One of my favourite cooks in one of my favourite haunts here in upstate country shocked me several weeks ago. What he said made my sizzling kebabs slip from my fingers.
“I’m going,” he announced in his soft, delightfully accented Turkish voice. “Going where?” I queried from my counter stool. “Finished for tonight?”
“No, all finished here,” he said. “No more work,” he added, wiping his hands together. That’s when the kebabs fell. “Wait a minute! You can’t leave! You’re the best cook in town! What’ll I eat? I’ll starve!”
“Sorry,” Salee continued in his nonchalant way. “New boss coming.”
“When are you leaving?” Salee shrugged. “5 days. Brooklyn.” He drifted away and I was left to sort out the details. Was it true? The waitress confirmed the troubling news. “Rats!” I muttered. I find a piece of heaven in cold cruel upstate only to have it snatched from me in my happiest hour. “Well, all right,” I thought. “If that’s the way it’s going to be I’ll just have to make the most of this while I can.” After supper I shook hands with Salee at the door.
“So long, friend.” I said with great solemnity as I shook his hand. “ Good luck.”
“Good luck for you,” he replied.
My plan hatched on the way home. I have a genius for great plans (even if they end up in that “mice and men” category), but never mind that. I decided I’d include Salee’s place on my jogging route and get in there for a falafel to go. Five days later I was back.
“Goodbye friend,” I said at the doorway, my warm foil wrapped falafel in hand.
“Good luck for you,” he replied, shaking my hand. And off into the frozen January streets I scrambled with a heavy falafel and a heavy heart.
A week went by and my thoughts turned to a nice hot gyro to go. The bitter days of winter being a permanent feature now, I donned my Woolx again and shimmied down the streets to my old haunt. To my surprise Salee stood behind the counter.
“I thought you had gone!”
“Five days,” he said with a serious look, holding up the five fingers on his hand. “Five days. Scranton.” He made up a nice hot gyro and handed it over.
“So long, friend,” I said. “Good luck.”
“Good luck for you.”
His delay had been beneficial, for sure. No one made Turkish cuisine better than Salee. The delay was working out OK for me, but it couldn’t last. A week later I had another hankering for a gyro. In yet another sinister squall I fought my way down to Salee’s old place. There stood Salee behind the grill.
“Hey, Salee! You’re still here!” “Yeah, still here!” he said with a big smile, turning from the stove. The light above caught the silver in his teeth. “Five days. New Jersey.” He made up another gyro for me. We stood at the door.
“So long, friend. “Good luck to you.”
“Good luck for you.”
Yesterday I thought it might be nice to go out for a nice Turkish dinner. A sort of celebration, you might say. I had more plans that needed some joyful reflection. “Sure!” said my wife. “That would be perfect for the occasion!”
Salee prepared a perfectly delicious dinner, in my mind the best Turkish kebabs found west of the Bosphorus. It couldn’t have been better.
“Food good?” Salee inquired, hands on hips as he stood at our table with his usual grin. “Oh, Salee,” I said. “You are the best,” and I gave him the thumbs up sign. “Now, you’re still leaving?”
“Yes. Boston. Five days.”
“That’s terrific,” I observed. “We have some news for you. This is our last meal here for many months. We’re leaving.”
“You? Going?” A look of complete shock emerged on his usually bright face. “Where?”
“Turkey – and some other places.”
Salee thrust out his hand. “So long, friend. Good luck to you.” I took his hand. “Good luck for you, Salee.”
I lied to Salee the other night. We aren’t leaving in five days. We’re leaving tomorrow. And when we return I fully expect to see Salee standing at the stove, like an old friend. Except I don’t think I’ll plan on it.