Today would have been my dear friend Richard’s 62nd birthday. I can imagine the fun we would have been planning had he still been with us in his body in this lifetime. The ways in which he inspired me and challenged me to change my life are too great to measure in one blog post. I miss so many things about Richard. I think the two things I miss the most are his hugs and his sense of humor.
I wrote this little story quite sometime ago. I actually used a short version of the story as part of the intro to his eulogy that I delivered, but it has never been published in its entirety before. It seems that it was intended for today. For those of you who knew Richard it is a reminder of his needling sense of humor. For those of you who never had a chance to meet him, it is a glimpse into so many sides of his personality; the caring, kind, hilarious, self-deprecating, persistent and the wise.
Happy birthday Richard. You are still here in so many ways!
During the days that led up to my wedding Richard and I would often meet up for breakfast or coffee before our shift began at the restaurant. Our conversations could range anywhere from the mundane garbage we complained about at work to our thoughts about the nature of reality and the meaning of life. It really didn’t matter what we talked about, because somehow a powerful lesson always wove its way into the fiber of the words that we exchanged. Since we enjoyed the benefit of my 51% employee discount card as a reward for my ten years of service at our wonderful company Lettuce Entertain You, we often chose places in our family of restaurants.
One morning in August of 2013 we chose one of our favorite places, Café Beatrix. Our server was a nice young woman and there was another server working that morning named Anthony who Richard liked very well. I had hoped that Anthony would consider applying to work with us at Joe’s someday. He was a cheerful young man who always provided great service during the times that he waited on me at Cafe Beatrix. He wound up applying and getting hired four months after Richard’s death. Perhaps it was the intention I put out into the Universe. Perhaps it was Anthony’s desire to re-establish a connection to Richard’s legacy. Perhaps it was a gentle nudge from Sir Richard himself. Probably it was all three.
On that particular Wednesday morning in August as Richard and I sipped on tea, we struck up a conversation about casual things at first and ordered our food. Like many of our conversations though, this one took a turn towards the special and deep as we continued to discuss the details of the wedding ceremony for Christiana and I that Richard would perform in less than a month.
When our food came our server put the plates down and asked if there was anything else she could bring for us. See at a Lettuce Entertain You restaurant servers are not permitted to ask if everything is okay. The company has always worked on the premise that everything is going perfectly and that all you need to do is check back within two minutes of the food arriving and see if there is anything else the guest needs. Talk about putting a positive intention into the Universe! This is one of the many reasons I have loved working for Rich Melman for 14 years.
After our server did her two-minute check back and left our table Richard looked around the room. He made sure to peer over both shoulders to see that she was not in earshot. Then Richard glanced up at me and said, “Did I order waffles?” I said yes Richard you ordered waffles. He then muttered, “I thought I ordered pancakes?” I repeated “No Richard you ordered waffles, do you want pancakes?” He shrugged his shoulders and said, “No I’ll just eat the waffles…”
We returned to our conversation and within a few minutes Richard again glanced out of the corner of his eye at me and said, “Are you sure I ordered waffles?” Once again I insisted that he had in fact done exactly that. For the remainder of breakfast he continued to ask the question in some form of either “are you sure I didn’t order pancakes” or “did I order waffles.”
We finished our breakfast . We finished our discussion. I’m sure at some point Richard had one or even a few brilliant revelations for me to consider that would find a way into our wedding ceremony. We continued on to work together. During the day he would come to me about every 30 minutes or so and ask a decoy question like “Who is that on table 45?” and then quickly and immediately follow with “Are you sure I ordered waffles?”
After the about the tenth time he asked the question, when I’m quite sure he knew he had pushed me to the end of my tolerance levels he asked just one last time “Are you suuuuure I ordered waffles?” To which I replied, “For the last time Richard you ordered waffles!” He then dropped his head and swiftly said “Thank you very much!” Richard then turned on his heels and marched back into the dining room. That was the delightfully funny and needling Richard in a nutshell.
I would later go on to hear stories about the pranks he would play on co-workers at Café Spiaggia, NoMI an other restaurants he worked at through the years. I only wish I had heard those stories over a community dining table in Richard’s home and not only at Richard’s memorial service.
Why didn’t Richard send back the waffles that morning? In my estimation there were a multitude of reasons.
Richard never wanted to make anyone feel like they made a mistake. Let me re-phrase that actually. The Richard of August 2013 didn’t want to let anyone feel like they made a mistake. I know that like all of us, Richard was a product of the sum of all the experiences he had in his lifetime. I could see Richard’s judgmental side come out once in a while even in his more refined sixty-year old self. What I NEVER saw though was any measure of unkindness in Richard. In something as simple as whether or no to send back an order of waffles to exchange for pancakes Richard was able to process in his mind, and within seconds decide on the optimal course of action. That skill is an example of both his kindness and his wisdom.
Our server probably never would have given it a second thought if Richard had sent back the waffles and said he intended to order pancakes. Yet if there was even an iota of a chance that opening that door might have created a shimmer of self-doubt in her mind, Richard chose the course of action that was guaranteed to not create that self-doubt. Now I realize we are only talking about pancakes here but, deep existential topics were Richard’s specialty so allow me a little latitude here.
I would also speculate that Richard would not like to be wasteful and throw away perfectly edible food. I might even suggest that Richard had the whole stunt planned in advance all the way down to the needling me at work part!
I have often said miss my father the most at lunchtime. In the later years after he retired we would often meet for lunch to which he would always treat me. We would have great talks that I would always wish would never end. I think the time that I’ll miss Richard the most is at breakfast time. Every once in a while I go out by myself and order waffles even though I don’t like waffles so I can question myself as to whether or not I might have ordered something else all together.
What I’d really like to order for breakfast in my heart of hearts is never on the menu, but in then again on other ways he always is…