I think I’ve seen the Beast cry three times: during certain parts of Ken Burns’ Civil War documentary; certain parts of Ken Burns’ Jazz documentary; and, always, over the ending of Dances with Wolves.
I saw him cry for the fourth time two nights ago, the day his boss of 13 years, Lynn Albert, passed away. She had not been well. He had been managing the store in her absence for a several days. He visited her that morning and held her hand. She was surrounded by her three sons and family when she passed, which was precisely what she’d wanted. What we all want, I imagine.
The Beast kept the store open until closing time, fielding calls from concerned regulars and friends. “What should I do? I don’t know what to do?” he told me over the phone after he’d learned the news. “I just want to do the right thing.” But he did know. He always knows.
You see one side of the Beast here–the one who dances in his underwear and makes some pretty good jokes. I don’t know if you see the other side: the young man who can talk about how lovely the splash of pale pink roses are on a teacup with an 87-year-old woman; the one who wants to stay up late with my mom watching Turner Classic movies while complaining about people who don’t eat the skin on KFC chicken; the one who can oscillate between talk of Bach and Miles Davis with my dad; the one who can carry his own in a conversation about Lacan and Freud with a middle-aged psychoanalyst; the one who will lose himself in an exchange with Erinn about the history conch belts, Navajo art, Shoah and which Proust translation is best, while I listen, completely lost.
He’s generous with his time and so patient. And kind. Christ, I don’t know anyone else quite like him.
When he got home that night, he collapsed, emotionally and physically.
We sat on the deck. I made him a martini. We smoked cigarettes. It wasn’t a full-on bawl. But his throat swelled and tears dripped down his face as he told me how much he missed her already; what she meant to him; and how, in many ways, she was like family to him.
He started working at the store, around the corner from where he grew up in the house where his parents still live, in high school. When he dropped out of university after one year of studying creative writing, he went back to the store, full time. He’s been working there ever since.
When I got home from work, the Beast was home from the funeral and sitting in the sunroom. I told him I was taking him out to dinner. I decided on Fat Pasha, which serves “tasty Jew food,” according to their Twitter bio. It seemed fitting. Lynn was Jewish.
We ordered falafel and a latke platter to start.
Then we had their roasted cauliflower with tahini, halloumi, pomegranate, pine nut and skhug, a Middle Eastern hot sauce, plus their rainbow trout served with sweet peas and beetroot tahini.
Everything was so good. It’s one of the best meals out we’ve had in the city. (I’m not the first to say this.) I was so full that I had to undo my pants.
There was only one thing. We were seated on their charming patio right underneath a speaker. Any other night, I think this would’ve have been fine. But considering the Beast’s state, the music–the same music he often plays at home in the kitchen when we’re cooking together, like James Brown–grated upon him.
I could see it in his eyes. Also, he told me with words, in case I missed the eye bit. I decided to distract the Beast with conversation.
Foodie: Did you hear another guy is running for the Gop presidential nomination?
Beast: I think it’s pronounced G-O-P. Not Gop.
Foodie: Are you sure? I’m pretty certain it’s Gop.
Beast: I know it’s G.O.P.
Foodie: HAHAHAHA! I always get stuff like that wrong, don’t I!
Foodie: So I leave for Calgary in a couple of days. Can you think of any movies set there that I could tie in for a possible Metro column?
Beast: I don’t think Junior Bonner is set there but it’s an amazing western.
Foodie: Did you just say Junior Boner? HAHAHA!
Beast: It’s about a rodeo rider played by Steve McQueen who goes home to see his dad played by Robert Preston.
Beast: You know who Robert Preston is, right?
Foodie: Sure I do. [Pause] He’s that child actor who was accused of murder.
Beast: No. Robert Preston was in the Music Man, one of the best performances in the history of cinema.
Foodie: I’ve never seen it.
Beast: He was in Victor Victoria, too.
Foodie: Oh yeah, with Dudley Moore.
Beast: No. With Julie Andrews. Blake Edwards, her husband, directed it.
Foodie: Oh yeah! Blake Edwards is the murderer I was thinking of.
Beast: No. You’re thinking of Robert Blake.
Foodie: HAHAHA! I got all the names right! There’s a Robert and a Blake. But I just named the wrong people. It’s so funny when I do that!
Beast: You know what I was thinking today at the funeral? I was thinking how beautiful it was and how I’d like a Jewish funeral. [Pause] Can we make sure that we die together, at exactly the same time?
Beast: I was also thinking how Lynn and I would have had such a laugh and good gossip afterward the funeral.
Foodie: I bet you two would! I was just thinking that Lynn would like it here, but she’d tell someone to turn down the music.
Foodie: Remember how you used to rent movies for her to watch?
Beast: I do. I can’t remember what her favourite movie was though.
Foodie: Did you ever pass along All the President’s Men to her after we watched it?
Beast: I can’t remember. I don’t think so. I should have. [Pause] Who do you think likes Robert Redford more: me or you?
Beast: I think you’re wrong. I don’t think you appreciate those high-waisted pants, big lapels and quaffed hair like I do.
Foodie: I think I appreciate other things about him.
Beast: I know it’s cliche but that film really does remind you how important long form freedom of the press is.
Foodie: Totally. [Pause] Do you think Woodward was allowed to expense all those taxi receipts? He took a lot of taxis.
Beast: I don’t know. Remember that news room? That was such a great looking office interior.
Beast: Remember that scene where Woodwood and Bernstein are hunched over the typewriter?
Beast: That’s just like us, don’t you think?
Beast: Just two writers, in a relationship, with fabulous hair.