Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Pork & Beans? Happy New Year!

Above, that's Nan & Mom making our traditional New Year's Eve dish, Pork & Beans on Wonder Bread. (click picture and Uncle Mommy blows up!)

Nan firmly believed in carbo-loading, before anyone knew what that was.

Mom firmly believed in "no cooking."

They prepared the sandwiches at Sparkle Lake in July, then froze them for five months in Nan's cavern-sized freezer on York Avenue.

Nan began thawing the sandwiches on Boxing Day. She'd spread them over the top of the washing machine under wax paper. Around eleven o'clock on New Year's Eve, she'd start passing them out, as the adults listened to Guy Lombardo's Orchestra and Rory and me wrote down the Top 100 songs off WABC Radio. We'd eat two to three sandwiches each and wait for the ball to drop on Times Square. At the stroke of midnight, the family linked arms and marched to the front of the apartment. We'd open the windows, drop trow and release the Norse Wind. Our trumpets loud as a thunder-clap.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Whipped Cream & Other Delights

Tony Zajkowski crooned at the Loser's Lounge tribute to Burt Bacharach last week at Joe's Pub.
You say this guy, this guy's in love with you.

Yes I'm in love, who looks at you the way I do?
Tony nailed the tune with his duel fuel & prop martini glass. As always, Joe McGinty, David Terhune & the Kustard Kings delivered. Hal David was there in spirit and the song reeled me back.

1968 ~ I worshipped Julie Wilfinger from St. Joseph's grammar school, but Julie loved Julio Marcovich. Julio had a high end Grundig portable radio with titanic speakers. It was FM radio's second year and WNEW was playing our music virtually commercial free. The classic radio with the wood grill and stainless steel knobs was catnip to the girls. Julio wooed Julie with his music maker.
Julie had smooth olive skin, a tomboy's energy and charm, and two scoops of peach ice cream that made regular appearances when the top buttons loosened on her man's tailored shirt ~ her summer uniform with cut off shorts and white sneakers. Glasses on a cute girl's face turned boys to mush. Julie's glasses were always a little crooked on her nose and perfect that way. Julie liked wrestling the boys, when she sweat her skin glowed. If I made her laugh she lightly touched my nose. I craved that. Down the park, she'd let you take you her up on the swings, and she was the only girl who would take the boys up on a swing. All the other girls thought that was outrageous, but she didn't care. Because everyone knew, she belonged to Julio, and Julio belonged to her. My heart broke with this knowledge.
Julio carried the radio on his shoulder like a shipping crate and Julie held his free arm. When they passed me sitting on the stoop alone, Julio would give me a nod, he was two years older than me and owed me no greeting at all, so the nod was generous. Julie gave me a little smile, and then they'd be gone. I'd half sing under my breath... "Say you're in love, in love with this guy, if not I'll just die..."
Julie kissed me once when she was drunk at a St. Stephen's dance in March 1969. I banked the kiss.
1965 ~ Herb Alpert's released his Whipped Cream LP and the record world exploded. I was in 5th grade and needed to know what was going on, and the only place to know what was going on was the basement of Woolworth's Five and Ten on 86th Street in Yorkville. Every Friday and Saturday night, my brother, Rory, and me would go there to discover the new releases and go through our favorite records.
We stood in front of the record counters for so long, both of us would have to pee bad, but they never, ever, let you use the bathroom in Woolworth's. It was waste of time to ask, so Rory and I did the "pee pee dance." We'd bounce up and down in the aisle, going from record row to record row, keeping our legs moving to hold it in. This drove the Woolworth's clerk crazy.

"Stop dancing!"

"We're not dancing."

"Your legs are going up and down fast, that's dancing."

"We're looking. The music in our heads is making our feet move."

"That's dancing."

"I can't dance, my Dad said I have no rhythm. Look at me."

"I can't dance either," Rory added.

"If you don't stop you'll have to leave." Then the clerk stormed away.

We never left, we never stopped... we kept going through the records, rarely buying one. Only when we were close to death from holding it in, did we stop the pee pee dance and run home.

That's half of the Whipped Cream story.
Look at the record cover above. Christmas Eve arrived early when this Lp came out. Because, that picture of Dolores Erickson lathered in whipped cream was the best Playboy cover ever, and I could look at it for as long as I wanted, without someone yelling at me me to put it down. In the candy store and the barber shop we weren't allowed in the men's magazine areas, but now, Herb Alpert puts out an album cover better than any Playboy I'd ever seen. And all I needed to do was use my imagination and that album cover became my favorite picture of all time. When we looked at copies of Whipped Cream in the store, they were manhandled so many times the plastic on each album was worn or torn at the corners.
A Taste of Honey, a good song, Beatles did it too, but it was so besides the point. The Whipped Cream album cover was the thing, and any boring Yorkville night was less boring, when we got to look through the records, find the naughty covers and torture the store's clerk.
1962 ~ I was eight years old, sitting on my 83rd Street stoop with nothing to do and no friends around to do nothing with. I felt blue. I had my grandfather's grey plastic eight transistor radio to my ear, listening to the Scott Muni show on WABC. A song came on I'd never heard before, and the horns went right through me... I was in Spain at a bullfight and the crowd was full of senors and senoritas, dressed up fancy, all roused up and ready to dance. After the song, the DJ said, "that was Lonely Bull by Herb Alpert and The Tijuana Brass." I was happy and confused. Glad to be alone, thinking about this new song that tickled my ears and took me away to somewhere fantastic. The horns sad notes warmed me up, made me feel better and I wondered, how does music do that do you?
December 2008 ~ Tony Z pulled the Joe's Pub audience in on the song's final verse. I was back at the show, and I sang along...
I need your love, I want your love

say you're in love, in love with this guy,

If not, I'll just die.
... as the horn faded away, I felt Julie Wilfinger touch my nose.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

An Irishman Gave Me the Finger for Christmas

Napped this afternoon and had a strange dream.

It was a spring day in the 1890s in Yorkville. I knew this when I saw isolated wood-frame houses scattered among the vacant lots along the cobblestone street lined with trees in early bloom . I rode inside a red and copper colored trolley shooting the breeze with the driver.

We passed Lexington Avenue on 79th Street headed towards Third Avenue, when an Irish gentleman dressed in his Sunday best, velvet green vest, spats, top hat, the works, decided to dart out mid-block and jog theatrically across the street in front of us. The driver paid him no mind and kept the trolley at cruising speed. This forced the gent to move faster than he intended and his feet tangled. The gentleman finished his cake walk crossing with a 360 degree turn with his arms flailing and remarkably kept his balance.

The Irishman fumed when he saw us giggling at him. He marched across his lawn to his porch and pulled a large wooden contraption down the steps and out on the grass ~ looked like the catapult that hurled the cow at the English in "Monty Python's Holy Grail."

He set the weapon up on the lawn and started cranking a handle on the side of the device. The driver and I exchanged a look, we expected, "Incoming!" Instead, after several "Crank, Crank, Cranks," a colossus wooden fist rose up with the middle finger saluting ~ the carved hand was giving us the finger. The Irishman crossed his arms and nodded knowingly.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Everyone Knows It's Windy

I bought an umbrella for $5 on the corner. Within a half block it exploded ~ flew out of my hand and whacked a Starbucks window in the Woolworth Building. Inside the window, two Norwegian tourists spilled their tea on their cookies.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Bread Wars

"Wonder Bread, again." Dad threw his hands up.
"Will you shut up!" Mom never turned from the stove.
"You never bring food home I enjoy."
"You're a liar. We eat friggin spaghetti six nights a week. If you came home seven nights a week, we'd never eat anything else."

Rory and I nodded our heads in agreement. Our eyes were bloodshot from eating gallons of Mom's marinara sauce. Having hamburgers or franks was a national holiday. That there was Wonder Bread in the house was one of our few food victories. We loved it. Dad loved Silvercup. Mom didn't give two sh*ts and hated food shopping. She'd never go to a second store and whatever bread was left on the shelf, was the bread she bought ~ including the dreaded Taystee Bread.
I knocked off Irish sandwiches all week for snacks, Wonder Bread, Iceberg Lettuce and Hellman's mayonnaise. Mom taught us not to waste time with a knife when you could go straight to the tablespoon for a thick layer of mayo on the bread.
"Make sure there's clearance between the bread and the lettuce."
Once, our Italian grandmother bought Miracle Whip and tried to pawn it off to Rory and me as mayo. We left the house in protest. "If it ain't got a blue label, we ain't eating it."
Dad pouted over Wonder Bread, but used it to clean his plate. I think he secretly liked it. But anytime Silvercup came up, he'd start talking about when I was kid this, and I was a kid that, Silvercup was one of his comfort foods. I got that. But it tasted like crap compared to Wonder, and that made no sense to me.
We had relatives in Long Island City. We'd take the bus over the 59th Street Bridge to visit them. I always sat on the left side of the bus with the window open even if it was ten degrees, so I could pick up the aroma coming from the Silvercup bread factory. This drove the bus driver crazy, but I didn't care, the heavenly smell of that bread was my favorite smell on earth, right up to when Ginny, my first girlfriend, started wearing Cachet perfume.
I'd watch everyone's face on the bus, most had pusses on, but once the smell of the fresh hot bread came through the window under their noses, those frowns melted, and everyone looked like they pined for a cup of hot coffee and a stick of butter to go with the warm bread. When I got back home, and tried Silvercup, it tasted like toilet paper. Wonder was the king of bread and there'd be no substitutes.
When Wonder and Silvercup ran out in the grocery store, Mom would grab a loaf of Taystee, always the last milk bottle standing of bread brands. I was convinced that the only people who bought Taystee bread willingly, were survivors of electric shock therapy who missed it. I figured they put a couple of slices of Taystee bread in your mouth right before they juiced the electricity, so you didn't bite your tongue off once they lit you up. Taystee bread, drier than a communion host, could have no other useful purpose.
Dad, Rory and I never ganged up on Mom, except when she brought Taystee home. When she did, the loaf sat there like a lost soul. Toast, cold cuts, sticks of butter, nothing could entice the three of us to touch the outcast bread. Through the week it hardened. When we thought we'd defeated Mom, and the loaf would be replaced with an acceptable brand, she turned the screw. She made pot roast. Mom knew her best dish sent Dad, Rory and I into a frenzy. We begged her to pour a bucket of delicious gravy over our bread with thin slices of tender meat. Pot roast without bread wasn't pot roast. If there was such a thing as rat bread, the three of us wouldn't have cared, and would have welcomed yummy pot roast over our rat bread.
We surrendered and Mom rotated her stock.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Cowboys Up, Tommy Down

My teeth hurt saying this, but my hat's off to Romo.

Mr.Beller's Neighborhood


Schadenfreude -- How Bout Those Boys?Long before Jessica Simpson was jinxing the Cowboys, Thomas Pryor was cursing them. Since he was a boy, Pryor has been a big fan of the New YorkFootball Giants. His acquaintance Robby Zimmel, on the other hand, was more of a contrarian. Zimmel was a New Yorker who nevertheless backed the Dallas Cowboys--this during the Tom Landry, North Dallas Forty years. What else was Pryor to do but purchase a Mass Card at his local Catholic church and send it to Zimmel every time the Cowboys were eliminated from the playoffs?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

I'll Have None of Your Shenanigans!

The Nun whacked me.

A moment before this 4th grade photo was snapped (click picture, it opens up), Sister Adrianne slugged me off the top of my forehead with her open hand. See my face? It's still red (second row, last on the right). I think she was telling me, I should have had a V-8. The good news? She hit Pierre, too. That's why he has a rosy puss (top row, second from the left).

Why'd she hit us? We were fighting over who'd sit next to Barbara O'Dea, the prettiest girl in our zip code (second row, fourth from the right).

Pierre had me in a full-nelson wrestling hold and I was biting his stomach. We worked our way to the top of the bleachers where we were lining up for our class picture. We thought the bleachers kept going, but after the fourth row, we stepped into thin air. No fifth row. We hugged and fell to the wooden floor. The nun ran around the bleachers and picked us up like a hockey fight referee. After wringing us out, she gave us a look of enormous disgust and said, "I'll have none of your shenanigans," she slapped Pierre, then tried to hit me. I ducked. That's when I got the pop off the forehead.

I've always found it oddly exciting to duck and avoid that first shot. After you acquire "getting hit experience," you know the second shot's going to be a harder, more accurate blow, but you can't resist the instinct to duck the first one.

Pierre was banished to the top row, far away from Barbara. To torture me, the Nun put me in the same row as Barbara but three seats away sitting next to Olga Goulash. To move the knife around, Sister Adrianne placed the best-looking guy in the class; Jean Paul Piccolo, to Barbara's left. Look at Jean Paul, new to our country from Milan, Italy, right next to Barbara. The dummy isn't even sitting heinie to heinie ~ there's no contact ~ Jean Paul's giving her space! I'd have made sure our apples were nestled together, cheek to cheek.

He was so cute it made me sick. Even Paul McCartney would look ugly sitting next to him. The final twist of the blade, everyone called him "John Paul." Not only named after a Beatle, he was named after two Beatles!

It was April 1964. Things looked grim.


Sunday, December 7, 2008

nygiants 2008 eastern division champions

Here come those tears again,
Just when I was getting over them.
(jackson browne)
The New York Giants are the 2008 Eastern Division Champions and Terrell Owens' popcorn maker broke.
67th Anniversary of Pearl Harbor today