We called him Big Steve, despite the fact that he really wasn't that big. It might have been more appropriate to call him Medium Sized Steve, or Average Height Steve. But it wasn't his stature that inspired the nickname, it was his room filling presence. And he didn't just fill a room, he squeezed the air right out of it, until you felt yourself pressing your body up against the wall, becoming very small, so that you might slip out of the room entirely, hopefully without him noticing.
Big Steve had one volume, and that was TOP NOTCH. He was what my grandma used to call 'robust'. He bumbled around the office bloviating wildly, ignoring the simple manners most of us employ when discussing more delicate subjects.
"LESBIAN? SHE'S A LESBIAN?" he shouted in the breakroom, flaky croissant clinging to his lip. "SHE DOESN'T EVEN HAVE AN ACCENT!"
He was forever confusing words, and no one had the heart to correct him. "LAY THOSE PAPERS ON THE VERANDA BEHIND MY DESK!" He said that one for years, until our boss finally moved him to an office with a small balcony instead of a credenza.
Big Steve was a back slapper, a hand pumper, and a chronic high fiver. I'd sit in meetings with him where he'd raise a hand to a CEO and yell "YOU KNOW WHAT I'M SAYIN'?" then sit there grinning like a fool, waiting for an affirmation that wasn't coming. It was a little heartbreaking, really. I'd reach over and slap his hand enthusiastically and he'd yell, "THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!" It became very predictable - if the client gave Big Steve the high five, it was a done deal. No high five, we were walking out of there empty handed.
I only saw Big Steve's enthusiasm waiver once. His 94 year old mother lived in town, only a few blocks from our office. Steve had a family of his own - an ever patient wife, a truly darling boy - but he remained devoted to his mother. Every day, he would take his lunch hour to walk to her house and deliver a sandwich from the cafe next door. Every day, he would leave at exactly twelve o'clock and be back at exactly one o'clock, and this routine never varied throughout the week. Until one Tuesday.
Our boss stuck his head into my office at 1:15. "Where's Big Steve?" Where's Big Steve? Could he possibly be late? 1:30, 1:45, 2:00. We were worried. We called his house, we called his mother's house - no answer at either residence. Finally, a little after 4, Big Steve came walking through the door.
He looked like hell. His clothes were wrinkled and his hands were shaky, and his hair stood up all over his head, like he'd been running his hands through it for the past four hours. Which, in fact, he had, and he did it now.
"Mama's dead." It was the smallest voice to ever come out of the Big Man.
He stayed that way for weeks, barely speaking. "It's like a goddamn mortuary," said the boss. We walked around on tiptoe, afraid to break this new silence. Nearly a month after his mama's passing, Big Steve and I went out to negotiate a new contract with a client. We had been on rocky ground with them, but they loved Big Steve. I was hoping he could pull out the old Big Steve - maybe open with a joke about lesbians, talk about his prostrate infection, tell the story about the time when he went big game hunting and took a poisoned dart to the buttocks (true).
I might as well have gone alone. I sunk us, and as we packed up to leave it was clear to everyone that we wouldn't be invited back. I had nothing to lose, so in parting I told the dirtiest joke I knew. As the CFO stared at me open mouthed, I raised my hand and yelled at Big Steve level volume, "YOU KNOW WHAT I'M SAYIN'?" My hand hung in the air nearly forever, and I said a quick, silent prayer. Then Big Steve reached across the table, slapped my hand, and said in reply- "THAT'S WHAT I'M TALKING ABOUT!"
2 weeks ago