Thursday, March 5, 2009

The Best Burger in Town

Yesterday was a good day--Ratherto just got a new job, so Slippy, Swiper, Baby Cakes and I took him to lunch to celebrate. We all agreed that the only food item that would satisfy our urge to celebrate was a kick ass burger.

Where does one go in this area for a great burger? My old stompin' grounds and former place of employment, Lemonz, that's where. Why, you might ask, would someone who cares about spelling and grammar ever work at a place called Lemonz? Well, like so many of the jobs I have had in the past, this job came to me by way of a friend of a friend.

"Hey, Nora, I know you're not working, and our neighbors up at the lake were talking, they just bought a bar said they needed bartenders. I said you'd be perfect!"

"Dude. I've never bartended before."

"Just go in. Tell Dick Donna sent you."

Well, I did just that and got hired on the spot. It's a dark little tavern and I loved it from the start. It's not fancy. It's not classy. The food is great and it's populated with blue collar men. In short, it was perfect for me. So perfect that a few months into my two-year tenure behind the bar at Lemonz, I met my own blue collar man who would become my husband.

After two years of adventures and misadventures alike, I was practically part of the owners' family. I worked every one of their family events. I was their go-to girl. I brought in my sister and my cousin in law as bartenders, too, and chased off more than one crazy coke whore.

But at a certain point, I had to leave. I personally didn't feel I would be able to continue to work at the bar while pregnant. This was before Illinois became a non-smoking state, and I couldn't stand it. Plus, I was finishing grad school ... it was just time to split.

Of the owners (a man, Dick, his wife, Blondie and Dick's cousin, Fatty), I had frequently butted heads with the master of hot and cold, Dick. Dick's real name isn't dick. He's just such a dick that Dick is the only suitable name for that dick. Dick.

Anyway, once I made the decision to leave, Dick became a huge dick of the "If you're not with us, you're against us" order. Despite throwing parties for every reason, from a regular farting to the cook getting a wart removed from his heel, his parting words to me on my last day were, "Have fun working at White Hen."

This for the girl who busted her ass, helped turn the bar from a skeevy joint into a place where her day-time regulars proudly brought their wives for the delicious food and tavern-y atmosphere, to meet the girl that fed them during their lunch hours, the girl who hustled every shift as though it were her last, the girl who worked their every family party.

What did I do? I cried. Well, I was pregnant. What I should have done was kick him in the balls and tell him to suck it.

Instead, I left in tears and vowed never to return. Despite the fact that I had to to on a cruise with all of them in mere weeks. A cruise upon which I brought my mother and proceeded to have a miscarriage. Blondie was the picture of concern for me as I sat at the baggage carousel in a wheelchair (which Juderonomy MADE me sit in) but Dick? He strutted by me and smirked in my face.

From then on, Dick became not just some asshole I worked for but my sworn enemy. His establishment would never see a dime from me again. Even though I missed Lemonz burgers like the desert misses the rain ...

Anyway, flash forward four years. It's Valentine's day and my cousin in law who used to work with me behind the bar organized a roller skating party at the rink right next door to Lemonz. I reluctantly agreed to go. I didn't want to see Dick, because I doubted I could be civil. As I mentioned, he is my sworn enemy.

Instead, Blondie was behind the bar. She is undergoing an operation that will remove a 275 pound tumor from her ass. That is to say, she's divorcing Dick. Lemonz is now hers. She greeted me with rib-crushing hugs and as I looked around, I realized the sleazy stink that followed Dick everywhere he slimed was no more.

I could return to Lemonz as a patron and not be sick in my own mouth. It was like coming home to a clean house. She made me promise to come in for lunch sometime to see her, and promise her I did. Almost a month later, I stroll into the bar packed with my old day crowd with a day crowd of my own, including my son. Yeah, I know. Babies and bars ... where do I think I am, Wisconsin? But there's no more smoking in the bar, so it's ok. Really.

Greeted again by Blondie, we sat and enjoyed the most delicious burgers in all of the South Side. Blondie took charge of Baby Cakes and let him play with the soda gun behind the bar, put him on top of the Golden Tee machine, let him play some poker--in short, acted like the mom-figure she always was to me.

Lemonz. The place has a dark side, no doubt about it. A late-night, dirty bar whose dark side is actually the color white, but it has a great side, too. It is a home to many people. The place is literally day and night. The day crowd paid my bills, made me laugh, played Jeopardy with me, threw quarters in the back of my pants when I had to crouch into the cave to replace inventory and hugged me congratulations when I got engaged.

The place is filled with people who came to my wedding, who came to my house to eat and drink, who annoyed my husband with knowledge about his life that he never told them. The place is filled with a sense of belonging that I lost when I let Dick make me cry. But that's all over now.

I meant to go off on a food porn rant about how good the food is there. But what I realized is I have so many Lemonz stories I haven't thought about in so long because I closed that part of my mind and heart off, for good I thought. I felt so betrayed by Dick, because I really thought we were more like family than just employer/employee, and when he gave me that smirk while I was at my lowest point ever, he broke my heart. But fuck Dick. He's gone now, hopefully far away. As for me, I'll be strolling in to have another Lemonz burger soon enough.


Luke Baggins said...

That was a cool story. I don't think I've ever met someone who was that much of a Dick.

Nora said...

Oh, sure you have. Dicks are everywhere. Seriously, I might have to break into the vaults. But I will have to go back and change the name of the bar so I can tell the stories.

Anonymous said...

Yeah I was a little bit of a butters at Lemonz too. Actually I was intrigued by you, you were kind of an anomoly. Intelligent, cute, working the day shift (most cute ones worked nights), and you liked Mike Patton.

So it was nice to stop in there get some decent food, and hold a good conversation being an out of work computer guy stuck bouncing to make money, it cheered me up.

Oh and by the way Faith No More is getting back together got a message via Facebook, I'm part of their group.

Nora said...

Well, I genuinely loved my customers. The guys I did not like knew it, did not like me and never came in on my shifts.

I miss it when I think about it, but I know I do not have the patience to be a good bartender anymore--mostly because I know I couldn't have a Parliament Light with my Diet Coke or sugar free Red Bull while working. Such a dva, I know.

I was just listening to that patton cd the other day.

Something for the girl with everything--that is so my lyric.

Graham said...

Good story. Nice to hear Dick got what he eventually deserved. And for that smirk, he deserves all the circles of burning HELL!! Oh, er ,haha. My latent catholicism just bubbled up there, must be that home grown tomato and herb bread that I had earlier. Anyway, I shall be having a "lemonz" burger on my next trip to Chicago, whenever that will be. The world is so Blighted with Dicks and others like him. Feeding off others misery, and so rarley having to pay for it. I'm glad this one did. Didn't know we shared a high regard for Monsieur M. Patton either, Nora!!! I was just listening to "album of the year" on my spectacular drive over the Cooley Peninsula yesterday. I hope the reunited FNM play Dublin...I'm already booked in to catch Jeff Beck and Depeche Mode!!