TGI Fridays in Poland: Now with Extra Fat (Guest Blogger: Gene Rozenberg)
In the game audio circles, there's a recurring joke that we should have a t-shirt made. These t-shirts should state, in an assertive yet playful typeface "…and then I met George". It's funny because it's true -- you simply can't work in the videogame audio industry and not, at some point, make an acquaintance of one George "the Fat Man" Sanger. This, I must add, is inevitable to the degree of death, taxes, and Taco Tuesday. You may have not met him yet, but you will, for the gravitational pool of George's attraction is inversely proportionate to his mass and is simply unavoidable. He will happen to you or you will happen to him. It will be a memorable meeting, the kind you will tell your friends about sooner or later and realize that, if your friends also have worked in game audio, they, too, have met George. You will laugh about it and, likely want t-shirts made.
I have met George when I was 21 and enjoyed the days of my youth working for a small start-up in Austin, TX. I remember the day like it was yesterday. My friend Manda brought me to a "Tuesday Night Gods of Music" - a jam session / party at Team Fat headquarters. I was particularly thrilled because I was huge fan of "Loom", a game George have arranged Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's music for a few years prior, and "The 7th Guest" -- a game Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky wished he would have written George Sanger's music for before he decomposed. I mean to say that Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky have decomposed. George is still extremely alive, spectacularly well, and preternaturally prolific, which is great for him, all of us, and the novelty t-shirt industry. If you have ever met George (and, if you're reading this you either most certainly have or, most certainly will) you know that it is virtually impossible to meet him without hearing several of his legendary (a word here used without a hint of irony) stories.
I came to the party with a pre-existing knowledge of The Stories and was very much looking forward to hearing them. After what seemed like an avalanche of beer, music, and what I can only describe as "bold and fearless rendition of several popular tunes from the "Jungle Book" soundtrack", we all found ourselves sitting in the center of the room, listening to George. This was the evening I've learned the tale of the Nudie Suit, Cousin Ernie, and how things were in the game audio world before the whole MIDI thing happened. It wasn't until I was literally one foot out of the door at the end of the night, when George have appeared, suddenly, on my left and exclaimed "Hey, someone mentioned that you grew up in Soviet Russia! Did you know that a picture of me was found hanging in an Eastern European restaurant? The one in the suit! Scout's honor! It's totally true. Or maybe it's not. I guess we'll never know!”
This is how -I- met George. Your mileage will vary. However,. That wasn't the actual thing I wanted to share with you. You see, I've told you that story so that I can tell you this one.
Many years later, after I got married, contributed to the birth and, consequent upbringing of a colossal offspring; when my hairline finally made a strategic retreat for the warmer climes of my temple, late on a Wednesday evening, I have found myself in downtown Warsaw. Six months prior I have moved there for the purpose of furtherment of my career. There are many stories I can tell you about my time in Poland but we shall save them for another time. All that you need to know about my predicament in the moment I am describing is that nobody, absolutely nobody is prepared to what Polish winter feels like at 9:00pm in February. Nobody except for the natives but, then again, they live there and considering the socio-economic state of the great Polish nation (especially as it was some 6 years ago), nothing will ever hold the ability to surprise any of them.
I was wearing a warm coat over no less than 3 layers of clothing and long underwear. My hat was big and fuzzy enough to be used as a nest for a large family of Central American condors. My boots were likely standard issue for all Antarctic expeditions. I was so miserably cold I thought I was going to die. So extremely frozen I felt, in fact, that, in that moment, I didn't even consider how the weather affected my wife and child. We missed the last Human Tram and, now, all we could possibly hope for in terms of means for getting home was a Night Bus. Let me say this about the Polish Night Bus -- I was seriously considering taking chances with exposure and frostbite as an alternative to actually getting on it, should it happen upon us by some divine providence. It is right at that moment that I saw a light in the distance. It was familiar, warm and inviting. It was the only place of business opened at that particular hour. It was the only thing more weird, alien, and unlikely at any speed than, well, Poland. It was a T.G.I Friday's. My wife immediately tugged at my sleeve and pointed at the restaurant's door. The look on her face read that it was where we were going and, perhaps, staying forever. I couldn't agree more.
The inside of a Polish T.G.I Friday's was clean, warm, and smelled of delicious, edible food. All-in-all it was unlike any other T.G.I. Friday's I have ever experienced in the US. What's more -- it was devoid of all customers, save for the extremely bored-looking hostess who smiled so hard, I thought her face was going to crack and break right off. The unusual thing about that was, of course, that much like Russians, the Poles seldomly smile to strangers. It's a cultural thing and the only logical explanation was that our arrival have saved her from such deep existential ennui that, I feared with good reason, we were in for an inevitable treat.
"Hello!", she almost shouted at us in Polish, "and welcome to the American-style family restaurant! You -are- dining with us tonight!" The last part of her sentence was a hard statement not open for any amount of debate. "Of course," I responded, also in Polish, "have you seen the weather?" As she took us to the table across the room, she made sure to point out amazing things the restaurant had hanging on its walls. By that point in time, she was aware that we were, in fact, foreign, and switched to English. "Please be sitting here", she motioned at the largest table in the middle of the dining hall. "You want drinks. I bring you. You also want menus. One for the child". Neither of these sentences were questions. We peeled off our coats and sat down, taking in the atmosphere. My wife picked up the menu, scanned it briefly and frowned. "Great", she said, "They have barbecue, hamburgers, fries, something called Texan-style Chili, Cobb salad, and an assortment of Tex-Mex." This did not bode well. If the food was advertised as "distinctly" or "authentically" American in Warsaw, it most certainly wasn't and had too much paprika in it. I attempted to reassure my wife that this time it just might be a bit different, this being a branch of an American restaurant chain we actually heard of when I saw something which made me lose my train of thought entirely.
On a wall, right next to us, in a large gilded frame, was a picture of George "The Fat Man" Sanger, in "the good" Nudie suit, holding Cousin Ernie. I have seen many improbable things in Poland but that was something I couldn’t have ever predicted or explained. "Honey," I almost screamed, pointing at the picture with both of my index fingers, "Look! It's the Fat Man!" That was how my wife met George. Right then, our long-gone waitress appeared at our table with the drinks we didn't order. "Oh no, he is not a man that is fat! Is very important American cowboy!" the waitress chimed in with a degree of pride only reserved for aceing the hardest question on a graduation exam, "Is very famous in USA. Is Hank Nelson! Willie Hank Nelson! Yes! Ooh, ooh! He wrote famous song about wearing walking boots to come on crappy old road in country!" We left her a really large tip. All of our food tasted like paprika, old stories, and dreams of home.