Thursday, November 08, 2012

My Toiling for democracy, Chicago Style/ Bridgeport/ Galatoire's Restaurant/ Chicken Clemenceau

 For the last two and a half months, I’ve been toiling for "democracy", Chicago style.

Admittedly, I was able to quickly replenish my educational, Midwest escape funds, with a bit for a mini vacation, by humbling myself in service of those who divide and keep my community dependent. While my closets friends celebrated my "powerful position".

When I started, “my” team distrusted me as I did them. Until they saw I was the more disciplined, to the point were I got called in by our superior for leaving a status report at his office and c.c.-ing them via email. Smiling, he said "son this aint college, we don’t write, we discuss face to face, like men.”

As, the man alone on the ground, I worked harder than them and after a while they had no problem admitting this. I learned to trust them, to get what I needed to set up polling places  “walking-around” operations and, the most challenging, a monitoring system.  Because the real bosses don’t want to be played by no brown natives. And when I needed security, it arrived quickly.

I proved myself.  No cash disappeared, no double-dealings and, I was reliable. A real worker my supervisor called me. The mistakes I made amused him, earning me nick names like The priest, professor, scooter, and my favorite, Baby
Adlai (Stevenson). And, I only made these mistakes once.

Chinese Teen brutally Beaten and robbed in Bridgeport. The Ring Leader was the son
of a Cook County Sheriff

The most interesting dynamic was “my” team, Bridgeport's next generation of leadership; a fireman and a cop leap frogging up their ranks, and a city hall worker already slated for elected office. They had known each other since the sandbox.

 This was their first big test to see if they could handle themselves politically outside "the neighborhood".  First, they were uncomfortable dealing with the colorful Black west side denizens and were reliant on me. I had a previous strong history on the westside. But with this, I was just freelancing for a check. they were proving themselves to show they could run the "business", as they called it. 

Out of respect for me we started meeting at a certain all Black bar on the westside to go over our numbers and goals instead of their "neighborhood" bar after a drunk racist bumped into me twice, every time apologizing by saying "sorry Mr. Obama". When he bumped me a third time, I politely stood up and said "third time's a charm". He got in my face saying I couldn't take a joke. I looked to the cop who finally began to rise. But before he even got up,  the drunk was quickly being escorted ( screaming that this was his neighborhood) out the bar by an off duty sergeant. The sergeant passed us on the way back to his seat, looked at the cop and said directly to him “they gave you the badge now be the badge” The cop said “yes sir” clearly chastised. The fireman told me who the sergeant was later. just because I asked him.  

Besides for that we never mentioned that night as we found our rhythm in a large and unpredictable community with lots of players known and unknown, so much so that our supervisor named us the Westside Barbershop Quartet. Then they started inviting me to stuff. A touch foot ball game that was way to early on a Sunday and in Bridgeport.  Whenever I joked about the dangerousness of Bridgeport for a Black man, they joked about the white sportscaster who was beat up in Bridgeport too. Then the cop told me all I had to do is show his card to police or simply use his name with any of the neighborhood toughs as they have close community.  I just smiled and said I prefer not to be behind enemy lines even with a hall pass.

Then it was a bachelor's party at a strip club with free drinks. The only thing I had to pay for were my own lap dances. I declined not mentioning that I don’t do strip clubs. Then came the basement porker game. I declined because I don’t play cards. I also kept picturing the movie "Good Fellas" where the guy walks down to the basement expecting a party, only to get executed by the guy behind him.

When I turned down that invitation, the cop said that I didn’t want to hang out with them because they were from Bridgeport. So with out thinking, I invited them over to my house for dinner, cigars, and scotch, when the polls closed on election night to listen to the early returns. I didn’t think they would accept, but they immediately did.

 So I got cigars, scotch, and spent three days wondering what to cook. I knew that they annually went to New Orleans for Mardi Grass. New Orleans had been our first bonding moment during our first ackward lunch in Bridegport, which our supervisor mandated for us to “get to know” each other. I wanted to go to Chinatown, where I knew I’d be safe. They all voted for a Bridgeport restaurant, damn well knowing my feelings. Our supervisor shrugged his shoulders, and said “sorry kid, I’m promoting democracy and you guys are a team. I flat out objected when they wanted to meet in the evening, and the supervisor sided with me, but still chided me by saying I had better things to do with all those Hollywood people in Logan Square.

 I decided on a dish called Chicken Clemenceau, a famous Creole-French classic.  I chose it because the cop majored in U.S. history and was interested in World War II.  Chicken Clemenceau is named after the French political leader, George Clemenceau, who saved the French from defeat in WWI by forging unity between the Allies, for the first time in history, under one supreme commander, which is what also won the WWII.

Today Chicken Clemenceau is an endangered dish. It used to be served in all the most elite restaurants in Nola, but now at best appears during the colder months. However, at Galatoire's Restaurant in the French Quarter, it's still one of the most popular dishes since 1920.

Galatoire's Restaurant is legendary in Nola, established in 1905. Before 1999 it refused reservations so patrons stood  in lines that snaked down Bourbon Street, with no exceptions. Galatoire's actually publicized a true demonstrate of acceptable behavior, citing a busy Friday when then President Ronald Reagan placed a called to the restaurant for U.S. Senator Bennett Johnston, who was inline waiting for a table. Senator Johnston stepped inside took the call and returned to his place in line. 

I was unable to find any connection between Clemenceau and New Orleans accepted that the dish is a hodgepodge of the most unlikely ingredients, canned peas, chicken, fried potatoes, garlic, mushrooms, artichoke harts and ham, I used bacon because I don’t like ham.  I thought this dish highly symbolic of us.

Either this dish would be truly amazing or horrid and who better else to test it on than three dudes from Bridgeport?

It was a deep evening. I'm skilled in the kitchen, but I cook for either women, groups of good friends, or family. I've never cooked for a group of white young politicians who I was still deeply weary of and deeply divided because of race, from Bridgeport no the less.

But I’ve learned the hard way. Life can bring us to places where we never wanted or thought we would be. But they are crossroads that we can capitalize on if we put the effort in. And for some of us, especially during these time, certainties are few, so we need to advantage when they present themselves.

When they arrived and saw my global home with African masks on the walls, lot's of art, books, globes and cacti every were, they were silent, which I broke by saying, I take it this isn’t what you expected. The Fireman who spoke less than all of them and is the youngest said, “I expected at least a Michael Jordan Poster.  I told him I was a Knicks Fan.

Immediately handed me a bag. When I opened it I didn’t feel bad about cooking for them and could see they appreciated the invite. They brought a bottle of Macallan 18 ( year old) Traditional Scotch and they six Ashton Special Aged Maduro #60, Cigars which I knew out classed what I had. This was before I even checked the prices online. They left the scotch with me and the unsmoked cigars.

Dinner was quite but fun. I kept thinking of Allies negotiating after WWII, which is in a sense what we were doing, negotiating, seeing if us natural enemies born into these rolls, could be friends. I felt comfortable with them as we smoke cigars, drank scotch, and talked candidly about my former intern years ago who has brain damaged from being beating by the son of a powerful politically connected Bridgeport mobster. They know the son well. One of them said that it "fucked" them up too, and never could talk about. The boy who was most involved, beside the mobster's son, and agreed to be the main witness against him was shot to death right before the trial in a supposed robbery gone bad. Another witness who had nothing to do with the beating but was a witness, immediately fled after the shooting and turned himself in 18 months after the trial.

As I was seeing them out. I said my best friends owns a bar with in walking distance, I offered them to be my guest next time.

The fireman said next time I should come to a bar that they hang out at, in three weeks, which I agreed to do. I'm hoping it's not in Bridgeport, but if it is, I think the Bridgeport's next generation will get me in and out safety as that's what friends do.

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