Here’s a section I cut. I had been sent to South Beach to check out a dilapidated hotel. This was right before South Beach became “South Beach.” I couldn’t justify including the anecdote, but I can’t resist sharing here:
At the top of what people considered south Miami Beach, on the corner of 21st Street and Collins, a line snaked up to a curved corner entrance. Right up front, a knot of men in dark suits with long curls beneath their black hats, striped fringe fluttering below their black coats. I’d found the famous delicatessen called Wolfie’s.
I’d known about Wolfie’s all my life, but only because we had one in St. Petersburg. In the summer of 1969, when I was seven and my sister was nineteen, my sister got her first waitressing job at Wolfie’s. I loved watching her get ready for work, tucking her chin-length hair into a neat white net which she held in place with bobby pins. Her white dress was clean and crisp. She had special white shoes and a white apron. Best of all, we sometimes got to have lunch there when she was working. Eating out was a special occurrence for a family of six on a professor’s salary. There was a jar of pickles on every table; I tried to eat all of them on ours.
My mother never let us order the famous Mogambo Extravaganza, a half-gallon of ice cream slopped in a giant pastry shell with bananas and cherries and chocolate and whipped cream piled on top; my brother Andy and I watched wistfully when a Mogambo was hauled to a nearby table. Wolfie’s was famous for their pastries, all made from scratch.
My sister left waitressing after a day that began when she arrived for her lunch shift to find the back of the house in chaos. Everywhere she turned, she heard the word “shit.’ Even though she was nineteen, she’d never heard so many people using this terrible word in rapid succession and good girl that she was, she was shocked. But hearing the word was nothing compared to the reason why.
Seems that moments before she punched in, one of the regulars finished his breakfast and then got up and calmly walked into the kitchen. He went directly to the huge vat where the pastry dough was mixed, pulled down his pants, and defecated.
Everyone was in an uproar, although hilarity jousted outrage and usually won in the retelling. Even the police who came to investigate couldn’t keep it together. “They started out serious and within five minutes, they were laughing so hard they fell off of their stools,” my indignant sister told the family at the dinner table that night.
I’m not sure what she was expecting, but with that line, my father and my brothers followed suit, roaring to the point of tears. My mother struggled not to join them. My sister was furious.
Wolfie’s filled the vat with Clorox and lye but within days, that poison was drained and they were back to mixing pastry dough in the defiled vessel. For better or worse, this was the story I always thought of when I thought of Wolfie’s. I knew that vat was nowhere near Miami Beach, but I wouldn’t be ordering a pastry here, on principle.
Then again, it was the only business with a line out the door.
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