I have Joe Perry of Aerosmith to thank for my vegetarianism, by way of high school calculus. Here’s how it happened.
I did my senior year of high school at American Community Schools of Athens, Greece in 1981-82. My AP Calculus teacher was Rick Salome (rhymes with baloney), and Mr. Salome was really cool. He was young, hip, engaging, friendly, a jazz pianist, and a vegetarian. We all wanted to be like Mr. S., but the admiration grew to idolatry when he told us about his Aerosmith connection.
Rick grew up with Joe Perry, guitarist and co-founder of legendary rock band Aerosmith. When Rick was in college, he got a call from Joe. “Rick!” Joe cried, “I’m on my way! I’ve landed a record deal, I’m recording a demo this week, and I want you to play keys in my new band.”
“Joe,” Rick replied, “I have followed your rock and roll fantasies one time too many. I’m staying in school. You go be a rock god; I’m gonna be a math teacher.”
Some time later, Rick received a call from a mutual friend who had also turned Joe down. “Rick!” the friend cried, “Turn on the radio! It’s Joe! He’s really doing it, man!” Rick turned on the radio and heard Aerosmith’s first single release, “Dream On”.
“Did you ever regret turning down Joe’s offer?” we asked Mr. S.
“Well…” he replied, looking out the window at the palm and olive trees that characterize the Athens suburbs, “I am content with the life I have.”
I wanted to be just like Mr. Rick. I couldn’t play jazz piano, but I could determine to be Mr. Rick’s star pupil, and I could certainly give up meat.
The Calculus part worked out fine, but the vegetarianism was a bit longer in coming. All that school year, and all summer after graduation, I became a vegetarian every time I finished a Portofino’s bacon-and-sausage pizza. My big break came in July 1982, when I got a letter from my girlfriend in the US informing me she was with someone else. I lost my appetite big time and did not eat a thing for ten days. Aha! The Cleansing Fast, first step toward a healthier diet! When I broke fast, I subsisted on ice cream sundaes and xoriatiki (Greek salad). My weight stabilized at 115 pounds (that’s 52 kilos, folks). By the time I arrived at college in the fall, I discovered to my surprise that meat no longer looked appealing, and I have avoided it ever since.
So Thank you, Mr Rick — still a contract high school calculus teacher, presently in California I believe — and thank you Joe Perry — still rocking, still with Aerosmith. And thank you Portofino’s for your unforgettable sausage-and-bacon pizza.