Keep Calm and Meatball On

This post comes to you directly from a steaming cup of dark roast at Matchstick Coffee Roasters on the corner of Fraser and Kingsway. The Postal Service is playing on the speakers above me and the sun just got sucked up back into the clouds. Because I am East of Main Street, everyone sitting around me looks like they could be featured on an NPR Tiny Desk Concert.

In the last year, Vancouver has seen a number of tragically hip coffee shops pop up and I could not be more delighted about it. While I am still fond of my green apron days, gone are the times when Starbucks was the only dark roast in town. I have awarded this particular coffee shop with bonus points because you can actually sit down in the seats. I am telling you, some of these cafes have become so modern you can find yourself trying to balance your butt on a single brick jutting out from a wall. Forget about basic comfort let alone finding a spot for your laptop.

I have gigantic news to report even though it is already a day old. BREAKING NEWS – Oh my goodness the most gorgeous man just sat down beside me. I prayed to Meryl Streep he would take the seat next to mine as soon as I saw him walk in the door. He must be from across the tracks because he doesn’t look like he owns any vintage sweaters or faded leather boots. His right bicep is also the size of my neck. In my mind I am touching it. Jennifer Garner I am 30 going on 13. Ah! FOCUS FOX.

Right, so yesterday was my last day at the Meatball Hut. At approximately 2:37PM on Wednesday October 28th, 2015, I hung up my black apron and stuffed my tomato-stained white collar shirt into the furthest depths of my backpack. At 3:02PM, I ordered my last staff meal (a gluten free bolognese) and at 3:38PM I said goodbye to everyone for the last time. At 3:40PM, I returned back to the restaurant because I forgot my umbrella. At 4:00pm, I came back for Happy hour.

My final curtain call yesterday was exactly as I dreamed it to be; except for the fact that no one gave me flowers and there was no champagne in my dressing room (aka the handicap washroom). A true prima donna knows when it is time to exit stage right, and this month I knew it was time to put my meatballs in a take-out box and go.

To date, the Meatball Hut is the longest relationship I have ever had. When we first met five years ago, I was a dashing 25-year-old redhead man with flamboyant dreams and a 28-inch waist. The restaurant gave me everything I was looking for at the time. I got slammed five nights a week, showered in twenty-dollar bills and slept in every Monday morning.

Two years later and four more inches on the waist, I knew I had to make a serious change if our relationship was going to survive. And so I did. I folded up my black apron, latched the clip on a fake bowtie, and said “I do” to a role in management. I knew our first year of marriage was going to be tough and making any money was out of the question; but I held on to the dream that with hard work and steadfast devotion one day I would be able to afford 300 square feet within walking distance of a sky train station.

On my first day as a manager, I strutted down West Georgia with Hunter at my side and debuted myself to downtown Vancouver as a young professional. “Hello world,” I said, before diving out of the way to avoid a rogue cyclist. I knew that sacrifice was part of any healthy marriage; but I had no idea how much running a restaurant was going to force me to give up. Working most nights from 3:00pm until sunrise, I said goodbye to my social life and laid to rest my relationship with the Polish Prince. By the end of that first year, I turned into a shadow of myself.

With two bags under my eyes and one pair of ripped dress pants nothing about me looked young or professional.

After my second anniversary, I was one second-flip away from turning into Quasimodo. Hunched over from bending to clear tables all day and night long in the upstairs dining room; I began to fear I had made a huge mistake.

“This is life, Rugged Fox,” I began to argue myself in the semi-fictional third person.

“Think about your pension and benefits … think about the fact that you haven’t written in months and might get sued for sexual harassment by a nineteen-year-old bus boy.”

I was one moving truck back to Winnipeg away when half-way through my second season the most spectacular plot change occurred.

I became part of a team. Overnight it was as if our entire management roster had been traded and/or dropped - for the better! Before I knew it, I ended up sitting down at a round table across from six of the most attractive and talented restauranteurs I had ever met. We were all on the same page when it came to running the best restaurant we could, and our communication over the mic on even the busiest nights was flawless. I never excelled in sports and was a lone wolf when it came to small group projects; but for the first time I felt like I was Geena Davis back-catching for the Rockford Peaches.

Another year and my co-workers had officially transitioned from friends into family. Every lunch and dinner, I was fortunate enough to work with a mosaic of personalities that were known to guests as: hosts, bussers, food runners, servers and cooks; and to me as singers, writers, travelers, designers, divers, mothers, actors, teachers, fathers, academics, snowboarders and entrepreneurs. Together we popped the corks on endless bottles of wine as each day turned into night and then back into morning. We celebrated the good moments and drowned out the painful ones.

I suppose now would be no different from then if it weren’t for the fact that despite my success turning tables – I could not forgive myself for locking away my pen and paper.

It is that moment of definitiveness that you cross your fingers will come at one point but never have any idea when. Dressed in my second-hand floral Club Monaco shirt with charcoal dress pants and a salmon pink tie, I remember standing half-way between the kitchen and the front door at one of the busiest hours of the week. All sound muted in my head, I looked left and saw a waterfall of chits stream out of the printer and crash on to the ground below. To my right, two hostesses grappled to keep up with three phone lines that were off the hook while a line-up of hungry people grew outside the door.

“Dear Meryl Streep,” I prayed inside, “is this it?”  The answer was no.

There is no question I have grown into a different man over the past five years. I attribute this fact primarily to a new skincare regime as well as the people whose journeys (not swords) have crossed with mine. I am grateful for all my time at the Meatball Hut and look forward to what this next chapter will bring.

UPDATE ON ATTRACTIVE MAN: I was too upset to interrupt this post once again. Great arms man (to my right) started flirting with Claire Danes lookalike to my left. It was all very Shopgirl meets 50 Shades of Gray. Life can just be so unfair.