Friday, November 19, 2010

The Downing of the Sopwith Camel

At least that appears to be the case for a baker's dozen of Charlie Brown's Restaurants whose apparently indiscriminate placement across the topography of the State of Concrete Gardens tended to make New Jersey in the morning look like a lunar landscape. As of the Ides of November (no one actually calls November 15 "The Ides of November" but why should March have all the fun?), thirteen of the eateries were suddenly and unexpectedly shuttered by the company that owns them. Not that having a stated reason for closing without warning would have had done anything for the psyche of the good folks who earned their daily bread in one of them or for the grumbling bellies of prospective customers who consumed their daily bread...and salad......and prime rib in one of them.

Monday proved to be simply a preview of what was to come - an appetizer if you will. On Wednesday, five more locations were closed in a similarly stealthy fashion. No word as to whether the owners will purchase my suggested slogan for what remains of their business, "Charlie Brown's - The Magic is Back! We Are Making our Restaurants Disappear!" although I do not hold out much hope. That slogan in its original, uncorrupted form did not work very well for the New York Mets in the late 70's/early 80's.

I know not whether Margaret has yet broken the news to Joe. The Greenbrook Charlie Brown's was one of her parents' favorite places to eat out for while it was nothing particularly fancy or spectacular it was a reliable source of good food at reasonable prices. Suzy B and Joe liked everything about it - from the self-serve salad bar to the bigger than Joe's head desserts - and while it has never been among my favorites, I used to enjoy going there with them to watch my mother-in-law do something that she rarely ever did in any setting: relax.

I am not entirely certain but I think either the final time we ate there was Joe's birthday in March (although that might have been the penultimate trip). I have a couple of photos I took of the birthday boy enjoying his hot fudge sundae while Margaret and I sang him, "Happy Birthday". It is impossible to look at Joe with that child-like joy in his eyes, simply taking in and enjoying the evening, without smiling. I smiled just now writing about it.

The heroes who run the company that owns Charlie Brown's were full of positive-sounding bluster after Monday's closings, making vague promises to help those who were suddenly jobless - having in some cases showed up for work on Monday only to be greeted by a sign declaring to the world that their place of employment no longer existed - find jobs at other, still viable locations. After Wednesday's sleight of hand no such nonsense came down from the corporate mountaintop. Methinks that some of my legal brethren might be interested in exploring whether the boys in the corporate office complied with state and federal laws known as the WARN Acts.

Sadly, I would be willing to wager that at day's end the now former employees are going to find out themselves what it feels like to be Charlie Brown - a kind soul for whom the simple acting of trying to kick a football turned out to be a nightmare....

....all because the document was never notarized. A word not worth the paper it is printed on.


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