“Someday we’ll look back at this and it will all seem funny.”
— Bruce Springsteen, “Rosalita,” 1973
Despite my protective cloth mask, a lovely lady named Beth Ellen recognized me as she cashed out my mint green, 100 percent Egyptian cotton sheets at Macy’s during the sale last weekend. The luxurious sheets with the still-staggering price tag were a gift for my youngest daughter, who just celebrated a significant birthday. (She is a woman of good taste, and difficult to shop for, much less surprise).
“You’re that restaurant writer,” Beth Ellen said as she scanned the sticker. “I’ve been reading your column for a long time.” Wondering how she could identify me dressed in my Sunday-worst, I was both flattered and puzzled until I realized she saw my name on the little red Macy’s credit card.
However, the real puzzlement (according to Oscar Hammerstein II, and Yul Brenner, in “The King and I,” puzzlement is a legit word) is how the column has morphed over the years and that people actually still read it. It’s had three newspaper homes, as many different names, and it has grown with me.
I no longer dish stories of partying with the kitchen staff after closing. I no longer share ridiculous gratuity tales, like the time a nice man went to the restroom after signing his credit card slip only to have his wife cross out the 20 percent tip and write in a smaller amount.
It’s been years since I thought about the family of six who left me religious pamphlets in lieu of cash tips and held hands after finishing their meal to pray for my hell-bent soul and the souls of my daughters – all because I wore a little Star of David necklace that belonged to my grandmother and talked like I was “from New York.” (Amused and offended, I hope their well-intended pleas did not go unheard.)
Another reader came to light through comments on the Nextdoor website, which is a geo-targeted, virtual place to kibbitz and kvetch about a barking dog, free stuff up the street, city council foolery, and just about anything imaginable. More than a platform for #thoseotherkarens, one gentleman came to light when I was looking for someone to help install my air conditioners.
Although I promised compensation, a remarkable guy named Robert offered to don anti-COVID masks and gloves and do the laborious deed free of charge in the midst of a scalding heatwave. It turned out he is a retired engineer, who spends chunks of time helping neighbors do tasks that daunt them and delight him. Since he refused my offer of pay, Preble Street Resource Center received a donation instead.
“Natalie Ladd? Natalie Ladd?” Robert asked upon our meeting. “Ah. Are you our writer-server?” Laughing at my story of the air conditioner that fell from a second-floor window and smashed into a zillion pieces last year, I thanked him again for his help and readership.
Following the same Nextdoor air conditioning thread, a woman asked if I was the writer Natalie Ladd because her 93-year-old mother Lillian never missed a column. I wondered what Miss Lillian thought of the time an institutional four-pound can of tuna fell on my head in the walk-in, requiring stitches, and sent her my best regards.
In retrospect, the tuna incident irks me still because the jerk manager made me return to work immediately after leaving the emergency room even though I had been given a mild pain pill and localized numbing relief. An hour later, I was found curled up asleep in the dry storage area, violating both work policy and doctor’s instructions to stay alert in case of a concussion.
(The tuna incident was a cross between a migraine and a hangover. I later discovered the physical act of having a baby would be less painful.)
For her birthday this year, my daughter received other gifts I know will appeal to her sense of practicality and aesthetics. She’s now a professional with a career much needed in these times, and I love that she was named, in part, for the Springsteen song, “Rosalita.” Both Rosie and my daughter look to the future for new adventures and their best lives yet to live. They also know their mothers loved them a bit too much, too hard, and too tightly.
Many readers will remember my daughter as the tiny girl who liked extra white “annchobies” on her Caesar salad. She was the younger sister who did utensil roll-ups and bused tables faster than staff who worked for more than a half-rack of medium-rare lamb chops.
To all of you, it isn’t encore time for this column just yet. And to my baby, remember “From the coastline to the city …” you’re a legend with your own best stories to come.
Natalie Ladd is a Portland restaurant veteran, freelance writer, and connoisseur of all things Bruce Springsteen. She loves Boston sports, chewy red wine and has never sampled a cheese she didn’t like. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.