#207: Zebra’s of Bridgeport

August 23rd, 2013

She sat at a table by the men’s bathroom at the back of the restaurant, playing solitaire on a laptop as a Peter Francis Geraci commercial interrupted “Judge Joe Brown” on the opposite wall.

She walked up as I came in to use the bathroom. She seemed nice, so I ordered a hot dog out of guilt. We were the only two people in the restaurant.

The counter had various menus and a few copies of the Bridgeport News, a local weekly paper whose offices are on the next block. A cork board by the door had a few business cards for job-seekers, some black metal or punk band leaflet and a flier for a fundraiser for a Canaryville woman facing cancer.

I had come to the gourmet hot dog stand with the zebra-patterned chairs because the store across the alley was a Godzilla store. It specialized in Godzilla. That’s a story. Weird, wacky, lots of description, the ever-elusive question of why the hell people do things.

On my return from the bathroom, I asked if the place had been there long.

“Since November,” the floral-shirted woman making my hot dog said. “We were over on 36th before. 36th and Halsted.”

“How long were you there?”

“A year,” she said, her back to me. “It was a weird location.”

What a weird thing the Godzilla store would be. No one writes stories like that. No one but me.

“Weird?”

“There was no street traffic. No one goes down there. There was a tailor and a laundromat and a car wash. It was just dead,” she said. “After 35th, everything just dies.”

I wondered if I would play it cool with the Godzilla store man (I assumed it would be a man). I wondered if I would be cool or just walk up and say, “Hi, I want to write a story about your Godzilla store because no one writes stories like that.”

The woman pulled out a gigantic roll, a bolillo roll, she would later tell me. She put the dog on it and spread the ingredients, placed the pickles and the peppers. She was backlit as she dusted it with celery salt.

She went back to her solitaire and “Judge Joe Brown” as I devoured it, thinking about Godzilla and other stories no one writes. When I finished, she walked up to give me the receipt. I complimented the giant roll.

“I have to put it on there because they’re too big for a regular bun,” she said. “Nathan’s hot dogs, five to a pound.”

I went to the Godzilla store that no one writes about. WGN was there, doing a segment on the man. I had missed the story. I had absolutely missed the real story.

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You are currently reading #207: Zebra’s of Bridgeport by Paul Dailing at 1,001 Chicago Afternoons.

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