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Splish-Splash, I Was Taking a Boff

I was twenty the first time I met Danny Szeto. I’d just dropped out of USC after a two year stint, gotten fat, and started working for my family’s company driving the delivery truck. It wasn’t where I wanted to be. Danny had already been at the company for a year, having migrated from his native Hong Kong where he worked as a tailor. (I never could get my mind around the idea of a Danny Szeto altered suit, but that’s another story.) He’d started in the chemical mixing department of our film lab, developed a bad rash, and tried to hide it because he needed the work. Veteran employee Martin Hall called my father’s attention to the situation, and my dad suggested the position of janitor. We’d been using a nightly service, and they weren’t doing the best job. Danny jumped at the chance.

By the time I showed up, Danny had been at the janitor gig for a while. He was still (and always would be) working on his English skills, but he gathered that my name was Rick and greeted me with a friendly “Hello Rihhh” whenever we’d cross paths in the shipping department. About three weeks in to my employment, I was taping together a UPS package while Danny and machine operator Benny (Mac) McBride sipped at small Dixie cups by the water cooler. A call came over the intercom – Rick Monaco, line two” –  and Danny got a curious look on his face. “Who is Rihhh Mah-naco? ” Benny gestured impatiently toward me. “This is Rick Monaco, Danny – his father owns the f*ckin’ company.” Danny got quite excited at this revelation and started congratulating me profusely. Drawing attention to my connection with ownership was the last thing that I wanted, but picking up on my self-conscious, self-loathing vibe wasn’t exactly Danny’s forte, either. For the next several weeks, wherever he’d see me – outside getting in the truck, in the freight elevator, up in the company lunch room – he’d start pumping my hand with those green-rubber janitorial gloves, and repeating “Rihhh Mah-naco, Rihhh Mah-naco” like I’d just won the lottery. That I wasn’t as excited about it seemed to matter little to him. My awkward indifference to this perceived good fortune couldn’t stop his fun.

I couldn’t have predicted at that point what a staple Danny would become in my long tenure at Monaco Labs. He wasn’t exactly a partner and he wasn’t exactly a foil. But he was always there observing the goings-on, pointing out the packaged assortment of tea, coffee and hot chocolate in the lunch room to those who might have missed it, and the first in the buffet line at company Christmas parties, piling an impressive assortment of chow on his plate. I helped him out with his English lessons on occasion by injecting various rock lyrics to the mix. I’d give him the lead line and he’d repeat and finish the phrase, whether it was Aerosmith ( “wahhh this way, tahhh this way” ) or Bobby Darin ( “splish-splash, I was takin’ a bofff..” ) Nobody seemed to mind when I taught him the correct response to “Merry Christmas” – Bah Humbug . He spat it out with proud conviction, and the laughs he got reinforced the routine. Years after he retired, I’d  get Christmas cards from Danny, and he’d always sign off with that refrain. He never missed any of my birthdays either – always sent a card.

Scott Miller, another long time Monaco regular, used to join me in taking Danny to various events like professional wrestling and Giants baseball games. One night at a Giants game, I was talking to Miller while Danny sat silently beside us with a rather substantial, slovenly fellow to his left. I was concerned with Danny’s comfort level, sitting next to this stranger.  Giants relief pitcher Greg Minton was having a bad year, and I had taught Danny one simple, two-word phrase to bring to the ballpark. They put Minton in late in a losing effort, to work some throwaway innings. When they announced his name, the big guy next to Danny got a disgusted look on his face and Danny instinctively uttered “Min-ton suck.” The guy slapped him on the back saying “you got that right, little fellow” and he and Danny were fast friends.

It came as little surprise the other night when the sad word arrived in Brooklyn that Danny had died. I hadn’t been in touch for a while, but it was the first year in memory that he hadn’t sent a birthday or Christmas card. The last time we’d hung out was a few years back in San Francisco. We went out for a coffee in North Beach and then did some people watching from a bench in Washington Square Park. I don’t think either of us ever fully understood what the other was saying, but I’d nod and repeat words that I could make out in his sentences and he’d smile like we were on the same page. There were long periods of silence that were equally comfortable, when we’d just sit and observe. I guess we were on the same page, in an odd sort of way, and I got the feeling that he read me well, going all the way back to when I was a wise-ass kid.  Afterwards he tried to teach me a Chinese card game at my place and then we gave up and watched the sun set on the Golden Gate Bridge. It was a pretty good day.

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One Comment

  1. Sharon Ahigian wrote:

    Fuckin’ awesome, Rick! I’m sure Danny would have been so deeply pleased to read that–if only he could’ve. 🙂

    That’s a great memorial to him.


    Tuesday, June 13, 2017 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

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