Tony’s was the ruin of an old Italian dream, dusty and dying. It was a restaurant run by
Tony Tebano, my friend, an old Italian man with an old Italian accent, and it resided inside of a
strip-mall, sandwiched between a mattress store and an antique store. Every shop’s awning at the
mall had a white plastic sign with bold maroon lettering on it. Most shops had names that filled
the entire sign, like Guilford’s Hardware Store and The Connecticut Chocolatier, but Tony’s
name barely took up any space at all, like he’d forgotten what else he wanted to say and had
never remembered. The one word - Tony’s - looked lonely on that long white sign. The strip
mall, with its gum-stained cement sidewalk and the cracks in its faded pavement, would live and
die there, and so would Tony’s.
The restaurant was forty years old. The floral wallpaper was stained by leaks and food
spills that were older than I was, the faded pink vinyl seats were patched up with duct tape, the
duct tape had holes. There was a collection of black and white pictures of Tony serving pizza to
people I didn’t recognize, all squeezed into a frame hanging in front of the cash register on the
order counter. Tony was skinny and strong in those pictures, and he had a head full of black hair,
and his eyes were full of life and hope and other beautiful things.
I’d worked there since I was fifteen. He’d been paying me under the table for all five
years I’d been there, and I’d kept every cent of it locked in a box under my bed. My parents, who
had brought their thick Long Island accents to this small old town of Guilford, Connecticut,
didn’t seem to care about my job, except when they needed some money.
“Laur, could you be a doll and give Daddy thirty bucks? Forgot to go to the bank today,
but I’m going first thing tomorrow, though... for sure,” he’d say, chewing on a toothpick. He
always chewed on them.
“You promise to pay me back?”
“Cross my heart,” he’d say, and he’d wiggle the toothpick around in his mouth.
“Alright, but I’m saving up for big things, you know.”
“Kid, someday you’re gonna realize that waiting around for big things just isn’t as good
as getting little things whenever you want. You remember Ron? My friend from EverBloom? He
was always going around saying that an education is worth a thousand flat screen TV’s. I’d
rather have a thousand TV’s. It just makes more sense, doesn’t it?”
We’d taken part in a migration to Connecticut after EverBloom, the artificial flower store
they worked for, started downsizing. “I don’t understand why they gotta get rid of people. I
swear to God, everybody needs fake flowers. They last forever.” My mom, who curled her hair
every night and wore hoop earrings that I could stick my hands through, would say towards the
end of our time in New York.
A few families, including ours, decided on Guilford because they’d heard that a
commercial food factory was about to open there, and that there were a lot of jobs to be found.
The day they were hired, the factory supervisor mandated that my mom take out her earrings that
she keep her hair in a bun tucked into a plastic cap, or else it would be a work hazard.
My parents couldn’t meet anyone new in Connecticut; they didn’t fit in. They only knew
people with Long Island accents, the only people that came to our one-story one-bathroom house
were from Long Island, and when they came, they only talked about Long Island things. “We’re
on the wrong side of The Sound now, aren’t we?” they’d say as they laughed and drank. I never
liked the way they talked, their accents, and I promised myself I’d never talk like they did.
Tony must have been around sixty years old when he first hired me; his black eyebrows
were beginning to grey and his grey hair was beginning to fall. He had forty-year- old twins at the
time, a boy and a girl, Marco and Marina Tebano, and they’d graduated from UConn on
scholarship, and they had big jobs and big families in big cities, and he was so proud of them and
proud of being their father.
“It wasn’t me, Lauren… it was the fettuccini!” he’d say as we glanced at the folded
picture of Tony and his kids and their kids wearing holiday attire, standing in front of a
Christmas tree. The picture itself wasn’t special; it looked like was taken on a disposable camera,
and a few of the children had their eyes closed. Sometimes I’d picture myself standing with them
in front of the tree, feeling their arms wrapped around me as we all smiled.
It was sunset on a hot Friday towards the end of summer. I sat behind the mini fan on the
order counter; it barely stirred the air, so I looked out the window and waited for the dark to
come and the temperature to drop for the night. We had only received three take-out orders that
day, including one from Philip, a stubby looking bald man who ran a successful Subway
franchise in the town over, who came in once a week wearing a cheap black business suit trying
to persuade Tony to sell the place to him and move on.
“The man... he looks like a thumb,” Tony would say after Philip left.
Finally, after the sun had dipped below the horizon, a pack of boys arrived in the parking
lot. They must have still been in middle school, and they rode up on tiny trick bikes doing
wheelies and riding with no hands. A few of them spat onto the sidewalk and stuck their tongues
into the bottoms of their lips. They tossed their bikes up against the glass window that Tony and
I had cleaned the day before.
They were skinny, dirty, summer kids. They ordered six pizzas but could only finish
three of them, they ordered three gallons of root beer but could only drink two. They pretended it
was real beer, they drank it from the pitcher, they wiped their faces with the backs of their hands,
they shot spitballs at each other. They didn’t know any better, they were all the same. I wanted
Tony to come out of the kitchen and point his finger at them and tell them to act like civil human
beings, but he was busy making pasta and dough for the next day; I didn’t want to trouble him.
“Are your parents coming anytime soon?” I asked.
“Don’t have ‘em. Never had ‘em. Don’t need ‘em,” one kid said. He leaned back in his
chair and took a sip from his pitcher of root beer.
“So you’re all homeless then,” I said.
One of them leaned in towards me. “Nah. We were raised by wolves.We are wolves.
Always on the move.We got rabies.”
They all looked up at the ceiling and howled and flailed their arms around.
“We need more food. We got rabies. You got dessert?” One of them asked, and the rest
of them echoed.
“Yeah, we do.” I said. “You want a menu?”
“Nah, menus are no good for us. We can’t read. We’re wolves for Christ’s sake. We got
rabies. We want one of everything,” another one said, and the rest of them echoed.
In a few minutes, I came out of the kitchen with six cannolis on my tray, Tony’s favorite,
and the boys were quiet and still; they all looked at each other as I set the tray down on the table
next to them. They were waiting for something.
After a few moments of silence, one of them stood up, his chair scraped against the tiled
floor, then they all stood up, and they aimed their faces at the ceiling. One of them howled, then
they all howled, and they swarmed the tray, pushing one another out of the way, clawing at
everything. Each one of them grabbed a cannoli with their hands, they held them in the air and
ran to the door. They ran outside, howling, and shoved the food into their mouths, they grabbed
their bikes with their dirty hands and raced away. I followed them outside. I was hot, it was dark,
the roads were busy. Five of the boys were waiting across the street for the last one.
“Johnny, get your dumb ass over here you little prick shit!” one of them yelled.
Johnny looked back at me, he stared at me, I thought he might have been sorry.
“You know, even wild things have to pay! Everyone always has to pay for things!” I
The boys kept yelling at him, too. Johnny looked at me one last time. I thought he was
sorry. I thought he’d come back, apologize, and we could all become human again. But the boy
raced across the road instead, and their pack soon disappeared.
I let out a hot breath of air and sat down on the cement sidewalk. It felt cool on my legs. I
kicked around some loose gravel. Then Tony came outside, took off his hat, and sat down next to
“I thought I’d have to call animal control, with all of this howling going on,” he said. He
smiled at me, but I could tell his smile was heavy, and in a few moments he could no longer
support it. His eyes looked tired. I was sorry.
“Are we ever going to get that money back?” I asked.
He looked at me and scratched his ear.
“I don’t know,” he said. He looked out into the busy road.
“You know,” I said, “I can figure out who they are, and I can call their parents or the cops
“No, no, there’s no need for that. They’re young. They don’t know things like you and I
do. It takes time.”
That night, as I biked home, all I could hear was the buzz of an ending summer, all I
could see were the streetlights and the telephone wires and the road in front of me, all I could
feel was the wind that surrounded my body; it blew my hair back and made ripples in my dark
blue T-shirt as I moved through it. I felt old, knowing that those young boys stole more than
money from Tony’s restaurant, knowing that we’d reached the end of something, knowing that it
would never come back.