Sunday, September 05, 2010 serve somebody

Last week, traveling across Indiana, I spent a day with a young lady, a sales manager. She was 33, with two little boys. She had the aura of an older person; she mentored many of the new young people in the organization I was working with. This organization was going through a rough patch, having lost many of its more lucrative spirit agencies. The wine department was still intact, but the company as a whole, was wounded. Not gravely, but wounded none the less. This young lady was in the battle, on the front lines, training new salespeople and trying to keep them and herself in a job. She worked many hours, this young mother.

The night before, I had spent an evening in an Italian restaurant. This was a nice little place, with real Italian feeling. The pasta was made on the premises; the garden in the back supplied the kitchen with fresh herbs, basil for the pesto and tomatoes for the salads and sauces. The owner was from the Neapolitan peninsula; he’d left when he was 18 and landed in the midwestern town when he was 28. Over the years he had a restaurant that did well and he bought another one, expanded and brought his brothers to work, other Italian immigrants to serve as well. One of the fellows, Paolo, from Calabria, reminded me of my childhood friend, John Carvaly. Always a smile and a good thought. He had left his life, his family, and here he was smack-dab in the mid-section of this great big country, and he was working, serving food and drinks to people, some who would go home and watch Fox and listen to stories about illegal immigrants setting fires in the Southern Californian desert. Or other ones about local state senators pushing for an immigration policy similar to Arizona's to deter illegal immigrants from entering their state. And on. And on. And. On.

You may be a preacher with your spiritual pride
You may be a city councilman taking bribes on the side
You may be workin’ in a barbershop, you may know how to cut hair
You may be somebody’s mistress, may be somebody’s heir

When I was a young man starting out in this business, I started through service. Waiting. Serving. I tried to tell myself I was paying it forward, so that someday I could sit on a nice restaurant on a Friday night with my pretty girlfriend or wife, and they would serve me. And it did happen. But deep down, inside me, the call to serve never left. This life isn’t about you or me; it’s about the other. It revolves around helping, serving, being at hand. The young sales manager knows that only too well. Recently, her husband fell ill and in a month he was dead. And she was left in the center of the country, with two boys under 10, in an uncertain time, working for a company that was going through convolutions that have shook numerous employees, old and new, out of the company. But she still has to make the delivery to the restaurant that forgot to order the wine for the weekend, and she has to do it before she takes her sons to football practice, on a dirt road, out in the country. Again and again.

You might be a rock ’n’ roll addict prancing on the stage
You might have drugs at your command, women in a cage
You may be a businessman or some high-degree thief
They may call you Doctor or they may call you Chief

Last month, several of my colleagues and one of our best clients went to the Italian Club for a benefit. The room was set up with glasses for wine and Italian antipasti. The night centered around a loosely woven foundation to serve as a way to honor the memory of a man loved in the community and missed by his grieving wife and family. We were all trying to raise money so that young boys and girls, living in the country with limited financial and educational resources could have access to musical instruments and music teachers. When the widow stood up to talk about her husband, gone barely a year, she talked about how he came from Italy with his brother, also from the Neapolitan peninsula, with a dream to carry on the skills they learned from the father in the New World. And they were successful. Immensely successful. But last May, in the middle of the night, he had a massive heart attack and left this world and all his success and family and everything we know about this world. He served somebody too.

We are called, daily, to set our wants and need aside for the greater good. A CEO asks us to be patient for a few more months. A President asks us to hold on. A child asks us to tie their shoes or wipe their nose. A dying wife asks us for more morphine. A mother asks us for more time. It’s what we are called to do that forges us into the one we become. Daily. It’s more important than money. Or control. If it is a higher calling or not isn’t important. It just is. And whether it is selling Italian wine or getting to day care before the doors are locked, it all must get done.

Might like to wear cotton, might like to wear silk
Might like to drink whiskey, might like to drink milk
You might like to eat caviar, you might like to eat bread
You may be sleeping on the floor, sleeping in a king-sized bed

But you’re gonna have to serve somebody, yes indeed
You’re gonna have to serve somebody
Well, it may be the devil or it may be the Lord
But you’re gonna have to serve somebody

Lyrics by Bob Dylan


Kevin Hamel said...

Lovely post, Alfonso. We are a society, a social group; we look after each other. If that amounts to socialism, well then, so be it!

brettthewinemaestro said...

However high falutin' a person is they still have to serve. Great post, thanks Alfonso

Thomas said...

A great post to pair with a great song.

Yes, socialism is soooo bad that it scares those with much to hide, stuck in a closet for the day when they drop dead; then, it goes into the back pocket of their beautiful, black funeral suit and down and down until it rots with them, never serving anyone.

Kimberly said...

I second what Kevin said -- lovely post. I especially love your big ol' shout-out to the service industry. Hardest workers ever, and get so much crap from so many on a daily basis. I'm back to serving in a restaurant after years of "professional" jobs, because I love food and wine and want to find a way to make it my career and my life, so I have a profound respect for all those in this line of work.
Especially the ones who always manage to do it with poise and grace, no matter how rude or ridiculous their customers may be, because this is a skill I haven't quite mastered yet!
Good on you for writing this. :)

Caterina Miltenberger said...

That was beautiful...(Tears in my eyes) I understand completely...

Marco Zoppo said...

Bravo, amico, bravo.
Groucho Marx: Room service? I would like a larger room, please.

Samantha Dugan said...

Beautiful and so always.

Alfonso Cevola said...

Thanks, all, been a little busy lately, appreciate all the kind comments....

Do Bianchi said...

Let's drink to the hard working people
Let's drink to the lowly of birth
Raise your glass to the good and the evil
Let's drink to the salt of the earth
Say a prayer for the common foot soldier
Spare a thought for his back breaking work
Say a prayer for his wife and his children
Who burn the fires and who still till the earth
And when I search a faceless crowd
A swirling mass of gray and
Black and white
They don't look real to me
In fact, they look so strange
Raise your glass to the hard working people
Let's drink to the uncounted heads
Let's think of the wavering millions
Who need leading but get gamblers instead
Spare a thought for the stay-at-home voter
Empty eyes gaze at strange beauty shows
And a parade of the gray suited grafters
A choice of cancer or polio
And when I look in the faceless crowd
A swirling mass of grays and
Black and white
They don't look real to me
Or don't they look so strange
Let's drink to the hard working people
Let's think of the lowly of birth
Spare a thought for the rag taggy people
Let's drink to the salt of the earth
Let's drink to the hard working people
Let's drink to the salt of the earth
Let's drink to the two thousand million
Let's think of the humble of birth

David McDuff said...

Beautiful work, Alfonso. Would that such perspectives were not lost on so many.

Alfonso Cevola said...

thanks y'all

Ben Clarfield said...

Profound, beautiful and Noble,
Thank you for sharing.

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