On October 6, Charlie’s birthday, things were going pretty well for him. He hadn’t experienced any other anxiety attacks since his talk with Zach in the park. He even enjoyed himself at Yankee Stadium, watching Game 5.
Zach was riding high from game, even though the Giants defeated the Yankees 5 to 4. He didn’t care though. He still got to sit in Yankee Stadium and watch his beloved Yankees play in the World Series. Not many people from Mississippi could make that claim, if any at all, but Zach and Charlie could.
Later in the evening, Zach and Charlie were standing in front of their hotel. The sun was setting, and in a few more minutes the city would be gleaming with lights.
Charlie didn’t know where Zach was taking him for dinner. Zach just told him that he was treating him for his birthday and not to fill up on those sour dough pretzels that he loved so much. When a taxi pulled up to the curb they climbed inside.
“Where to?” the cabbie asked.
“Tavern on the Green,” Zach said.
The cabbie drove up to Madison Avenue, turned left, and when he cut through Central Park, it was dark and empty. Lights finally emerged in the distance as the taxi approached the restaurant. It was located off Central Park on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It was originally a sheepfold that housed the sheep that grazed Sheep Meadow. It became a restaurant as part of a 1934 renovation of the park under Robert Moses, New York City’s Commissioner of Parks.
Outsized lanterns were staged throughout the beautifully landscaped courtyard and entrance. There were cobblestones that led to the entrance and throughout the patio. It was the most glamorous spot to eat in the city. Celebrities would flock to the restaurant and its famed Crystal Room, known for its spectacular glass walls and twinkling chandeliers. Dining there wasn’t just a meal but an event.
When Zach and Charlie entered the restaurant they were greeted by a male host. He led them through a maze of hallways to the Crystal Dining Room that was decorated in an ornate style. They thought the restaurant was amazing with all the tiffany glass and ornate crown-work along the ceilings.
After they had been seated, wine lists were handed to them. They both sat and struggled with the names on the menu. Neither of them knew the difference between a Cabernet Sauvignon from a Cabernet Franc, or a Pinot Noir from a Pinot Meunier. They didn’t know what a Grenache or a Mourvèdre were either, or how to pronounce them. When a waitress appeared, she asked if they were ready to order drinks.
“Do ya got any beer?” Zach asked.
“Yes, we have Blatz, Schlitz, Pabst, Miller, and Budweiser,” the waitress said.
The only names Zach recognized were Pabst and Budweiser. “I’ll have a Pabst, please.”
“And you, sir?” the waitress asked Charlie.
“I’ll have the same, please.”
“Ya having a beer?” Zach asked.
“It’s my birthday, and ya only live once.”
After a few minutes, the waitress returned with their beer, took their dinner order, and headed back into the kitchen.
Zach noticed a young boy at the next table starring at him. Each time Zach would glance his way the boy quickly turned his head in the other direction. Then he’d gawk again when he thought Zach wasn’t looking.
“Doesn’t that bother ya?” Charlie asked.
“Nah,” Zach said, “I’m used to it. He’s probably never seen a little person before. Just curious, I guess.”
“Yeah, but that’s rude.”
“So, his parents didn’t teach him any manners,” Zach said. “What can ya do about it?”
“I know what we can do,” Charlie said. “On three, we’ll both stare back at him.”
“Oh Charlie, I think I’m rubbing off on ya. Okay, let’s do it.”
On the count of three, they both turned their heads quickly and made faces at the boy. The boy became startled and almost choked on his food. His father patted him on his back as he coughed. Zach and Charlie quickly turned away from the boy and giggled, as though they were young schoolboys causing mischief.
After a few minutes, the waitress appeared with their food. It was their favorite meal: porterhouse steak with onions and mushrooms, mashed potatoes, and corn. Their steaks were almost an inch thick and juicy. The waitress placed their food before them.
They were both hungry, and their food looked and smelled delicious. As soon as their waitress left they started to dig in.
Zach had only eaten a quarter of his steak when he noticed Charlie had already finished his. He told Charlie to order another steak if he wanted one, so he did.
After another serving of steak, mashed potatoes and corn, Charlie was ready for dessert. When the waitress brought over the dessert tray, Charlie chose the New York cheesecake; Zach ordered vanilla ice cream and coffee.
Minutes later, their waitress cleared their table and brought their desserts. Charlie’s cheesecake had a candle in it. Two other waitresses appeared at their table. They made a trio and sang Happy Birthday to Charlie. Zach thought they sounded exactly like the Boswell Sisters, who were popular at the time. Patrons from other tables glanced over and clapped along with Zach when the waitresses finished singing.
Charlie was a little embarrassed and emotionally touched. It had been years since anyone had sung Happy Birthday to him. “Thanks Zach, I appreciate it. I really do.”
Zach could see that Charlie was choked up. He watched as Charlie smiled graciously, blew out the candle, and then began to devour his cheesecake.
Later, that evening, Zach and Charlie returned to their suite. When Charlie entered his room he found a large box on his bed. It was covered in wrapping paper, and it had a large red bow on the top. He was stunned and stared at it. He was wondering what it could be.
“Ya won’t find out unless ya open it,” Zach said. The present was wrapped so eloquently that Charlie didn’t want to ruin it. He carefully removed the bow and set it aside. Then he ran his finger along the seam, trying not to tear the wrapping paper. Zach could hardly watch. “Charlie, it’s only wrapping paper. It’s okay to rip it.”
Charlie glanced at Zach, smiled, and then tore into the wrapping paper like an oversized child. He opened the box and removed its contents. It sat approximately three feet high. It was a giant bag of his favorite sour dough pretzels. It was the biggest bag he had ever seen.
“I contacted the manufacturer and spoke to the owner,” Zach said. “I told him how much ya loved their pretzels, so they packed it special and shipped it here to me.”
Charlie began to laugh. He never imagined seeing a bag of pretzels that size. “Thanks Zach. Gee, this is gonna last me a long time.”
“Good, ya gonna need it,” Zach said. “We’re leaving tomorrow.” He removed two train tickets from his pocket and handed them to Charlie. The tickets read PENN STATION TO BUFFALO, NY. “Let’s go see the rest of the country.”