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By age 35 I expected to be President, very famous or at least very, very rich. Instead, by 35 I had three sons, a beautiful wife, and a restaurant business where I made great friends. I had also discovered the place I would spend the rest of my life.
Thirty-five years later after retiring from a second business, I find myself reflecting on how we are all different and all the same. We are random outcomes (some would disagree and say creatures of God) of the same evolutionary process, yet we each represent one unique collapse of the wave function of life (see The Blue House poem by Tomas Transtromer HERE).
“Who’da thunk it?”
Mortimer Snerd, a dummy brought to life by the much loved ventriloquist Edgar Bergen was, as far as I know, the first to say “Who’da thunk it.” I grew up with several Bergenisms such as “early bird gets the worm, but second mouse gets the cheese.” The one that stuck with me over the years was: “okay, magic boy let’s see who you really are.” I would whisper that to myself whenever things went a little sideways.
If we’re honest with ourselves, most of us must admit we have no idea what we are, where we came from, where we’re going or why. I didn’t. I still don’t. Much of life is a surprise even if, looking back, we create a story that sort of explains things.
People like surprises. In the restaurant we had a tradition of daily specials on the weekdays. The special was a big draw for the locals. We served around 50 luncheon specials every day, sometimes double that. Certain items became so popular we had customer requests. “When ya gonna serve chicken parmesan again, I don’t wanna miss it?” “I really like those fried clam sandwiches. Why don’t you put them on the menu?”
Some specials did make the transition to the menu. Chef Gary Lyte experimented with a breakfast conglomeration called the German scramble, a hash-like mix of potatoes, ham or bacon, eggs, onions, peppers, and more. During salmon season he improvised a Pacific scramble substituting salmon for the meat. The mixed-scramble became so popular we served it every day.
The daily special is an idea that should go beyond the kitchen. Predictable routine in daily life serves a purpose, makes you more productive, helps you keep your nose to the grindstone. But, it can also be a colossal bore. The monotonous pursuit of a daily vocation, never living, only working, never thinking, hypnotizing yourself by the routine and punctuality of your life turns you into a mechanical toy, wound up tightly and fated to go on only for so long until death takes you.
A daily special can change that. On offer is something you don’t expect in the ordinary business of life. Connecting with a stranger, even for only a few minutes while buying your morning coffee, can change your outlook on the day ahead, make you see things you didn’t see before, even make a life that’s losing its pizazz get it back again.
You are the key to the daily special. Every day it’s your choice what to think about and how to think about it. That’s the truth with a capital “T”.
You get to make the daily special in your own restaurant. The best expression of this idea is a commencement speech by David Foster Wallace at Kenyon College delivered in 2013. The speech, This is Water, lasts a mere twenty minutes. I highly recommend it. Grab a cup of coffee or a beer or a glass of wine or just sit quietly for twenty minutes in a comfortable chair and listen, listen to this speech. It’s worth it. I promise.
Who knows? Maybe the daily special will change your life. Maybe not. But, what do you have to lose? Just another day like the last one.