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Tribute to Emese “Shay Shay” Legeny

March 31, 2011

Emese Legeny, our elderly Hungarian chef, has been cooking food at the Sigma Chi fraternity house for twenty-two years now. During her tenure, she has perfected the art of making cheeseburgers with grade D meat; her just-add-water eggs are the stuff of (anti) legends, and her steak bomb subs are so wildly popular that she makes them every Thursday for lunch. Sure, she has her fair share of unpopular meals–her salmon is fishy and slimy, her strip steak notoriously dry and flavorless–but she can only do so much with what she is given (Sysco products), and she further counteracts these famous flops with her homemade pizzas and deliciously gooey brownies. Plus she brings more to the house than just food; Emese, possessed with the elderly wisdom of a grandmother and the giddiness of a preteen middle school girl, has a warm nature and a generous heart. Just don’t cross her.

Spring 2007: upon returning to the house after spring break, I make a bee-line for the kitchen.

There she stands, in front of the grill, marinating slabs of chicken. My little babushka doll.

I watch from afar as this squat, gnomish woman waddles around her turf, wearing a long, flowerly apron and thick oven mitts. Her dyed-brown hair is wrapped up neatly into a little bun; she wears bright, red lipstick, and he skin is dark and moist, like always, from the exorbitant amount of tanning cream she applies daily so she doesn’t “look like an old woman.”

When she’s not looking, I creep up behind her and grab her shoulders. “Boo!”

She jumps and turns around. “Oh, Ghostface! You scared me.”

Emese has been calling me “Ghostface” for about six months now (“You need more sun, you’re just oh-so-pale”).

We embrace, and then she steps back, eyeing me up and down. “Take your hat off.”

Over spring break, I had shaved my head.

I remove my hat, smiling sheepishly.

“Oh Ghostface!” she squeals, shaking her head. “I don’t understand why people make themselves look ugly.”

“Thanks, Emese, I knew you’d like it.”

“This is such shame.” She reaches up with her pudgy arm and I bend over so she can rub the prickly hair. “You look like–like one of thosegang members!”

“I know–isn’t it great? And I’m getting a swastika tattooed on my neck too.”

“Hmph, you think you’re so funny.” She playfully slaps me with her oven mitt.

I laugh and step away from the stove. “So what’s for dinner tonight?”

“Oh, I’m just making barbecue chicken and mashed potatoes,” she says, turning around and stirring her pot of bulbbling barbecue sauce.

I cringe–this is one of her more loathed meals–but I bite my tongue. I have learned: complain about her food, and face her wrath. “Nice,” I say, swallowing the regurgitated food creeping up my throat. “One of my favorites.”

♦◊♦

It’s impossible for everyone to go through the house without someone getting on Emese’s bad side; she picks her enemies carefully. For example, just before spring break, I had been watching Judge Judy with her on her countertop TV, when, all of a sudden, during one of the commercials, she looked around nervously before pulling me close. I bent over, so she could whisper into my ear: “Who is the one with the big lips?”

“Oh, Kyle?” 

“Yes.” She took a deep breath, then sighed. “I cannot wait until he is gone–he comes in here, he always says, ‘why can’t we have this, why can’t we eat that.’ Always complaning, and he never says nice things to me.” She pouted.

“I know, Shay Shay. He’s a big meanie.”

She nodded her head, then shook it in disgust. “Well only one more year of the big-lipped one.”

“You should spit in his food,” I suggested.

She turned her attention back to the TV. “No, no, Ghostface. I just want him to go away.”

“Yeah, well–”

“Shush,” she slapped me with her oven mitt. Judge Judy was about to announce her verdict.

♦◊♦
After Emese finishes tending to the barbecue sauce, she snaps on some rubber gloves and begins washing lettuce and carrots for our salad bar. Ashley, one of Face’s flings, struts into the kitchen. Emese turns the tap off and frowns at me, before staring down this impostor. Ashley takes a bowl, fills it with cereal and milk, grabs a spoon, then leaves. 

Emese shakes her head. She is very possissive of her boys–infamous, in fact, for her uninhibited disgust directed towards any girlfriends who enter the kitchen. Within Emese’s territory, these girls are confronted with icy glares and terse, one word answers to any questions they might have about the location of food or silverware.

And thus, when they leave, the insults come raining down.

Emese turns the tap back on, and continues nonchalantly rinsing the vegetables, her back to me.

“Why do I always see Face with that big girl?” Her voice is filled with disappointment. “He is such a nice boy, he is better than that. She is fat, and smells like cigarettes. She acts like she owns this place. What is her name? ”

“Ashley, but you can call her Trashley if you want.”

Emese giggles. “I like that. That is a good name. Well you need to watch her. She is always drunk and she always takes too much food from the fridge.”

“Okay, I’ll make sure to keep on eye on her. But please, Emese, you have to be nicer to girls. They don’t feel welcome in here.”

She looks at me in disbelief. “Ghostface, I am nice–but they have to be nice to me first. Plus they’re all so ugly.” She scrunches her nose.

“Well you know you’ll always be my number one.”

At that, she smiles. “Oh, Ghostface, I know.”

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