On the back of his chef coat was a design – black octagons in a line down the center of his spine. He was laughing and smiling and everyone around him was smiling, too. The first time I saw the design on his coat I had no idea what it was but I was still pretty green. It was my first bartending gig and I was barely 21 years old.
By the time I saw the octagons on the back of his jacket a second time I had already gotten a few of my own on the knee of the jeans that I wore to work. Kneel down on a kitchen mat to get something off of a shelf and you, too, will have a greasy octagon on your pants. That explained what they were. But it didn’t tell me how they got there. Who in the hell would lie down on the floor in a kitchen?
I was working in a restaurant with an open kitchen. From behind the bar I could see the boys in the kitchen and I would admire their fast hands and their furrowed brows as they made delicious magic happen on dinner plates.
I would look into the kitchen window often for a whole bunch of different reasons. It was wise to take a peek into the window before you sent in a Sunday brunch ticket with a bazillion “Hold Food” special orders. You were a fool to not check and see if the boys were busy before you ordered your favorite sandwich for your employee lunch (turkey club with boursin mayonnaise.) Eventually I would marry one of those boys on the line so I suppose I was frequently just trying to sneak a peek at that guy I had just met.
On a busy night in the middle of a dinner rush if you watched carefully you would see one of the most extraordinary things I have ever witnessed in a kitchen. (Now you know if you have worked in the restaurant business that kitchens are like another planet and a lot of insane things go down back there.) But there is only one boy I have ever seen do a somersault on the line. Perhaps more astounding than the somersault was that nobody ever looked irritated by this ridiculous display of bravery (stupidity?) in the midst of hot pans and high tempers. And knives.
Nobody could roll with it like Skillet. “My name is Skillet and I rooooolllll with it.” He would pop up from the floor with a fresh line of octagons down his chef coat and that smirk would spread across his face and no matter how slammed you were and no matter how much you hated every single person in your station or how outrageously hungover you were all of a sudden you were smiling. And you were rolling with it, too.
In the last fifteen years I have seen Skillet less than a handful of times. Some of those times were a little hazy and some of them were a lot hazy (I am looking at you, Urbanna Oyster Festival.) But each and every time I was laughing.
I might not have seen Skillet in ages… but I think of him when I take a deep breath and smile. Sometimes the choice to remain calm and smiling in the midst of chaos is all it takes to make the people around you just chill the fuck out. So very many times I have thought to myself “My name is Skillet and I rooollll with it.”
There are times in your life when you must fight. You must not back down and you must be willing to give every last shred of your being to a cause. But sometimes, lots of times, you need to take a deep breath and roll with it. Because it’s really not that bad. And everyone around you is just way too serious. And it will be over before you know it and you need to put a smile on your face and roll on.
Today I learned that that boy who so many of my old friends will remember is no longer with us. To be honest, it hit me a little harder than I was expecting. A lot harder. But I am going to put a crooked smile on my face and roll with it, Skillet.
My deepest condolences to the Atwood family.