Hanging Out in Rockford: I’ll never forget that warm-hearted laugh—part two

Having lost my technical person for the proposed television show on WQRF (Fox), life must go on and I have to cook in my Rockton restaurant on a Friday night. I work until about 8:30 when the rush dies down and then leave early to go back to the Irish Rose in Rockford. On the way back down North Main Street, I call Dawn Smolinski on the cell phone. Miraculously, she answers on the second ring. That doesn’t happen that often. I have watched her clear 20 or 30 messages over lunch at the bar at Café Greco. She is the only person I know who runs out of message space on her telephone answering service.

She says she is free, and I can stop by if I wish. That’s a no brainer. I’m nuts about Dawn. It isn’t just the fact that she is young and beautiful, it has more to do with her intelligence and talent. She is old way beyond her years. I like the fact that she can drink a gin martini straight up and eat lamb kidneys. And did I mention talented? Other people who consider themselves artists are positively awestruck when they see her work. My friend Sandi Cohn agrees with me totally on this subject. We are like broken records urging her to paint.

I stop at the Rose for a bottle of wine (Robin, my ex-wife, has purchased some wonderful French varietals from Dan at Distinctive Wines and generously shared a few with me) and then walk down the alley that leads to Chestnut Street. We hang out and drink the wonderful bottle of wine. I say that I have absolutely no idea for my column and that I am thinking of taking a week’s sabbatical. I tell her the story about getting the camera from my son in Budapest and then losing my technical person, Brian. She leaves the room for a moment, and I sit looking around at her apartment. I am knocked out by the beautiful composition of her art. There is a plan and a flow of color. Pieces seem to have been magically created especially for the space they occupy. And then all of a sudden I have one of those wonderful seminal ideas.

“Will you be my camera man?” I ask her upon her return. She is totally turned on by the idea. She says that she has needed a project, something to focus on. She urges me to go to my apartment to retrieve the camera so she can look at it. I get up and make my way back down the alley. I go up the back stairs to my apartment, I don’t want to go through the restaurant because I might get held up. I grab another bottle of the great French wine. Back outside, I realize that I have left my keys inside. If I stay out after bar hours, I will not be able to get back in, so I walk back through the restaurant entrance to get my keys.

A number of my friends spot me and want me to stop and talk. Jon Agustsson teases me about the combination of the video camera and the bottle of wine. I just smile and try to look cool. Finally, I break away. Walking down the alley again, my senses are invigorated by the night air. I have a premonition that something special is happening. Dawn pulls the camera out of its case and opens it, focuses it and begins walking around the room using the picture viewfinder as though she has been doing this her whole life. I sense that I have made a very good decision.

We sit on opposite sides of the coffee table and talk. I tell her about ideas I have for the show. I want to go to Minglewood with Jessi, my old waitress. I want Molly Fleming to accompany me to Kryptonite. Megan Gallagher is going to have dinner with me at Gerlinde’s. Dawn and I have previously talked about doing her sister’s art show. And then Dawn has the really big idea. She says it should be about Rockford like my column. Sort of downtown reality TV. I am absolutely awestruck by this idea. I suddenly realize that this is the subject for my column. I will write about my television show.

All good things must come to an end. I am pretty loose after all the wine, and I need to get some sleep so that I can work the next day. We say goodbye at the door, and as I walk away, I say something that causes her to laugh. She laughs so deeply, so melodically, so beautifully that it occupies my whole awareness. I walk home just thinking about that wonderful laugh but then I realize that I have forgotten what it was that I said that caused her to laugh so. When I get home, I call her phone and leave a message. “What was it I said that made you laugh?” Then I sit at my computer and type, “I’ll never forget that warm-hearted laugh.” I don’t see Dawn for a couple of days, and when I do, I ask her again what it was I said, but she cannot remember.

Owner of the Irish Rose (Rockford) and Irish Rose North (Rockton) restaurants, Mike Leifheit’s “Hanging Out In Rockford” reviews locally-owned restaurants, businesses and Rockford life. These columns are also available on his Web site: IrishRoseRockford.com and featured on the Chris Bowman Show, WNTA talk radio AM 1330.

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