Geno’s Place, a limited series
Part Four. Geno.
Our story so far: Geno and Charlene have reignited their torrid affair, but Charlene has proven to be a hard bargainer and has coerced Geno into partnership with her to own Geno’s Place and they’ve shaken hands on the rest of the deal, for him to leave his wife, sell the restaurant, and settle with her in Apalachicola. She has also quit her job at the phone company and installed herself as head waitress and is counting the days.
Charlene came in one afternoon to work the late shift, and while she was pouring herself a cup of coffee, she casually mentioned that she had seen this brown wallpaper at Monte’s Salvage Paradise. It had scenes of Venice on it she said, and she hated it. Plus it had water stains from the flood. I just shrugged, “Oh, yeah?” Like it wasn’t anything to me.
Then as soon as Charlene had a table and was carrying out the drinks, I eluded her and slipped out to Salvage Paradise. The wallpaper? I loved it. And the greatest part about it to me was that it was on sale, rock bottom. The stains weren’t so bad, easy to trim off before hanging. I went back to Monte’s office to thank him personally and to rub it in a little about the steal, but they said he wasn’t in, that he’d driven over to D’Iberville to look at that damaged stock from the Piggly-Wiggly fire last week. I was okay with not getting to needle Monte. Maybe I’m just envious that he can make a fortune selling literal garbage while I struggle to keep customers coming back for the lousy redfish necks with mozzarella cheese dressing, my mother’s favorite recipe, direct from Castelvetrano by way of her grandmother.
Driving back to Geno’s Place, I was happy. The way I saw it, this Venetian wallpaper was about the best thing that could have happened just then because Charlene was, well, how can I say it? She was anxious. How anxious was she? Her nervous mannerisms had us all, me and the cooks and the bus boys—even all the waitresses who hated Charlene anyway—worn out with dodging and keeping a calm face. Hell, friend, you try keeping anybody that anxious tied down in the nut ward at the V.A. Hospital, and I guarantee you pure chaos.
When I walked into Geno’s Place and deposited the rolls of Venice wallpaper on the big table in the kitchen, Charlene said, “That’s awful, Geno. Pure fucking awful.”
Sure, I was irked. I mean, she hadn’t even given the paper a chance, hadn’t rolled it out to see the scenery and what not. But I smiled like I was a happy man. You see, I knew something she didn’t know. She was working under the false notion that the deal we had shaken hands on was still gonna happen. To her mind our arrangement, if you can call it that, gave her the clearance to let her opinions flow like cheap booze from an unstoppered bottle. But honestly? By the time I found that brown Venice wall paper, I knew already that the deal was off, I just hadn’t told her yet in so many words. With the deep feminine intuition I knew she had, I figured, she knew anyway, so hey, what was there to say? Which is why at that moment I had the urge to tell her, Charlene, I don’t give a fart in hell for your childish opinions.But the time for telling off had not come.
As long as we did not speak directly to the matter, I still could dine at Charlene’s Place of sensual pleasures, so to speak metaphorically. Oh, God, yes, I was mesmerized by freckled arms hugging my neck and warm white dough gripping my hips. I still flew off to heaven when I spread her yeasty thighs and licked her chocolate freckles.
Yet I knew the reckoning must come, so I was truly relieved when a plan finally emerged. I needed time to think it through, so I made up an excuse to close Geno’s Place for two days while my wife Helen’s brother installed the wallpaper. Sure, I knew the wallpaper hanging would take only a few hours. I mean, how much wall space is there between the walnut wainscoting I installed a month ago and the new tan ceiling tiles? But for two days away from Geno’s Place I would be able to avoid Charlene and let the old gray matter do its work.
When the two days came, I took Helen to New Orleans and we did the usual rounds. Helen always insisted on shopping at D.H. Holmes on Canal, so I submitted myself to two days of trying on suits I’d never wear. I also humored her food-wise and took her for the big dinner at Galatoire’s. She said, the way she always does, that the food was not prepared correctly. All the time I was thinking that it’s not easy having two days without Charlene around. But I could at least think. Think over what to do.
On the drive back to Port Sulfur I summed it up and found that I had achieved only one thing during the two days. I had concluded that it wasn’t going to be easy releasing Charlene. So from then on I dithered and dathered and put it off as long as I could. Then one Sunday night I stayed home from Geno’s Place and was watching TV and decided to have it over and be done with it. And wouldn’t you know it but that was the night that Charlene chose to call me at home. What can I say about the coincidence? Women obviously have antennas.
Helen answered the phone. From the bedroom I heard her say, “Yes, Mister Santangelo is home. Whom—who should I say is calling? Miss Blanchard? Just a moment then, Miss Blanchard, I’ll get him for you.” This was all spoken in those so-polite Southern tones I’m sure you’re familiar with. The sort of over-politeness that scares the willies out of a guy. The silk hanky concealing the silver dagger. Like the guy said, Take my wife . . . please!
Of course, I did not know anybody by the name Blanchard, so I instantly figured that it must be Charlene. She’d be smart enough not to use her real name if she ever called me at home. That Charlene’s evermore a smart one.
I pulled on my socks real fast and rushed out into the hall. I never had noticed what a confining space that hallway was until that moment. With my wife and me and Charlene crowded in there together with the phone and the little chair beside the phone nook, I about suffocated. Helen crossed her arms and looked at me with that insufferable eye of hers. You know what I mean, that eye that is staring and blank yet knowing all. I hated it when she got so upset about other women. I run a restaurant, for Chrissakes. I gotta deal with women, right?
I shrugged to my wife as if to say, Look babydoll, I have no idea on earth why this Miss Blanchard—who is, after all just one of the girls at Geno’s Place—why she would be calling me on a Sunday night. I could tell Helen was not impressed. My wife is hard to impress.
“Yes, Miss Blanchard, what’s the matter?”
Charlene said in that tone of hers that says Don’t fuck with me “Geno, get your ass over here right now. We got things to talk about.”
“Ah, yes, Miss Blanchard. I understand your difficulty, but couldn’t you just give the guy another steak and comp him his bill?”
“Don’t fuck with me Geno.”
“Miss Blanchard, I trust you to handle this. That’s what I pay you girls for. To make the customer happy.”
“Look, Geno. When the restaurant closes in one hour, you better be here.”
I see what you mean, Miss Blanchard. I’ll be there as soon as I can get dressed.”
Text by R Young
Photo of Geno Santangelo from the files of AAA Coastal Bonding and Private Investigations.