The longest part-time job I held down during high school was at Sea Breeze, a seafood restaurant in Guilford, Connecticut, one town over from where I lived. A friend connected me with a job there and I started as a dishwasher and eventually became a line cook.
I learned how to make fantastic onion rings, tuna melts, fried shrimp, and stuffed cod. I was schooled in the art of killing, cleaning, and stuffing lobster. I was also introduced to the hellish stress of being buried in work and under pressure. I was a young and angry teenage punk rocker working with a few fellow teenagers but was mostly among adults who really needed their jobs and didn’t have time for my nonsense.
The owner was Bobby DeLucca and he and I didn’t talk much, seeing as he was the owner and I was mostly a dishwasher. He was there a lot and usually wound up working several jobs in some capacity, often in the kitchen. He would jump on the sauté station and give out the orders to the line cooks, only to move to the other side of the service window and help deliver these orders to tables.
The restaurant business is brutal and I got to see that first-hand in the two years I worked at Sea Breeze. Sometimes people walked off the job in the middle of a busy weekend night and everyone had to scramble to keep up. One night after the restaurant closed someone broke in and drilled open the safe in Bobby’s office. Dishes shatter, supplies run low, the trash collection gets delayed, the mixer breaks. It’s a stressful business to work in even when it’s not all on your shoulders, when the hard-earned bucks don’t stop with you.
Bobby’s son Rob worked in the kitchen and his daughter Darlene worked as a hostess and bartender. One time the two of them got into an argument and Darlene confronted her father about having to work with her brother. “When you were little your mother and I came to you and said ‘How would you like a little brother?’ and you said ‘Yes, Daddy, yes!’ and here we are.” The entire kitchen staff cracked up over that and whatever situation that had arisen was quickly diffused. There isn’t time to argue when there are orders to be served and people waiting for tables.
One Sunday night, the few coworkers that would normally give me a ride home were gone, things at the time weren’t great with my family, and this left me stranded at work after my shift. Bobby said he could give me a ride home, but he had to close up the restaurant first and the bar stayed open later than the kitchen. I waited in the bar, hearing snippets of conversations here or there. I hit on some of the waitresses who were much older and out of my league, which gave Bobby a laugh. “This kid’s got brass balls,” he said.
At the time I worked at Sea Breeze I was squeezing rebellious commentary into everything. There’s only so much of a rebel you can be when you are a high school student and still live at home with your family on the Connecticut shoreline, but I was angry at everything and everyone all the time and wanted it known. This didn’t faze my boss.
“You remind me of myself when I was your age,” he told me as we drove over the dark back roads towards North Madison. “I was crazy. I remember running for student council and banging my shoe on the desk like Khrushchev.”
“Oh yeah, I was something else.”
I was surprised to find this kinship with my boss, who I didn’t think had much in common with me. It was good to speak to an adult who had gone through his own turbulent teen years and could look back on them with a sense of humor, even with nostalgia. I had a new appreciation for Bobby, moved by his seeing a bit of himself in all my craziness.
Inspired by our conversation, I ran for class president in the next school year on an anti-establishment platform that had the school administration tear down my posters and call me out of Latin class in a failed attempt to scare me out of running. I might have actually won (it was the only year they decided to cancel any debates or speeches for the student elections and I never got to see the vote count despite my request). In the hallway the day after the vote, a girl who was part of the popular crowd whispered to me, “I voted for you, don’t tell anybody.” Years later, people told me how it was one of the coolest things anyone had ever done in high school.
Robert “Bobby” Gary DeLucca passed away July 30 after a brief illness, leaving behind a grieving family that includes two grandchildren. Remembrances from people who had worked for him poured in, some from decades ago. Family and friends gathered in Guilford to remember him.
I thanked Bobby for the ride home that night, but never got the chance to thank him for inspiring me to run for office, or for permission to go ahead and be a crazy young person, or for letting me know that the rebellious streak runs through all of us, even our bosses.