I’m standing by the bar at Roots Steakhouse in Summit, New Jersey waiting for a table. Being a gentlemen I let my date have the only available stool. I’ve already drunk two margaritas so I’m now working on a bottle of Perrier. It’s all about pacing yourself.
As I listen to the rattle and hum of a restaurant on a busy Saturday night I look at the patrons around me having a good time. Roots is an expensive place – but then again so are the customers. Most of the guys here are wearing blazers, expensive shirts and the badge of rich North Eastern men everywhere – shoes with no socks. I’ve never quite understood why waspy men think it’s cool to have smelly feet. To my left two horsey looking women who look like they play lots of tennis are laughing and drinking martinis while their richly clad husbands honk about the stock market. In my polo shirt and slacks I feel a bit underdressed. No one hassled me about the dress code when I came in, but when the maître’d gave me a big smile and a friendly hello I had the sneaking suspicion he noticed I was wearing socks. I’ll live.
“This is a nice place,” my date says. “Thanks for taking me here.”
“No problem,” I reply, wondering if I’ll need a loan shark’s services to pick up the tab.
“Very busy tonight,” she says. “I thought most people were still on vacation.”
“Their yachts must be in dry dock.”
My date laughs. “So how many guys here aren’t wearing socks?” I ask
“I can see seven right off the bat.”
“These guys must buy Odor-Eaters by the gross.”
After ten minutes the hostess glides over and says our table is ready. Before I can ask the barmen he says he’ll transfer the Perrier to our bill. Classy. Not a lot of places will do that. The hostess seats us at a table in tight corner next to the waiter’s station. It is not the best table in the house but that’s what you get when you make a reservation at the last minute. I’m sure some customers would freak out if they got sat here, but if a bad table’s the worst thing that happens to me all week I’m ahead of the curve. But I like overhearing waiters as they ply their trade. The table will do.
My date and I order a mess of oysters and a prime New York Strip steak. When the waiter asks me what I’d like to drink I order another margarita. I know I should order red wine, but after two margaritas, margaritas go with everything. When our steak arrives it’s cooked to perfection and our side of grilled asparagus is very tasty. As I eat I notice the servers are friendly, prompt and very professional. I guess they didn’t notice I was wearing socks either. Passing on dessert we chitchat with our waiter, pay the bill and leave. I didn’t have to utilize underground-banking services after all so I leave a nice tip. The server deserved it too.
Well fed and slightly tipsy, my date and I emerge from the restaurant’s air-conditioned confines and into the warm evening air. Lighting up a cigar I suggest we go for an after dinner stroll. Digesting red meat involves peristalsis. And as we walk past the fine shops and real estate agencies advertising homes costing a million bucks we find ourselves at the scene of a murder.
The Promenade is a nice little spot in Summit on Springfield Avenue. A little oasis of tranquility, it’s a miniature park wedged between two buildings. It has a water fountain, greenery and four or five benches to sit on. During the day it’s a place where mothers come with their children and old people stop to rest their feet. On the evening of July 17th an El Salvadoran restaurant worker named Abelino Mazaniego was sitting on one of those benches drinking some post shift beers when he was approached by a pack of teenagers. One of the kids pulled the man’s shirt over his head and he and his accomplice severely beat him. One teenager even recorded the attack with his cell phone camera. Mr. Mazaniego died a few days later. But the authorities didn’t know they had a murder on their hands until that video started making the rounds on the Internet. The attackers were apprehended and initially charged with manslaughter. After it was discovered the motive for the attack was robbery the charges were upgraded to murder.
The citizens of Summit were shocked that such a thing could happen in their affluent burg of 21 thousand people. They last time they had a murder was fifteen years ago. But that was a domestic killing, not in the center of town. In response the townspeople laid flowers and lit candles at the scene of the crime. Many also donated money to take care of the restaurant worker’s funeral expenses. There are good people everywhere and Summit has more than its fair share. But my question was this – why didn’t any adults see the attack and do something about it?
Walking into The Promenade with my date I sit down on the bench where the worker was attacked and puff on my cigar. The flowers and candles were removed so it looks like nothing ever happened here. But as I sit where a man spent his last conscious moments I look at the lines of sight into the park. The stores looking into the square were empty that night. And any customers milling outside the restaurants across the street would have been unable to look in. With a group of teenagers blocking their view no one could have really known what was going on even if they had looked. So there’s a good reason no adult saw anything.
As I’m pondering this fact two men across the street eye me surreptitiously. Maybe they think my sitting on this bench is sacrilegious. They could be right. My date won’t sit on the bench. But one day mothers, children and old people will sit on this spot with no idea what happened here. It’s the way of the world.
I take a draw on my cigar and think of the reactions the townspeople gave to the press after the incident. Most of them were shocked and saddened by the evil that visited their city. They have every right to be. It’s tough when the world’s darkness shows up in your backyard. But one lady’s comment got to me. She said the murder was “embarrassing.” That pissed me off. Why? Because none of the teenagers who witnessed the attack called the police. Not a single one. That’s embarrassing. And not just for Summit, but for all of us.
A gentle breeze floats the laughter of customers outside Roots into the little park, twisting the smoke from my cigar into curlicues of drifting chaos. Shaking my head I get off the bench and walk with my date into the night.