I was thinking about my old friend George S. for no good reason today. We weren’t particularly close, but he did play a somewhat significant role in my life at a couple of points. He was the head cook at the restaurant I worked at in New York, when I was stuck making salads and was desperately trying to get a shift on the line doing something more glamorous, like saute or grill.
The place had a show line, so the more glamorous cooks were out there in the middle of the dining room, making plates spin and fires flare and generally just hamming it up. I was stuck in the back kitchen, chopping lettuce and crumbling wheels of gorgonzola between my fingertips. But all the line cooks had been there for a really long time, and none of them showed signs of budging any time soon. Until, that is, George got drunk one Friday night and slammed his fist into a brick wall.
The next night, after George showed me around the saute station and described the dishes to me, he waved goodbye with his bandaged-up hand and retreated to the salad station in back. Sink or swim, baby, on a Saturday night. I loved it. Love love loved it.
I worked the saute station for four years after that, and developed my own schtick in the hamming-it-up department. Besides always wearing bright red lipstick while on the line, I was known for producing massive plumes of fire in my red-hot saute pans that could almost reach the vaulted ceiling.
My partner on the line, Tom, and I established the best rapport I’ve ever had the privilege of sharing with a coworker, and most nights it felt like dancing.
George later quit drinking and focused on producing fantastical, breath-taking wood sculpture, his true talent. He started long-distance running, and several times I came across his sweaty figure in the fountain downtown, dousing himself after running all the way from his home in the countryside. We’d chat a bit, then he’d turn around and head back home, striding effortlessly on his long legs.
He looked, for all the world, like Steven Tyler.
I have no idea why I was thinking about him today, but the thoughts made me smile, and seemed worth sharing.