Remembering Al

Remembering Al

With today being the 56th anniversary of Albert Einstein’s passing I thought it might be nice to dedicate today’s Smirk to the man with the crazy hair.

I get that Al was one of the most, if not the most, brilliant mind in the 20th century, but for some reason whenever I think of him, the first place I go is the image of him sticking out his tongue at the camera.

I mean sure eventually I get to the E=MC2 persona, but it always takes a little time. I’ve even watched a documentary about the man and was surprised at how obsessed he became with his work. So much so that his health started to suffer as a result, which, in my opinion, lead to this little know mathematical gem of his:

W/E = (S) : ( + CH
Work over everything equals sickness, times a sad face, plus crazy hair.

Even though his scientist friends laughed at this new formula, he knew it was true. He had lived it after all. It was during this recovery that Al discovered the importance of balance in one’s life. Work is important, but for longevity and peace of mind you have to make sure to take time for yourself and take time to laugh with life. This new philosophy resulted in the invention of an entirely new system of math for the purpose of creating the following formula:

[~~OK~~] ([~~/\~~]) = xK\~~~~ + 1 : ) [~~/\~~]*
A man in water, times a shark in water equals a dead man under water, plus one happy face shark in water.
*A special thank you to my Facebook friend Paula Caddick for educating me on the basics behind this formula.

And even though those last two equations are not to be taken a factual statements, it does not change the importance on their message or the sure brilliance of the made up math involved. Still, apart from being a genius Al is still a source of many truly grand and Smirk inspiring quotes. Here are ten of my favorites:

  • “There are two ways to live your life – one is as though nothing is a miracle, the other is as though everything is a miracle.”
  • “The secret to creativity is knowing how to hide your sources.”
  • “The only thing that interferes with my learning is my education.”
  • “The whole of science is nothing more than a refinement of everyday thinking.”
  • “If A is a success in life, then A equals x plus y plus z. Work is x; y is play; and z is keeping your mouth shut.”
  • “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”
  • “The life of the individual has meaning only insofar as it aids in making the life of every living thing nobler and more beautiful. Life is sacred, that is to say, it is the supreme value, to which all other values are subordinate.”
  • “People do not grow old no matter how long we live. We never cease to stand like curious children before the great Mystery into which we were born.”
  • “I am content in my later years. I have kept my good humor and take neither myself nor the next person seriously.”
  • “Time is what prevents everything from happening at once.”

There are a number of Einstein photos available on the net, so to finish off this ode to Al I thought I’d give my own personal interpretation for some of my favorite Einstein photos:

Little know fact, this photo of Einstein riding a bike was the inspiration for Queen’s hit single “Bicycle Race.”

This photo of Einstein pointing at what I assume is a reporter who has a question for him seems to perfectly capture the following made up quote, “One more intentionally misleading statement out of you Mr. Rupert Murdoch and someone is gonna get the hurt real bad.”

(I was going to go with a “full my finger quote”, but that’s just too easy.)

In this photo of Al giggling profusely, what the photographer failed to miss was the puppy licking Al’s bare toes.

So on this day of remembrance, let me just say thanks Al, not just for all that science stuff, but for keeping us laughing for the 56 years since you experienced life’s greatest mystery. Here’s to you, cheers!

Image Sources:
Google Images, keywords: Albert Einstein and puppy licking toes.

© Richard Timothy 2011

The Best Gift an Ex can Give

The Best Gift an Ex can Give

Today’s Smirk was inspired by a conversation I had with a friend of mine, who, muck like 50% of the people in the US who have signed up for a life of legal partnerships, has walked away from the experience with a permanent “ex” attached to his life. And even though his ex no longer share’s his last name, she has an interactive role in his life due to the three children they had together.

Well, a few weeks ago my friend, Carlton, gets a call from his ex-wife’s current husband Fred. Yes, the ex, Becky, did manage to remarry. Fred was calling to let Carlton know about a little hiccup Fred and Becky had gotten into.

Turns out Fred was in the process of trying to get full custody of his own kids from his previous marriage. Apparently Fred’s ex was a bit crazy and quite unfit, according to Fred, to be raising his kids half the time. Because he used words like “mentally unfit” and “psychologically unbalanced” Fred’s ex was required by the state to take a psychological test to see if she was mentally equipped enough to be raising any children.

This also meant is that Fred and Becky were required by the state to take the same test to show that they were mentally fit to care for Fred’s kids full time. I like that the state requires this. It only seems fair that you should have to prove that you are not the loony one when you are trying to get your kids away from someone who you claim is. Fred went on to explain that the reason for the call was because Carlton’s ex, Becky, had scored a little low on the test.

Turns out “a little low” translated into Carlton’s ex-wife achieving the all-time lowest score on the test in the history of the state. It was so low, in fact, that the state was sure it was an error, something must have gone wrong with the scoring… grading… anything… it was impossible that she scored as low as she did, so they were going to let her take it again. Fred’s call was a courtesy call mostly because, if she failed the test again, there was a very good possibility Carlton would be getting his own kids full time.

When I asked Carlton what he thought about the whole thing, he replied, “I have mixed feelings. On one hand, taking the kids full time will definitely be a change to my schedule, which will take some getting used to. On the other hand, I’ve been saying for years ‘that bitch is crazy’ and now it looks like the state might finally be legally agreeing with me, so that feels pretty good.”

I told him he must have been a very good boy this year because it appeared he was getting his Christmas gift a little early. Talk about the perfect unintentional gift from your ex, and it didn’t cost him a thing… well, except for maybe a crazy ex-wife, but I think he’s willing to live with that, mainly because he doesn’t live with her.

Poor Fred though. It’s got to suck not being able to get your kids away from your crazy ex-wife because your current wife turns out to be even crazier… huh?… it would appear Fred certainly has a type.

Coincidence or karma? I can’t say I care, but I do know this, from now on, until the day he dies, every time Carlton says, “… my crazy ex-wife,” he is going to have a genuine smile on his face, even if it took ten years to get there.

To those of you with an ex, what would be the perfect gift from them?

Image Sources:
Google Images, keywords: ex-wife, and smiling man.

My Brother the Millionaire

My Brother the Millionaire

It happened overnight, my brother’s bank account went from a couple hundred dollars to over a million in the blink of an eye. How did he do it? Well, let me tell you…

My brother came into his million dollars when living in Jackson Wyoming, which only just recently changed. My friend Ans and I would dream, scheme and plot about ways to get him out of Jackson. It’s not so much we were opposed to Jackson; we were just opposed to him living there. I mean sure I enjoy visiting there, but I’d never want to live there, it’s just not a good fit and it certainly wasn’t a good fit for Dave. At least it wasn’t in our minds. Turns out the only motivation he needed was, instead of our constant verbal pestering for him to move, a significant other that refused to live there.

Dave is a rather clever sort, and was always hatching up new ideas for how he could make some extra money. It was after work, during one of these planning sessions, that he found himself a bit peckish and wanted to get something to eat. He headed down town and hit the local ATM to grab some cash for a late lunch. As his receipt rolled out of the ATM, looking much like an R2 unit attempting to stick out its tongue, Dave looked at the printed balance at the bottom of the sheet to see how much cash he had left until pay day.

He looked at the number. He blinked and looked at the number. Then did a series of extreme blinks and head shakes in much the same manner as someone who has attempted to see how long they can start at the sun and was not attempting to get their eyes to adjust so they could see the world again. As he looked back at the paper next to the words Account Balance was a little over one million dollars. He knew something was amiss, he hoped it wasn’t, but knew better. So he went home, pulled close the blinds, you know, just in case. And in an act of positive mental reinforcement started to compose a list of all the things he would do if the money in his account turned out to actually be his. He decided to give it a few days before checking it again, figuring that if the bank made an error they would be able to easily correct it in a few days time.

Relativity is a funny thing, you know that whole spending 30 minutes at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) feeling like hours… ok not the best example, because seriously whoever gets out of the DMV in 30 minutes. For me it’s more like visiting the a natural history museum, I can spend hours there and it seems like only minutes, and my wife can spend minutes there and it feels like hours and hours (sigh, adult women and their lack of dinosaur bone appreciation). The thing about relativity is that if you add enough alcohol to the equation, it doesn’t matter how long you spend at a place or in a situation, you still won’t remember it in the morning. However, even though Dave has for few drinks, which were hastily consumed, the weekend still crawled by one minute at a time.

After the fourth day Dave checked the balance again. The balance had not changed. My brother was a officially a millionaire… until…

Dave entered the bank, waited in line until a teller was available, and then began to explain the situation. As his explanation progressed, a look of growing concern began chiseling away at the teller’s face with much the same intensity as the French did using their iron balls to blow the nose off of statues of dead Egyptian royalty. She didn’t get shot at, but it was clear that whoever had created this little blunder was probably going to be looking for a new job the second blame was attached and she was hoping it wasn’t her.

Soon Dave was in the bank managers office telling the story once again as people hurriedly walked in and out of the office, to explain their research on the matter and trying to find someone to blame that wasn’t them. Eventually, they discovered what happened. Turned out Dave’s account number was identical to the school districts account number, except for one digit, which I know doesn’t make it identical, but, well, mostly identical then. When the state sent their yearly funds to the Jackson school district’s bank, the person entering the money into the account fat fingered the one digit that transformed the destination of the funds from the schools account into Dave’s account.

After being thanked incessantly for the hour or so he was at the bank, waiting for them to figure the whole thing out, Dave was given a new account balance print out that ended her brief stroll down millionaire lane and put his funds back to where it was just a few days prior. Once he got home he looked at his ‘Things-to-do-with-a-million-dollars’ list and filed it away in his ‘Things-to-get-to’ folder. As a reward he did get his picture taken and was the front page story at the local newspaper.

I like to think that through my brother’s honesty and integrity to an ‘Oopsie’ situation that he singlehandedly was responsible for making sure all of the kid in that school district received an education that year. Hey, I’m a firm believer in puffing up a family member with greatness when they do something greatish. I’m also a firm believer in reminding them when they are being a bit of an ass as well. I guess you could call it fulfilling one of your functional duties for the group of people that you call family.

Dave was only a millionaire for a few days… and it was a complete accident, but technically he was one, which is still a goal I know a lot of people have. At least he got to check it of his ‘To Do’ list early on. Now that he’s got out of the way, he can focus on other, more important things. Still, it does make for a good story.

Image Sources:
Google Images, keywords: one million, ATM receipt, dinosaur, bank teller, newspaper, and to do list.

Doug Did so you Don’t Have To

Doug Did so you Don’t Have To

When working as an Assistant Pastry Chef as a resort in Jackson Wyoming, I worked with a curious man named Doug. We only worked together a few months, but Doug turned out to be one of those characters in life that I will always remember. He was the Pastry Chef that I worked under and was a little, well, let me put it like this, Doug was the closest thing to a reincarnation of Gene Wilder’s performance of Willy Wonka than anyone I have ever, or imagine will ever meet.

Doug was an average height, with naturally ratty-frizzy hair, or it just came across that way because he never did his hair. He also had round wire-rim glasses that framed his thin-blue eyes. Because we worked in the kitchen, we were required to wear a uniform that the resort was kind enough to supply. It consisted of a floppy top chef’s hat, with a white chef’s smock, and black and white checkered pants. Doug took full advantage of this and had not purchased a new pair of pants in over three years. He always wore his chef pants, when working or just going out with friends. Any time they began to wear too thin, he’d just pick up a new pair or two and take them home. The only exception I can think of is when we would go to disco night and he would get dressed up in his favorite secondhand 70s disco garb to go out dancing.

One of the main things I remember about Doug is that he was always offering up little lessons about life. Lesson’s that you would think were common sense, but turned out to be the type of things that apparently he needed to learn firsthand. He was usually so profoundly surprised by these lessons that he would always approach the telling of these lessons with much heartfelt earnest. Feeling that if he could save just one person from making the same mistake he had then life would have been worth living.

Some lessons were very career oriented. For instance things like how to rummage for pots and pans as loudly as possible while cursing profusely. The trick about using baker’s profanity is that it couldn’t sound much like profanity. He introduced me to the use of glottal stops mixed with open larynx yells that could carry vowels and consonants blended together in what sounded a bit like a sick badger getting poked with a spoon. But as long as you started the profanity out with the correct letter sound and clearly pronounced the ending letter, it was considered properly executed baker’s cursing. Apparently, according to Doug, baking is 70% cursing, 20% following the recipe, and 10% remembering to set the timer. In a kitchen, bakers are considered the crazy ones and Doug was very determined not to let me fail that stereotype.

The one lesson that I inevitability share with everyone is his warning about dating psychology majors… but more than that, it was mostly a lesson her learned while dating one. We were working on some fruit tortes, getting them ready for an upcoming Sunday brunch and out of nowhere Doug started with, “Rich, don’t ever… I mean ever, talk about your girlfriend’s mom when you’re making out… with her not her mom I mean.” He didn’t even pause what he was doing.

The statement, however, stopped me in my tracks. The torte was going to have to wait a little while. “I imagine it’s a little difficult to say anything like that when making out,” I replied, “regardless who you are making out with.”

“Well, let’s say in the between moments of making out.”

“What do you mean exactly?”

So Doug started telling me about when he was in college, and a psychology major he had been dating for about two months. Things had taken a few steps towards being a bit more serious than just the occasional booty call. It had even gone so far that he was invited to dinner with her parents when they had been visiting. They were definitely tipping the scales of entering into a relationship.

“One night when I was over at her place we started getting into it a little while on her couch, which was always the foreplay area of her apartment. Well, I had managed to get out of my shirt and all of a sudden, in mid kiss, she stops, pulls back and with a sultry smile asks me if she could ask a question. I told her she already had, but she stopped me and said she was serious.”

He told me that she then explained that she had been learning about the differences between the male and female psyche and learned in one of her books that it was common for men to fantasize about other women during sex.

“Ohhh, this is going to a bad place.” I said to Doug.

“I know! It caught me completely off guard, but there was the prospect that we’d be having sex at the end to I let her keep talking.”

“How could you think that things would end that way?”

“Every night that we spent kissing on her couch had always ended with sex. I didn’t have any reason to believe that that night would end any differently.” He sighed, and continued explaining that she had asked him who he had thought about while they were having sex.

“Is that even true? I mean… she WHAT?”

“Yeah all matter-of-factly, saying the book said it was common for men, like puberty, or breathing, or only cooking cheese stuffed croissants for 30 minutes in a convection oven at 375 or you’ll burn them. Still I went with my initial gut instinct and told her that I only thought about her.”


“It didn’t work, no matter how many times I told her. I said over and over again, ‘No baby, I only think about you.’ but she kept telling me she knew differently. Her book had a whole chapter about the very topic. After about twenty minutes of going back and forth she started to get a little annoyed that I wouldn’t tell her. All the while adding that she knew it was what men did and she just wanted to know who I had thought about. She told me it was fine and she was not going to get mad. She ended every sentence with that. Always reminding me that she was not going to get mad.”

“Did she get mad?”

“I began to lose my determination for telling her over and over again, ‘Only you. I only think about you.’ I started to think that maybe if I gave her an answer everything would relax and we could get back down to business. So I started thinking about who I might, or even could, think about while having sex with her. A name did eventually come to me, but I wasn’t sure.”

“You didn’t.”

“Well, ok so I asked her if she’d promise not to get mad. And she reminded me that the whole thing was her idea, reminding yet again that she would not get mad. I asked again just to make sure, ‘Now honey you really promise you won’t get made if I tell you.’ and in the most annoyed her voice had sounded all night told me that she had already said that and to just tell her. So I said, ‘Well, not that it ever happens, but maybe if I had to pick someone that I possibly might, but it never would, but if it did… and remember you promised not to get mad, but well, I maybe, sort of, could have, if I had to, maybe… but I’d never, but maybe I could… well sort of, um, well, you know, maybe your mom.”

My mouth dropped open, but nothing would come out.

“I’ve never had an evening end so abruptly in my entire life,” he added in a tone of pure flabbergasted surprise. “She was really mad!”

I just started laughing. Doug began smiling, but it was the little kid smile where they tell you something in complete seriousness, but it strikes everyone listening as so funny that everyone begins to laugh and the little kid begins smiling in an effort to fit in, but are a little confused about what was so funny. Then I told Doug, “I promise I will never tell any woman, ever, anywhere, ever, that I fanaticize about their… you realize that this is another one of those things you need to put on your list of things to talk to a shrink about should you ever get one.”

“Yeah maybe, but I figure it’s an important enough lesson that I should share it with others first.”

“Thanks Doug,” I chuckled. “Lesson learned.” And soon we were back to work.

Even though I’ve completely lost contact with Doug, he is one of those characters in my life that I’ll never forget. It’s been over fifteen years now since he shared that story with me, and that’s how long I’ve been sharing it with others. It’s worth the telling and has a moral that I feel will never grow old, because as long as there is someone out there that it willing to ask that kind of question, there is going to be someone like Doug that is going to be willing to answer it. So please, feel free to share this story with others, so we can help protect the Doug’s of the world.

Do any of you have any “Doug-ish” stories of your own?

Image Sources:
Google Images, key words: willy wonka, Swedish chef, make out on a couch, and couple arguing on couch.

Wet Feet and a Day for Dad

Wet Feet and a Day for Dad

Father’s Day 2010, began as any other Sunday so far this summer. It consisted of me sleeping in. Now I normally don’t pay much attention to storybooks that try to teach the readers lessons via parable, but I really do think there is something to be said about that whole day of rest thing. I’d go so far as to add that if we were to split up that whole day of rest concept and do a few hours of rest each afternoon from two to four, sometimes five, then the world would be a much better place in general.

I was looking forward to today. It was going to be filled with visiting friends and family for the purpose of good conversation and grand food consumption. When noon arrived Angela and I were both ready to go to our friends house for brunch. There was however, one hiccup in this plan. When Angela ran downstairs into our living room, the floor was saturated with a thin layer of splash just waiting to attack an unsuspecting dry foot or two. Our basement had flooded… again.

The first time was a result of our neighbors turning on the outdoor faucet next to our fence, and leaving it running for a day or so… in January! We did catch that flood much earlier, but it was around midnight and it took a lot longer to get any assistance from any professionals. I had managed to spend 3 hours out in the freezing cold bailing water out of our stairwell and my jeans were frozen and had about a half inch of ice caked around them from my knees to my feet. Needless to say, it was a very long and very, very cold night. When all things were said and done, at least we got the basement re-carpeted with a much lovelier color. There was some concern that I may have accrued a mild case of hypothermia, but a two hour long hot shower and about two days in bed pretty much moved that concern into just a passing thought.

This time it was a much warmer disaster. I mean the flooding was a little worse, but nowhere near as horrible an experience as last time. Plus, this time Angela knew someone that has a business that cleans up homes from these very types of mishaps. They were over and working on the cleanup in less than an hour. Plus, bailing water out of the stairwell was sooooo much warmer this time. Just as exhausting, but completely hypothermia free. I even got to work on my tan a little.

I do feel a little responsible for this flood though, for two reasons. First, I’ve been wanting to begin working out a bit more. Nothing insane like triathlon training, but something light and fluffy, kind of like riding my bike to the local pet story to pet some baby rabbits and then a bike ride back home. You know, just a little something extra that gets the heart pumping consistently for about 20 minutes every to every other day. The thing is, I never really specified to the universe how I wanted that to look. I really only shared that I had that intention. Let’s just say that bailing water out of a stairwell for an hour and then moving all the furniture out of the basement and up a flight of stairs is an amazing workout. My heart was power pumping for well over an hour today because of the action that this whole fiasco got me to do. Lesson: Try to be as specific as possible when setting your personal exercising intentions.

Reason two… so here’s what happened. Late last night I turned on the water to our sprinkler system for the first time this year. We have a nozzle in the back yard that I leave open when I turn off the water so that the water can drain out of that pipes so they will not freeze and break during the winter. I sort of, completely, forgot that that nozzle was still open. The result, water poured out of the nozzle all night, poring over our yard, across our cement patio and water falling down the steps into our stairwell and seeping in through the back door thus flooding the basement. Lesson 2: When you turn on your water for the season, always, and I mean ALWAYS check every nozzle in your yard to make sure everything is closed tightly before going to bed… ALWAYS!!!

A flowed basement does make for a very long afternoon, but things are now cleaned up and fans are blowing to dry out the carpet. Once it’s all dry, all we’ll need is some new padding installed and we can get our basement back to normal. See, I still have the workout of moving all of the furniture back downstairs to look forward to as well.

On another plus note, at least of the furniture in the basement has been thoroughly dusted for the first time in about four months. You wouldn’t think dusty book shelves would be something you’d notice when packing up boxes and hauling everything in your living room upstairs in a hurry, but they were pretty noticeably. I got them cleaned up once the cleaning crew arrived and started sucking all of the water out of the basement.

Once everything was situated, and the cleaners had left with the fans running there was nothing left for use to do at the house, so plans returned to normal and we headed to my parents house to have Father’s Day dinner with the family, which brings me to the fatherly portion of today’s Father’s Day theme. When talking about my dad there are a few things that do come to mind. First are his three favorite jokes, which are:

Q: What is the difference between a duck?
A: One of its feet are both the same.

Q: Why does a mouse when it spins?
A: Because the higher up the more.

Q: What’s the different between a banana?
A: It’s about this color (while holding up your index fingers about 10 inches apart).

When he would ask people if they wanted to hear a joke the actual joke was the person listening to him tell the joke. It was the reaction of the listener that was the joke, the punch line so to speak. The reaction to the joke the first time someone would hear it always got him laughing… and I’m sure it still does. He tells those joke every chance he gets.

A few other items that help explain the character that is my father are, he has all of his thumbs and fingers. Sure that may seem a bit standard for most people to openly accept about their parents, or people in general, but it just so happens that my father was an industrial arts (aka wood shop teacher) for over 30 years. You can now understand how having all of his fingers and thumbs is a much bigger accomplishment that you would have originally thought. It definitely helps one understand his attention to detail.

Some people are born to be artists, some are born to be singers, some are born to be that guy in IT that is incredibly self indulgent and bloated with self importance and will take two day to complete a task that only takes about 2 minutes of actual work. Then there are some, like my dad, that were born to be a teacher. Teaching has always been his calling, his passion, and his joy in life. He was the one teacher that everyone loved, and would get the loudest reaction from the student body when his name was announced.

He also treated everyone equally. I even flunked my brother one quarter because my brother felt the need to make a point to the other kids in class. A few kids were teasing my brother one day, telling him that he was going to get an A because his dad was teaching the class. So to prove them wrong, my brother did nothing in class for a good portion of the quarter and accumulated an F, just to show the kids that my dad always give the grade you earned. It didn’t matter who you were.

The stories about this man and by this man are almost as epic as the stories he would make up each night and tell us as we would go to sleep each night. I suppose if I had to pick just one word to describe my father it would be “storyteller.” He is, was, and has always been a storybook, waiting for someone to ask him a question so he could reply, “That reminds me of a story.” Then for the next 5 to 20 minutes he would share his story with you, and anyone willing to listen. At the end your question would be answered and you imagination would be filled. Some stories were made up just to display the point he was trying to make, but most of the time they were true stories about him, doing something he shouldn’t have, and was sharing it with you in hopes that he could teach you, through his story, the lesson he learned, so that you could hopefully avoid learning the same thing he did in the same way he had.

So on this Father’s Day I raise a glass and toast… To the father’s in my life who have always offered their support and love, who have give advice when it was asked and offered when it wasn’t, but was needed anyway. Thanks for being there through the tough times and laughing with me in good. And to my dear old dad, thank you for passing on your gift as a storyteller, which actually reminds me of a story…
I love you, I thank you, and I honestly wouldn’t be here without you! Cheers!

How was your Father’s Day?

Image Source:
Google Images, key words: Father’s Day, flooded basement, yard faucet, dusty bookshelves, teacher, and storyteller.

Doug Did so you Don’t Have To

My June with June

Over the years, mostly the years that filled the first part of my 20s, I spent a fair amount of time in Jackson Wyoming, usually working a summer job, or two, and only once, three. One thing about Jackson is that it is the same Jackson that is internationally visited, loved, referred to and known as Jackson Hole. What is the difference? Jackson is a town and Jackson Hole is an area that encompasses Jackson and about three or four other little towns in the area. When living there, this was usually how we’d tell the difference between a tourist and a local. Tourists always seemed refer to all things Jackson as Jackson Hole.

Of course this did have its opportunities as well. When chatty tourists would ask me where I was from, I would always tell them I was from Navel Wyoming, explaining that it was about thirty miles north of Jackson Hole. Sometimes they’d get it and laugh, and other times I’d get a funny look and they would walk away. There were six different occasions that the joke flew completely over their heads and they just kept asking me about it. Saying things like, “I sure bet it beautiful up there.” Once, I did get an old couple from the mid-west asking me, “Sounds lovely. Does it get a lot of visitors?” That time, I was the one cutting the conversation a little short.

Spending a few summers working in Jackson did enable me to meet some rather eccentric characters. Then there were others that made the word eccentric look like the type of word you’d expect to hear from those creepy kid show monsters that have televisions in their stomachs and a sun made out of a baby. June was one of those people.

June was the executive chef for a resort I got a summer job at after. I managed to get the job of the Assistant Pastry Chef for the summer with no baking experience whatsoever. How was I able to land such a job? Two reasons… make that three reasons. First, I was one of the few people that she interviewed that said I’d be willing to show up at work by 5am to start up the kitchen, meaning turn on all the lights and get all the burners started for the morning line cooks, and then get baking some pastries for the breakfast menu, or conference breakout sessions, or Sunday brunch. Second, my brother worked there and was the head line cook for the morning and lunch. And third, my brother was one of her favorite employees, which pretty much sealed the deal.

An executive chef is the heartbeat of a kitchen. They compile the recipes. They hire everyone that is going to be working under them. They order all the food. They spend hours doing all of the mundane paperwork required to make a kitchen function properly. Becoming an executive chef is one of those “hey, what happened?!” professions. You spend years going to culinary school, and interning under brilliant chefs, who are quite possibly clinically insane. Then, when you finally get the opportunity to be put in charge of your own kitchen, you predominantly stop cooking and become a paper pusher. It seems to go against the whole motivation for becoming a chef in the first place. Perhaps this is why all chefs are a little crazy.

June… June was… you know when someone says something a little off and you tilt your head to the side as they are talking, as a non-verbal attempt to tell the other person that their current conversation is walking the tight rope of normality. June keeps you tilting you head until the next thing you know you are doing a head stand and she is looking at you with her head half tilted attempting to non-verbally tell you something.

June was British, is British (I don’t think that ever goes away). This meant that when she would yell at you, because if there is one thing that executive chefs can do its yell proficiently, you’d always fight the urge to not smile because of that endearing accent. If you did smile, she would take personal offense to this and her yelling would then become a bit more personal. Things like, “You are a solid example of why cousins should not marry.”

June had gone to culinary school in France, which helped land her a job in the US, in Jackson Wyoming at a ski resort. Now if I stopped there, that is by no means odd or eccentric in any way. Now let’s add that she lived in a tipi… in Wyoming… about forty miles from work… with sled dogs… lots of sled dog… 20 to 30 of them… which she would breed during the summer… and train for and actually race with during the winter months. The first summer I started working for her she was elated because after 8 years she had finally gotten running water installed in her tipi, which make making her morning tea that much easier.

The warmish weather in western Wyoming lasts about three months tops, June, July, and August, and there is always a chance that you could have a random snow storm pass by during any of those three months to remind them that the 7 to 8 months of cold and snow are right around the corner. I don’t care who you are, well unless you are one of those igloo living Eskimos, living in a tipi year around in Wyoming doesn’t just cross the line from basic normality into the region of eccentric behavior, it sticks you in one of those giant slingshots that Wile E. Coyote purchases from ACME, and very rigorously shoots you past the eccentric realm and slams you right into the cliffs of insanity. Now surround that tipi with 20 to 30 separate dog kennels, each one housing an Alaskan sled dog, and you begin to understand the sheer baffling appreciation and unexpected splendor that comes with knowing June.

She did eventually leave the resort and started her own catering business. One June, probably four or five years after I had first worked for June, I got a call from my brother Dave, who still lived in Jackson and was in contact with June. He said that she was catering a big wedding and could use some help getting everything ready. It would be about three days of solid work and she’d pay me $13 an hour. It was $5 more an hour than I was making at my current summer job in Utah, and I did have some vacation time coming to me, so I told him to let her know I’d be there to help out when the work started two weeks later.

June’s catering business was run out of the kitchen on her property. I was concerned that this meant I’d be cooking in a tipi, which breaks heath codes of all shapes and sizes. When I got to June’s place, which was my first time actually seeing it in person, the layout had this special ambiance about it that for the first two or three takes left your mind feeling a little like an Etch A Sketch. You’d look at the setup and then close your eyes and shake your head vigorously from side to side until the image went away. Then you’d open your eyes and start all over again.

In the foreground of the scene were two well sized sheds that June had built herself. There was about 30 yards of tire trodden and gravel covered ground and between the two sheds. Then between the two sheds and about 10 yards back were 20+ kennels scatter around, each one with a sled dog. Then, in the middle of it all, was a giant tipi, about 25 feet in the air with a little smoke coming out of the top from an old pot belly stove she had installed the first summer she had moved into it.

The sheds were our work spaces. One was filled with coolers for food storage and the other was filled with pots, pans, ovens, and burners. It was fully furnished for all your catering needs. Over the next three days I worked with June getting all the food ready for the upcoming wedding. Things went quite smoothing too, but there were a few truly unforgettable moments that did give me reason to for a little while.

The first was admiration and awe at the absolute knowledge June had for each of her dogs. It was on the second day that a hot air balloon decided to grace our sky with its presence. This was not a terribly common occurrence and the dogs were a bit put off by the sudden appearance of a bright shiny round thing that for all intensive purposes belonged on the ground so they could play with it. They kept barking at it trying to explain that very logic to the balloon. The moment after each bark, June knew exactly which dog had barked and would call out to them by name to get them to calm down. It was amazing. I’ve met some parents with only two kids that are unable to perform that function. June had 20+ dogs and knew every single one of their barks.

The second unforgettable thing was June’s cat. A cat, I feel, that could give Greebo (Nanny Ogg’s tomcat of Discworld fame) a run for his money. The cat had reign over all the kennels and the dogs knew that the cat was to be left alone. There was one moment when the dogs were all out having a bit of a recess were they could run around and play a little and the cat just sat there in the middle of them all, watching them with the disinterest of a sober college student staring at a lava lamp. As the cat left the recess area, not a single dog attempted to get in its way.

I think one of my favorite moments would have to be when I was outside cooking about 30 pounds of potatoes for some potato salad that we would be making for the wedding luncheon. There I was standing outside between two big pots filled with water, both under an open flame looking at the Tetons in the distance, talk about a kitchen with a view. I’m not sure why, but it made me smile to know that I was cooking up food for a high end Jackson Wyoming wedding in the same manner I did when I was a boy scout some 10 to 15 years earlier, out camping in the woods.

I’m not sure what ever happened to June. I don’t know if she still lives in the tipi, or if she is still raising and racing sled dogs. Regardless of where she has gone, or what she is doing now, I am grateful for the privilege I had of meeting, working with, and knowing my friend June.

If you have any crazy chef stories, please do share.

Image Source:
Google Images, key words: Jackson Wyoming, pastry chef, tipi, Etch A Sketch, cat surrounded by dogs, and tipi by Tetons.