Monday, January 13, 2014

Amanuensis Monday: "A Man with a Memory" (Giacomo "James" Mariani, San Francisco, CA)

From “A Man with A Memory,” The Morning Call, San Francisco, CA, 6 February 1893, p. 3; digital images, California Digital Newspaper Collection ( : accessed May 2011). 

City Sketches in Black and White

 A Man with A Memory

In an Italian restaurant on O’Farrell street there is a waiter who has a memory greater than that possessed by Memnon or by a disappointed office-seeker.  Better still, his bank account is longer than his wonderful memory.
A wonder in many things is Mariani, for that is the name of the little man with the big memory.  Many were the stories related in reference to the food-bearer’s incomprehensible bran faculties before I decided to test them for myself.
“Why,” said a Bohemian friend while relating some of Mariani’s performances, “there is less likelihood of his forgetting a face or a dish than of Chris Buckley, ‘the blind devil,’ failing to remember a voice.  He will not only recognize one after a year’s absence, but will also remember what your last meal consisted of.  Don’t believe it, eh?  Well, you can put him to a test and decide for yourself.”
So it was agreed to put the little waiter’s memory to a most rigid test.  It was on Christmas eve, 1891, that two weary, hungry reporters entered the restraint where Mariani is employed.  Hundreds of persons were dining there and scarcely two ordered the same dishes.
“Hello, Shortpencil,” was Mariani’s greeting as he quickly appeared by my friend’s side, “regular dinner to-night or the same as you had last time?”
In order that there might be a fair test Shortpencil insisted that I should do the ordering.  I do so, and the meal was a most satisfactory one.  The circumstance had almost entirely escaped my memory and I had forgotten there was such a person in the world as a disciple of the great Memnon in the person of the modest little waiter, and was wondering where to dine when Shortpencil accosted me.  This was Christmas eve, 1892, just one year after our dinner was served by Mariani.
 “Been to dinner?  No, well let’s go to see Mariani.  I’ll wager you a small bottle of extra dry that he can repeat the dinner, dish for dish, without a single order.”
The wager was accepted and half an hour later we were seated in the O’Farrell street restaurant.  Mariani was soon before us with a large bottle of claret in his hands.
“Good evening,” said he to Shortpencel, and turning to me, he added, “and how are you?  It must be nearly a year since you were last here?”
Already his memory was beginning to assert itself.  “now then gentlemen,” he continued, “will you have a regular dinner or the same as last time?”
“Same,” said Shortpencil.  Then my own memory of the meal twelve months before was revived as each delicacy appeared in the same order as before.  First came the large bottle of Burgundy with two small glasses and plenty of cracked ice.  Shrimp salad, ox tail soup, Italiarena, broiled flounder, roast teal duck and run omlette came in their regular order without a word being spoken to Mariani.
“You had Oregon cheese last time,” explained the knight of the napkin, when it was time for dessert, “but we have a new brand which you will find even nicer.”
“Give us the same as before,” was the order.
By this time I began to marvel at the man’s memory and to realize that I was about to lose the wager.
But there were several things yet to come before the first dinner had been entirely duplicated.  Mariani was equal to the occasion, however, and without the least hesitation completed the meal by supplying black coffee, cognac and the same brand of cigars we had smoked before.
Shortpencil chuckled gleefully several hours later as he helped consume the champagne Mariani’s memory had won for him.  “Don’t feel bad,” he said soothingly, as he held the sparkling liquid to the light, “I lost a similar bet two years ago.  Had to get even some way, you know.”
Several days later I learned more about Mariani.  For thirty years he has worked in the same restaurant and has judiciously invetsed his savings.  In addition to several houses and lots he owns a big factory in South San Francisco that supplies many of the delicacies he daily serves to patrons of the restaurant.
“Yes, he is a wonder,” said the proprietor of the restaurant, when asked about Mariani, “and although he has accumulated a fortune you could not hire him to quit his occupation as a waiter.  As he declares himself, he was born to be a waiter, and a waiter he will be till called to that land where edibles are not required.”     ~B. Cromwell

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