"Big Time"

Being a larger than average human being can have its advantages.  I am very popular when someone needs something off the top shelf; I always got chosen for pick-up basketball games at the gym (John Wooden used to say that being tall was the one thing in basketball you couldn’t teach); it took a lot more beer to get drunk, so I managed to stay out of jail after getting pulled over a couple of times; and when I was single, women used to make their clichéd assumptions relating to my “size”. Once, when I was waiting on a woman who was very far to the North of my personal Line of Demarcation on age, looked me deep in the eyes and asked me through her lipstick-stained teeth, in a three-pack-a-day voice, if I was “that big all over”?  Yikes!  Cougar attack!

But there are disadvantages as well.  I always am in the back row for photos (often with my head “cut off”); shopping for Levi’s that are not “floods” is problematic (once your waist gets to a certain size, clothing manufacturers assume you are a short, fat guy, so size 40”x36” doesn’t exist except in the “Big and Ugly Stores”); it takes a lot more beer to get a really big guy drunk; and I always have to get stuff off the top shelf for people.

Another element to being big and tall is unintended intimidation: you can frighten people without trying.   In my management job, and in life in general, this is good news/bad news.  Being an imposing figure can get people to do what you ask them to in a hurry, but can also result in them assuming the “frozen in terror” posture.

Anyone who knows me or has worked for me knows I am a big puss-boy.  I have been known to cry during “tear-jerker” movies and have to do the fake stretch or the I’m-just-cleaning-my-glasses-move to hide the waterworks, lest my cover be totally blown.  They also know I would never physically harm anyone intentionally.  The last real fight I got into was in the sixth grade, and I got my ass kicked, so lesson learned there.  But after several experiences where I accidentally terrified someone, simply because I was 6’4”, 250 and shouting, I have learned to curb my sometimes-volatile temper.  Now, if I was 5’4” and 140, and did my jerk act I probably would have gotten my ass kicked, and well, many times over; so that lesson had not been learned.  Not yet, that is.

Many years ago, when I was a young and somewhat over-enthusiastic Executive Chef, I had an intern from New England Culinary Academy working for me one season.  Elyse Moore was about 4-foot-nothing, and probably weighed 90 lbs. soaking wet.  She always looked like she was wearing her big brother’s Chef coat, as they did not make them in size “Teeney Weeney”.  Elyse was a very capable line cook though, especially for a culinary school brat, and had a great sense of humor that helped her fit right in.

One night, during a particularly busy dinner rush, Elyse was working the grill station (it was always the busiest one in this kitchen).  I was expediting, and calling out her steaks and chops to be fired as the orders came in: “Walkin’ in:  two Ribeye, one’s medium, a Lamb, and a Halibut” etc.  As the night got busier and tensions rose, Elyse missed a fire on a set of Lamb Chops.  All the rest of the dishes for the table, an 8-top, were ready; and as I turned to Elyse at the grill to ask for the Medium-Well Lamb I needed to “kill” the table, I saw her standing there with the two raw, stone cold chops in her hands, just pulled from the two-door reach-in at the end of the hot line.  No other lamb chops had been ordered after these had come in, so there was no hope of “stealing” a set from another table (and these were Loin Chops, two inches thick:  fifteen minutes, minimum, for a medium-well set).

The look on her face was complete “oh my god I am so sorry”.  I was, of course, angry, and had the knee-jerk (emphasis on the “jerk”) reaction of kicking the fridge door shut to express it more fully.  My Vibram-soled boot stuck briefly on the door’s stainless steel surface, grabbing a hold of the door, and sending it flying straight up and off of its hinge pins.  It flew directly back at Elyse who, of course, was appropriately frozen in terror.  I managed to lunge forward and catch the door well before it landed atop Tiny Elyse, and placed it back on the fridge.  Elyse looked so terrified of me, and I was completely horrified by my behavior, so completely embarrassed for losing it like I had.  There was nothing for me to do but stop service completely and hug her, and whisper to her how sorry I was.  She attempted to move away from me as I reached down toward her, and rightly so.  The hug, I think, was more of a shock to her and the rest of the staff than the flying fridge door; and I made a vow to myself then and there to keep my temper in check in the future.

That vow has gone on, largely unbroken, for many years since (Chef now says I am sometimes gruff and direct, but not mean).  Elyse actually came back to work for me the next two seasons, and I kept in touch with her and her husband Tony for many years (Tony and I played City League hoops together for a couple of years); but I haven’t heard from them in awhile.  But whenever I feel myself “losing it” in a work situation, I remember that look on her face on The Night of The Flying Fridge.  Lesson learned.


5 Responses to "Big Time"

  1. Carole Loomis says:

    Well, you don’t scare me!

  2. sara says:

    I’ve been scared by Chefs before.. back when I had a line cook that used to spit frill picks of straws across the slide if you weren’t picking up pancakes quick enough… Or th crazy Japanese Chef with the amzing Marsala that always went on the line sober as a judge and always went off of it very touchy when he wasn’t a ranting lunatic prone to throwing his panty guy through the swinging doors.. One minute all is quiet the next little Jose is on his ass next to the wine rack.. Oh, and there was the one kitchen that liked to throw pavlovas at my head.. you don’t seem soo bad. One little door falls off it’s hinges…

  3. skippymom says:

    My husband is 6’3 and whenever we are out shopping someone invariably asks him to reach for something on a higher shelf. I always say “That’s why I married him.” [I am 5’8].

    The thing is his size has never seemed imposing or scary – I guess it is his nature or demeanor, but he just doesn’t put fear in people because of his size.

    You sound like a teddy bear [a hug? on the line? 🙂 ] but I guess I can see how scared Elyse would be. I know I would’ve been.

    Like the blog! Very nice.

  4. skippymom says:

    PS the only chef that ever scared me was around 5’10, 200 lbs and on cocaine during his shift.

    He was crazy nuts and a sexual harrassment suit waiting to happen. The man could simply NOT keep his hands to himself. When I finally yelled at him to keep his hands off of me the kitchen manger put me on notice for bad behavior. He was more valuable [ha!] then me – a lowly dishwasher [I was 16, in high school] Bah!

  5. El Jefe says:

    I could have written this post, just changing a few details! At 6’7″, I too am Top Shelf Man (though I have sorely been tempted to ask a short person to help me get something off the bottom shelf on occasion…)

    BTW JC Penney has a great selection of Big and Ugly, and you can shop in the privacy of your own home….;)

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