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Chris Pischke is now in Paradise

October 12, 2006

Chris Pischke and Pierre O'RourkeYour handshakes were warm and sure, your smiles bright and true, and you had a barrel-chest, which at times your tummy matched. Faithfully you would greet each Guest, “Welcome to Paradise!” But the newspaper was wrong, there were far more than 300 folks attending your Wake. Heck, the line never ended during our four-hour “Jamaica Farewell” to you. And you’d have been real proud of Brother Matthew. He held up well, shaking the hands of every single well-wisher Monday night.

It saddens me to know I will never feel your handshake again. It sickens me to know what the last thing was that you held in your strong hand Friday night wasn’t someone’s hand or even a homeless kitty. You thought you took our own life, but you took much more because you can’t touch folks like you did without becoming a part of that person.

Figuring it in terms of Jimmy Buffett and his 32 albums to date; for me and you it when his 7th one, “Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Attitudes,” was on the 8-track a lot at The Backstage Restaurant that you managed in the Civic Center. Then with Jimmy’s 19th you set sail with Pischke’s Paradise as the only non-smoking restaurant and bar in Scottsdale. Ironic the album was “Hot Water.”

I always referred to your place as a type of TV’s ‘Cheers’ done Jimmy Buffett style. I was so proud of you! Within a couple of years of opening, Pischke’s Paradise was a household name and the place to be seen, especially for a “Cheeseburger in Paradise.” Both you and Jimmy had a “Feeding Frenzy” by 1990. Though a big loveable bear, customers would go into shock when you would approach a slow table and announce that you didn’t rent space but sold food – and that it was time for them to move along.

I had my last date with my mom, Esther, at your place before her botched surgery. You were also the first person I told after she died. That December morning while my mother grew cold, instead of painting your Christmas windows with Santa water-skiing behind dolphins, I occupied a booth with my friend Bunny and daughter Erin Rose. Cell phones were happily uncommon and you dropped the business phone at our table. And we made all of those horrid arrangements such as obituary, autopsy requests, and countless phone calls that your family had to make.

The only time you came by our booth was to make Erin a fresh Shirley Temple or carry her around to greet customers, and remind them of the time. Time flies when having fun – soon lunch was dropped off – then later an early dinner. I think we still hold the land record for being docked at a table in Pischke’s.

Looking above the bar I spy the picture of you with Gary Puckett when he cancelled his concert tour to sing at my mom’s funeral. Though Pischke’s didn’t take reservations, you had a long table set for thirty-two. When the bill arrived, and I finally silenced my guests that I was going to pay on behalf of me and Esther, Shannon handed me the empty check folder. “This is from your Family at Pischke’s.” Course, you were already out the door.

That following June, as I sat alone with two glasses of wine, you brought your inquisitive smile to my booth. “It’s Mom’s birthday,” I explained at the first of a tradition. You listened intently as I mentioned feeling silly thinking ahead as to how I would miss her homemade chocolate cakes for my birthday.

My glass drained, Pepper brought my bill. Pointing out her mistake for charging for one glass, she pointed to my mom’s untouched wine. “Chris said he’s treating your mother to her wine – but you’re on your own.” Of course, you were headed out the back door before I could thank you.

That November, Erin and I went in for some ice cream for my birthday. Even the precautious five-year old began to question the delay in dessert arriving but squealed with glee when you and some staff walked up with a huge chocolate cake with a candle aglow. Another tradition born, compliments of Momma Pischke, her oven, and you.

I ate there nightly for about three months, attempting to fill the Mom-Void. One night Momma Pischke approached me with some cottage cheese and some words about my eating habits. Explaining I did not eat cottage cheese and I didn’t even like the stuff, the bar grew silent as she re-slid it in front of me with a stern look. “Take a no-thank you bite.” To this day, I gladly eat it in there and think of her.

“Fruit Cakes” was Jimmy’s 21st album when we learned your mom had cancer, bad. Bless her heart, she continued with my cakes until the end. I sent a small flower arrangement to the Wake. We stood by the stain-glassed wooden door as you pumped my arm with, “You about killed me with those flowers.” Then you repeated my inscription. “Thanks for sharing your momma with me.” Suddenly you embraced me in a huge bear hug, followed just as quickly by an abrupt release. “Now get the **** outta the doorway and go eat.”

That was the second time you ever let me hug you, or hugged me, except for a couple weeks ago in the mall. You crossed over to Starbucks and cuddled Nubble as he pawed at you. You said you hadn’t seen me in your restaurant for awhile. You mentioned still missing me doing your Christmas windows, which I stopped six years ago when I began to paint with words instead of a brush. I promised to come in early the next week, and you gave me a hug. And, I never made it in because something came up. One of them oh so important things that was so important, I have no idea what it was – and will long regret it.

Speaking of books, you were blamed hard to thank or give gifts! What do you give a man that has everything plus a Hawaiian shirt to go with it? I scored getting Jimmy Buffett to personally inscribe a copy of “A Pirate Looks at Fifty.” With those lagoon eyes that could drink a person in, you said you’d look forward to having me inscribe my first novel to put next to it. That was supposed to be late this year, damn it. Color me self-centered for feeling that opportunity taken away.

I saw a piece of you die with each employee you had to ever let go. You saw family in each one. I am not sure you ever fully recovered from closing the North store. Then when the City took unapologetic five-times longer to do that blasted parking garage – dust and noise forcing the patio closed – parking spaces depleted even more. I decided if the City or Mayor were pregnant, they would carry the child 45 months. While I am sure Sam and Ol’ Roy hate what the heirs are doing to Wal-Mart, I’m with the City Forefathers in my distaste for Scottsdale being turned into a Wal-Mart!

Revitalization would seem to me, helping our own before we bring in new folks. Our city’s method of revitalization seems to be to forget those people and places that helped make it great – and plow them under or build atop their graves. Look at Scottsdale High School (in pictures anyhow) – or dumping Gonzo as another example. Wish Jimmy would do a version of, “Take Paradise & Put Up a Parking Lot.”

I left my mark in Pischke’s. In gold frames above the bar I think back to when I had Celebrity Promotions and brought in Buddy Ebsen, Willie Nelson, Robert Mitchum and others. But my favorite is when I walk through the door and see where I had surprised you with a Santa and sexy elf astride a Harley Soft Tail as we listened to “Barometer Soup.” Each year I would turn it back to Santa & elf – then back to you each January. For two years after I stopped painting to write, you would still try to get me to….do it again. Two weeks ago you mentioned how you still missed me doing your windows. Damn it.

I am sniveling and I admit it. I’m so pissed at you for what you just did. Seeing now how you planned it with goodbye notes, parking at Messenger’s for easy cremation, and that eerie script on this year’s anniversary invites. Did you really think any of us would be better off without you? You were always there for me – where was I for you? How did so many of us, how did I miss seeing – that you were pacing the cage? All I ever saw was that you were one of them oysters that chose to become a pearl.

Pride can keep a person from asking for help. So many with the skills and means have said to me, “Why didn’t Chris come to me for help? There were so many that had faith in him, they would have helped if he had just asked.” I don’t have the answer – and you aren’t around to ask.

Maybe ego wouldn’t let you ask anyone to help. Maybe you could only accept you being the helper and not the one needing help. The one to set up a home for 75 cats. The one creating Christmases for the truly poor and forgoing the office party. Maybe . . . you figured this would be the way to at least ask on behalf of Matt and Tracy and the Pischke’s Paradise you left behind.

Those last moments, after the crocodiles and reeds took all your hope away, exhausted that fantastic ability you had to go fishing with your mind - when the last step left in your action plan was to park at the mortuary figuring all someone would have to do is unload you and cremate you, did that piece of lead bring the salt mist of the ocean and warm sunlight to your face? Did you get to feel the sand between your toes? Did you taste salty margaritas instead of cold steel? Did you get a peek at that beach house on the moon? What made you decide this was your license to chill?

Maybe this was the only way, you saw, to get help for all you loved. Now, my question is – will those with the means, those lamenting because they did not get the chance to help because you didn’t ask, will they take action? Will they hear Captain Chris’s final cry for help and grab an oar before the USS Pischke’s Paradise is shipwrecked upon the Waterfront shore of the canal banks? Maybe one that has a love and expertise for the restaurant business and have proven themselves in knowing the true meaning of Service. Mark Kramer, Les Corieri, Ron Horton, Mark Drinkwater, Mark Russell, Kyle Shivers, or Robert McGrath. If so, I urge them to paddle fast and get fishing with their minds!

Since in some ways I feel I failed you in life operating alone, I am not sure what good I can be to you in your death. Maybe a simple conduit. A bridge.

Even if my writing has purged some anger, has guesstimated some answers and some potential directions . . . I am still pissed. Still shocked, still in disbelief, and hurt. But, I still love you, Chris. Proud you called me your friend. And, I deeply miss you already.

I trust Momma Pischke, my mom Esther, and Herb will be waiting at the port at the Pearly Gates to kick your ass . . . and then with open arms they will say, “Welcome to Paradise.”

Pierre O’Rourke is an Author, Good-Will Ambassador for Oregano’s, and one of a multitude of Chris Pischke’s friends.

Reprinted with permission of East Valley Tribune

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