When he was growing up, my son, Gabe, always requested the same dinner on his birthday: lasagna and mashed potatoes. These days we skip the mashed potatoes, but still honor the tradition.Forget the gifts; don't worry about the cake. The only thing Gabe really wants for his birthday is a meal worth remembering. An Italian meal.
And since he lives in Rhode Island, we have a lot of choices. If there's anywhere outside Bologna that has more or better Italian restaurants than they do in Rhode Island, I'd like to hear about it. This year, a small, unpretentious place in Smithfield served up the most awesome bruschetta with cannellini beans and eggplant rollatini I've ever had.
But the best part of the meal was fervent conversation we always have. We are the kind of family who talks so much, each excitedly waiting for a turn to speak, that when we finally look up, there's no one left in the restaurant but the employees. (As a waitress, I hated people like us, butÂ at least, we always tip well.)
Right now Gabe and Nicola are hard at work promoting their new business, RentProv. That means going out and getting to know the communities they want to serve. It means walking the streets of various towns and neighborhoods, talking to people about what they do, and what they hope to do. Or just talking to people, which has always been Gabe's favorite activity.
In the smallest state in the country, are still a lot ofof small family-run coffee shops and bakeries, sub shops and delis; and Gabe is determined to sample the food and meet the regulars in all of them. He's also learned that it's those small businesses, the heart of any community, who are willing to post his flyers, to take an interest in his dream, and offer to spread the word.
Last week he was walking through a somewhat downtrodden, but friendly neighborhood in Providence when he noticed a barber shop. The windows looked as if they hadn't been washed in a decade, and there were no lights on, but when Gabe tried the door, it was open.
The first thing he noticed in the empty shop was the overwhelming scent of urine. The second thing was the barber snoozing in chair, with a very large, tabby in his lap, one mistrustful eye open. Gabe estimated the barber's age at somewhere between eighty-five and ninety.
A lot of people would have slipped out before the man woke up, but Gabe decided on the spot that what he needed most in the world was a haircut from an octogenarian barber.
He had to poke the poor man three times before the barber leaped off the chair, blinking in bewilderment. "A haircut? What? Well, sure!"
So for six bucks, Gabe got himself a haircut that was reminiscent of the ones I used to give him when I bought my first set of crazy clippers, and an hour of talk about the history of the neighborhood where the barber had done business for over fifty years.
It's the kind of deal that is becoming all too rare.
Patry Francis is the author of The Liar's Diary, which was recently published in paperback by Penguin/Plume. To learn more, visit her Website,