we’ll go to another table.”
Lennie said, “No, no, no, I’ll move. Here, let me get that . . .” He reached for the bill, but my Dad deftly snatched it away.
“I’ve got it, Lennie.”
“No, no, let me,” said Lennie.
My dad shook his head, “Uh-uh, I’ve got it.”
Lennie said, “I’ll leave the tip.” He pulled out his same big wad of cash – probably now mostly ones – and tossed down a five. He collected his goods, stood and left.
Lennie sat down at the counter, all by himself, with his back to us.
My Dad and I exchanged a wide-eyed look of horror. Holy, shit! We both shook our heads and sighed. Who knows what might befall any of us next? One minute you’re riding high; the next you’re busted.
My Dad whispered, “I admire his attitude. He just moves right on.”
I nodded in agreement. “Yeah, I admire his attitude, too.”
When my Dad and I got out into the parking lot and said goodbye, each of us heading off to our own cars, I looked around for Lennie’s pimped-out black Hummer, with the chrome winch. Nope, not there. There weren’t any nice cars in the lot. I wondered which of the unimpressive cars was Lennie’s?
I wouldn’t have thought it was humanly possible two years earlier, but now I honestly felt bad for the guy.