The 83 year old white haired craggy faced owner of La Sirena Italian/French restaurant where we dine most every Sunday. Mastro Geppetto in an Armani suit, which drapes his wiry frame perfectly, Fausto is the personification of one who takes liberties with others while remaining ready to strike back at any perceived “liberty” taken against him. There once was a famous crooner from Hoboken who had similar traits.
His charm, especially with the ladies, knows no bounds. Nor does his liberty taken with their husbands. His grandiosity, generosity and charisma supposedly excuse all else. Such is the thrust of his Northern Italian personality, honed, no doubt, to perfection during his youthful days in the merchant marine. He’s a man’s man and a woman’s man. Unpredictable and volatile, fun loving and gregarious, he is the embodiment and proof that a good heart can coexist with a reckless and feckless constitution. He’s been diagnosed with Alzheimers, so his character defects have now ripened nicely.
We’ve been advised by his wife to play along and always agree with him, lest he react in his version of Niagra Falls. Several clients as well as three of his employees have been on the receiving end of his physical assaults. I had put up with his antics for years, long before his diagnoses. With his hands on Lieve, for example, ‘horseplaying” or trying to get dog biscuits to give to Spikey and Pepie, on more than a few occasions – while we were eating. “oh he didn’t mean anything” “that’s just Fausto”. “that’s Fausto being Fausto”. “there’s nothing sexual about it”
Finally, I let go and told him to keep his hands off of her. He reacted predictably, taking it as an insult to his right to be Fausto. Two other episodes during a year and a half followed that. All since forgotten and forgiven. Then two weeks ago, Lieve comes flying out the front door of La Sirena. “What happened ?” “Fausto, playing around, grabbed my wrists and wouldn’t let go”. I blew up, went in after him. He was with people at a table, so I waited. Then he comes outside, advancing, wild-eyed, towards me. His wife gets between us and nothing happened. Lieve’s attitude is that she can handle him. I don’t doubt it, (she once slapped him) but my attitude is that it’s a matter of honor. I mean, If I behaved in a similar way with his wife, what do you suppose he’d do?
Of course, I’m dammed if I do and dammed if I don’t. If I fight with the guy and he kicks my ass, I got whupped by an old man with Alzheimers. If I kick his ass, I’m the ultimate coward by picking on an old guy with Alzheimers. But this guy was trouble long before his disease, as evidenced by steadily dwindling cliental, waiters that left or were fired and delivery personal who cringe when having to make a drop.
Can I really stay mad at Fausto forever? Lieve has been going to his restaurant for over 35 years. I have to learn to deal with it. So I take the high road, by default . He’s just a little kid, I say. Now he’s a sick little kid. The following week, after much debate, we returned to the restaurant after a long talk with his wife. She has told him to stay away from our table. Everything will be fine.
A weeks later, as we finish our meal (on the outdoor patio) I notice Spikey, with ears poised, looking up at the window. I turn and see Fausto standing inside, though the partially reflecting rain-wet glass. He appears lost and sad, and is gazing at Spikey like a child looking at toys in a shop window knowing full well his father will never be able to buy them for him. Ten minutes later, I take a handful of biscuits into the restaurant to give to him. The aging restauranteur with the heart of a child, lust of a demon and mind half lost, is bright eyed and animated now as he drops the golden brown victuals into the eager mouths of Pepie and Spikey.