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
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
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
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
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