Sometimes I don't realize how lucky I am to have made it to 38 - I could always be healthier. But for my birthday dinner tonight I spread tater-tots over the top of my pepperoni pizza and covered them with an extra layer of mozzarella cheese. Robert Kaneichi called it the Tateroni Pizza. He was my first editor. And among other things, he taught me how to combine foods to make them more delicious than the sum of their parts. He dubbed it Power-food.
He put candy corn in his ice cream and stuffed bell peppers with turkey and cheese. He said the food gave him the strength to go home at night and face his first generation Japanese parents who felt his English Literature degree was some sort of personal insult to his Asian heritage.
Robert certainly didn't fit many of the stereotypes that his parents probably encouraged. He was about six and a half feet tall and 260ish pounds, with long straight black hair that grew well past his shoulders. He wore baggy sweat suits and a leather trench coat to work. His parents had wanted him to become a doctor and honor his family by returning to Japan with a small mountain of money and settle down with a nice Japanese wife.
So, we had the overbearing parents in common. Maybe that's why he rescued me from my shit-job in the bowels of the newspaper, where I toiled away loading spools of paper onto the massive presses. Robert would come down to smoke and bullshit about pretty much anything and everything. I got the sense that he was more comfortable amongst the newspaper's laborers than the white collar folks upstairs.
After a few months of this contact, Robert asked me if I wanted a better job - as his editorial assistant. Anything was better than what I was doing so I agreed.
My life as an editorial assistant revolved around making sure Robert was well fed, unbothered and on time. The rest of my time was spent talking to him about parents, annoying journalists and our conceited E.I.C. Once, as a prank, Robert ran a wedding announcement in the paper in which she married herself. Her only complaint was that the picture made her look fat.
Aside from life's practical lessons, I learned to spell words which I never mastered in school, or at least I learned not to use the words I couldn't spell. He let me write drafts of variety pieces. I learned quickly, mostly because Robert's teaching method was to flick my earlobe every time he caught a mistake. There were plenty of mistakes, and he was strangely fast for a big guy.
Pain is a good teacher. Robert must have thought I was doing well because he soon convinced our EIC to give me a desk doing some copy for the variety page.
When I got the job, two things happened: Robert stopped flicking my ear, and he wound up spending a lot of time at my house. I guess it was, at least partially, because he didn't like drinking with the other editors but also because I had spent my first paycheck on a shiny new Dreamcast. Videogames was something which he knew nothing about, but the swirling colors and sprites captivated his imagination. He'd supply the alcohol and food, and I'd try to explain the games while I was playing them. This arrangement worked out pretty well because I was always broke, and there's worse things to do than playing videogames for food.