A few days ago my old cutting board finally broke apart. One of the ends had come off months ago, so I knew the time was coming. It's been an important part of my kitchen equipment since I got it 30-something years ago. It's traveled with me from my studio apartment in Brighton to the Derriére du Nord, Medford, Allston, Back Bay, the Derriére du Sud, and now at Maison Robaire in JP.
How did I get it? Thirty-something years ago I was still in college and had a part-time job to make ends meet. After three months behind the counter of a Popular Doughnut Store* and nine days of prayers to St. Jude (I"m not kidding), I found what was the best job for me, working as a concierge in a Venerable Back Bay condominium, the V******. I forget how many concierges there were - eight, ten? - but for awhile I had two eight-hour weekend shifts. Junior year I took the seven-to-midnight shift five nights a week, five hours of almost uninterrupted reading, perfect for a college student. It's the only reason I ever aced English Drama After 1590, because I actually read all those Jacobean revenge tragedies.
I was definitely one of the youngest concierges. Most of the others were retirees, including a short Irish-American gent, R******, with too much tan, a gold link bracelet, and a very obvious hairpiece. If my gaydar had been working it would have been signalling "old queen, old queen!" But, as Sally Field memorably said in Soapdish, "I was very young then!" And besides, I wasn't even out to myself at that point.
We got to talking as colleagues do (I think I relieved his shifts rather than vice versa), and I mentioned that I was moving to a studio apartment and would need to go shopping. Immediately R****** offered to pass on some things he was no longer using, an offer I accepted gratefully. The weekend after I moved he provided a random selection of silverware, some glasses, and this sturdy butcher-block cutting board. And it started serving me well right away.
The glasses were probably all sacrificed on the Altar of Hospitality at some point (a few broken glasses are almost always the sign of a good party if you're under 35), and I passed on all my unmatched silverware to the Last Roommate in 2016 as part of my Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up. Only the cutting board remained of that long-ago generosity, and now its usefulness has come to an end.
R****** and I lost touch, as colleagues do, either when he really retired and moved to Florida or when I left the V****** in grad school to take a full-time job at that Suburban Weekly Newspaper. He had no need to offer a helping hand to a much younger man, nor did he attach a string to it. That's so much the popular narrative, isn't it, very Guy Kibbee in 42nd Street: "I mean, I'd like to do something for you . . . . if you'd do something for me." [pant, pant] Reflecting on his generosity now reminds me that Paying It Forward is important for good karma.
*People simply cannot believe I ever did such a thing in my life, but I still have my nametag to prove it.