Talll Thought 40: Sunday by Jennifer Wisniewski

“The end of innocence.”

If I were going to describe my parenting skills, I’d compare them to maneuvers of a D.E.A. agent. I go through my days with obsessive thoughts of what I need to accomplish and then, suddenly, out of nowhere – I remember I have a daughter. I’ll bust into her room, looking for contraband. I go through drawers, look under her bed, read through her papers and, of course, look through her phone. I mostly find a plethora of unicorn and heart emoji’s, pictures of Shawn Mendez, and chats with acronyms like “idk” in response to questions about school assignments.

I believe in intuition. Beyond that, I believe in an even higher vibration— a mother’s intuition.

This kicked in before Stella left for school on Monday, when I asked her to leave her phone behind. She handed it over without a fuss. As I was about to head out the door, I picked up her phone and nonchalantly perused her text messages. One stood out. Amidst casual exchanges with a girlfriend of hers, a boy joined in the conversation and bluntly asked Stella if she was gay. When Stella responded with “no”, he replied and asked if she’d want to suck his d***. Stella responded with “no, that’s gross – you’re a rapist.”

I read it over repeatedly. I was unable to believe my eyes. I always knew this day would come – but I didn’t think she’d be so young. I dropped my appointments immediately, called her school and asked to speak to the principal. I cited it as an emergency of inappropriate proportions and something that I couldn’t say out loud to her on the phone.

When I walked in the school, the office staff was wide-eyed. They whisked me in, informing me the principal was waiting for me. With our formalities out of the way, I handed her the phone and patiently awaited her reaction. When she got to the “punch line”, she dropped the phone like it’d burnt her hands, looked up at me with distraught and said: “Whelp, Stella did the right thing.” She took a picture of the evidence and attempted to reassure me that “they” would handle it from here.

I have endless conversations with Stella, reminding her of her power – and the importance of keeping herself safe and how to react to disrespect. The truth is, no matter how hard any parent tries – we’ll never be omnipresent. We will never know what’s really going on with their phones, regardless of how many parental controls we put in place.

The only true influence I can have as a parent is the ability to ingrain in her that she has the potential to stand up for herself. To properly prepare her for all the unwanted advances that will come her way. Until then, Stella seems unfazed by the first of many sexually harassing encounters in her lifetime – and she handled it like an old pro.

I am heartbroken that this is Stella’s reality, at her age. I’ve also realized my naivety, as she and all her peers have access to the very same material as adults do – no matter how inappropriate the content. I am currently looking into home schooling or a convent for her future education, but in the meantime I'll just blame the internet.

Best,

Jen

Tall Thought 39: Sunday by Jennifer Wisniewski

"We're Not Gonna Take It Anymore"

It was Saturday morning when I was watching women gather to march and unite to stand up and protect their rights in light of the rhetoric of our new president. What a beautiful thing, I thought to myself —democracy in action! Women uniting and saying to our new government, to quote Dee Snider, “We’re not going to take it anymore!” I don’t do crowds, but I was there in spirit because I, like most other woman, find Trump’s language to be offensive. My favorite of all, and there are so many to choose from, was his position on abortion, stating that women who receive them should be punished in some way. But, true to form, Trump didn’t give any details. I thought…Stoned to death? Scarlet letter? Maybe a tax of some kind? Who knows what that knucklehead meant, but he is not the point of this story.


As I was watching them march, the manager of my restaurant called me. I could feel her trepidation over the phone as she said, “I have something to tell you.” 
“Sarah just spit it out, what is it?” I responded. I like to get bad news over as fast I can, so I can move on and get to taking care of it. She told me that one of our servers had overheard a cook say that he knows where Lisa and I live and followed that with -  he wasn’t going to rape us, merely murder us in a dual homicide. I didn’t know what the context was in which this statement was made, and I didn’t really care. As soon as I know that someone has threatened my life - I just try to figure out how to get this person out of our restaurant. Unfortunately, as a female small business owner, this was not the first time that someone has threatened to physically hurt me.


If I were a man, I would have options on how to handle this situation, one of them being “kicking his ass.” But I am very neurotic when it comes to being physically hurt in any way. If I get a hangnail I feel the need to go to the emergency room. There is only one truth when it comes to my femininity, and it’s that I can’t handle a physical altercation like a man. I’m not strong enough to take him down if the situation escalates. So, you might be asking what do I do when my life gets threatened, seeing as it has, unfortunately, become part of my job?
I call a friend from grade school. Ironically his name is Dan Shields and he owns a security company, and we start plotting this gentleman’s exit strategy. Dan enlightens me that the chef has an extensive and alarming rap sheet, and wants me and everyone else in the restaurant to be on high alert, but to let him “handle” this.


Just this week Dan sent over two bodyguards and they escorted the chef out of the building, I believe in women’s right as much as next lady, but the truth is that all the equal rights in the world won't save me in these situations. I will never be equal to a man in physical strength, and that’s never going to change. But the good news is I’m okay with being the physically weaker sex, as long as I have Dan Shields. Cue Whitney, singing the theme song from The Bodyguard.

Best,

Jen

Tall Thought 38: Sunday by Jennifer Wisniewski

"Oh Christmas Tree, Oh Christmas Tree."

make-a-charlie-brown-christmas-tree.jpg

Christmas isn’t my favorite holiday and I am always thankful when it’s over. It seems to be the only time of year when I examine my life and realize I’m not exactly where I want to be –  the holiday season makes my short comings blaringly more obvious to me and it also gets in the way of my ambition to change my circumstances, since everyone is on their way to Bali or some other exotic locale. Nonetheless, I buck up, because I have an 11-year-old daughter – and like any True Blue American child: it is her absolute favorite holiday. (She finished her “wish list” before Halloween.) Right after Thanksgiving, she starts the daily morning inquisition: “Mommy is today the day that you are going to get the tree? [So and so] has already put theirs up.” I muster up any Christmas spirit I have and respond with the all-time best answer to any question, “soon.”

To avoid being one of those pitiful people driving around on Christmas Eve with a tree on the top of their car, I got my act together the Monday after Thanksgiving – and I took off for the inevitable. As I set foot on the Christmas tree lot, my eyes began to dart rapidly at the choices – and I waste no time. As the salesman follows me around, I ask for his opinion. “Do you think this one looks good?”, I ask. “What about this one?” He placates me, nods his head and with a lack of enthusiasm says, “Oh, yes, yes miss - that’s a very good one.” I reply, more enthusiastically: “Ok, wrap it up! I’ll take it!”

The ride home is always a nail-biter, because I can’t quite comprehend how that little bit of twine keeps the tree from sailing off the roof of my car onto oncoming traffic. Accordingly, I avoid high speeds at all costs, take side streets and pray.

As soon as I arrive at home and think: “that wasn’t so bad”, it’s time to start untangling the lights. I plug in the first set and realize only half of the lights on the string work. With confidence, I attempt to figure out the problem – and then: I get electrocuted. “Ok”, I say to myself, “that was a fluke.” I move on to the next string of lights and – yep: I get electrocuted again! I dropped the lights, slumped into my chair and started balling. As tears quickly stream down my face, a voice inside reminds me to “pull it together, because your daughter is about to be home and you can’t let her see you crying over a half-lit Christmas tree.” Reminding myself of my main goal in my life, which is not to contribute to making my daughter as neurotic as I am.

Minutes later, Stella walks in the door, sees the barren tree, runs up to it, throws her arms around it and exclaims: “Our tree is here – and it’s so beautiful!” She turns to me and adds: “Thank you for going to get it, Mama!” In that very moment, Stella again reminds me of what’s important: that nothing will go as I wish in life. My preconceived notion of what life should be is my problem. But, if I can let that all go, embrace the moment and accept what IS – I probably wouldn’t be in tears, swearing at a Christmas tree right now.

Best,

Jen

 

Tall Thought 37: Sunday by Jennifer Wisniewski

Born to Run

Throughout grade school, I cared about one thing and one thing only: basketball. I ate, drank and slept with a basketball. As I cheered on my favorite player, (#35 Dallas Comegys from DePaul), in our family TV room, I would be dribbling that ball. if I went to the corner store, I took a basketball with me. At the kitchen table I would try for hours to spin a basketball on my index finger. I went to "Doug Bruno Basketball Camp" during the summers. All my friends were on the team, and It was my life.

I was “center” for the Queen of All Saints girls’ basketball team. I wasn’t the most athletically gifted, but what I lacked in natural talent, I made up for in tenacity. There was one school—St. John Brebeuf—that massacred us every time we played them. They were faster, stronger and taller than we were—and they played dirty and smart. Every time we walked onto that court, I felt like we'd already lost.

Our basketball coach's name was Mr. C, short for Mr. Cszarobski. He was tall and thin, had a 70’s porn 'stache and wore short-shorts with knee-high tube socks. Mr. C obviously knew our "David and Goliath" complex, so during practices leading up to the game with St. John, he would blast Bruce Springsteen’s, “Born to Run”. I think his thought process was that we would beat them with our running game, and obviously he was a “Boss” fan, and looking for any excuse to listen to him. 

The last game of the season was against St. John. During half-time we were down by 20 points and Mr. C—just like out of a scene from "Hoosiers"—came down to locker the room and tried to galvanize some very defeated girls, a la Gene Hackman, and laid into us on our running game.

All year I practiced my hook shot and, with us 2 points down, I made an attempt at the final basket for the win ... and it didn’t go in. We lost again. I can’t describe the sadness after that loss. I thought we'd finally beat them. It was a hard loss to take, but at the end of every game—win or lose—you had to form a line, look every player in the eye, shake their hand and say, “good game”. Even if you hated that team with a passion—which I did.

That’s how I feel now, after the election. We were beat, played a good game—but the other side just played a better, dirtier game—and won. Defeat is a hard pill to swallow, and the earlier you learn it in life, the easier it is to accept it and move on. So, just like how I was taught to lose with grace as a child, I now try to lose with grace as an adult. Accept it, stop crying about it, pick yourself up off the floor, quietly try to figure out what went wrong and how to learn from the loss—so you can obliterate your opponent the next time around.

Best,

Jen

To shop go to: Tall Orders Tees

Tall Thought 36: Sunday by Jennifer Wisniewski

 It's a Bird...It's a Plane...It's Mark

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During his inaugural speech, Franklin Delano Roosevelt said "there is nothing to fear, but fear itself"—but I bet he never received a revocation notice from the Illinois Department of Revenue. Summer is normally slow for Bread & Wine. Our customer is more inclined to eat in their backyard, or they're on vacation. However—this year, summer was a never-ending'ly slow summer, due to the lovable Cubbies. After a string of quiet nights, we fell behind on paying our state taxes—and were summoned to a hearing to plead our case.

As I walked to the train to meet Lisa to appear before court, I couldn’t remember the last time I was so afraid. My mind couldn't stop replaying the worst case scenario: in about three hours, we might have to explain to everyone that we're no longer open for business (even though everyone reassured me it wouldn’t be the case.) As I walked up to the L platform with wobbly legs and a dry mouth, I locked eyes with Lisa and realized she’d been playing the same scenario in her head.

We enter the facility and are greeted by the departments attorney. Lisa and I state who we are and her first rushed question is: “what’s the story?" We attempt to explain our fiscal hardship, and are rudely and abruptly interrupted each time. Then she says (after not listening to a word) that she is going to request revocation—today. We are told to take a seat and will be called in soon. That moment went much worse than expected. 

As we play the waiting game, Mark Kelly (Lisa’s husband, an attorney) shows up to see how things are going. By the look on our faces, he knew we weren't doing well. He politely asked if we would mind if he represented us, before we go up to the judge. For the first time all morning: we exhaled.

In about five minutes, he gathered all the necessary information and kindly told the clerk that he was our attorney. Before we knew it, we're all in a very bare, beige, Orwellian like - tiny room. 

Mark started to speak on our behalf. I watched him in complete awe as he made our case to the judge. "Your Honor", he states, “These two women are Mothers who started a neighborhood restaurant and are working hard to catch up after a very slow summer. They've been in business over 5 years and have every intent to pay. We are simply asking for some more time to make things right.” While I was listening to him talk, it was hard for me to not become teary. To hear someone fight for you, right in front of you, is moving. What he said—and how he said it—was so articulate and powerful. He also changed the tune of the other attorney, who listened patiently to him and nodded in agreement, stating that “we are not here to close small neighborhood businesses either. We're here to work with them." The hypocrisy almost pushed me out of my chair.

I've never been in front of a judge before this. The only courtroom drama I ever witnessed was on TV. Until that very moment, I had never fully realized how the gift of the power of persuasion could make a positive difference in someone’s life. It’s a nice feeling to believe that there are regular people with super powers, walking among us. As far as I’m concerned, underneath Mark's business suit is a big red “S”. 

Best,

Jen

P.S. - Don't forget to shop Tall Orders Tees

Tall Thought 35: Sunday by Jennifer Wisniewski

It's Hip To Be Square

"Everything’s so cool", my sister shouted mockingly into the phone. She had just finished a photography job in a ping-pong bar in Chelsea. She went on to explain the scenario of her latest NYC location: "Ok—so there’s an antique bathtub in the middle of the room—filled with ping pong balls—and people sit in it and take selfies. The whole bar is encased in glass and it looks out onto the subway platformAll the employees are wearing shirts that say, “balls are my business” ... It’s SO hip!", she exclaimed again in disgust. I hopped right on her judgmental bandwagon and told her about my jaunt down Milwaukee Avenue that evening. It goes a little something like: ramen shop, brewery, ramen shop, brewery, ramen shop—and the occasional dilapidated holdover from pre-gentrification Polish deli. “The concept” is now part of our life. but it's turned the landscape into a hipster Disneyland.

My first job was at a restaurant called Café Absinthe. It was at Milwaukee and Damen—right in the heart of all things hip. But, back then it was the ONLY restaurant. When you left that spot—there was literally nowhere else to go. Maybe a few dive bars, but that was about it.

Café Absinthe didn’t have a sign, and it didn’t have a front door entrance, let alone a concept. People had to work to find it (because the entrance was through the alley.)

As a hostess, I had the humorous job of answering the phone and verbally walking Northshore clientele to the door. They were livid by the time they got in to an over packed, loud, tiny bistro. To use the bathroom, you had to go to the dive bar next door, where derelicts sat and drank all day. Red Dog—a house club—was above and around 9pm the bass would start vibrating the restaurant.

As customer’s we've gotten used to the conceptual bells and whistles—and I'm not sure if it's for better or worse. I once had a chef say to me that "Bread & Wine doesn’t have a strong enough identity"—further explaining that "it doesn’t know who it is." I thought about that statement for a while and realized that Bread & Wine knows exactly who it is. It's a neighborhood restaurant, serving thoughtful New American food, in an underserved area. No, it may not be New Nordic cuisine with plates that are formed from rocks out of the Arctic Ocean, but that’s ok some people don’t want to go out and swim in a sea of pink ping pong balls as they eat pine smoked kale and take selfies. Some people may just want to walk across the street, have a burger and a glass of wine, talk to their wife and go home

Best,

Jen

Check out our "new syles" from Tall Orders Tees.

 

 

 

Tall Thought 34: Sunday by Jennifer Wisniewski

Tall Orders Tees

During lunch at Naha the other day, I excitedly announced that I was going to start a t-shirt line. Ryan looked up and rolled his eyes – and everyone else went back to eating their lunch. I believe Michael added his design idea, which was: “I have a chubby for the Cubbies.” “Nope”, I said, “That’s not really what I’m going for here.” Their lack of enthusiasm, interest and suggestion wasn’t a deterrent. I knew when I made such a statement that it wouldn’t be met with jubilation. So I set off on my journey – sans cheerleaders.

In order to set up said t-shirt line, I have to talk to Canadians in Ottawa (where Shopify’s headquarters reside.) Often I receive small gifts of joy in simple forms, when I start figuring out a project. In this case: by listening to a Customer Service agent (with a full-on Canadian accent) help me upload my “Poor Sweetie” tee – each time reiterating it back, as casually as one might say “car” or “soup”.

The words and phrases on my t-shirts make me giggle. They were spawned between friends – out of absurd (and probably drunken) situations, and used for many years as inside jokes. As I was conceiving this company, I realized there are two things I like the most in this world: words that make me laugh, and the artist Ed Ruscha. So, I combined them both and started Tall Orders Tees.

No one will ever accuse me of being tech savvy. I didn’t touch a computer until I opened Bread & Wine. Now, 5 years later, I find myself building a website from scratch to make one of my teeny-tiny dreams come true. As I hear the Shopify “Guru” dryly describe something that makes no sense to me, I am reminded that I just might be one step closer to driving down the street and seeing “DUNZO” across someone’s chest.

The joy I get from hearing my Canadian friend say “Probably Not” is the same joy I’ll receive to actually see someone wearing one. Because I created something. It was a moment in time that made us all laugh, and in sharing that moment, I hope it makes others laugh. That’s all I want. That’s what drives me: the satisfaction of having entertained someone, somewhere, at some time.

Though, a couple dollars would be nice, too.

To view my collection, please click on “Tall Order Tees” at tallorderschi.com

Best,

Jen

Tall Thought 33: Sunday by Jennifer Wisniewski

 "Hi ho hi ho, it’s off to the Apple store we go!"

Stella’s phone went on the fritz. When I came home, after a dizzying work day, she was curled up on the floor sobbing. She informed me that she couldn't do her homework without her iPhone—and she didn't know what to do. I quickly realized that any rationale was useless, so I hopped on the phone with AT&T, and after 40 minutes they explained their protocol. Which was: the phone in question is under a warranty and I have to go into the Apple store, so they can first try to fix it or exchange it. I make an attempt to talk myself out of it—as if I’m trying to get out of jury duty. I informed him of my hectic work schedule, but the robotic representative from Apple (pretending to be a human) wasn’t buying it.


The next morning, Stella and I set out on our virgin voyage to the Apple store at Old Orchard Mall. As we arrived, there was already a line forming outside, so I stood in it, thinking ... "this must be how the Apple system works." A lady behind me tapped me on the shoulder to explain that *this line* is only for procuring the “new” iPhone. She instructs me to actually go on into the store and just grab “anyone”.


When I stepped inside, I wondered where the line to the cashier was—or a place where I can take a number? As I walk up to (what I think is) a reception desk (nope—sorry: that’s the genius bar), a frisky human, with an IPad under their arm, jumps in front of me and asks hiply, “how’s your day going?” My austere response is to just tell him that Stella’s phone doesn’t work. "Oh, ooook", he says in a very subdued, calming voice, "Let's run some tests and see what we can do!" I’m already tired of Apple's shenanigans—so with restraint, I respond: “It’s a phone! Not a sick baby. It doesn’t work anymore, so can we just get a new one?” He calmly responds, “I hear you—and we're just going to take a look at the diagnostics and see what variables we are dealing with.”


After checking “under the hood”, he points to the corner of the store and asks me to wait there. I ask where and he says, "There. In the corner”. I am now in another state of confusion ... "How will someone know I’m waiting in this random corner?" I ask again ... "Over ... there?” He reassures me with, “Ma’am, please—someone will be right with you.”


As soon as I doubt everything (and begin to feel like this mental state of Apple purgatory will never end), a woman with a tattoo on her arm saying “Safe Word” (I didn’t know irony played at Apple, but I can’t get into her backstory right now), came carrying over a new iPhone. My daughter exhales immediately and I say "thank you."


As were walking out, Stella turns to me and says she’s proud of me for keeping it together. I say “Baby ... I didn’t have much of a choice.” She quickly replies, asking me why—and I say: “Because it’s Apple’s world—and we're just living it.”

 

Best,

Jen