Monday, August 13, 2007

Dinosaurs? There have always been dinosaurs!

I grew up, predominately, in Northern New Jersey, and like Pygalgia, was exposed to a wide range of ethnicities. Irish, Italian, Jewish, Polish. We were a family of six, in a massive, sprawling, antediluvian house built during the Spanish Civil War.(read: peeling paint and bubbling wallpaper) Three floors and a basement, all of it creaky and creepy, eyebrow windows in the attic, rococo staircase and double French doors with smoked glass , seven bedrooms, five bathrooms (not all of which functioned), a Pre-Columbian oak out back, even the garage had three floors. It had been built during a time of horses. Gilded.
I guess my dad was making good money at the time. He would leave for work early, usually walked to the train station, took the Erie-Lackawanna to Hoboken, and the PATH subway from there to the sprawling basement of The World Trade Center, where he would take an elevator to the 89th floor of one of those skyscrapers, and do whatever it was he did in his very important office, overlooking Manhattan and the world.
Dad was usually quite busy and stressed out in them days, striding about thunderously with suit and briefcase, not at all like the relaxed, affable little-league umpire he is nowadays. But somehow, he occasionally found the time to play catch with me, kick around a soccer ball, introduce me to what was left of New Jersey woods.
My mother was a steadfast dipsomaniac.
So while all you psychologists are out there saying "hmm" and scratching your chins, what i'm really trying to talk about here is food.
Dad was usually off somewhere with his locked briefcase, and my mom liked to get wasted, all by herself, watching soap operas. Not at all intermittently, my mother would toss me a ten spot and say " get some dinner".
Even more vivid in my memory... then of my father's coattails in the wind, rushing for the train, or Mom's half-lidded stupefied gaze, was the smell of that Jewish deli around the corner, the mounds of fresh bagels, all kinds of cream cheese, weird shit in starched white butcherpaper. And the Italian place. Subs. Dude, North NJ is all about subs. Bouncy, substantive bread, salami, prosciutto, ham, cappalone, provolone, fresh, firm roma tomatoes, always red wine vinegar and sweet red onion. Slices of pizza that were huge, isosceles, greasy, foldable. There was something about these delicatessens i found comforting, not to mention the video game machines. Galaga. Tempest. Centipede. Donkey Kong. And that one where the yellow chomping ball devours ghosts in labyrinths....
I was not some fatassed kid, as i also ran about in the woods evading dinosaurs with Grizzly Adams. (i could really use him now!) but i was chubby. Kind of a loner. The food in that Millburn, NJ neighborhood was only barely usurped by the woods. Almost sad, when my mother was sober enough to prepare dinner .
Nowadays, I am a professional cook. (you psychologists are really stroking your chins now) I've actually been doing this for awhile ; my culinary skills have been honed to slinging hash for millionaires. But sandwiches, that item so close to the bottom of the chef totem pole,- I take quite seriously.
And I still have dinosaur issues. I need you, Grizzly Adams.

1 comment:

FranIAm said...

What visions, memories, tastes, smells and experiences this conjures up.

Mine was less suburban over in White Plains(there were more urban and working class people there than one might think of in Westchester county) and my blue collar dad didn't travel into the city. As a little bit older than you, the WTC was yet to exist, but it was being built.

But the soap opera drinking seems close enough and dad rarely ate with us. I should say me.

We too had great deli foods of a similar quality. And I doubt pizza, when I allow it, will ever taste that way again.

No matter what you end up cooking and for whom, I am glad that you still have the soul for a great sandwich. And the talent for great writing.

Thanks... excuse me while thoughts of giant slices of crispy crusted and foldable (what a ny/nj thing that is!)occupy my mind as i eat my yogurt.

Seriously, this was a great way to start the day.