Today, I lost the best manager I ever had and one of the most interesting people I’ve ever known. Steven fostered an amazing sense of community at work. He taught me a lot of things, but the most apparent, thus far, is - if you make your employees feel comfortable and happy at work, they’ll stay twice as long and work twice as hard.
I wish I was moving away or getting laid off, but this loss occurred when Steven unexpectedly passed away this morning. Aside from being an amazing manager, Steven was a good friend and a good person. He showed compassion towards everyone, and he genuinely cared about my well being as an employee but also as a person.
He was head of Community at Quirky, but he had a ton of other accomplishments. I will forever miss his pleasant awkwardness and his love for food, but I’m glad he’s been, in a way, immortalized through his work:
eGullet - Steven was blogging about food before blogs existed. He started this website, which is now part of the Society for Culinary Arts & Letters
Anthony Bourdain’s No Reservations - Bourdain had Steven on his show for his episode on food blogging. At the time, Steven was also teaching courses about food writing/blogging. He appeared in three other Bourdain episodes, notably the one titled “Obsessed.”
Asian Dining Rules - I always liked to ask Steven about NYC restaurants, especially Asian restaurants. He literally wrote the book on Asian cuisine. (My last blog post was a place he described as his favorite Japanese restaurant in the city. I went just yesterday.)
Someone turned the radio off so they could all hear me play.
After a few drinks, Arik and I agreed that we didn’t feel like leaving Manhattan. We both checked into the NYLO Hotel in the Upper West Side. I was excited that there was a piano, a red baby grand in the lobby by the lounge bar. I sat down and put my hands on the keys to find that the piano was horribly out of tune, but I didn’t care.
A man came over and asked if I could play. He said he loved the sound of the piano, and he asked me to play any song. I was a little nervous, I always am about performing. I played a song I wrote myself. It felt good to play, the room kinda fades away for a moment or two and it’s just me and the piano. When I finished the song, I turned to him. He looked as if he was on the verge of tears and told me that the song moved him. Then, he grew excited and asked if I would play a song for his girl.
He called across the lobby to a woman with a wine glass in hand, and she came over. She was Italian and really pleasant. Instead of playing a song I knew, I improvised and made a new song. They liked it, and so did some other people who had gravitated towards the piano. Someone had turned off the radio so they could all hear my play; when i stopped playing, the lobby was filled with just the sound of applause. I laughed and played some more. I played a song off Raito, I played some blues, we had a little sing-along, someone bought us drinks. The red piano filled up with tumblers and martini glasses. Everyone was happy, but I was the happiest. I liked when someone turned the radio off so they could all hear me play.
When I was a very young boy, my parents got me a pet bird. It was a little green finch, and I loved it dearly. If you’re thinking to yourself, “Birds aren’t cuddly or loveable,” I understand your confusion. But I saw a lot in that bird. Loving something isn’t predicated on anything in particular like how much fur a thing has. It happens in its own rite, and that bird was my only pet and the only thing that needed me and my love. I felt lucky to have that bird, so I cared for it with all my heart. And I loved that bird.
I distinctly remember the day my dad said that it was time to set the bird free. I didn’t understand at all. Why would I let him go when he was mine? My father pressed on, determined to convince me to get rid of the bird “He’ll be happier out there with the other birds. This cage is too small for him.” I quickly came up with all my child-like solutions, much like I would today - we can get him a friend, get a bigger cage, find him better seeds. But it wouldn’t be the same. And soon, I was convinced that letting him go was the best decision. If I really loved that bird, I would do anything to make him happy.
And so I watched my dad as he flung the bird out our second story apartment window. Ever so sadly I waved good bye and looked for him in the trees. And everyday I walked outside, I looked for him. And sometimes I thought I saw him, but I would just smile and keep to myself. I was happy that I had done something right, and I was happy that he was happy. It brought me a true and ultimate joy to have given someone the gifts of freedom and happiness, knowing that it would hurt me. The pain I felt melted in that joy. And my pet bird was with me forever.
I think I learned an incredibly valuable lesson, a lesson I think of often and hold dear to this day - sometimes when you love something, you need to let it go.