There’s a black Jeep riding my ass all the way to my parking spot. A toady little runt with a Red Wings coat that weighs more than he does gets out and shakes his head as he heads for “Oscar’s — A Neighborhood Tavern” in Shelby Township.
“You’re shaking your head at me?” I protest as he tries to navigate the icy lot with his tiny little feet.
“I didn’t say anything. I didn’t say anything to you,” he offers, his coat growing puffier from the sharp wind. He’s a Red Wings fan, and all the glimmering winter stars are impressed with his self-inflating cloak. The stars bask in his puffiness, paying homage to his fandom with a blue-diamond twinkle.
This is Shelby Township at night. You can see all the stars you want if the clouds cooperate, and if you’re a big fan of Red Wings attire, just park your ass in one of the many lovely strip malls out here and wait. If you get bored, head off to one of the thousands of party stores and pick up some of them night crawlers or golf discs or Ted Nugent Jerky you been meaning to get.
It takes Zac Massad an hour to get here, a little less to get home. From the old strip malls of Eastpointe to the new strip malls of Shelby Township he drives, jamming to the guitar rock of his youth. Six days a week he shows up to manage Oscar’s, to bus tables, to fix the pinball games, to pull guys with Red Wings jackets off other guys with Red Wings jackets.
“The only free time I get anymore is the drive here and the drive back,” he laments with a smile, dropping my Sicilian steak in front of me. It’s the “restaurant-style” Sicilian steak, swollen, covered with barely enough bread crumbs. It’s a steak all right, but way too big to remind me of Grandma DeMaggio’s Sicilian steak, which was pounded paper-thin, coated with at least a quarter-inch of crumbs and burnt around the edges. You serve it that way to me now and I’m 11 years old again, hunting down the bag of M&M’s she hid in one of her hallway closets.
Massad’s family comes from a very old town in a very old place with very big problems right now. His father and mother both come from Beit-Sahour, a small village near Bethlehem. They came to Detroit in the late 1950s, his father pulling down a job from Ford Motor Co.
“My father always told me and my brothers to never brush our teeth. He felt that brushing our teeth was bad for them. He also believed that wearing tennis shoes made your feet bigger, so he didn’t like us wearing them. He thought that all the heat and sweat they produced would make them get bigger. Like an incubator,” Massad reminisces.
“Does he still think that now?”
“I don’t think so. I mean, I think he’s seen enough commercials now to change his mind.”
His father’s teeth are gone now, destroyed by the rock candy he cracked in his mouth since he was a kid.
“That’s all they had back there. They’d boil some sugar, put a fucking string in it, and voila! No more teeth,” he explains.
Massad has a bar in his garage back in Eastpointe. But it’s not for his enjoyment. He’s building it for a friend of his. Massad is a metalsmith, and he’s been working on this particular project for more than a year.
“I just need a little more time.”
Massad is a writer, and he used to display his wares at open-mic nights around the city. He used to write funny little stories that everyone fell in love with. He’s a wit. A very, very dry wit. The best kind of wit there is.
“The only thing I get a chance to write anymore is the occasional e-mail. Clever, funny, pithy little numbers, but still, they’re just fucking e-mails. I just need more time.”
He is a musician as well, and used to hack around with some bands in Hamtramck. He sits in occasionally when Oscar’s hires a band. Oscar’s usually has karaoke on weekends, but sometimes they tease Massad with a real live band.
“I still pick up the ax once in a while. Just for fun. I’ll play a little at home, or play a little here at Oscar’s. But it’s not the same anymore. I just don’t have any fucking time.”
He’s got a woman back in Eastpointe. And a kid. They need him. So the half-finished bar can wait, the funny little stories can wait, the jamming can wait and the one goddamn class he needs to finish his degree can wait. He started at Wayne State 11 years ago.
That’s about the time I met Massad. He was pouring drinks in a Hamtramck hippie bar called the Raft. Back when he had lots of time. He had a salad that stood about 5 inches above his scalp, and he wore a T-shirt that all the ladies talked about. A black T-shirt with simple red lettering in front: “Big Daddy Romance.”
Back when we had nothing but time.Dan Demaggio dines with interesting people for Metro Times. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org