For those of you who read my column in Merrimack Valley Magazine, thank you!
For those of you who don’t receive the magazine, you should consider it. It is a great product. Click here.
For those of you who get it, but don’t read my column, well…hahahaha…like that is EVEN possible!
Anyway–I ALWAYS ALWAYS go over my allotted word limit (shocking I know!) and often, the editors let it fly.
This May issue, it was not an option for them. (I can’t tell you why–and it is not because the editor is a hard ass…though he is. He likes to argue even more than me!)
BUT…I really feel like this column was significantly compromised by the reduction. It lost some of it’s original clarity, some humor, some emotion. So, and don’t tell Prezzano, here it is unedited.
(I’m kidding about not telling–My friend and the editor of MVM has agreed that I own all of my content–and I actually, never do this.)
WARNING: It’s like, 1,000 words!
LESSONS IN LOVE AND LEADERSHIP
“The true measure of any great society can be found in how it treats its most vulnerable members.” Mahatma Gandhi
Boston chef Andy Husbands emailed a poignant rallying cry to this year’s participants in the Massachusetts Restaurant Day for No Kid Hungry fundraiser.
He urged us as industry leaders to adopt a credo:
“As people who feed people, no child should ever be hungry.”
I’m not going to lie. Hours later, while re-quoting that in welcome to the 90-plus generous supporters to Cobblestones’ dinner, I had to deep-breath in mid-sentence. “Allergies.”
(OK, that was a lie.)
On the day that eight restaurants raised over $100,000 for hungry children in the state, dude preached gospel.
Music, movies, Tolstoy, speeches. I love quotes. “I’m in a glass case of emotion” made me laugh, as does Will Farrell in general, and although I don’t dismiss bathroom-reader quote books, cute as they are, I favor the rare words that shed powerful light in an instant. In his own moments of epiphany, my wife’s father says: “Dawn breaks over Marblehead.” Of all his endearing phrases, his earliest advice (following “Try the shrimp scampi”) carries the greatest gravitas to this day. “Be kind.”
“Everyone lies” was an eye-opener, although I don’t imagine you’ll see that one on a throw pillow anytime soon. A simple gem from philosophical former chef Kaeo Yuen as we discussed the credibility of a flawed cook. He wasn’t lying. Our lies always land “along the spectrum,” often to be better understood and, perhaps, forgiven.
“Staff needs to know the gun is loaded” were the consoling words from chef Marc Spooner in 2001 as I commiserated over (finally) firing a beloved employee who just couldn’t be to work on time. Truth. Although I prefer to keep the “gun” of authority concealed, consequence is a professional imperative. Like a wise man straight outta Jerusalem, mentor Uncle Kenny says, “It’s just business.” My restaurant idol, author Danny Meyer, warns that lateness represents culture-crushing arrogance, as my no-nonsense wife, Kathy, has reminded many times through the years as I’ve struggled: “Often the greatest regret you have in firing someone is that you didn’t do it sooner.” After 31 years of marriage and business, she could fill this page with her “own” worthy quotes!
A favorite of hers? “Take the high road, it’s less congested.” She has remained on point since the git-go: “In the end … all that’s left behind is one’s integrity.” In this way she is sort of like Omar of HBO’s The Wire: “A man got to have a code.”
I fastened into JetBlue and my headphones for my now annual “I’m out” reset-escape from ugly, taunting March — strapped in as my best chance to finish reading an old issue the Sunday New York Times. As you may know by now, my mind regularly insists that I focus on something other than what I am focusing upon — the endless cycle of my reality.
I bore down on the Arts & Leisure pages, committed to finishing writer Nikole Hannah-Jones’ depiction of the movie “Moonlight.” While attributing the success of the co-creators in part to “… hard work, intelligence, sheer will … so much depends on luck and timing. On not making the irreversible mistake. On meeting the right person at the right time who pushes in the right direction.”
Wait, what? I blinked and read it again. Get. Out. Of. My head.
And there they were — damned allergies — fingers pinching back that sting in the nose as I recalled in a dream-like flash flood: years of amazing fortune and luck, hard work and sacrifice; too many close calls in avoiding the irreversible mistake; so often the right timing; the many who have been there each step of the way; family.
Behind humidified eyes, weaving through all of it, imagery of my “… right person,” Kathy, pushing gently but relentlessly in the right direction.
Hannah-Jones wrecked me on that plane, my emotional escape synching at 5,000 feet as I tore that piece of newspaper out, oblivious to whether I was alarming the lady in the center seat.
I stopped reading — my inevitability — and reached for a pen, now reminiscing over swirling and prescient quotes that demanded my attention, so many lessons I have received from others. I chuckled lightly and out loud (now side-eyeing middle-seat-lady for signs of distress) at the irony of another of Kathy’s favorites: “Work smarter, not harder.” This from a woman who logged thousands of miles coast-coast for two decades championing medical innovation — she who would hit the ground running at 6:30 a.m. and return home at midnight to start preparing for the next day, which might actually have begun with: “Hon. You can’t wear those shoes with that …”
Baby knows shoes, too.
Some additional quotes that made my list that flight:
“A successful negotiation leaves both sides feeling they should have done better.” Uncle Kenny, 1994, approaching the opening of our first restaurant.
“I hate whining.” Pop Pop Norman, Kenny and my mother’s father, delivered 20 years earlier with the added emphasis of a slap to the back of my whining 10-year-old head. Nature vs. nurture? DNA or not, I too (now) hate whining. Don’t bring me a problem without a solution.
“Rarely does losing your temper derive the results you seek.”
Dad, 2003. (It’s a long story.)
But through the years, it’s my man-child brother, David, who owns the one that resonates the most, whispered upon the day that we buried our father’s father.
That evening, he and I sat with our cherished and now-widowed “Nanny” on our chilly childhood back porch. The three of us huddled pink-eyed, each clutching our can of cheap beer in the dark. As the somber conversation turned to my gay cousin and her partner’s recent adoption of a baby, our old-world grandmother shook her gentle head, and with the slightest brogue disapproved: “Ochh, what’s this world coming to?”
As if on cue, Dave differed. “I don’t know, Nan. I think all anybody really wants in this life is to be loved.”
On a day that this 84-year-old had just said a final goodbye to her dearest friend of 55 years, I watched a light touch her tired eyes, her tender-yet-biased heart melt … “I do believe you are right, my Davey-lad, I believe you are right.”