Matt Walsh was Michael’s partner in the Crime Lab, and the willing straight man to Michael’s crazy. The first night I met Matt was when he and Michael held their staff Christmas party at Fiction. That night, he personally polished off a bottle and a half of crown royal, and the rest of their staff were right behind him. I had dealt with some drunks in my day, but these were more than your average heavy drinker, these were professionals.
Matt was tall, lean, and reminded me instantly of Will Ferrell as Frank the tank. Despite that, he had a steely, calculating intelligence lurking beneath his boyishly unkempt hair. He was the kind of guy that looks through you, searching your face, your body language, and your words for a twitch, a lie, or a weakness. There was a reason, as I was discover later, but he had a presence, and whereas Michael was a volatile mix of emotion and chaos, Matt’s silence often said far more.
People are always relegated to two sides, the thinkers and the do-ers. Matt was a do-er, by every definition. Shoot first, ask questions later, and worry about hiding the body in the morning. We all like do-ers, for the simple fact that shit gets done. It may not be as you like it, but it’s done, and we can fix it later. He and I differed on many things, but we were absolutely on the same page on the do-er side, and agreed that every do-er needs a do-over-er right beside them to help things get to where they need to be.
Mike and Matt were partners in crime, literally. Their first venture together, aptly named ‘The Crime Lab’, spent its first 2 years of existence moonlighting as an all night booze can. This quickly earned its way into the hearts, minds, and livers of every service industry pro, concierge, and moderately shady character in town. Cash only, intimate, and everyone’s little secret, the Crime Lab quickly paid off its initial investment and ran a great dinner service to boot. The perfect joint, you could take your in-laws for an elegant dinner, drop them off, and be back in time to do jager bombs with your server, some local film talent, and anyone else looking to blow off some steam at 4am.
I learned quickly that Michael and Matt had each other’s back. They shared everything with each other, and seemed genuinely happy that they’d found in each other a willing partner in the dance through the moral ‘gray area’ of the restaurant world. That being said, neither of them seemed unwilling to rat out the other’s shortfallings or weaknesses, especially if there was a way to profit from it. In the first two weeks I learned far more about either of them than I ever wanted to know, the good, the bad, and the very ugly.
While they were close confidants, their relationship seemed to be one of a mutually beneficial manipulation. Matt famously bragged about how he tricked Michael into building the Crime Lab for him and let him run it, Michael bragged about how smart he was to have a guy running his other restaurant for him and doing all the work. Their partnership was a perfect paradigm of the win-win, and while they were both winning, times were good, and the liquor flowed.
At this point I couldn’t help but wonder if I’d been tricked as well. It was perfectly possible for them to have engineered the same deceit on me as they had on each other, and it was obvious I was going to be no exception to the rule. With this in mind, our location seemed even more perfect. Designated as a future park, the lot we sat on had a shelf life, giving our partnership an expiry date that looked to last no more than 3 years. I was convinced that the worst case scenario would be to shut the joint down, walk away, and let the wrecking ball cover up any mistakes our partnership might endure. It was thought to be a commitment free partnership, a restaurateurs ‘friends with benefits’ sort of affair that let us all keep our main projects but could dabble guilt free in our collective goal of creating something at the highest level of execution, debauchery, and craftsmanship.
The allure of creating something that was, by design, finite, was compelling. We literally sought out to capture the magic of a ‘flash in the pan’, here today, gone tomorrow joint. Everything about Lucy Mae Brown was a polar opposite of every smart business approach I’d had, but I couldn’t look away, I couldn’t stop, and no one could talk me out of it. She had become too powerful, the momentum and ego and pure enthusiasm for awesome had become like rocket fuel, and soon I was obsessed about every tiny detail, completely engrossed in the idea of creating something that no one had seen, experienced, or tasted before.
I had been masterfully manipulated, puppet mastered into creating a monster for my masters. Lucy Mae Brown had never been one person, but was a collection of broken restaurant souls, stitched together with the idea that together they could be a cohesive thing, a whole person, a single vision. She was a freak, and inherently flawed, and so broken and damaged from the start that I had fallen for the idea that I could fix her, make her whole, and show the world what I saw.
The truth was that I wasn’t manipulated by my partners, despite maybe their best attempts, but was a willing sacrifice to my own ego, pride, and ambition. I wanted to be the one to take the ugly duckling and turn it into a swan (and then make a nice foie gras). I wasn’t a victim, in fact I had manipulated myself despite every logical indication screaming that I should run in the opposite direction, for ego, for pride, for vision, and for my love of Lucy.
I learned more about myself by trying to learn about my partners. I learned that they weren’t as good at masking their weaknesses, faults, and failings, and I learned that mine stank of the same failings of pride and ego, regardless of how I justified it.
Creating something takes something from the creator, and in exchange fills them with a sense of ownership, fulfilment, pride, and validation. Creation will attach itself to you, make the process a part of you, make you want to create more than anything else in the world. Even as it drains the life from your body, it fills your mind with ideas and gratification. As it alienates your family, your friends, and your colleagues, it introduces you to willing participants, enablers, and partners, all living with their own devil’s gambit as they chase the dragon themselves.
I’ve learned now, that no one else is responsible for the decisions I made, they were compromises willingly made, so that my monster could live. I’m not proud of some of them, but as any parent will tell you, the gray area tends to get grayer when your progeny is at stake.