The Chez Robert is known for its classical French cuisine and intimate dining. I called and made a mid-afternoon appointment with the manager to see what he might do to equal the wonderful dinner our new trading partners had recently hosted in Tokyo.
Robert Cheval is far more than the manager; he’s the owner and the Robert of Chez Robert, arguably Boston’s best French restaurant. He poured me a glass of an excellent white wine while we sat in the empty dining room and talked about the coming celebratory dinner. After I described our recent dinner in Japan, he told me about his very private wine cellar and the dinner he would prepare for us there.
The dinner was fantastic and my Japanese guests couldn’t have been more impressed. As we were wrapping up with one more cognac, Mr. Cheval asked if he could speak with me privately. He led me to a dusty cellar room off to our left.
“Mr. Rockwell, I hope your guests enjoyed our little bit of France here in Boston.”
“The dinner was perfect in every way. You and your staff made quite an impression on some really hard to impress people.”
“Thank you, Mr. Rockwell. Now I have a favor to ask of you.”
“Sure, whatever it is.”
“I’d like you to be my guest at a special dinner this coming Thursday evening.”
“Gladly, I’d jump at the chance to come back here anytime.”
“Thank you, but there is a small, as you would say, catch. You have to name your three dinner guests. They can be anyone, anyone at all, living or dead.”
“You mean like a fantasy experience where I get to dine with actors playing the roles of characters I’d like to meet?”
“Something like that. Who would you like to invite?”
My mind raced. Who to invite? After a few seconds of thought I jokingly blurted the first three names that came to mind, “Jesus Christ, Marilyn Monroe, and Jackie Robinson.”
“A very fine choice, monsieur. I’m sure you’ll have a most enjoyable evening. I’ll see you at eight on Thursday. Now, you should return to your guests and thank you for coming tonight. Au revoir, Monsieur Rockwell.”
Work was hectic as we began to deal with the details of our new partnership. I didn’t have time to think much about my dinner date coming up on Thursday. It had to be the ultimate fantasy experience but how could they find and rehearse three actors in a mere seven days? Robert must know what he’s doing but it seemed like an impossible task. Okay, Jesus might be a regular dinner guest and Jackie has probably been invited a time or two but where would they find a Marilyn on such short notice?
I arrive ten minutes early. Robert escorts me to the cellar and serves me a glass of lovely red Bordeaux that I didn’t catch the name of. I’m alone in the cellar savoring my wine when Robert enters with this hippy looking fellow wearing a robe and sandals.
“Mr. Rockwell, may I present Jesus of Nazareth.”
“How do you do, I’m Bob Rockwell,” I say as I extend my hand. The Jesus guy hesitates for a moment then grabs my hand in an unusually warm, firm handshake. He is clearly dressed the part but he’s not someone I’d pick to play Jesus. He’s short, five foot-six or seven, olive skinned with dark hair, and a disheveled beard. The sort of straggly beard you see on homeless people, not the beard you’d find on the statues in my church. It’s then I notice his dark haunting eyes, eyes that seem to glow as if illuminated by some internal light source.
“I’m very pleased to meet you, Mr. Rockwell.”
Robert hands Jesus a glass of red wine and leaves the room.
“Merci Monsieur Cheval,” Jesus says in impeccable French to the empty doorway.
Jesus takes a sip of his wine and his face lights up. “This is really wonderful. I’m impressed with what you’ve done with wine since I was here last. This is so much better than what we had in my day.”
I can imagine a struggling actor being blown away by a taste of a forty-dollar-a-bottle wine but not Jesus Christ, the King of Kings.
Mr. Cheval appears in the doorway followed by an exact copy of a young, voluptuous Marilyn Monroe. “Ms. Monroe, may I present Bob Rockwell of Massachusetts and Jesus of Nazareth. Gentlemen, this is Ms. Marilyn Monroe of Hollywood, California,” he says as he turns and leaves the room.
The Jesus guy is obviously more at ease with Marilyn than I am. I’m wondering where they found such a beautiful girl to play this part. The Vegas shows have never had a Marilyn-look-alike as beautiful and as authentic looking as this girl. She’s spilling out of the skin-tight, sequined gown that she wore to JFK’s birthday party.
Jesus hugs Marilyn and says, “We are so glad you could join us this evening Ms. Monroe. Here take my wine, I’ll get another.”
“Thanks Sweetie” she says with a sexy wink, “but I’d prefer something with a bit more kick. Do you think I could get a bourbon?”
Did I just hear what I think I heard? Marilyn called Jesus, Sweetie. So much for being the King of the Jews.
I didn’t get a chance to hug our Marilyn-look-alike before Mr. Cheval walks in followed by number 42, Jackie Robinson wearing his 50s-era Brooklyn Dodger uniform.
“Ms. Monroe and gentlemen, may I present Mr. Jackie Robinson of Brooklyn, New York. Mr. Robinson, these are your dinner guests for tonight, Ms. Monroe, Mr. Rockwell and Jesus Christ.”
This Jackie-look-alike is as good a clone or better than the Marilyn player. So far Mr. Cheval has outdone himself except possibly for the little hippie he has playing Jesus.
After shaking hands with Jackie we all take our seats around an exquisitely set table.
Marilyn wiggles in her chair as she seductively sucks on the ice cubes from her bourbon and water. She is all body language and with her body she screams sexuality. Jesus and I enjoy watching Marilyn squirm and the very fine wine, while Jackie sips his beer. There is a stillness in the room as if no one knows where to begin. Finally, I thank them for coming and remembering my manners I ask Jesus if he would lead us in a prayer.
“Dear Father I thank you for the opportunity to share in this feast and to enjoy the fellowship of these wonderful people. I personally want thank you for letting me set foot on earth again and partake of this delightful wine. By the way, how did you come up with wine this good without me knowing about it? Amen.”
I thought Jesus’ comment on the wine was cute. I wonder if the real Jesus was as big a wine freak as this guy seems to be. Jackie hasn’t said anything other than hello and request a beer so I ask, “Jackie, how are the Dodgers going to do this year?”
Jackie smiles and says, “Better than their current record of 34 and 16 would indicate. They’ve got better pitching than we’ve seen so far this season. Joe Torres knows what he’s doing and you’re going to see a lot more hitting out of Hudson and Loney.”
“Don’t you wish you could pick up a bat and give them a hand?” I ask.
“I used to, but I got over that. It took me some time to realize that I was very fortunate to have played in the big leagues and to have enjoyed the success that I did. I’m happy now just watching the kids play today.”
“What do you think of the hero status that you’ve obtained? We honor you with a Jackie Robinson day; a day where everyone wears your number, 42. You’re on the list of black American heroes, right up there with Martin Luther King and W.E.B. Dubois.”
“Now you’re embarrassing me. I’m just a minor hero and not in the same league with Dr. King,” Jackie says with a broad grin. “I’m just an athlete who was playing ball at the right place and the right time. If it wasn’t me it could have been any number of other guys.”
Jesus raises his wine glass as if he’s making a toast and says, “You’re too modest, Mr. Robinson. Your personal sacrifices and the pain and humiliation you suffered were extreme. You are truly a man of extraordinary character. I’m honored to share this table with you. But, what’s up with that beer when you could be drinking this really great wine? To Jackie!”
We all raise our respective drinks when Marilyn whispers through a cloud of cigarette smoke, “And you’re damn good looking for a colored fellow.”
No one knows what to say after Marilyn’s comment so I ask her, “Marilyn, I understand the pressure and media scrutiny in Hollywood can be almost unbearable. How do you cope?”
Marilyn takes a gulp of her drink and seems at a loss to answer when she murmurs, “I’m not sure I coped all that well. My marriages were disasters, my acting career was stuck in neutral and I was getting tired of being an aging blonde sex symbol. How would you like to be only known and appreciated for your tits and ass?”
Jesus answers her, “Ms. Monroe, you are blessed with large wonderful breasts and a truly magnificent posterior. Why should these exceptional assets be the source of your unhappiness?”
“I don’t know, all I know is that I’m either depressed or drunk or both.”
Jesus answers with, “Ms. Monroe, tell us about Marilyn or Norma Jean the real person, not Marilyn the movie star and sex symbol.”
“There’s nothing to tell. I work in grade B movies, I wiggle my ass and guys all want to get in my pants, end of story.”
Jesus responds, “The cure for your depression will have to come from within you. It is not something I can make go away. Now, if you had leprosy that would be a different story.”
Marilyn orders another drink from the waiter serving our entrees. I take the pause in conversation to ask Jesus, “Your last supper is much celebrated in the church today. Can you tell us about it?”
“First of all, it wasn’t nearly as grand as Leonardo’s lovely fresco and we actually sat on both sides of the table. We drank a lot of wine that evening, reminisced about our times together, and reasserted our love for each other. I saw this as my last chance to reinforce my teachings and ensure that each disciple would continue the work we had begun. My hangover the next day was the least of my problems.”
“We celebrate communion today to honor you and your wishes at this your last supper.”
“I am enormously honored to have this ritual performed as an act of remembrance of me but I didn’t say those words about the wine and the bread. My disciples chose to have the communion ritual represent our last dinner together and use those simple everyday things as reminders of me and our work.”
“Did I hear you right? You never gave the speech about the wine representing your blood and the bread your flesh?”
“Mr. Rockwell, you either take things too literally or you haven’t had enough wine. The mass you celebrate today, including communion, is a ritual, a devout ritual passed down through the ages to serve as a reminder of me and my teachings and to help focus your thinking. Rituals are really good for this. Don’t take them literally, take them for the thoughts and emotions they evoke.”
“Jesus, Christianity has come a long way in the last 2000 years. Are you happy with what’s going on in your name today?”
“No, not at all. Some of the stuff today really gets my halo out of whack. I’ve gotten over all of the bloodshed and oppression that was done in my name but your money-grubbing TV and radio evangelists are worse than the inquisitors of old Spain. These scam artists with their gilded sets and gaudy mega-churches exemplify everything I dislike, no loathe, about my religion today. If the money lenders of my day thought I was peeved, wait until I get to your radio and TV studios. Why do you put up with them or an even better question, why do you support them?”
Jesus’ outburst left us speechless. Robert, sensing the moment, appeared from a side door. “Ms. Monroe and gentlemen I hate to interrupt but it’s near closing time. I hope you had an enjoyable dinner? May I propose a final toast?”
“Please do,” I respond.
“Here’s to the Son of God, the most celebrated actress of her time, the great second baseman who integrated major league baseball, and the businessman who had the wisdom to assemble this interesting group. May you all go in peace and happiness.”
Everyone took one last drink, Marilyn from her fifth bourbon, Jackie from his third beer, and Jesus and me from our umpteenth glass of wine.
We all hugged, shook hands and followed Robert to the stairs. Robert kissed an unsteady Marilyn goodbye and sent her on her way. He hugged Jesus and opened the door for him while Jackie and I said goodbye one more time. Jackie followed Jesus, and Robert turned to me.
“Thank you for sharing your fantasy evening with me. Au revoir, Monsieur Rockwell.”
My mind raced as I drove home. What had just gone on? These actors, if that was what they were, were fantastic. Even the hippie Jesus grew on me. How had Robert pulled this off? I can’t remember when I’ve been more impressed with a dinner group or an entire evening for that matter. No answers came. Had I just had the ultimate fantasy experience?
Friday morning I sat listless in my office staring at the wall. I couldn’t stop thinking about last night’s dinner and the three amazing characters I dined with: Jackie the humble and impressive gentleman, Marilyn the sexy depressed bimbo and best of all, Jesus the wise and warm little wino.
I waited for a respectable hour to call Robert and thank him again for last night. Someone answered the Chez Robert’s phone at 11:30. I asked to speak to Robert.
“There is no Robert here, monsieur.”
“I’m looking for Robert Cheval, the owner and manager.”
“You are mistaken, monsieur. I don’t know a Robert Cheval and I own this restaurant.”
“No, you must be mistaken; I was there with Mr. Cheval last night in your wine cellar dining room.”
“Monsieur, we have no wine cellar dining room nor have I ever heard of Robert Cheval. Au revoir, monsieur.”