A Dinner with Andre

Guest column, 1st run 18 June 1994 in the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette

Copyright 1994 Ben S. Pollock Jr.

Heaven may very well be like a bakery. Think of the smells: wheat bread, onion bagels, cinnamon rolls and doughnuts. The counters are white, its staff is dressed in white.

Conversely, good bakeries are like heaven on Earth. Where would our two Andre’s restaurants be placed?

The bistros endure, but robbers killed owner Andre Simon in the newer restaurant, a renovated cottage in the between-the-wars neighborhood called Hillcrest. They got only $70.

Inspired, neighbors have begun meaningful enterprises in his name. I’m not sure this unpretentious man would approve, so let’s interview him in the third Andre’s, which never closes.

“Regret putting up a struggle?”

He answers crisply with that no-nonsense, French-Swiss accent.

“It was stupid, yes, but how was I to know how it would end? You cut straight to the point.”

“I don’t have much time.”

“I have all the time. All the time.”

Andre moves from around the white counter.

“So you don’t see any lesson in your murder?”

“These things happen. May I rest in peace. Continue to, that is,” Andre says, seating himself at my table, itself clothed in white linen.

“You may see no point, but your tragedy motivated everyone around Beechwood Street. They beefed up Neighborhood Crime Watch.”

His eyes glint.

“Those people don’t see the town is simply growing, getting big-city problems. They’re getting big-city advantages, too. They wouldn’t want to give their malls back, would they? Look at me. I expanded to two gourmet restaurants. I earned good money with a dozen tables at each.”

I press on.

“Your old neighbors want more police, too. They’ve even offered to hire their own, just to work that area.”

“What good would that have done me?” he yells, annoyed not with his end but with me. “Some guys hungry for excitement and easy money were driving from clear across town and saw my sign. They came in during dinner — what Neighborhood Crime Watcher would have suspected any more than perhaps tardy busboys? After a minute of commotion, it was over — in front of a house full of workers and customers. Patrolling police would not have suspected a thing until the shots. Then it wouldn’t have mattered.”

“So, Andre, you’re saying police are useless and homeowners should draw their curtains and lock their doors?”

“Just because I’m dead, don’t put words in my mouth. Neighbors always should look out for one another. As a community grows, so should its police force. Just as obvious is the fact that impulsive crimes like mine can’t be prevented, except one way.” He pauses for effect. “Some people always have tried to get something for nothing. Yet society now has created the right to be lazy.”

I thought angels would be tranquil, but Andre is just warming up.

“Publisher’s Clearinghouse constantly invites you to enter sweepstakes: You don’t need to lick your own stamp. States promote lotteries: Big money, no effort. Casinos are creeping in everywhere: Worship luck, not effort. So why shouldn’t these kids keep guns handy for quick cash?

“That makes as much sense as me, the late Andre Simon, working seven days a week for years. For what?”

“So your old friends could find some meaning? So a writer could find some?” I ask.

“Smell! The bread’s done. I have to go to the ovens. Anecdotes like me scare people. Then statistics prove crime is stagnant or even declining. Together they have always said. Be cautious, but live. Bon appetit.”

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