Monday, December 28, 2009

Can I Get you a Drink?

The couple walked into the hotel lounge and sat down at the bar. It was mid-afternoon so the room was empty. The bartender was dressed appropriately for a 5-star resort. He approached quickly.

“How are you folks today? What can I get for you?” he asked.

Sophie ordered Diet Coke.

“Glenlivet on the rocks with a glass of water on the side,” her husband Richard said.

“Excellent,” said the bartender, showing his approval of the single malt scotch. “Where are you folks from?”

“We live about an hour from here. We were in the hotel for an event at the convention center and thought we would explore a little,” Sophie said. “Are you a native Floridian?” she asked.

“Oh, no. I’m from Jersey. I’ve been down here for a few years.”

“How do you like it here? I’ll bet you never want to go back to the cold weather,” Richard said after a sip of Glenlivet. “There’s a blizzard going on up there right now.”

“Actually, I miss it. The weather is nice but Florida is no place to raise children. I mean, the education system is terrible. If I had kids here I’d have to send them to private schools.”

“Some counties in the area put an emphasis on education. It depends on where you live. Whereabouts in Jersey are you from?” Richard asked.

“South Jersey. That’s why I don’t have a Jersey accent. There aren’t a lot of Italians in the southern part of the state so we don’t have accents.”

“Italians are all up north? Really? I’m not sure I understand. You mean you can tell if someone is Italian based on whether or not they have a New Jersey accent?” Sophie asked, amused. She hadn’t disclosed the fact that she, too, was from New Jersey, and she, too, had no Jersey accent.

“Definitely,” the bartender responded with authority. “The Italians all live in North Jersey and they have those heavy accents. You know, like in the Sopranos.”

“Actually, I’m from North Jersey,” Sophie said, “and I don’t have an accent. I never had one. Of course, I’m not Italian, but I grew up in an Italian neighborhood.”

“I guess you didn’t socialize with them much. Besides, it’s just the way they talk. They can’t help it.”

At this remark, Sophie could not believe that this young man could be so ignorant but she played along a little further to see just how far this would go. Richard sat quietly, listening to the exchange, enjoying his drink. He felt a little sorry for the young bartender, knowing that Sophie was laying a trap.

“When I was growing up, I had friends with all kinds of backgrounds,” she said. “I had a girlfriend who was Polish, one that was German, one that was English and of course, some Italians. The only difference it made to me was that I knew what kind of food I’d be eating if I went to dinner at a friend’s house. Usually the food was very ethnic. That was cool. Other than that, I never really thought about who had accents and who didn’t.”

“Well, you probably just didn’t notice,” said the bartender. “Where I grew up it was different.
I’m an Irish Catholic, born and raised in a little town in South Jersey. Went to Sacred Heart Elementary, St. Mary’s Junior High and Holy Sacrament High School.”

“So you went to all private schools growing up?” Sophie asked, placing the cheese in the little metal box.

“Yup,” he answered, apparently missing the irony of this after criticizing the school system in Florida.

“The Irish don’t talk like that. You know the stereotypes. The Irish are known as drinkers and fighters. The Italians are known for their mob connections and their accents,” he said. “Not that I’m a fighter or anything.”

“So what are Russian Jews like?” Sophie asked, thinking back to her grandparents.

“Russian Jews? I don’t know. I never met any in New Jersey. I think they live mostly in in New York. Maybe Queens, or something.” Although the bartender had boasted about his private school education, apparently he had a very narrow view of the world.

“So you plan to go back up north?” Sophie asked.

“By the time I’m 30 I’ll be back in South Jersey for sure. By then I’ll be ready to settle down and raise a family.”

“Be careful when you say that. Things change. You’re young. There’s no way of predicting what will happen tomorrow,” she said.

“You mean I might meet a girl here and fall in love? No, that’ll never happen. Girls down here are all fluff. I would never marry a southern girl,” he said. “I mean, I know a lot of girls come here from up north so I guess it’s possible I could meet one while I’m here but she’d have to want to go back to Jersey to get married or I wouldn’t date her.”

The woman finished her soda. The man finished his scotch.

“Can I get you another round?” the bartender asked.

“No, thanks. We’ve got to get going. Just a tab,” Richard said. He smiled at his wife while the bartender’s back was turned. He paid the bill, adding a little extra to cover the entertaining conversation.

The couple got up and walked toward the lobby. Richard took out the valet ticket as they approached the automatic doors.

“You can’t make this stuff up,” Sophie said, laughing. “Hard to believe that he got through an interview with a 5-star hotel like this one. He must have interviewed with an Irish Catholic from South Jersey.”

Monday, December 7, 2009

Pansies in the Snow -- #fridayflash

Jonas sat at of his easel looking out the window at the garden. He was painting the delicate pansies with the softness of the first snowflakes shimmering on their petals. Magical flowers, the pansies, that could live and bloom through the winter even when the snow was drifting slowly from the sky.

The purple flowers surrounded by freshly fallen snow appeared on the canvas. Jonas had been painting for years. Most artists are ‘starving,’ as they say, or at least have a day job to support their art. Not so, Jonas. After his 27th showing, he was approached by a high end note card company about buying the rights to print his paintings and produce expensive cards, blank on the inside, to be sold in boutiques and museum gift shops. For about five years, sale of his cards had grown and he was able to paint full time. Jonas became recognized for his work.

“Oh, look,” a woman in an art store would say. “There are some new cards by Jonas. I must buy them and send notes to my friends across the country. Several of them collect his cards.”

Painting. For a living. Being recognized for his work. Jonas woke up each morning feeling satisfied.

One day, Jonas was started out of his sleep by the ringing of his phone.

“Hello?” he said.

“Jonas? It’s Melody. Did I wake you?”

“Uh, no. Well, actually, yes, but it was time for me to get up anyway,” Jonas said. “How are you??

“Well, I’m calling about next month’s order,” Melody said.

“Oh. I’ve got the prints all done and I’m picking them up today. I can ship them this afternoon,” he said.

“Actually, that won’t be necessary. Of course, you can still ship them and we’ll put them in the stores but sales have dropped off in the past few months. People just aren’t buying note cards as much as they used to,” Melody said. “Almost half of our Christmas cards were returned because people didn’t buy cards this year.”

“Really?” Jonas was surprised. “What’s going on? How can people stop sending Christmas cards?”

“It seems that many of those that did send cards used their own digital photos or family pictures and printed them at home. Or they ordered them online and sent them digitally so that the receiver could print them out on their end if they wanted to,” Melody explained. “We have moved into the digital age and more and more people are doing everything on the computer. The Postal Service is really taking a beating. I’m surprised they still deliver mail six days a week.”

“Gee, Melody. Would people buy my images online? If we digitized them, could they be uploaded and somehow watermarked or copyrighted and then people could buy them to send them through email or something?” Jonas asked.

“The problem, Jonas, is that people can get pictures like that for free. Of course, they’re not as beautiful as yours, but they can scan in your note cards from previous years and there’s nothing we can do about it. Besides, they have all this software for photos and art. People who can’t paint at all can create beautiful works of art by putting different elements together with just a point and click of the mouse.”

“What does this mean for me, Melody?”

Melody hesitated before answering. “I have to be honest. Business is way off. I’m getting fewer and fewer orders and I’m not sure the company will survive. After you ship today’s order, we won’t be needing any more note cards from you,” she said gently.

“I see,” Jonas said. “Well, I’ll ship today and then if things get better, please let me know and I’ll be ready with a new batch any time you need them.”

Melody sighed. She didn’t have the insensitivity to tell him that she didn’t foresee a time when things would go back to what they were. The world was changing. The appreciation for original artwork was fading. Imperfect portraits could be retouched using software. The desire to recognize flaws in the natural world had disappeared. A torn leaf on a flower was no longer considered realism; it was seen as imperfection.

Jonas stared out the window. The pansies had a few more snowflakes on their purple petals. The air outside sparkled as the sun glinted off the crystalline flakes. It didn’t sink in right away. It would be months before he realized that there were no checks in the mail.