The longest part-time job I held down during high school was at Sea Breeze, a seafood restaurant in Guilford, Connecticut, one town over from where I lived. A friend connected me with a job there and I started as a dishwasher and eventually became a line cook.
I learned how to make fantastic onion rings, tuna melts, fried shrimp, and stuffed cod. I was schooled in the art of killing, cleaning, and stuffing lobster. I was also introduced to the hellish stress of being buried in work and under pressure. I was a young and angry teenage punk rocker working with a few fellow teenagers but was mostly among adults who really needed their jobs and didn’t have time for my nonsense.
The owner was Bobby DeLucca and he and I didn’t talk much, seeing as he was the owner and I was mostly a dishwasher. He was there a lot and usually wound up working several jobs in some capacity, often in the kitchen. He would jump on the sauté station and give out the orders to the line cooks, only to move to the other side of the service window and help deliver these orders to tables.
The restaurant business is brutal and I got to see that first-hand in the two years I worked at Sea Breeze. Sometimes people walked off the job in the middle of a busy weekend night and everyone had to scramble to keep up. One night after the restaurant closed someone broke in and drilled open the safe in Bobby’s office. Dishes shatter, supplies run low, the trash collection gets delayed, the mixer breaks. It’s a stressful business to work in even when it’s not all on your shoulders, when the hard-earned bucks don’t stop with you.
Bobby’s son Rob worked in the kitchen and his daughter Darlene worked as a hostess and bartender. One time the two of them got into an argument and Darlene confronted her father about having to work with her brother. “When you were little your mother and I came to you and said ‘How would you like a little brother?’ and you said ‘Yes, Daddy, yes!’ and here we are.” The entire kitchen staff cracked up over that and whatever situation that had arisen was quickly diffused. There isn’t time to argue when there are orders to be served and people waiting for tables.
One Sunday night, the few coworkers that would normally give me a ride home were gone, things at the time weren’t great with my family, and this left me stranded at work after my shift. Bobby said he could give me a ride home, but he had to close up the restaurant first and the bar stayed open later than the kitchen. I waited in the bar, hearing snippets of conversations here or there. I hit on some of the waitresses who were much older and out of my league, which gave Bobby a laugh. “This kid’s got brass balls,” he said.
At the time I worked at Sea Breeze I was squeezing rebellious commentary into everything. There’s only so much of a rebel you can be when you are a high school student and still live at home with your family on the Connecticut shoreline, but I was angry at everything and everyone all the time and wanted it known. This didn’t faze my boss.
“You remind me of myself when I was your age,” he told me as we drove over the dark back roads towards North Madison. “I was crazy. I remember running for student council and banging my shoe on the desk like Khrushchev.”
“Oh yeah, I was something else.”
I was surprised to find this kinship with my boss, who I didn’t think had much in common with me. It was good to speak to an adult who had gone through his own turbulent teen years and could look back on them with a sense of humor, even with nostalgia. I had a new appreciation for Bobby, moved by his seeing a bit of himself in all my craziness.
Inspired by our conversation, I ran for class president in the next school year on an anti-establishment platform that had the school administration tear down my posters and call me out of Latin class in a failed attempt to scare me out of running. I might have actually won (it was the only year they decided to cancel any debates or speeches for the student elections and I never got to see the vote count despite my request). In the hallway the day after the vote, a girl who was part of the popular crowd whispered to me, “I voted for you, don’t tell anybody.” Years later, people told me how it was one of the coolest things anyone had ever done in high school.
Robert “Bobby” Gary DeLucca passed away July 30 after a brief illness, leaving behind a grieving family that includes two grandchildren. Remembrances from people who had worked for him poured in, some from decades ago. Family and friends gathered in Guilford to remember him.
I thanked Bobby for the ride home that night, but never got the chance to thank him for inspiring me to run for office, or for permission to go ahead and be a crazy young person, or for letting me know that the rebellious streak runs through all of us, even our bosses.
This past weekend, my wife upheld an 18-year tradition she has of working at the Super Saturday charity event to benefit ovarian cancer research. That left me to look after our three small children by myself.
The weather forecast called for rain, so I took my three girls to the New York Hall of Science, which is a great place to take children. It has a dedicated indoor play area along with tons of other hands-on educational fun throughout.
“Wow, you’ve got three kids. Respect,” said a guy in the bathroom as I was shepherding my girls to the sinks to wash their hands.
“Thank you,” I said, not knowing what else to say. A few hours later, as I and the kids were finishing up our lunch, another Dad come over and offered to give me some beverages from his cooler, saying we looked low on drinks (we weren’t). I thanked him but declined the offer.
There seems to be a common thread among any comments that strangers make to me when I’m out on my own with my kids that since I am a Dad it’s a miracle that my children are not dead from disease or living as feral savages five minutes after leaving the house. I have no cause to think that I can do this job better than my wife, but keeping children alive is not a rarified art form.
It wasn’t that long ago that people less education and lower-paying jobs had many more kids. My father is one of seven. There are people in New York today with giant families. When I worked at JFK Airport, I met an immigrant who was bringing his 13 children into the U.S. on immigrant visas. His wife was in a wheelchair and looked very tired.
My wife gets a different comment: “I see you got your hands full,” is what people say to her. It doesn’t matter if they are male or female, old or young. That’s what everyone says to her that feels the need to comment on her managing our superior offspring.
I got that comment only once, at the supermarket, after one of our toddlers threw a temper tantrum that must have been heard by all of College Point, Queens. It was an older woman, her voice filled with schadenfreude, and cigarette smoke, and the sickening crackle of base stupidity. I ignored her and went about my grocery shopping.
Tantrums elicit the most unwelcome attention from armchair parents or bad parents who need to feel superior. On the 7 train recently a woman was struggling to contain her young son who was in the middle of throwing a blood-curdling tantrum when I got on at Grand Central Terminal. By the time they got off the train many stops later, the kid had calmed down, but not before a dozen people spent an inordinate amount of time staring at her. One of the slack-jawed gawkers was a father who had kids with him. He had the chutzpah to bring a double-wide stroller onto a crowded 7 train, plowed into several passengers trying to squeeze out of the train, and then cursed us from the platform for not helping enough. A loser Dad to beat all loser Dads.
If you see a child throwing a temper tantrum and a parent is handling it, let them handle it. Don’t stare at them or made sarcastic comments. If there was a cure for the terrible twos (and threes and fours…) someone would have had a vaccine for that long ago. The kid’s screaming is nowhere near as annoying to you as it is draining and mortifying for the parent or parents involved. If you sincerely have something positive to contribute or do to help, then thank you tenfold. You are the rare gem among a sea of self-satisfied and smug breeders that love to torment their fellow parents.
And unless your comment is actually helpful and important, like “Excuse me, I think your daughter in the pink dress just pooped on a street corner,” or “Your baby just picked up a large knife,” then no one needs to hear your comments about our (relatively) large brood. Thank you for noticing our amazing virility and the ability to keep all of our children alive. Please leave us alone.