help wanted

Mrs. Moretti was a 5-foot, somewhat plump, frazzled gray hair 60-year-old battleaxe who made my dishwashing life misery but cried when I left her restaurant after two summers of working for her.

She and her husband owned three restaurants, and she had three sons managing them. She knew the prices of everything, and had a colorful way of letting you know.

“Don’t use so much soap; that costs me 12 cents a quart!!!” Everything she said had two or three exclamation points behind it. She never coo-ed. She always screamed.

One time I spilled some food scraps on the brick walk that ran behind the kitchen extending from the porch over the water (this restaurant sat on a bay looking north) down to the concrete walk in front of the building. She saw my transgression and yelled, “Clean that up!!! Don’t you know that I got down on my hands and knees this morning and scrubbed that sonuvabitch clean!!!”

Basically, if you worked your tail off, she liked you. No – better – she appreciated you.

Once, in describing someone who thought a little too much of himself, she quipped, “He thinks his sh@# don’t stink.” That one didn’t have exclamation points since she was probably saying it before Noon, before she could really get in gear.

When I left, I was 20 years old and had worked there two summers during college. Her oldest son, the manager of the restaurant, gave me a cash bonus on my last night. She came over to me while I was still in the office, gave me a hundred dollars in twenties, held my cheeks in her two hands, and kissed me with lips that had never known lipstick, often had well-intentioned venom, but were always sincere. Her eyes started misting up.

After all, a good dishwasher is hard to find.

Heid’s of Liverpool

I found this helpful advice on a blog called ishbadiddle (http://triptronix.net/ishbadiddle/):

“I’m having trouble getting my ketchup out of the bottle in a timely manner. Do you have any suggestions?”
“First, make sure the cap is on tight. Then, holding the bottle upside-down, vigorously shake it from side-to-side, so that the top of the bottle describes an arc. This will force the ketchup toward the top of the bottle through centrifugal force. Next, remove the cap. Tilting the bottle at a 45-degree angle hit the top side of the bottle several times. Hitting the bottom of the bottle is more frequently done; however it is less efficient. Hitting the top forces the ketchup down, enabling air to break the ketchup seal at the top of the bottom. Then gravity will do the trick. Never put ketchup on a hot dog if you are older than 12; they were meant to be eaten with mustard, relish, onions and/or kraut if you are so inclined.”

I usually don’t post other people’s stuff here – perhaps some of you wish I would – but I thought this was a novel way of solving the age-old problem of getting Heinz 57 out before it becomes Heinz 58. The remark about eating hotdogs with ketchup, of course, is the blogger’s own, not necessarily that of this author. Reminds me of driving from Raleigh, North Carolina in 1983 with my college girlfriend Carla and her family up to Fulton, New York, where she was from. Her grandparents lived there. It was eleven hours in the car. Her aunt, her mother’s sister, used to be her mother’s brother – had a sex change operation. I’d never met a transgender person before, though I lived in New York City. Just outside Syracuse – home to the oldest state fair, I am to understand, and bragging rights to those who are insecure because they don’t live in the greatest city in the world to the south, “downstate,” that is – is Heid’s of Liverpool, where they serve the famous frank and coney. I remember we got there and I was … hungry. I ordered a “hot dog.” They looked at me. Just kind of stared. So, Carla’s father whispered, “ask for a frank,” so I did and everything went along swimmingly. Now, their website openly discusses “hot dogs,” once a topic not for polite Liverpool company. Coneys, on the other hand, are white sausage-like hot dogs. I wanted to find more information on them, so I went to Wikipedia, which lacked for specifics, so I added a plug for Heid’s: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coney. MSN Encarta doesn’t include this definition among its five for the word. That’s disappointing. I found this site, which has probably the most complete description of this delicacy: http://www.barrypopik.com/index.php/new_york_city/entry/coney_island_coney_coney_dog/. All I know is that is was whitish and looked fairly unappetizing, but it was good. Carla’s grandparents lived in a house that was across the street from a crematorium. Many afternoons, the evidence of their business was in the air. This, from Wikipedia: “During the cremation process, a large part of the body (especially the organs) and other soft tissue is vaporized and oxidized due to the heat, and the gases are discharged through the exhaust system.” So this exhaust is what we’d smell during our time on the front porch sipping tea. My grandparents’ bodies were cremated. I remember being 22 or so and going out on a boat in East Greenwich harbor with my brother, parents, two aunts and two uncles. It was raining. We raised a glass of champagne to toast them – Tootsie and Poppa’s wish that this be done – and then my brother Jim and I poured their ashes over the side, and we all threw flowers on the water’s surface. It was the most peaceful “burial” I had been to. I don’t remember how long we were in Fulton. Carla’s aunt, the transgender person, was nice enough. I don’t recall any outstanding features from that first encounter other than it seemed she was still dealing with some kind of facial skin issue, like razor burn from days gone by.

Coneys, crematoriums and transgenders with razor burn.

Life is not neat and tidy.

photo of hot dog: neadeau

photo of razor blade: brokenarts

The Icon Singer of Little Italy

On the Friday night of our weekend anniversary trip to New York City last month, we took the N train down to Canal Street and walked east several blocks to Mulberry Street in search of Luna Restaurant.

As we neared it, just north of Canal on the right side of the street, I understood why they hadn’t answered their phone for several days while I was calling to see if they accepted reservations and whether I could arrange a special anniversary surprise with the maître d’. Continue reading

Circassian love story

Mr. Gorman was an older man who lived across the hall from us in 6D. He was Irish and kindly. His sister, Miss Gorman, lived there, too. He looked at me – 14 and as WASPy as they got – one afternoon downstairs when I was surrounded by a group of young black men in the vestibule of our building at 96th and Madison. Continue reading

make mine with a twist

It was 1973 in Laurinberg, North Carolina, which is about two hours east and a little south of Charlotte. My family and I were staying at the Holiday Inn with the rest of the out of town family for the wedding of my cousin Reg and his fiancée Melissa. “Cousin” was a loose term. I think we shared great-great-great grandparents or something, but we were family nonetheless. Everyone in North Carolina was family. I was ten; my brother was eight. Continue reading