when i was 16, i got my first restaurant job.  host at red lobster in green bay, wisconsin.  green bay is uniquely a small town with a professional football team. IT'S THE KIND OF PLACE WHERE, IF THE PACKERS WERE TO HAPPEN TO WIN THE SUPER BOWL AND SELL OUT LAMBEAU FIELD FOR A WELCOME BACK PARTY FOR THE TEAM, SOME GLORY-DRUNK-BLAZE-ORANGED-YAHOO in the stands MIGHT,  WHEN ASKED, "WHO DID YOU COME HERE WITH TONIGHT?" BY A LOCAL SPORTSCASTER with a microphone, EXUBERANTLY REPLY, "WELL, I WAS SUPPOSED TO BE HERE WITH MY WIFE, BUT SHE'S GETTIN' A HYSTERECTOMY!"...TO 65,00 NEIGHBORS...AND A NATIONAL TELEVISION AUDIENCE.   as you might have gathered from the level of detail in the analogy, this actually happened.    small town. unique.  

this is also what makes green bay so great.  the professional football players live a small town life.  in fact, it turned out that red lobster was the go-to hang-out for many of the current and former players.  i, like most every kid in wisconsin, grew up idolizing the packers.  needless to say, i was pretty excited.   


on one particular slow mid-afternoon, I was biding my time watching the lobsters in the tank next to my stand do rubber-banded claw battle when I heard the door swing open.  I lazily shifted my gaze to the very large, plaid-clad figure slowly lumbering through the blinding back light toward me.  The door swung closed...and There he stood.  the legend.  Number 66.  A big, bald, bespectacled behemoth. I remember thinking that he truly looked like the real life version of a gangster from old Warner Brothers cartoons.

Trying my best to act cool, I stared at him for an uncomfortably long stretch until he finally broke the silence.  "you got a table for me?" he asked with a fantastically gruff growl.  "You bet i do, Mr. Nitschke!", I -in retrospect- said only to myself.  Still having not spoken a word to the man, I grabbed a menu and darted off, my mind racing with various seating options.  He painfully pursued as I displayed some Gayle Sayres like stop and start moves. he was om my trail.   Maybe a nice table in the back of the dining room, i thought.  hmm, that way he'll have to walk by everybody.  He just wants to eat his shitty meal in peace.  Pivot, accelerate.  i was off to the lounge.  it was more sportsy, and with the corner booth i had in mind,  he could keep an eye on everybody.  breathing hard, he arrived as i proudly motioned to my meticulously chosen destination.  his look of mild disgust was puzzling at first, until i watched a very large man attempt to jam himself into a very cramped corner.  known in his heyday for playing through dislodged teeth and broken bones, he admirably gave it a go.  after audibly grunting, groaning, and repositioning  several times, he finally gave up, looked up at me, and blurted out, "i'm too big for this fuckin' booth!"           

Yes you were, Ray Nitschke.  R.I.P.

eric bemis3 Comments