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Tom Mieczkowski
"The Beginning for Me/1967"

Walking along Cass in the late Winter/early Spring of 1967 I took notice of the soaped up and steamy windows at 5756. Two guys were working inside the place apparently doing construction or renovation. Freshly stenciled on the glass were three words, which I then had no idea as I read them to myself, three words that would form one of the central axis of my life. Three words that I see now were talismen, portenders, guides. Those three words were

"Alvin's Finer Delicatessen"

After the deli opened, a few weeks later I went in and observed. I ate a pastrami sandwich. The first time I had ever eaten pastrami in my life. Something had happened to me, although then I was not aware of it, had no inkling that it had happened, no appreciation of what lay before me. As innocently as I swallowed pastrami I sucked in the atmosphere of Avin's Finer Delicatessen, a transforming ether, a magical elixir really, which began to capture me, swirl about me, and enclose me. Although I had not an inkling this was happening.

Two days later I went back and approached the employee at the cash register - a man who I was later to know as "William Boswell". I said that I needed a job, was a student, and was wondering if they were hiring. I did not go there because I had seen or heard anything about a job or hiring at Alvin's Finer Delicatessen. to this day I have no idea why I decided to follow this course of action. I had never worked in a restaurant in my life. I was, I now know, hurtling down a path over which I had no control. I was in the hands of the Gods. I was in the hands of fate and destiny. "Alvin's Finer Delicatessen had been written into my life by powers that for mw were unseen and unknown.

This fine gentleman, this "Bill Boswell" said that getting work was a possibility, and he kindly took down my name and phone and said he would pass it along "to the Boss". If work was to be had, the Boss would be in touch.

Three days later my mother got a hold of me and told me (I didn't really have a phone, I lived in a hovel, and I had given Boswell my parents' phone number) that "a man named Alvin called". She needed to say no more. That next day I showed up at 5756 Cass.

A man named Alvin called . . .

That was the beginning.

When I reported to Alvin, to "the Boss" the next day and expressed my interest in a job, he took me into the back (in those days there was a back to Alvin's) for the "interview". My interview lasted approximately two minutes. There was no banter about every having worked in a restaurant, no questions about health department cards, or any other such nonsense. There were only two questions and they consisted of the following (I can quote them to this day as though they occurred an hour ago): The Boss asked (1) "Is $2.00 and hour cool?" and (2) "Do you like jazz". I answered yes to both questions and was hired on the spot. The Boss assured me that I could also eat all the food I wanted as a fringe benefit.

I walked to the front and went to work as easily as if from the first moment of creation, as though I had been hurled right from the Big Bang itself into the counter of Alvin's Finer Delicatessen.

I could have been there an hour or a thousand years: It made no difference.

I had come home.

I was given an apron, shown how to properly wear it (No front bib up! Bib is folded down! Apron is cinched about the waist!)

I steered myself to the front, and began right then and there to make sandwiches. Jazz played, onion soup bubbled on a hot plate, the steamer hissed. Everything smelled like corned beef, which to this day I do not eat.

Yes, I had come to precisely where I meant to be, where I had been sent, compelled.

Thus began my relationship with the Cass Corridor, and most importantly with Alvin Stillman, a man who 30 years later I love like a brother. For me, he is still the Boss.

That was the beginning of a long and complex set of experiences, friendships, joys, heartbreaks, and curiosities which are intertwined into the Cass Corridor and my life therein ....

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