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Homage to My Principal Strickland
Saying goodbye to my first and most memorable boss.
Last week I learned of some sad news. An old boss of my mine had unexpectedly passed away at the age of 68.
Though I hadn’t seen him in many years, the news still came with a sting. He wasn’t just any boss, after all. He was the first person to ever give me a job interview (when I was teenager), the first person to ever hire me (for anything more important than golf-caddie work), and the first boss to ever put the fear of God in me.
His name was Kevin, and to a wide-eyed 16-year-old submitting a bus-boy application at an upscale family restaurant down the street, he was a pretty imposing figure. By imposing, I’m not talking about size-wise (he wasn’t a large man). I’m talking about his rigidness, hawkishness, and intensity.
Kevin, at least when I knew him, was an all-business, no-nonsense kind of guy. The man lived and breathed restaurant management and professionalism. He took his job extremely seriously and rarely cracked a smile. He was a clean-freak, and also had an uncanny ability to suddenly appear from around a corner whenever one of his subordinates was screwing around, at which point Kevin’s narrow, Clint Eastwood-like eyes would home in on that person and immediately command compliance.
I still remember how tense those moments were.
And when a cold, eye-twitching stare wasn’t enough, Kevin’s sharp bark of condemnation could cause you to jump right out of your shoes.
You didn’t want to piss off Kevin.
But over time, Kevin and I formed somewhat of unique relationship — unique enough that upon hearing of his passing, one of our old co-workers confessed to me that I was the first person she had thought of. I’m guessing others we worked with would tell you the same thing.
I would compare the chemistry between me and Kevin to that of Marty McFly and Principal Strickland from Back to the Future. I was the smart-ass teenager and he was the tight-ass authority figure.
You see, I was a bit of a joker back then (I suppose I still am), and I embarked on a mission to try and melt-down the ice-man. I did so through humor and what I would call playful insubordination. I enjoyed giving Kevin a hard time, and took a great amount of pride in being one of the few people at the restaurant able to draw out a smile (and even an occasional chuckle) from the guy.
Believe me, achieving that kind of reaction from someone as straight-laced as Kevin was like winning the Super Bowl.
The photo below is a good example of one such victory. (That’s Kevin standing in the back).
This shot was taken on Halloween, when I (yes, I had hair back then) and another bus-boy, Lance (who I’m still friends with), had the night off. We decided to eat at the restaurant that night, dressed up as… Kevin. We wore cheesy sport coats and ties under “Hello, my name is” stickers with Kevin’s name written on them. For the photo, we held up pens that we feverishly clicked (a nervous habit of Kevin’s), and we straightened out our faces to emulate his uptight demeanor.
Kevin was a good sport that night, but believe me when I say that he wasn’t too keen on others seeing that side of him. When I was on the clock, our wise-guy back-and-forths sometimes drew in amused onlookers. And at such times when Kevin would feel as though his lips were being pulled into an uncomfortable curl, he’d quickly leave the room. That’s dedication, folks. The people we worked with found it very entertaining.
Before and after hours, when few people were around, he was a bit looser. I remember coming into work early one day after Kevin called me at home to tell me that a review of the previous night’s take-out receipts showed that I had undercharged a customer by about $20. It was an accident, but restaurant policy (as I learned that day) was that the employee was required pay back half of the loss.
So, in the back office, I presented Kevin with a jar full of pennies that amounted to exactly $10.
He didn’t want to laugh. He tried very hard not to laugh. But when a chortle came rising up from his gut, his reflex was to grab a nearby spray-bottle of water (I assume for the office plants) and squirt me directly in the face. A dishwasher happened to walk by the open door just then, as I was making a fuss, and Kevin quickly went deadpan serious, thanking me for the pennies and sending me on my way.
There were lots of comical incidents, but don’t get me wrong… I still pissed Kevin off plenty (about 9 times out of 10), sometimes over completely ridiculous things that I still, to this day, don’t understand the meaning behind.
A buddy of mine’s favorite John/Kevin story is the time when I was sitting in the employee lounge, eating lunch and singing the theme from the 1960’s television show, Star Trek. I guess it wasn’t so much “singing” as it was reproducing the wordless melody that was originally recorded with a female soprano. I honestly don’t recall what compelled me to start the performance in the first place, other than to grab a few laughs from co-workers. But for whatever reason, what I was doing (far out of earshot of any customers, mind you) absolutely infuriated Kevin.
“John!” he snarled as he darted up to me. “Don’t. Do. That!!!” He was deadly serious.
It was kind of shocking, and he held my blank stare until I acknowledged that I was going to zip my lip. My buddy, who was sitting next to me, could barely contain his laughter.
News of the incident quickly made its rounds through the restaurant, and when someone approached me in the kitchen later, asking about it, I filled him in on what had happened.
“How does that song go again?” the person then asked.
I subtly started singing it to jog his memory. From out of nowhere, Kevin appeared again (I described that skill of his earlier), and was absolutely incensed.
“John!!!” he roared, nostrils flaring and vein protruding from the center of his forehead. “I SAID STOP IT!!!”
I stopped it. There was no second encore.
I don’t know if there was some painful memory from Kevin’s past that had something to do with Star Trek, but from then on, I saved the soundtrack recitals for after I punched out.
But most of my memories of Kevin are indeed fond ones, and I know I endeared myself to him too. We had an unmistakable bond.
I worked at the restaurant through high school, throughout my first year of college, and then just summers and Christmas breaks (as a waiter) for the remainder of my undergrad. I built several strong, lasting friendships during that time (while gathering ample material for future book-series characters), but when I left for good to enter the adult workforce, I never saw Kevin again.
The restaurant’s now gone, and on rare occasions over the years, when Kevin would cross my mind (usually after shooting the breeze with an old colleague), I would try looking him up on social media. I hoped I’d luck out and find him there one day, but I never did, and never really expected to. He was a guy who mostly kept to himself (I don’t think he ever married or had kids), was uncomfortable sharing much about his private life, and assuredly would have thought of social media as a haven for horseplay and hi-jinks — the type of stuff he worked so hard to combat back at the restaurant.
I was sorry to hear that he passed away, and my heart goes out to his loved ones. I do wish I’d gotten to know him better than I did. He was both a worthy faux-adversary, and someone I respected for his work-ethic and fairness as a boss.
Rest in piece, Kevin. You’ll never be forgotten.
The Late Late Show with James Corden celebrated its 1000th episode last week, and as I wrote in a recent newsletter, my son and I were a part of it. Here we are during the BTS intro.
It’s not a crystal-clear screen shot, but the video itself a bit more defined.
Again, we had a great time. And since I said I’d share it when it aired, there you go.
A Rock Resurrection
A few days ago, I was posting a photo on Instagram when the platform suggested I follow a new account titled “Sugartooth,” the name of the 90s rock band I wrote about earlier this year; I had a bit of a relationship with them.
When I saw that actual members of the band (who split up 25 years ago) were already following it, I figured it might be of some interest (perhaps an archive of old band photos and videos). So, I went ahead and followed it.
The account’s first activity came last weekend, and it kind of took my breath away. It had nothing to do with the past, but rather… the future (you’ll probably need to click below to see the video):
That’s right, folks. They’re back! Original members Marc Hutner, Joey Castillo, and Josh Blum are working on brand new material, and according to Josh, they’ll be recording it in February.
I can’t express how pumped I am. For me, this is the most surprising and amazing music news in a very long time. I can’t wait to hear the new stuff.
If you liked any of their old material that I linked to in that past newsletter (or even if you didn’t listen to it), go ahead and give them a follow on Instagram.
Music to My Eyes
Some of you may recall me writing a good-sized newsletter about one of my favorite artists, Laurent Durieux, last year. I’m always amazed by how quickly the Belgian illustrator puts out new work, and I tend to think all of it is great, but some of his pieces blow me away more than others.
Below is one of them — a movie print he created for the Belgian thriller, Music Hole. I haven’t seen the film, and know pretty much nothing about it, but I absolutely love how the print looks, both in tone and imagery. So, I figured I’d share it.
Let me know what you think.
Obligatory Dog Shot
There’s a rumor she likes to go hiking.
Obligatory December Sunset Shot
… from a gas station parking lot.
Here’s an indisputable fact: in the early 1980s, rock/pop singer Bonnie Tyler was a freakin’ bad-ass. Her songs and vocals were nothing short of explosive, and I don’t care which of you makes fun of me for speaking that truth.
Though my personal favorite anthem of hers is the adrenaline-fueled “Holding Out for Hero” (from the Footloose soundtrack), her biggest hit was the iconic “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Something I didn’t know until recently was that both songs were written by Jim Steinman, who is perhaps best known for his writing on Meatloaf’s “Bat Out of Hell” albums.
“Total Eclipse of the Heart” is on this week’s featured album, 1983’s “Faster than the Speed of Light.” The record also includes a cover of John Forgety’s “Have You Ever Seen the Rain?” and a song that co-writer Bryan Adams would later record for himself, “Straight from the Heart.”
On a side note, Adams also wrote the Joe Cocker hit, “When the Night Comes,” a song Adams says he wishes he would have kept for himself. If you’ve ever heard Adams perform it (quite beautifully) in concert, you can perhaps understand why.
On another side note: because my parents didn’t have cable television (and thus no MTV) when I was kid, I didn’t appreciate just how bat-sh*t crazy Bonnie Tyler’s videos were back then. If you’ve never seen the “literal” version of Eclipse that someone dubbed on YouTube, make sure that you check it out. It’s absolutely hilarious.
That’s all for now. Thanks for reading today’s Daly Grind.
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Take care. And I’ll talk to you soon!