Cruising the Green of Second Avenue

Wild Child Publishing has issued the second volume of short stories in Cruising the Green of Second Avenue. The tales take up where Vol. I left off — bringing back Klein the Biker, Straight Charlie and Sammy the Madman while introducing new characters stumbling over life’s difficulties in the late 60s. Vol. II is an e-book published by Wild Child Publishing that you can download, save as a pdf (Adobe) file and print. Read both volumes and see that life isn't all that serious. Find it at Barnes & Noble, Amazon and other online book sellers.

Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Welcome to the New Age (Thank You and Move On)

I went into a RiteAid drugstore this morning to find those mini Bic lighters.  My mistake.  I had to interrupt a clerk chatting with an octogenarian lady about her health to ask where I’d find them.  She walked me to the candy and food aisle and there they were, three for $3.99.  And some good-looking chocolate to go with a wonderful Bordeaux I’d found.   

When I checked out, the clerk asked what year I was born.  “Why?” I asked.   

“We have to ask everyone.”   

“What?  For buying Ghirardelli chocolate?” 

“No.  The lighters.  Didn’t you see the sign on the door?  We check age for cigarettes, lighters, all that.” 

“Look at me! Do I look like a teenager?” 

“What year were you born?” This pit bull was not going to give up.


Back story:  I needed to replace the insert in my favorite lighter, a Breitling watch promotional piece given to me by a niece who works at Tourneau.  When I went to an air show at McGuire Air Force Base last week the Air Police wanded me, along with the 10- and 11-year-olds I was with.  Then the AP (we used to call them Apes) asked suspiciously, “What’s this?” 

“A lighter.  For lighting cigarettes.” 

“I’ll have to take it.” 

“Why?” I asked. 

“We have jet fuel here.” 

I replied, “I think I’m smart enough not to smoke around jet fuel.” 

“We have jet fuel everywhere.”  And, poof, my lighter disappeared into his pocket.  Turned out all of us tourists and gawkers were stuck behind 100 yards of Jersey barriers, another hundred yards from the planes, which kept flying back and forth, from the left and then the right, upside down and right side up,  Very loudly. 

I hate to be a grumpy old geezer.  I should have been proud that the Air Force was protecting me against terrorists of all ages, and that RiteAid was shielding the health of geezers.  Still, I wonder what the immigration requirements are for moving to Canada.  The U.S.A. is becoming a very scary place to live. 

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Upwardly Mobile

I worked my way up in the corporate world.  Literally.  After starting on the ground floor at the Western Electric factory in the Jersey meadows I spun off to the canyons and peaks of Manhattan.  My first office was next to a Xerox machine on the 5th floor at an east side building, then gaining career momentum I segued west to division headquarters and a 9th floor office.  After a decade, I had clambered up to the 23rd floor at the parent company, followed by a shuffling of the deck that landed me on the 26th floor of a midtown skyscraper on Park Avenue—ground zero for the captains of industry.           

Full Car:  My daily meetings with the bosses took me to Mahogany Row on the 34th floor where the elite sat in their offices guarded by their gray-haired watchdogs.  I discovered then that I was spending more time traveling vertically than horizontally.  This introduced me to elevator situations.  

I was elevating up from the lobby one morning when a man rushed toward the closing doors.  The only other occupant in my car, a vice president standing near the control panel, vainly punched the button to hold the doors as they closed silently.  Shock and embarrassment crossed his face.  Then I saw his finger had been nowhere near the hold button.  “Sorry about that,” he told me, staring at the ceiling.           

Stinky Car:  I had a proofreader who came to my office monthly.  Malcolm was one of the most knowledgeable guys in the business, so good he could tell you whether a period was in roman or italic.  His brother was our corporate counsel and both had graduated Yale, but there the similarities ended.  Malcolm was about five-feet three inches tall, his clothes were tattered, he smoked Gauloises and he exuded an odor that triggered the gag reflex.  At some point, Malcolm was banned from the bank of elevators.  He suffered the ignominy of being ordered by the building guards to take the freight elevator.  He wouldn’t accept the insult, and after proofing our annual report he announced proudly he could no longer accept us as his client.  His career lurched downhill because of an elevator.           

I Spy:  I was chatting about elevators with Susan, my secretary.  “These rent-a-cops on Park Avenue can be mean,” I told her, and she answered that they always looked at her and smiled when she passed.  I told her she was being self-conscious, and that “They’re busy staring at the monitors to see that no one gets mugged in the elevators.”           

“How would they know that?” she asked.           

“Cameras.  You can’t see them, but every elevator car has a camera.”           

Susan’s face went white.  “Oh, my Gawd!” she whispered.  “When there’s no one in the car I pull up my skirt and straighten my pantyhose!”           

Punch Line:  One of my favorite amusements was to get on an elevator with a friend.  As the car filled up, I’d start a monologue, usually something about a girlfriend and a horrifying episode that had taken place over the weekend.  The story would build in intensity and people would stop talking to listen—to eavesdrop!—on my drama.  As we neared the lobby, I’d reach the climax with, “…And then she smashed her wineglass on the floor, reached into her handbag and pulled out a pistol.  ‘You’ll never say that again,’ she said, and then….”  As the doors opened, I’d step out and say, “I’ll tell you later what happened.”           

Skyscraper Legends:  New York is full of curious tales.  Ask me about the Amish guy and the elevator.  The colleague who was trapped overnight in an elevator with a Czechoslovakian cleaning woman.  Or about why there’s no 13th floors in New York.  Or…but this is my floor and I have to get off.

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

Comfort Food Came from the Can

A curious thing took place at our dining room table sometime in the late 1940s.  Our meat-and-potatoes supper changed into something my mother called “creative cooking.”  Even though I was just 10 years old, and a boy at that, I sensed every woman was out to prove she wasn’t a boring cook.  When my mother wasn’t exchanging 3 x 5-inch recipe cards with her friends, they were promising each other recipes or were collecting recipes for a new church cookbook.  In fact, church dinners were a command performance that made me dread the experimental dishes — Mexican tamale pie or Italian sausage and mushroom casserole — placed in front of me.           
It’s clear now what was happening.  World War II was finally over, anything was possible, and miracles could emerge from the kitchen — amazing dishes like Indian curry that were previously unknown in our small Oregon town.   
I’ll never know where my mother learned about shrimp curry.  Her exotic dish consisted of one can of Campbell’s frozen condensed shrimp soup, thawed, heated, laced with curry powder, and poured over rice.              
Another night, her quick and simple entrée might be Porcupine Balls.  Leftover Uncle Ben’s rice was mixed with ground beef, shaped into balls, drowned under a can of Campbell’s condensed tomato soup, and baked in an oven. 
Campbell’s was a staple in our house.  Condensed mushroom soup was poured over pork chops before baking.  Condensed tomato soup was served as a time-saving, nutritious spaghetti sauce.   
On special occasions — after church or when relatives came to visit — dinner started with cocktails.  Since my parents were teetotalers, cocktails consisted of a quart can of Campbell’s tomato juice, liberally splashed with Worcestershire sauce and a very small dash of Tabasco, and served up with Ritz crackers and onion dip.  The dip was a touch of class.  It meant buying a container of sour cream and mixing in a package of Lipton instant onion soup.  
This cozy tradition lasted until after I was married with children and began substituting wine for tomato juice. 
Memories of these meals flooded back when I found three metal boxes where Mom stored her recipe cards.  I had almost forgotten what a basic commodity Jell-O was in the late ’40s.  An entire section of one box — dozens of gummy recipe cards — were dedicated to gelatin salads.  There were Perfection Salad (gelatin with peppers, pimentos, chopped cabbage and diced celery) and Fruit Salad (gelatin with a cup of unnamed dressing, cherries, pineapple and marshmallows).  And there were Stuffed Eggs in Gelatin Mayonnaise, Shrimp and Swiss Cheese Gelatin Salad, Cranberry Orange Mold, and Crunchy Corned Beef Salad Loaf.   

Judy's recipe library.

Though Mom passed away years ago, her recipe box is an archeological treasure of how Jell-O sustained our family.  
As I recalled those meals, I realized this was my definition of comfort food.  Bland, often mysterious, but probably nutritious.  The period marked a transition from cooking with raw materials to using processed food.  The tin recipe boxes also offered an insight into how hard women worked to be inventive and to change food presentation after a long war and years of rationing.  
Before Julia Child there was Betty Crocker.  Before Rachel Ray there was an underground exchange of family-tested recipes.  The early ’50s was a time when a new dish could be invented and called Something-something Surprise.  Creativity lay in the naming.  There was Feathered Lemon Delight (fried chicken), Snip Doodles (cookies), and Snickerdoodle (coffee cake). 
Before Hamburger Helper, there was the slice of bread crumbled into a pound of ground beef to make meatloaf stick together and go farther. 
Before the Nabisco and General Foods snack foods, there were Mom’s Gizzies, a Christmas treat made in vast quantities with Wheat Chex, Cheerios, pretzel sticks, and nuts, all laced with Worcestershire sauce, Tabasco and celery salt, and baked for one hour.  For kid treats, there was our all-time cavity-inducing favorite: Rice Krispie cookies made with marshmallows.
Pizza was another novelty first mentioned by my sixth-grade teacher.  I had my first taste of pizza — oh, the rapture — when I was 13 years old and had moved to New Jersey.   
When my wife, Judy, spotted Ming Tsai’s honey-roasted poussin on horseradish beet purée with soy butter sauce on Food TV, she told me to run and download it from the Web site.  Then, she cut back on one ingredient, added another condiment, or substituted an item.  

“This is not comfort food,” I said.  “I’ve never eaten a beet in my life.”  But at dinner that night the honey-roasted poussin was so mind-numbingly good that I grabbed my camera to record it for the cookbook we wrote for our children.  Creativity was alive and well in the 21st Century. 
Often, she and I went back to Mom’s old tin recipe boxes.  It still held comfort food for a new generation.  In fact, it’s time for me to make another few cubic feet of Gizzies for snacks before a baseball game.  And I have the strangest craving for raspberry cookies, almond crescents and lace cookies when holidays approach.  Our children and grandchildren demand them.