Diary of a Restaurant: Ch 32 – TedMay 20, 2021
A Story by Kevin Gallagher
After Ivan had passed away and been celebrated, Ted, in shock and disbelief, was like a grieving stage widow for a time. He would drop into the restaurant late in the evenings, wrapped in a long black cloak, drink wine at the bar and feel for Ivan’s presence in the room. When a bad perm thick with hairspray came too close to a candle and was singed, he chuckled, crediting Ivan and his impatience with bad hairstyles.
Ted had spent the eighteen months leading up to Ivan’s death focused on his care. We knew the reality of his loss might soon overwhelm him so a loose network of friends was organized as a support group to be ready when it did. Regularly, one of us would call to invite him out for lunch or a drink or just to talk for a few minutes. Hoping to distract him with a project, Donna proposed redecorating the bar area. He started, but it seemed working in the room again only reminded him of his missing collaborator and any enthusiasm he had mustered trickled away.
He didn’t go back to work either. He often mentioned his determination to set up a foundation in Ivan’s name and although he wasn’t clear on who the beneficiaries would be, we were happy that he was working on something. But when the grief and depression did overtake him, he let the project slide. We were encouraged when he signed up for grief counseling and again when he rented a sports car and drove to Montreal and Quebec City to visit friends, but when he came back he was even more conscious of his loneliness. He got tested for HIV and was disappointed to find that he was negative.
We would get calls from bars around Church and Wellesley in the gay village. Well past the point of intoxication, he had been cut off, could we come and pick him up? If Donna went she could convince him to go for coffee, then sit and talk with him, sometimes until the early hours. With me, he might insist that we try another bar, where to my surprise he would be served, but he and Ivan were well known and liked in the community and there was a great deal of sympathy for his loss. It probably helped that as his chaperone, I drank only soda water. Afterwards, we would make sure he got safely home. Donna still had a key from the time of Ivan’s illness, so we were able to make sure he got in alright.
As we had for several years, at the end of May we catered a fundraising event for the Stratford Festival – the Stratford Express. Participants would board a train at Union Station, enjoy a three course boxed dinner and bid on auction items while travelling to Stratford for a featured production. The numbers varied from year to year but there were always between seven and eight hundred guests, so preparing and packing the meal was a complicated process and required precise planning.
After the first year, Donna had developed a rigorous production schedule but much of the work could still only be done immediately before the event. Filling tiny salt and pepper shakers and doing cutlery roll-ups could be done days before, but the actual cooking and packing of the food could only be done on the day and the previous night. The menu was not overly complicated but each course had several elements, each in turn with its own prep and production schedule. This year, the starter was five skewered marinated shrimp on a bed of couscous with roasted red peppers, black olives, fresh herbs and lemon zest; the main course was sliced beef tenderloin with a red onion marmalade, with a salad of new potatoes and green and yellow bean bundles. To finish there was an apple-raspberry galette. Halal, vegetarian and vegan meals were also provided as requested.
The three last days were twenty hour days for us all – except maybe for Donna who didn’t seem to stop at all. We recruited every pair of hands we could to help with the packing of the boxes. Ted, when he was available, had been an enthusiastic participant, packing, lugging and delivering, but he showed no interest this year and we were reluctant to pressure him. Friday was his birthday and when we were unable to reach him by telephone to wish him well, we crossed our fingers and prayed that he was out celebrating, half hoping to get a call from a concerned bartender. Others who had tried to reach him reported that his answering machine was full.
After Friday night dinner service we turned the dining room into an assembly line, packing the individual boxes, stacking them onto pallets each with a distribution plan and a carriage number and then loading them into a refrigerated truck for delivery to Union Station. Saturday evening while we did dinner service at the restaurant, a crew went to Stratford to retrieve the boxes, linens and cutlery. Sunday was another busy brunch.
We kept trying to reach Ted, but there was no answer and we couldn’t leave a message. Donna was worried. On Tuesday evening, she left the restaurant early to go to check on him. A short while after she left, I got a call from one of Ted’s neighbours.
“There’s something going on at the boys’ place – the police are there and fire trucks,” she said. I knew that it had most likely been Donna who called them and suspected the worst.
Walking up to the house, Donna could hear the roar of canned laughter from an American sitcom through the open window and wondered that the neighbours hadn’t complained. It had been very hot so the open window was no surprise but she was puzzled by what Ted seemed to be watching. It wasn’t his style. She knocked and getting no answer, let herself in with her key. When she opened the door and stepped into the house, she knew immediately that he was dead. She found him in the bedroom where he had been watching Ivan’s tribute tape on VCR; when the tape ended, the television came on.
Ted had left a note, addressed to Donna, outlining his final wishes. There was to be no service of any kind. He wanted a simple cremation exactly like Ivan’s and to have their ashes mixed. Donna carried out his wishes to the letter with a grim determination. When the undertaker arrived at the crematorium with a wooden casket, she insisted that it be changed – Ivan had gone into the fire in cardboard and Ted would too. When Ted’s mother Marie, distraught at not being able to view her son’s body, pressed her to allow the ashes to be blessed at a requiem mass, Donna refused.
Marie did have a mass offered for him though, which I attended feeling that comforting the survivors trumped carrying out the wishes of the dead. Donna disagreed. We argued. We went to work together and barely spoke. Donna seemed cool and focused, intent on carrying out Ted’s last requests but I knew that she was heartbroken. I was very little help to her – mostly I just drank more. We both felt that we had let Ted down, constantly asking ourselves, “What if I had….”
It seemed incredible that in the space of just five years we had met, become very close friends and lost these two incredible men. We had worked with them, laughed with them and partied with them. They had taken the pumpkin of our industrial warehouse unit and turned it into a sparkling whimsical vehicle for our restaurant. They had a solution for every problem. It was no wonder we had begun to refer to them as our fairy godfathers.
Ivan’s mother did not want the ashes to be mixed – there wasn’t room in the family burial plot for a larger urn. Balking at this affront to Ted’s wishes, I pried open Ted’s urn late one night, dumped the ashes into a large stainless steel bowl with Ivan’s and mixed them together with a large spoon. When I had refilled the urns, and judged I had the proper weight in each, I rinsed the bowl with a little Pol Roger and poured it in too. And then I had a glass myself.
I wasn’t sure if there might be repercussions so I kept this from Donna at first but I should have known that being so diligent in the execution of Ted’s wishes, she was going to do the same thing. She told me that after she had rinsed the mixing bowl with water and poured it out among the flowers in the garden, she had been surprised by a neighbour, who saw her on her knees, weeping.
“She asked me if anything was wrong – if I was okay.” she said. “I told her I was fine.”
“And you will be, we will be fine,” I said.