Hangin’ Out in Rockford: On turning 60 and other stuff

It is my birthday week; I turn 60. As usual, we do the birthday night celebration on Saturday. Troy makes some great appetizers, and J. F. Gaziano provides the entertainment. The mayor even stops by, but I have already gone to bed. I don’t feel like staying up very late. Turning 60 is hard work.

I usually do the party thing more as a way of promoting business rather than any need to celebrate my birthday. Like most people older than 40, I don’t look forward to my birthday all that much. A lot of years, I simply disappear. After all, it is my birthday, and I can do anything I want, right? Including getting lost and wandering around downtown. That’s what I usually do—just get lost. This year, I hang around, but not long enough to see the mayor. I don’t feel like getting lost. I am tired. (Rumor has it, however, that I was spanked six times, once for each decade, with a ruler by a diminutive young woman in a nun’s costume in front of the entire restaurant. I can neither confirm nor deny this, but I have been told that there are pictures.)

I have been thinking about this whole “over 60” thing for some time now. Gwenny, the Vietnamese lady who washes my clothes over at the Quick Wash, has a sign posted for the rates on laundry. It’s 85 cents a pound, but then there was a special rate for senior citizens of 60 cents a pound. I ask her how old you had to be to get the discount. She asks me how old I am. I tell her that I am going to be 60. The next time I pick up my laundry, she charges me the cheaper rate. Somehow, I wish she hadn’t done that.

I guess I don’t look 60 yet. Everyone always expresses surprise when I tell them my age. Reminds me of when I went out to the Hilander at Brynwood to buy a bottle of wine a few years ago. I ran into Joe Castrogiovanni. (This was before they sold the stores to Kroger, and Kroger ruined them.) I told Joe that he was looking good. “Don’t say that,” he said, “my brother John says that there are three stages in a man’s life—young, middle aged, and looking good.”

By the following day, I have recovered enough of my youthful exuberance to want to hang out. I call up my waitress, Elizabeth. Sometimes we go to lunch or whatever. I really like Elizabeth. But she doesn’t answer and doesn’t call back. Then I call Elisha and tell her that I am really bored. She says she is bored also, and I ask her if she wants to meet me for a drink. She picks me up in her convertible with the top down, and we drive over to J. Bear’s—the only other bar open downtown on Sunday. Elisha is really looking good. She looks even better after I have an Irish whiskey.

We decide to go out for something to eat. We have been going to a chain restaurant on occasion, something we never do, but it’s open Sunday, and you can sit at the bar—something we like to do, just sit at a bar and have lunch or dinner. We head out to the east side, to Perryville Road, to Famous Dave’s, to have some barbecue.

We aren’t in the mood to make decisions, so we let the beautiful, young bartender in the sprayed-on pants make all the decisions. She is really a beautiful young woman. I can’t stop looking at her jeans, and Elisha is laughing at me. I guess being 60 hasn’t changed some things that much, thank heaven.

The beautiful bartender brings us our order. First, we have the obligatory smoked salmon appetizer. We always order this—it’s really good. But then, she brings our two dinners that she has chosen—brisket, smoked chicken, pork shoulder and rib tips. The barbecue is pretty good. The sides need work. Still overall, things are pretty good, or there wouldn’t be a reason to go back. Besides, I don’t really know of a hometown barbecue operation in Rockford at this point. If anyone does, let me know at Rosenorte@aol.com, and I will go there.

The manager, Jonathon’s (Jonathon used to work for me) sister Ali, stops by to say hi, and tells us that she is going to work for Cintas as a driver. She wants to be at home at night with her kids. It’s too bad, she is a really nice person, and we will miss seeing her when we go there. But then there is always the beautiful bartender in the tight jeans. Oh well! I give the beautiful bartender a cocktail napkin with the following on it: “This is good for two free dinners and a free bottle of wine at the Irish Rose.” A few nights later, she shows up with her family. I don’t see her until they are departing. I ask if they had a good time, and she says they did. I hope so. She seems really nice. Unfortunately, I have forgotten her name. That happens when you are 60.

On a Friday morning after my birthday, I am sitting at Gerlindé’s Water Street Café having my two eggs and one piece of rye toast when Matt Provenzano walks in the door. Randy is serving; Gerlindé is cooking; Jay Graham from Graham-Spencer Advertising is having coffee. I can’t help myself, I blurt out, “Are you here for breakfast, or did you come to buy the place?” Everyone laughs heartily at Matt’s expense. You can get away with stuff like that when you are 60.

Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are available on his Web site, IrishRoseRockford.com. Leifheit is owner of the Irish Rose restaurant in the downtown River District.

From the Nov. 9-15, 2005, issue

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