Chef Otto

Chef Otto

Chef, Author, Speaker, Humanitarian.
Taste the Freedom!

Dear Doug,

My brother Doug was brilliant. I discovered how intelligent he really was when a door-to-door salesman knocked. It was the late 60’s. I was 8 or 9. Doug was my next oldest sibling. Three years separated us. I answered the door. The man looked official. He could have passed for a body double on the set of the Blues Brothers. The peddler was more Elwood than Jake, tall, ungracefully thin. Towering over my boyhood frame. Boot camp shiny shoes, black suit, white shirt, scant thin charcoal tie. Crowned with an ebony fedora. His left hand clutching a large black satchel. A long strap shut the bag secured by a large gold buckle. 

“Good evening young man is your father home?” He asked. 

 “One second.” Scampering off to get my dad. 

The man introduced himself as an agent for Encyclopedia Britannica. Natty, nuanced, and knowledgeable he slid into our living room with a sales pitch that P T Barnum would envy. He pulled out a single volume. It was the H book. He opened it up to Hoover Dam. Began rattling off facts. Built in 1937, named after Herbert Hoover, at the cost of 49 million dollars. All the dam facts flowed like water from a fire hose.  

“How many children do you have sir?” 

“Six.” Dad replied. 

“Six kids!” “Oh I bet they keep you and the Mrs. busy helping with their homework.” “Just think of all the free time you’ll have with latest edition of Encyclopedia Britannica, it’ll pay for itself, it will be like each of your children having their own private tutor.” 

He continued, “We have a low money down easy payment plan, now if I could just get some personal info, we can have the whole set delivered in 4 to 8 weeks.”   

“We’re not interested.”  

“Sir, the benefits of owning your very own encyclopedia set far outweighs any doubts or concerns you may have. If cost is a concern I can restructure the payment plan for your budget.” The pitch continued, “If space is an issue, I’ll throw in absolutely free the custom-made wooden rack, normally $24.99.” 

Dad points to Doug. “You see this boy here?” He wrote the book on encyclopedias.” “Matter of fact, don’t be surprised if you see his name in the encyclopedia one day.” Dad shut that guy down faster than the Doomsday Defense. Stumbling over his words, dad closed the book and the door on that salesman in short order. That day, I discovered how smart Doug was. Dad proclaimed it so, that was gospel in my book. 

He was born Douglas George Borsich, June 17, 1957. Douglas, after the street my mother Rose was born on in Providence, 734 Douglas Ave to be precise. George after her father, off the boat from Rome. His birth name was Giorgio but became George upon entering Ellis Island. Doug, or Doug-O as dad would call him was strait-laced. He never used illegal drugs, nary a joint kissed his lips. Whip smart, cracking the books every night. Snapping himself into a 4.0 force, class president and valedictorian of Firelands High School class of 1975. He played football for the Falcons, guard on O and monster back on D. He was small, 5’5, but hard nose and scrappy. Fear was not in his vocabulary. He had a set of balls that would make a bull blush.  

Growing up he was a tough act to follow. Nor did I even try. Confident, tenacious, persistent, independent and stubborn as nail fungus. Moxie, efficient, and frugal. He worked hard, saved his money and bought a motorcycle. A Honda 350, every day, weather permitting we would helmet up and big brother would drive us to school. It beat hell outta the bus. Far cooler too. I recall he washed his dress shirts hung them upside down on the line and would drop hangers from the bottom sliding them up toward the top. From clothesline to closet in one step. 

His senior year he opted out of playing football. Instead continued his work at McGarvey’s, a destination riverfront restaurant famous throughout the region. He gave up Friday night lights for Friday night bites. Doug was a laser focused human. A big lesson I learned from him. He would enroll at Case Western Reserve University in the fall of 75. Extra cash was more important than extracurricular. 

I remember during senior day, a daylong event full of activities for those about to graduate. They greased the goal post and placed a $5 bill in the center of the cross bar. All the jocks tried to nab that five spot. Some were all county athletes, 4-year lettermen. But it was brother Doug, focused and determined who grabbed the green oil stained five spot. A valuable lesson he taught me was persistence. The quote “Press On” by President Coolidge was taped outside his bedroom door. I asked him what persistence meant? He handed me a dictionary. Thinking, if my brother wrote the book on encyclopedias this persistence word must be important. To this day, five plus decades later, persistence is my number one core value. I have Doug to thank for that. He taught me about American History too, making that my favorite subject. Those impromptu teachings primed me for when I entered that classroom. It amplified my red, white, and blue heart.  

During his freshman year at Case Western Reserve University, I experienced my first non-adult supervised getaway. I took a Greyhound from Lorain to Cleveland on my 16th birthday weekend. We saw the Michael Stanley Band. I stayed with Doug in his dorm and sampled college life. We ate in student cafeteria. Hung out with Doug’s buddies. Went to area known as Conventry. I wanted to go into a head shop, but big brother wasn’t having it.  

Doug was always a go it alone type. He decided to leave Case and enroll in a small school called Rio Grande on the OH KY border. Case wasn’t cheap and in Doug’s mind he didn’t need a high dollar under grad degree. He would come home for Summer break and work at McGarvey’s. Again, eyes on the prize, he stopped cooking and became a server. In fact, he was the first male server at McGarvey’s. No longer manning the broiler. It was all about the Benjamin. It was common for him to roll north of $300 a night in tips! 

I recall one night, during the holiday party at McGarvey’s he was eying some young ladies. 

“Hey Ace.” A mutual nickname we called each other.  

“You see those two chicks in that booth?”  

“Yes.” I replied knowing full well he had something up his sleeve. 

There was a brunette and a blonde. He continued, “We’re going ask them to dance.” “Now listen, we’re gonna strut our stuff on the dance floor.” “Keep your eye on me, I’m going count three on my fingers, on three we do the splits.” “Got it?” 

“Got it.”  

Snacking on sauerkraut balls and soda the DJ laid down some new wax as the needle hit the groove we made our move. “Let’s go!” I followed his lead as Play That Funky Music blasted. There we were cutting it up. Doug put his fist out, raised his index finger, middle finger, ring finger. We got on down and did the James Brown. Those gals we were dancing with were blown away, hands over their mouths amazement. We finished out the song and the two funky white boys sat down.   

Doug proceeded with another lesson. “Listen, let me tell you something.” I don’t care how much money you have, how good looking you are, what kind of car you drive.” Chicks like guys with confidence. Do you see what just happened? Not only did we shock those two chicks, we put the whole party on notice that we are here. As unorthodox as they may have been, 45 years later I have yet to find one female who does not want a confident man. 

After graduating with honors from Rio Grande Doug was accepted at Akron University School of Law. He continued to come home for the summers and work at McGarvey’s. He moonlighted, punching the clock at Ford Motor on the assembly line. By then I was in the Navy cooking on a submarine. I remember seeing Doug over the holidays and explaining that law school was tough. As he put it, “It wasn’t Firelands High. It was odd hearing that from Mr. Self-determination himself, but I knew one thing. He would press on, graduate, pass the bar, and become an attorney. 

He took the bar exam in Columbus. My younger brother Mike accompanied him for moral support. He passed and was hell bent on moving to SC, specifically Hilton Head. I never heard of it. Doug painted it as a rich man’s playground with lots of golf. He had heard about in law school. High income zip code, beach life year-round, no snow. Just the place for a fresh faced, brilliant, promising lawyer. 

He packed up his Dodge cargo van which he converted into a makeshift camper and headed to points south. He began practicing law as a solicitor. Working in Aken County he was a vicious prosecutor with an exceedingly high rate of convictions. He then became a criminal defense attorney. I had a serious conversation with him about that. Defending known criminals is certainly something I would never do. But as he said, everyone deserves, and has the right to legal counsel. His acquittal success was equally impressive as his prosecutorial scorecard. Regardless of who he was representing, Doug was prepared to do battle. He was in it to win it, period.  

My brother had it all going on. Successful law practice, making bank, then one day he says to me. “I want to be like you.”  

“What?” Wait a minute, let me pick my jaw up off the floor. The big brother I look up to, wants to be like me? I asked him, “What are you smoking?” 

“Yep.” He continued. “Look at all the traveling you’ve down, all the adventures you’ve had, feeding poor people.” “I want more in my life.”  He spoke about an epiphany he had, to help people. At age 50 Doug became a nuclear medical technician. When most 50-year olds are thinking about riding it out until retirement, he decided to up his game and enroll in nursing school. It wasn’t easy, he struggled. But I knew he would make it. Of course, while at school Mr, Overachiever was the President of the Nurses Club, shocker, not. 

On July 10th I received a phone call from the Kern County, CA Sheriff’s Office at 3:30 AM EST. I knew it wasn’t good news. The women asked if I was related to Douglas Borsich. After confirming I was, she said, “I’m sorry your brother passed away.”  

“Why, how?” 

“Complications of medical history.” was the short answer. 

In the mid-eighties Doug was involved in a head on collision. A drunk driver was left of center on a hill and collided head on with the car Doug was in. He lost half his kidney in that crash. Over the nearly 40 years since the accident, he developed stage 5 renal failure. During his last days he was on dialysis three times a week and suffered a small heart attack about a month before he passed away. Doug was on the kidney donor list. His daughters, Maclain & Isabella both offered to donate their kidney. Doug flat out refused.   

I grew up in a family of 8. Mom was the first to pass away in 2005, followed by Paula, the eldest child, and only daughter in 2016. Dad lived a full life and passed at age 92 last year. Doug is now the latest to depart the Borsich family. Fifty percent of my family is now gone. Putting me in a pensive mood as my familial tribe has shrunk to half its size. It delivers a sadness and hammers home a reality.  

Doug was 64, too damn young. He will never walk his daughters down the aisle. He will not bounce grandchildren on his knee. Nor will I, or anyone else share in his special brand of shenanigans. It’s a short ride on this planet and there are no guarantees. Shakespeare said the world is your oyster. I say the world is a shank bone. One must gnaw at it, manically, to reach the marrow sucking and gulping vociferously. We never know what tomorrow brings.  

RIP Doug, you are missed. 

Love, 

Brother Otto 

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