I call artist Jerome Ferretti and tell him we're starting this new column. The idea, I explain, is for a Metro Times writer to take someone interesting out to lunch and write about the experience.
"I thought you'd be just the guy to get things off to a good start," I tell him. Then I suggest Eph McNally's, a sandwich shop on the west side. One of Jerome's paintings hangs there, and I thought that might make for an interesting conversation starter. He's less than enthusiastic. Not that he doesn't dig the food at McNally's. And the owners are fans. He just did a 24-foot mural for their new place downtown. Jerome thinks we should do it up big instead.
"The paper's paying," he says. "Why not go to the Whitney?"
I like his attitude, but hesitate. It's important to set the right tone when launching a column, and the Whitney's way too highbrow for what I envision. I'm thinking we need a place that has more of a common touch. Jerome says he's meeting with the owner of Mexican Village Restaurant to talk about a job around midday the coming Saturday.
"What about there?" he says. "The food's great."
"Sounds good," I say. "They serve alcohol, right?"
"You bet," Jerome says.
I arrive at the restaurant at 2600 Bagley around 1 p.m. and slip inside. Jerome's in a corner booth talking to the owner. I take a table off to the side and order a margarita while the two men talk business. Jerome, filled with enthusiasm, is pushing hard to get the commission, talking about the complexity of the job, and how great it will look once it's finished. After much back and forth, the owner says he'll think about it.
Their business concluded, I walk over and take a seat.
Turns out Jerome is already on a roll. The night before he'd sold $1,000 worth of art at an opening, with the ensuing celebration lasting into the wee hours. Once the new day got going, it didn't take long for the vodka to start flowing again.
"Hair of the dog and all that," he says, raising a glass.
Jerome's father was a bricklayer. So are his brothers and a lot of his cousins. After working as a laborer and then serving his apprenticeship, he joined the union nearly 30 years ago and has been doing brick work ever since. But he was born to be an artist.
"My mom says she used to give me crayons and I'd draw pictures on my crib," he says.
He went to what is now the College of Creative Studies, and, over the years, carved out a niche for himself in Detroit's art world. Someone who knows what she's talking about says his art is a wild mixture of pop, expressionism and cubism. Whatever it is, the stuff jumps. (See for yourself at his Web site, jeromium.com.) He does sculpture too, often creating work that utilizes his skills as a mason.
I tell him how much I admire the way he's created a career playing by his own rules. "That's what artists do," he says.
I'm three margaritas in (and still a couple of drinks behind) by the time we even look at the menu. Actually, Jerome doesn't need it. He comes here all the time with his wife; they're especially fond of the combination plates.
Being of the firm (but unsubstantiated) belief that chiles rellenos is a good indicator of a Mexican restaurant's chops, I go for that dish. Seeing as how this is breakfast for him, Jerome orders chilaquiles scrambled eggs cooked with cut-up corn tortillas, onions, tomatoes, cheese and green peppers. For good measure, he asks to have some cactus added to the mix. For an appetizer I order chili con queso. Jerome orders another round. Our waiter, a young guy with an easy smile and the name Angel, gives me one of those "Are you sure?" looks.
I nod, knowing it's a mistake. But when you're with Jerome and the good times start to roll, well, putting the brakes on that train ain't easy.
By this point Jerome's telling everyone within earshot that I'm from the Metro Times and we're here on assignment. After a few attempts to tell him we need to be a little more discreet, I just give up. He strikes up a conversation with an older couple in the booth next to us. The man's a retired probation officer and former police chaplain. Both he and his wife look as if they're dressed for church. Jerome suggests the woman get up on a table and dance. I remind him that he's talking to a chaplain's wife. Jerome apologizes. She laughs and says no offense taken.
"See," says Jerome. "Everybody loves me."
The appetizer arrives along with a fresh round. Forget dipping chips. We spoon the tasty blend of melted cheese, tomatoes and hot peppers onto warm tortillas and inhale them, washing it all down with more drinks.
Then we get the main course, along with another round. The food looks terrific. Jerome sees his mail carrier across the room and gives her a shout out. Angel approaches our table and says there's been a request for us to tone things down.
I head to the restroom, and when I return our lunch has been boxed up and put in a bag.
"We've got to go, Curt," he says, "We just got kicked out."
There's something jarring about stepping into the bright sun when you're half in the bag. Dazed by the combination of alcohol and glaring light, we stand there a moment and contemplate our situation.
"I guess this probably isn't going to help me get that commission," Jerome says. Then he brightens up and adds, "On the other hand, they only asked us to leave. It's not like we got permanently banned from the place."Curt Guyette is Metro Times news editor. Contact him at 313-202-8004 or [email protected]