I once had a boss named Steve Sherman. Must have been about 1991. He was an odd little man, if he were an actor, he'd have been cast as the quirky balding guy, not really like George from Seinfeld, but more like that guy from My Dinner with André. I thought he was a little too much at times with his Napoleon complex, but we got along anyway, and eventually, I found myself hanging out some nights at his place smoking a joint. He was someone I would have never chosen as a friend, but whom I came to respect and whose company I eventually enjoyed. His fingernails were always impeccable.
I remember the time he was most furious with me. As the manager of the dining room at the Ritz Carlton, he had the right to sit down with anything from the menu at the end of the night. We employees were limited to the cafeteria foodstuffs, which, although arguably edible, could not compare to the chef in the dining room working on getting his Michelin star. Steve had us well trained to set his table up at the end of the night so that he could dine while we ran around closing up shop. It was on one of these evenings that I unscrewed the salt shaker at his table and watched from the corner of my eye as he poured a mountain of salt onto his filet mignon. Enraged, he shouted,"Who did this!" And ran around accosting everyone, who once having seen the mound of salt on the steak, had melted into giggling hysterics. I finally admitted through tears that I had done it. He sent me home and took away a shift to punish me. He had apparently forgotten the adage - those who tease you, love you.
At our one year anniversary of opening, he came to work very excited. Before we opened in the evening, we had line-up, where Steve inspected our uniforms, hygiene and equipment. This night he presented each of us with an engraved wine opener. "Only the best for my staff," he announced and explained that these wine openers were top of the line, guaranteed for life. Mine said "Richard". It is the only meaningful gift I have ever received from a boss. Ever.
Shortly after that night, Steve was offered a better position at a competing hotel and left the Ritz. I still hung out at his house sometimes and caught up on how his "new life" at the Biltmore was going. He seemed right proud of his position and I was truly happy for the guy.
A month later, Steve was killed in an auto accident as he drove home from work late at night. A drunk driver plowed into him and took his life. It was quite a shock, the man was barely thirty. I went to the funeral and at the entrance there was a poster with lots of pictures of him from his cut-short life. I took one look at it and started crying. And I couldn't stop. Sobbing and crying so much that I drew stares from others. I didn't understand what had come over me. For the next hour during the service, I cried continually. It was the grief that catches you off guard. I know I was caught off guard.
Over the years, I have cherished that wine opener. I keep it way in back of the utility drawer so I always know where it is and only use it when I have a nice bottle of wine to open. Every time I do use it, I think of Steve (thanks Steve!), his too short life and his funeral. I imagine how he would have been now, puffed up and executive like, and pretend that maybe he really didn't die at all. Last week, I couldn't fine the cheapy wine opener, so I took along the Steve Sherman corkscrew so that we might enjoy some wine in our New York hotel room.
And wouldn't you know it, that opener was in my bag. The bag that was stolen in Times Square.
Goodbye Steve Sherman, I'm really going to miss you now.