Lunchtime on Wall Street
Love, Death, Food and Questions of Dress

Memoir by
Karen Resta
September 2008


Glasses mscaprikell 14875853 flickr I did rather enjoy breaking the dress code. Though I never did wear that aqua leather mini-skirt to work ever again.

When stakes are measured in the millions of dollars, love is an action word. It may not be the action of little hearts and initials drawn on a sheet of notebook paper nor the action of chest-pounding fists and Tarzan cries. Instead, it's the action of an intense trust invested with a close focused care from one partner to another and from peer to peer.

To be part of life at this honored merchant bank was to be part of a well-oiled machine constantly fueled by this devotional love.

The fact that the love offered all those participating in it measurable, numbers-based results in terms of compensations and annual bonuses was simply the cherry on top of it all.

My job was to make sure the love could be tasted by those whose rank allowed them that privilege. Tasted, smelled, felt — the love would seep into their beings from not only the foods placed before them to eat but the concentrated essence of the emotion would also be magically pulled from the very air to enter into every single one of them individually as they stepped onto the deep Oriental carpets that signaled my domain. In other words they were spoiled.

They were well spoiled, and babied too — dubbed with a marvelous sense of laudation from the moment they entered my turf. That was my job, as their executive chef. And what a wonderful thing it was indeed.

As I remember it, the love was really flowing that day.

My pre-service rounds showed a kitchen humming with activity. The cooks, sous-chef, and dishwashers moved together with competent precision in their coordinated dance. Divine aromas arose from hundreds of recipe ingredients being tossed, chopped, seared, caramelized, and steamed. Across the corridor from the kitchen the private dining rooms were set, all ready and waiting for guests to arrive for lunch.

The men began to arrive on time in twos and fours, walking with sure and ponderous intent — all of them gentlemen. It could not be any other way, here. The code was as firmly set into the place as a well-done tattoo.

A soft muffled peace reigned as drinks were served, china and silverware clinked, and deal making began. I returned to my desk and stuck my nose into a cookbook, ready to meet and greet as the need or desire arose. People like to meet the executive chef.

The kitchen did not need me - the chef was pleased to take full charge of everything he could in it. My job was to plan, to devise strategies, to solve problems with staffing or money, to create menu plans, to create new recipes, to write policy and procedures manuals, to meet with all those who wanted to meet to talk food, their food, the food they wanted so much to reach the highest summit of perfection, my job was to implement operational plans to make things work better, always better - to create a higher love quotient for both kitchen staff and guests.

A ragged panting noise sounded from the hall. It didn't make sense. Ragged panting simply didn't happen here. Then Jose flew up the hall and around the corner.

"There's a guy on the floor, he fell off his chair, he's turning funny colors!" he gasped. I ran after him back down the hall.

Four men stood together in one corner of the dining room staring rigidly at the fifth one who had been at the table. He now lay crumpled on the floor.

He was old, tall, thin. His hair was a delicate soft white. His face was (as Jose said) turning a funny color. There was a bit of saliva coming out the corner of his mouth. His skin lay flaccid and pale on his cheeks.

As I bent to take his pulse my hands were trembling. It felt as if I might fly right up into the air from shaking so much. "He has a heart condition" one of the men said. "Who are you?" I asked him. "I'm his brother. And his partner," he added.

The hostess entered the room. We started CPR, talking the steps out loud together as we touched the man who lay on the floor. It was the first time either one of us had done CPR "for real" - that is, on a person rather than on a dummy.

His airway was clear so I took the old man's mouth between my palms — so feeble-looking and lax it was - and began to breathe into him as Kathy did compressions on his heart. Time suspended itself in thin air, just as his breath and heart had.  There was no time.

I wanted his brother to help. "This is your brother, asshole!" I wanted to scream at him. "It could as well be you. Is this how you would want to be treated by your brother if it was you? Get over here. Talk to him. Hold his hand. Call his doctor. Touch his hair. Get out of the fucking corner and down on this floor!" But his brother was frozen in the corner with the other guys. They looked like cardboard cut-outs, immobile, shocked into place by what was happening in this room where these things did not happen.

The EMTs arrived after what seemed to be forever. When I looked up from where I was kneeling on the carpet, up over my shoulder back towards the four stick-men in the corner, I was startled by an odd sight.

Their eyes were not focused on the man who had been their brother, their business partner, their friend and peer. Instead they were honed with machine-like precision upon something else. It was my behind that captured their attention. They were all staring with attention from their immobility in the corner directly up my skirt.

One life was gone. Massive heart attack, the doctors said later. Nothing, really, could have saved him in that moment. They took him away, and the men in the room awkwardly dispersed. There was going to be no more lunch at that table, that day.

I left the room and went to the ladies room. Closing myself in a cubicle, I cried without making noise. My mouth opened like a scream and tears poured from my eyes and when I could stop, I did. Then I went back to the dining room.

The walls gleamed softly, dressed up finely in their washed heavy silk – a silk that lay quiet, a silk that never screamed. Did it swear? It may have, from time to time. Maybe at those times the soft deep carpet would cool the wallpaper's surprise. Maybe the large windows like huge gray eyes where the East River could be seen in slow steady transit — choppy little waves here and there — reminded the wallpaper that life goes on, one way or another. The sun rises, the sun sets. Another day would come filled with usual things: love, sex, death, money, food, and gentlemen who were gentlemen.


© 2008 Karen Resta

Originally appeared at


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