“Nobody under 30 know what love is or how to work.” Lynn Leong
Sweat and grease had been streaming down my forehead for three hours and it was only 9:10. Nine fucking Ten. That was the time I showed up this morning. Before the maelstrom that was the Saturday dinner rush. Before eating a hurried bite here and there as I got the dining room vacuumed and set. Before the onslaught of several hundred people in the banquet room for lunch. They came in waves of 70-80 people and we battled to keep it flowing. Then there was the desperate attempt to swab the dining room before the evening rush hit around 6:00. And hit it did. We were being pummeled. Like Utah (Where the USS Nevada pummeled the German seawall softening them up for the invasion) ) , Omaha, Anzio. They overwhelmed us in an endless swarm. Ruthless, like Kursk or Dong Ap Bai. Of course it was nothing like the fury and horror those names define. Not even close.. Nonetheless, it was kicking my ass in a way I had yet to taste.
“Lynn, Table 12 sent this back, the customer says it’s raw.”
The fireplug of a man with arms thick as hogs legs and hard as steel erupted: Sonnnnaaagaaaaabiiiiiiitchhhhhh!”
You could almost hear a snap as the pressure of the day finally overwhelmed our ability to hold it back. Lynn took the shrimp and threw it at the Stir Cook. “I serve food people can eat, Bobby, not this garbage. Every customer. Every time. Our reputation is built with every dish we serve. I know what you can do, how good you are. But if you can’t do it tonight, then give me your tools and I’ll do your job. You can go home!”
Not having seen Lynn this pissed I tried to smash myself as far into the furthest part of the dishsink corner as I could and threw myself at drying the silverware. It was moments like these that a cloak of Invisibility or a cone of silence or something would be a great thing to engage. Bobby was shaken, shaking and on the verge of tears. I saw his mounting frustration congeal into rage. “No one is as good as you Lynn! Nobody is that perfect.”
“It’s not about me, Bobby. It’s about you. Live up to yourself, or get the hell out of here!”
Holy Shit, I thought, he is really pissed. If he sends Bobby home, I’m gonna have to pull the last stretch alone with him. And that won’t be easy or fun. He taught me how to run the deep fry Wok during prep when he made lunch and I knew I could do it, but I was pretty sure keeping up with the dishes and running the deep fryer would be beyond me. The important thing was to keep those orders going out. Just keep the food going out. Lynn had a one hell of a temper, and he wore layers of aloof coolness like a Basque Sheepherders Jacket. ThIs hearty sheepskin cloak kept the harshness of the world at bay and kept warm a kind man’s heart of solid gold quarried hardscrabble on the Comstock Lode.
And right now that man was as pissed as I had seen him. Bobby had been lagging for the last couple of weeks; showing up late, slacking on prep and at times acting like an actual genuine whiney bitch. Some people do that as they make their way through life. They become distracted or caught up in their own personal, usually self-inflicted misery. For some this becomes a distraction they simply cannot push away. Some wander in, out and in between these distractions while others are not so lucky quite able to elude it; they spend their lives hanging on to quiet desperation. The English Way.
“Fuck this, Lynn.” Bobby threw his towel and slammed his tools into the boiling oil of the deep fry wok. The spilling oil nearly ignited and the water on the utensils created one hell of a racket as the water and the boiling oil became acquainted. He shoved his time card into the machine, for the moment wholely unconcerned with aligning the card with the slot on the time clock. “This really helps the payroll lady.” he gracefully showed me six weeks ago on my first day. Turning the corner, Lynn looked at me and without words between us I began to work the Wok tools I pulled from the debris. The dishes slowly grew into a smallish mountain range of plates and coffee cups, nibbled shrimp tails and the bespattered stainless steel serving platforms holding remnants of sweet and sour pork bones or Tomato Vegetable Chow Yuk. We had enough clean plates to make it, I figured. As long as I kept the inventory of silverware up for the girls, I could do it. Things would slow down in a half an hour and by 11:00 the dining room should be empty. Focus on the shrimp and the silverware. It’s only an hour.
“Two fried shrimp two egg roll. Chop Chop” he sounded off from around the corner.
Lynn Leong came to the United States in 1932 at the height of the Great Depression. As he was preparing to board a steamship in Canton, the city itself was preparing for the Japanese invasion that ravaged the recently relocated Capitol of China, Nangking . His family determined that of his 9 siblings, Lynn represented the best hope of supporting his family in China by accompanying his Uncle to America. Within weeks he began sending money to his family in China and continued this practice until he died. The ship made its way to America and walking down the gangway Lynn Leong was embraced by the misty arms of America in San Francisco. He was 9 years old.
It didn’t take me long to realize I would never get a job working on C Street like the other local kids. Growing up a Hippie on the Comstock, the job prospects were bleak. It was crystallized for me one day when the change lady sent me packing from the Delta one day. “You filthy Hippie kids are not welcome in the Delta or anywhere else unless you’re spendin’ money. Now get your filthy hippy ass out of here!”. The only place that I would have a chance in would Grandma’s Fudge. Owned by Julie Karno, she was the only cool person in the entire confines of Virginia City. But I couldn’t see me wearing the silly blue and white calico uniforms and I never tried.
When Theo’s mom was hooked me up with the opportunity to wash dishes at the Sharon House, I knew had a chance that most of the kids I knew just wouldn’t have (or want for that matter). I realized what the opportunity represented and became determined to make the most of it.
By the time he hired me, Lynn had been at it for nearly 45 years. It wasn’t more than a couple of weeks with him when I began to realize this guy had it made. In a big way. Meeting him the first time, I immediately noticed his glasses. LIke coke bottle bottoms, they magnifed his eyes making them bug out even more than normal. He had tunnel vision and could focus like a laser on what was in front of him but had no peripheral vision. He could pour tea and not spill a drop, but I felt awful the day I left the mop sticking out at anke height; hearing him crash and then holler “Sonnnnaaaaagaaaaabbbbitchhhhhh!” And although he limped occasionally from the effects of gout, he would stand playing his three nickel slot machines for hours on end during the slow winter nights. Bob the bartender would, on demand, prepare any type of drink he could ever want from his fully stocked bar. And on Thursday afternoons some of the locals would spend the afternoon playing pinochle where he would routinely run the table. But beside the “Dragon Lady” (his wife, Gwen was beautiful, white and the thing I remember most; she had nice big boobs) his real love was in the kitchen. He really knew how to cook and over time he taught me this fundamental life skill all the while instilling into me an enduring love of preparing food.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but by being observant and curious, he was also teaching me to run a business. I watched him and how he conducted himself; the tight fist of an Iron Chef, overly fair and even generous once you proved your salt to him. His businesses were well run and successful. The Restaurant was always full and I would see the woman come in the afternoon with the receipts from the Visitors Bureau he ran on C Street. Lynn smiled when she came by and some days he was even happier than others. The Visitors Bureau was a public relations operation whose job it was to bring busload after of busload packed with swarms of people to the Comstock to have some lunch and enjoy an afternoon before heading back to California. I can’t remember a person who did more for the community by getting people up the hill in numbers. (Today the locals crow about how many bikers they can shove up the town’s ass; I had the misfortune of being in town this year for a big biker bash, a ginormous fucking mess yet a telling tribute to the tastes of the town’s current chamber of commerce) And he generated the numbers. I watched as he fussed over the details of preparing the food, daily preparing the myriad different items we needed to make up all the items on the menu. I admired his clever ideas on getting things done efficiently. He took the time to explain to me why he did the things he did as he was doing them to reveal his mindset; he insisted on getting things done his way, the right way. Long before computers, he kept his cost matrix in his head and always seemed to know exactly what where his business was and what inventory he had at any point in the battle. He kept track of everything. And everybody.
The lessons he taught me were invaluable to me later when my employee count reached 50 people and had 5 different locations. Without my lessons from Lynn I would not have gone where I did professionally. I can still hear him whisper to me today.
It was early afternoon one day as I cleaned the entry hall and bar as The Pinoccle players were taking a break from the festivities. Lynn was out of earshot, in the Kitchen around the corner behind the Dining Room rustling them up some grub. “You remember Lynn loaned so and so some money to fix his house a last year? Not only has he not paid Lynn back a cent, but he just lost his job and Lynn spotted him another grubstake. I’ll bet dollars to doughnuts he won’t see a cent of that money. That is mighty white of Lynn. AHHHH-SOOOOO! MIGHTY WHITE of the CHINAMAN!” As they fell out of their chairs, I couldn’t help being seared by their simpleminded bigotry. I immediately understood the sick irony of their joke. It screamed the contents of their twisted mindset. It was a mindset steeped in the fabric of the folks that
While there are accounts of men like him during the heyday of the Comstock, there have been few, if any, since.
Looking back, Lynn was the whitest man in VC.