Monday, October 09, 2006

Columbus Day Connection ...

I am not Italian. I'm half Serbian, and the other half is mostly Polish with a smidge of German. The closest I come to having anything to do with Columbus Day is that I live in the country that Columbus and his amigos discovered, quite by accident.

Men just won't ask for directions, will they? But hey, the world was mostly uncharted in those days so I'll cut them some medieval slack.

My sister-in-law is half Italian. And my mom makes legendary lasagne. And I use a lot of olive oil. So I'll count those as my ties.

Taking a break from yard work today, I sat down in front of the TV to once again remark to myself that daytime television sucks. But aside from the usual glut of courtroom shows and soap operas, today WGN was televising the Columbus Day Parade. It's a perfect October day for a parade: warm and sunny. The crowd for the parade looked anemic at best, but the notable thing about the parade wasn't the weather or the attendance or the parade entries themselves. No, the thing that amused me about the Columbus Day parade was the co-anchor, Dominic DiFrisco.

Dom is a bit of an Italian-American legend in Chicago. He knows everyone. Knowledge which he displayed during his commentary of the parade, rattling off every name of every Italian politician, restauranteur, police officer, you name it.

And while I'm sure he'd have no recollection, Dom knows me, too, despite my lack of Italian heritage.

A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I worked, as you likely know by now, for the Chicago Tribune. One of my many ancillary jobs was writing the weekly wedding and engagements column.

Now, the Chicago Tribune's wedding and engagements column isn't a big deal compared to the New York Times', which is a who's who of the New York social scene. The Trib's column is much more egalitarian (at least it's supposed to be; and I say that not even knowing if the Trib still runs wedding and engagement announcements; I don't read the Trib anymore). Everyday folks submitted their notices and every week, I reached into the filing cabinet and pulled three or four. Now, granted, there was some selection that went on based on the completeness of the supplied information. The less digging I had to do to fill in blanks, the better. And when it came to picking the lead announcement, photo quality played a role. Some people submitted rather blurry, candid 3x5 prints. Hmm, not good for reproduction. One couple submitted a photo that couldn't have been much larger than a postage stamp. Hmm, not good for enlargement. So people who submitted a good photo and a reasonably complete announcement were contenders for the top spot, the only one which ran with a photo.

Most people were genuinely thrilled to learn that they were being included when I'd call to gather any missing information. The Trib offered a paid announcement section, so if people wanted a guarantee that their announcement would get into print, they could pay for it. But most wanted to be in the "official" column, I suspect either because they liked the cache of being chosen for an actual editorial space within the Trib, or because they didn't want to ante up.

Some people, though, felt a very strong sense of entitlement, and would call to check on the "status" of their announcement. Mothers of the brides, cliche as it may seem, were the worst offenders. I pictured some North Shore, Chanel-suited woman named Bitsy who spent her days serving on boards and lunching with other like-Chanel-suited women, whose daughter, a member of the Junior League, surely, was about to get hitched in a lavish, six-figure affair, who just couldn't fathom why I hadn't run onto the production floor, waving her daughter's engagement announcement wildly over my head, screaming, "Stop the presses! For the love of God, stop the presses! Kymberly is getting married! Kymberly is getting MARRIED!"

And then there was Dom. (You thought I'd forgotten about him, didn't you?) Dom, knowing, as I said, everyone in Chicago's Italian-American community, fancied himself a mover and a shaker. I'm sure he still does, and I'm sure he is; after all, he was on TV today emceeing the parade. Clearly, he has connections. I'm sure the WGN producer doesn't randomly pick someone with an Italian surname out of the phone book to share parade-hosting duties. And so one day, Dom called to see if I'd received a certain engagement announcement for a certain daughter of a certain well-known Italian-American Chicago businessman, and to see if there was anything he could do to get that announcement into print.

No, I told him, as I told all people who asked, we couldn't guarantee publication, that our process didn't grant favor to anyone in particular, and that if he wanted to ensure the announcement made it into print, he was welcome to contact the advertising department and buy a spot.

Dom, as many people did, saw the crassness of paying for an announcement. Anything that could be so easily gotten wasn't worth the getting. No, it was the editorial space he was after.

In my fuzzy memory, I seem to remember him calling a couple times, to check the status as it were.

And then one day, Dom was there. The security guard on the floor called from reception (this was in the days before 9/11 when people could just walk into Tribune Tower and get on an elevator and go to any floor they pleased; these days, the security is much more militant) to let me know Dom was there to see me.

I walked out to reception to meet him. He was wearing a very natty suit. It was silver. It was shiny. It could have been sharkskin but it was probably silk. He wore a matching tie (this was in the days before "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire") and my imagination might be embellishing here, but I'm pretty sure I saw a pinky ring.

He handed me a fresh copy of the announcement. He was persistent, this one. Not subtle, but persistent. I suggested that he give me just a moment to read it over, in the event that there was any information missing. He'd gone through the trouble to come by. I figured the least I could do was let him think that I was buying into his effort.

In my peripheral vision, I could see him looking at me. "My God!, your eyes!" he said. Hmm. Yeah. I have nice eyes. They're an unusual shade of green. I suspect Dom has a fair amount of success with complimenting women as a means to an end, kinda like Joey Tribbiani's "How *you* doin'?"

I looked up, having finished my scan. "I'm going to take you to lunch," he announced.

"Oh, that's really not necessary," I said.

"No, I'm gonna take you to lunch."

"Thank you, but really, I'm not allowed to accept anything like that."

"They have to let you eat, don't they?"

Again, I demurred. A colleague of mine passed us on his way into the newsroom.

Dom left, and I returned to my desk.

Later, I received an e-mail from my colleague, noting the witnessed exchange. I wish to God I still had that e-mail so I could quote it, but the paraphrased version of it is something like this, "Dom is like the Pope. Once they take a liking to you, it's hard to shake 'em."

If memory serves, the announcement eventually got into the paper.

And we never did have lunch.

Dom update: Just saw this item on the Illinois General Aseembly's web site: "... Congratulates Mr. Dominic DiFrisco on being a recipient of the Joseph Cardinal Bernardin Humanitarian of the Year Award given by the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans." LIke I said, a mover and a shaker. Good for Dom.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Vikings discovered America many, many years before Columbus wandered by.

3:55 PM  
Blogger Beth said...

That's true, but Colubus gets all the gloy. Maybe if the Vikings wore better helmets ...

4:07 PM  
Blogger Markbnj said...

Beth dear.

You SURE tell a FANTASTIC story...
Looking forward to many many more!

markie mark in NJ

I only hope that one day, I will be able to spin a tale as nicely as that!

1:17 PM  

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