Post #72: More Than a Nibble

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THE FIRST FANCY PLACE

I am starched, white gloved and frilled.  Neatly tied into a dress with bows, anklet socks precisely  turned, Mary Jane’s patented and shining.  Lifted to my seat in the restaurant I  am perched on a pedestal of telephone books.  A tiny empress, surveying the gleaming forks and knives and spoons. What is the right thing to do?   I have no idea. Terrified, I sit so still. 

A single question, “Do I like tuna fish?”   I nod carefully. Is “yes” the right answer?  Lunch is ordered.   In a blur a black jacketed waiter flourishes a plate in front of me with the insouciant panache of a bullfighter flicking his red cape. Is this my lunch?  My sandwich is sliced into into beautiful little triangles and stacked three stories high on a mountain of potato chips.  Do I eat it or stare at it?  I don’t know.  Then I spot it at the edge of the plate.   A tiny paper cup filled with mashed potatoes.  At last, something I recognize!  In a rush all at once I squeeze the whole thing into my mouth.

And my eyes brim with tears.

Alas.  Horseradish!

***

MITCH’S

Growing up in the Motor City one’s life is simply guided by cars. We Motor City folk cruise Woodward, glide up and down the hills of Maple, bump over the potholes of Orchard Lake.   We don’t just drive to get places. We drive to drive. We drive the rippling  highways and byways of our state, The Big Mitten, but in truth we are always dreaming of skimming by the shore. It’s not hard to do. Wherever you are in Michigan you are no more than six miles from a lake and no more than 85 miles from one of the Great Ones.   We Michiganders are happily waterlogged.

If the salty Atlantic imparts a certain tang to Eastern Clam Chowder than I’ll argue that being squeezed between Lakes Michigan, Huron, Ontario, Erie and Superior impart a certain freshness to our foodstuffs.

So after lazy Sunday afternoon car rides we invariably would end at Mitch’s on the lake.  Which lake?  I never knew.  But my Dad would slide the gigantic Oldsmobile into parking lot, crank down the windows for those of us sweltering in the back seat, and then disappear into the vast and bustling restaurant.  After a few minutes he would emerge with a wonderfully greasy bag of Mitch’s special soft breadsticks, hot from the oven, dripping with butter,  sprinkled liberally with salt. They were gone by the time we reached our front door.   At the table we ate plate after plate of Mitch’s special salad.  The recipe for the dressing is still a mystery.  But no matter.

Seven o’clock and  time for The Wonderful World of Disney!

***

HOWARD JOHNSON’S

Skip breakfast.  Skip lunch.  Skip dinner. 

Crowd into the hand me down Pinto, the Gremlin, or the Opal Manta. Careen down Lone Pine on the way to the corner of Telegraph and Maple. Spot that gleaming orange roof from a mile away!

Scoot into a booth. Squeeze in tight.  The waitress taps her pencil on her pad. “What’ll it be?”

“FUDGE RIPPLE  with strawberry sauce, extra whipped cream!”

“BUTTERCRUNCH  with butterscotch topping, marshmallow, double cherries!”

PEPPERMINT with hot fudge, pistachios,  pineapple and sprinkles!”

Enormous goblets filled with ice cream and sauce overflowing are placed before each of us. A conspiratorial click of silver spoons and we begin!

Afterwards a plate (or two) of french fries, the perfect palate cleanser,  for all to share. 

***

STEVE’S LUNCH

Really it’s  little more than a slice of a place.  Just enough room to squeeze through the door and pull yourself up to a red counter stool.  Twirl meditatively while checking the menu but really for naught. The order is always going to be the same. 

“Cheese and bean sprout omelet, please.”

The order is taken with a swift nod. Then the counterman swirls the eggs in a bowl and gently spreads them on the grill.   A shovel of hash browns fills the whole of an oblong platter and with a few quick flicks of his wrist the omelet is filled then folded with an origami like precision and placed delicately on top.

Since nothing could possibly ever match this for perfection, no need to eat for a week.

***

CAMMERARI’S BAKERY

You could almost eat the smell. But that isn’t nearly enough.  Walking down the streets of Carroll Gardens, if you are lucky enough to catch the scent, your nose starts twitching like a pup who had caught the aroma of a grilled steak.  Breathe and breathe in deep.  It is invigorating, exhilarating, blissful.   I am swept along the streets of Brooklyn bleary and floating,  then joyously flying through  air like a girl in a Chagall.   And suddenly I am there. Right on Henry Street at the window of Cammerari’s Bakery. 

I press my nose to the glass.  Living paycheck to paycheck, I have only two dollars. But here at Cammerari’s  that’s more than enough. In a moment, crinkled bills are on the counter and soon a whole loaf of warm bread is cradled in my arms.

I sigh happily. Once again,  I will be full.

***

The memory of these—and so many other—wonderful places are still sweet and rich on my tongue.  I savor them. With love especially to all who’ve broken bread or shared a scoop with me.

photograph copyright Edible East Bay Magazine

Post #70: Spectacles

FullSizeRenderThe world was a watercolor wash of cerulean, sapphire and emerald, the blurred edges soft, entrancing, embracing. Ever shifting in the light there was so much to look at, so much to see! The tops of trees blended into sky, houses undulated into lawns, sidewalks dreamily rolled and buckled and puckered under my regal gaze. Were things near or far? Hard or soft? I didn’t know. I didn’t mind. I moved slowly. Why rush? The world was a kaleidoscope of softness, the lines beautifully and comfortably blurred.

When I was seven my father the optometrist gently curled the arms of a pair of spectacles around my ears and took a step back. A blink. A sharp intake of breath. And my world jumped sharply into jangly focus. I could see.

But that other world was still there and I knew it. If I took off my glasses I could still see it.
***
Unquestionably it was one of my oddest assignments. And yet, I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.

At last we had reached my long longed for moment: the tour jete leap, high, higher, highest from the heart stopping canvasses of Cezanne, and his explosively condensed blots of color that led to the rocket launch into twentieth century painting and beyond. How could I explain the brilliance of one who did not impose his vision on the world so much as unmask the visual world itself?

I had only a few heartbeats left of class time. So there was only one thing to do.

The assignment: I sent them all outside.

Walk and walk alone. No earbuds or other electronic distractions. Just look closely at the world around you. See the familiar in an unfamiliar way. See whatever it is that there is to see.

Give one one photograph seeing something in a way you’ve never seen it before. Give me one paragraph describing your experience.

Fifteen minutes to relearn a lifetime of visual experience? See the world anew? Absurd. Impossible. Ridiculous.

And yet…

The assignments trickled in, slowly at first and then tumbling over each other like school children finally released from the classroom on a hot May afternoon.

—“The grass seemed to get greener the longer I looked at it.”

—“The sky glowed with streaks of pink!”

— “I looked and suddenly my street was a mass of angles and curves.”

Is the world as it is or is it remade anew viewed through our own individual lenses? What do each of see when we really see? Go and look. Outside, through the window the world is waiting for us, to be discovered and rediscovered again and again.

***

PS For a fascinating look at vision through the eyes of a child, find Ellen Raskin’s marvelous  and beautifully illustrated Spectacles.  And if you like puzzles and mysteries, you might like her Newbery winning The Westing Game as well.

Post #69: In Love

IMG_0642IN LOVE

I don’t know the source.  I don’t know where it ends.  But it’s there, it’s always there,  wide and deep and churning.   Running as ever through the center of everything. Be brave, deep breath! I close my eyes and leap and all of a sudden the shock of wet cold presses tight against me, covering me, constricting me. I’m going down.  Once again in way way over my head.

But in another moment I am swept into the flow and somehow lifted aloft, onward and onward, flowing onward with the river itself.   The water prickles and plinks against my skin like the plucked double strings of a mandolin.   I am at the same moment woozy and deliciously alert, euphorically breathless yet breathing anew. In love.

***

The Love You Gratefully Accept

Windows cranked down, my Dad’s  arm is resting jauntily on the sill, the breeze rippling his shirtsleeves, skewing his tie. A lefty, he wears his watch on his right wrist, turned inward.  Me too.  With the casual cool of a suburban Marlboro Man, he gently pinches the steering wheel between his thumb and forefinger steering by degrees.  No matter the potholes, the road smoothly undulates before him. No one drives better.  I am where I always dream of being. Right in the front seat next to him.

The moment I’ve been waiting for. I have his complete attention.  I have absolutely no idea what to say.

The silence in the car is thickening.   Then very casually, he reaches over and taps my knee.  There’s a pause.  Then a grin.   “Did you know that I love you?” he asks.

I did.  And I do.

***

The Love That Chooses You

They say it all, all  the time!  “Love ya!” “Smootches!”  “Hugs and kisses!’  XOXOX!  “I do I do I do!”   You do?  The words tumbling and turning,  rolling and rumbling along, a casual cascade.   A flippant quip, we  toss the words around like popcorn, gobbling them up, never quite getting our fill.  It don’t mean a thing.  And then?  One casual hug  unexpectedly zings—and then suddenly it does.

***

The Love You Choose 

The lamplight glints off his horn-rimmed glasses, gleams from his cufflinks, glows from the shine of his shoes.

We had been to the theatre. The dinner was done.  Just us, a city street corner.  I was frightened.  He was—he is—so very tall. But even so,  I reached up just  at the same moment he reached down. That is all it took.  We met, just as we were meant to meet, right in the middle.  And as we stretched towards each other, the evening itself, sweet as salt water taffy, seemed to stretch forward as well.

The Love Beyond Words

We looked out the window into the darkening evening and there she was. Shivering, hungry, alone. The snow was deep and it was so very cold.   No one, no creature,  should have been outside like that   But she was.

But not for long. We scooped her and wrapped her, and cuddled and coddled her.  Elegant and etherial, our princess of a cat, our little Annie Rose.

*Found!  After searching for days when she crawled through the vent in the heating system.

*She stroked my face in the night, sometimes even retracting her claws.

*The tiniest cheerleader for our team of boys.

She is so delicate, so frail now.

As always, I try but I can’t say it.  There is always a catch in my throat.  Alone, I practice sometimes, saying the words over and over to myself, like a mantra, a dirge. “I love you, I love you, I love you.” 

Believe me, I do.  Even if I can’t say it properly,  I do.

I look into her eyes. Does she know?  She knows.

Post #68: “These Are Not Just Any Floors.”

IMG_0660Oh how typical of me!  I was besotted with this place, before I’d ever actually seen it, before I’d ever even been there.  I hungered for it and yearned for it.  As solid and sweet as a bar of chocolate, as warm and as inviting as hug from your beloved, an unending waterfall of information tumbling right into my arms.  I knew I’d be safe there. I loved it, loved it loved it from the start.  A helter-skelter sprawling tumble of a place.

The American Museum of Natural History on Central Park West, New York City. My heart’s home.

***

Greenhorn

I am a ravenous  bottom feeder, deep in the subterranean bowels of this marvelous place! Scurrying  past the gigantic slice of Sequoia though the Halls of New York Forests, twirling around  the massive mosquito, ogling the poor dead Dodo,  I am the Goddess of the Information Desk. Even though I am so new to New York that there is a foldable map permanently crushed into the bottom of my purse, I spray fans of guide books and point my fingers with impunity, as I now know the exact route to the Whale,  to the dinosaurs  to the canoe!

Every Saturday I spend hours traveling up to the museum by subway from Brooklyn. I could be anywhere but I am here, just to be here.  Where else?

***

The Spring  Thaw

“I buy chickens bigger than that.”  They were so tiny, the identically burbling, undersized indoor captives of the wildest white winter in memory.  At four months we could count on one hand how many times they had been outside.  But now it was March and the massive ice cliffs that reached the tops of the street signs on the corners were melting into rivers that ran down the avenues.  Stuffing them into their oversized snowsuits, side by side in their stroller, we defiantly pushed through the revolving doors and out to the street.  Two blocks over, seven blocks up. The Museum.

I had been waiting for this!

We rolled past the trumpeting elephants in the Akeley galleries, dragged through the Serengeti Plain, huddled with the Muskox.  And last and best of all to Hall of Ocean Life to stand under the belly of the whale!  I was agog. They were asleep.

Snug in their snowsuits, in the dim light of the museum they slept deeply and contentedly, on and on.   Could they absorb the aura of my best loved place with their every sleeping breath?  Just to be sure, I bought them their own tiny dinosaurs.  Ah. And Ah.

***

Herding

And now there are three.  Belted into the back,  the curly-haired one car seated in the middle, we are ready for adventure!  Charizard, Pikachu, and Blastois  clutched in their fists, DK Eyewitness Oceans on the folded down screen, dreams of Dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets tantalizing their tongues, we know where we want to go.

Once there we bounce from Birds of the World, to Primates, to the long awaited Margaret Mead Hall of Pacific People.  The Giant Turtle, the Corythesaurus, the Passenger Pigeons!

And always we end at Rocks and Minerals, rolling, rollicking and running  up and down the ramps our paths sparkling with rubies, emeralds, sapphires, and the Star of India itself.  All  glinting, and glowing, and glimmering.  For us.

Bang out a tight fisted drum roll of joy on the petrified wood!  This place belongs to all.

Go you Game Boys!

***

So Close to Travel So Far

To the loll on the beaches of the Bahamas?  Or ski the slopes of the Smug?  Perhaps for some but not for us.  Why fly?  Instead we travel the world simply by hugging the edge of Manhattan as we fling ourselves into the flow of the Westside Highway. You know our destination.   From the Hall of Planet Earth to The Hall of Biodiversity we are here and we are there.  Through this place, we are everywhere.

***

Science Rules

Heretofore off-limits, the gateways of science open to them with a warm welcome to the mysterious 5th floor and beyond.   Presentations and publications, research and REU.  Walk longest hallway in the world with no end in sight.  They are back again. And as with me, part of them will never leave.

Oh, I could make my way through this place blindfolded! But why on earth would I ever do that?  As Roy Chapman Andrews once said, “these are not just any floors.”

As always, thank you, for having me. Thank you for having all of us.  As ever and as always, I will be back.

Post #67: The Mandelbrot

FullSizeRenderWe hoarded them. We dreamed about them. We craved them.

All three of us were derumpled from our languorously dreamy Sunday afternoon. Candyland, Scrabble, and Monopoly mixed together and shoved  messily back into their boxes. Smudged faces hastily wiped clean with a wet washcloth.

Why do we have to get dressed up?  Because.

One of us has to be in the middle.  Through the car window we watch the linked telephone poles guiding us, rhythmically  moving us forward, further and further down the road.  Almost there!   On our knees we turn to look through the back window of the car. We’ve been waiting for it!  At last we look up.

A cathedral of elms links their arms together in verdant welcome,  arching over Lauder Avenue, the light tipping tenderly in and out of the shadows, Sainte-Chapelle itself on the streets of Detroit.

At last and then we were there.  Grandma and Papa’s house.

A run up the staircase—a Wide World of Sports slide down again on our stomachs, dipping sharp to our left just at the landing. Over and over. Like the rusty hinges on the vault of Croesus, the refrigerator door creaks open.  Bottle after bottle of pop emerges!  Pry off the caps and slurp straight from the bottle. 

A tableclothed and proudly arrayed dinner of roasts and fricassees and loaves holding their breath, awaiting the requisite slicing.   A tiny, solitary dish of Birds Eye mixed vegetables, isolated, untouched, alone.

Papa is there, enthroned in his armchair, munching the heart of the lettuce, saved specially for him.  Lawrence Welk  bubbles onto the screen in the living room, just behind the Geritol ad, delighted as always to introduce, “The lovely little Lennon girls.”

Too soon, time to go.   Anxiously, from the depths of the kitchen, my Grandma Anne emerges, clutching the chock full tins that she pushes into our hands.   The  Mandelbrot.  We’ve been waiting for it.

Pressed into the tins, studded with chocolate chips and arrayed as a glorious fan, they are in fact the most tenacious of cookies, tough and  twice baked.  My sisters and I stuff them in as fast as we can.  My Grandmother wonders, will we remember? We will and we do.   Twice baked, these cookies last.

***

Over the years my memory has become sharpened at points, softened at others, like the undulating yet jagged edges of a fractal.  A simple equation resulting in infinite complexity.

No matter.  And the recipe itself?  Precisely written in my Grandmother’s even hand my sisters and I possess several versions on just as many scraps of paper.  Half or three quarters of a cup of sugar?    Walnuts or almonds?  Butter or oil?  My continued  mismeasuring is a messy equation  in and of itself.

And yet, no matter how much or or how little of each written ingredient I put in, every time I bake my Grandmother’s mandelbrot they seem to come out perfectly, just as I remember.  How can that be? 

I only know that our Grandmother loved us. We could taste it. And that undefinable thing that is love is both transcendent and transformative and sometimes even magical, mixed into a million different batches in a million different ways.   

Post#66: Unfettered

IMG_2100Kresge Lunch Counter

There was nothing more yearned for. Nothing better.  Saturday mornings we would rattle around the backseat of the big squared off Oldsmobile, sliding off the vinyl seats onto the floorboards at every stop light, mashing our faces into the windows every time that behemoth gingerly creaked  around a corner.  When the car finally shuddered and sighed to a stop  that was our signal.  Shove the doors open!

Just us. We were free!

Two ten year olds, each one of us with three single dollar bills curled into our hands. A small fortune. We wandered from  Maple to Woodward and back around to the park.  Press through to the doors of the Continental Market, to scurry like rabbits through that warren of tiny shops.  Scented candles, ladies magazines and beaded blouses.  A whole store that only sold clogs.  A general store that sold everything else.

At the store she would always buy a tiny bag of salted peanuts.   I had to have jelly beans.

Then a swing around to the twirly seats at  the Kresge’s lunch counter.  The counterman wore a bow tie.  He wore a paper hat with the slight power tilt of a king’s crown.

Red Pop or Faygo Rock ’n Rye was squirted expertly into a paper cone that was tucked into a metal holder.  Double striped paper straws.

A serious study of the menu always yielded the same results. Grilled cheese for her. Tuna for me. Both were cut on same diagonal and placed on the plates  just so. Tiny paper cups of potato salad and coleslaw.

If we put our last quarters together we could afford a scoop of ice cream to share. Some weeks her favorite, chocolate.  Other weeks my favorite, vanilla.  Two spoons, two friends.  Unfettered and on on our own. The world was ours!

***

Somewhere Outside

I’m pretty sure no one ever actually knew where we were. The screen doors slammed and we were off. A few twists to the tetherball and we would start out.  Walking down the street  the group snowballed together, adding kid after kid, getting bigger and bigger.  We were all together.

Where would we go?

Sneak to the creek to catch tadpoles?

Jungle gym through the half built house down the block?

March to the drug store for Bazooka and Tootsie Rolls and Turkish Taffy?

The choice was ours.  The world was ours!

***

Ball Fields

It was evening and the setting sun made the spring sky soft and hazy and cotton candy sweet.

From our house we actually could  hear the cracks of the bats and the muffled shouts, and imagine that we were enrobed by the puffs  of dust kicked up from sneakered feet.  We could go over and watch, our faces pressed up against the fenced backstop our fingers curling over the edges.

There are three fields, three games on each.  We drift from game to game as if we’re changing channels. 

The players don’t preen. They play.  Their team t-shirts and hats worn with pride, the jeans are dirty and worn in the right places from sliding and climbing.. There are never any grown ups, save the coaches for each team. Why would there be? Little League, little kids.  Grown ups had other things to do with their time. And so did we.

At the end the wagon train of Chevys and Buicks and Fords circle up. They flip open their trunks to reveal true treasure:  can after can of ice cold pop!

The choice was ours.

***

Now

Keys and cash and clothes and cars.  Go here, do this, remember that.  Juggle the schedule, balance the checkbook, add the tip. We are individual tornados spiking into the ground, information peppering and pestering at us from every side.

Is the choice mine?

Some of it?  Most of it?  A little of it?  Does it matter?

No matter what, minutes and moments are always  there for the taking. I grab them, hoard them, treasure them.   Moments still to think and dream. To think and explore and to be free. The choice then is mine. the world then, is still truly mine. 

No matter what, still and always unfettered and free!

Post #63: Yahrzeit

img_9912She was oh so very very difficult. Did she like me, care for me, consider me?  I was never quite sure. She held me at distance, kept me off balance.  Her temper  was a landmine waiting to be be tripped. I had learned to be careful.  I knew to be careful. Time after time I ground my teeth together not to bite the bait. It was complicated and I knew it. After all, we both loved the same man.  Her son. My husband.

We lost her a year ago. 

In spite of all antagonisms and all misunderstandings, or perhaps because of them, I asked to write her eulogy.  This is what I said on a frozen January day, 2016.

She was a woman who dressed to go grocery shopping, who dressed to go to the movies, who dressed to go for a walk in the park.

A bag to match each pair of shoes.  Everything just so.

Broadway matinees on Wednesday at 2.  A ruffled scoop of black raspberry at the Howard Johnson’s counter. The uptown subway home.

Always two slices of cake for Dad for his morning coffee break, veal cutlets or potted  chicken for dinner, hamburgers  fresh cooked for her hungry son at midnight.

Not a hair out of place nor an drawer. overstuffed. And yet,

To feed hungry and homeless cats, She could arc a meatball from her balcony to the parking lot with a curve that would have made Sandy Koufax proud.

Photographs of her grandsons were framed in gilt.

Joel listened when she insisted.  Had he not, we never would have met.

“So what are you waiting for, “ she demanded.  “ask her to marry you. “

To be honest. To be fair therefore, I owe her my life, our happiness. Our boys.

To my mother-in-law, a woman to be reckoned with, my eternal thanks, deep appreciation and love.

Eulogy for Lillian Schwartz Frank, z”l.

I wasn’t expecting what happened next.

Last weekend. A new  house, an old suitcase.  Flipping the latches I found a box of photos.

Was it really her? I squinted just to be sure. Oh my goodness.  It was.

The photograph had been taken in the 1950s.  She is sitting on a park bench.  It’s a lovely shot. But it’s her face that stunned me, her smile that cut me to the quick.  There is a sweetness, an openness, a generosity  and simple beauty in that face that I never saw, that I’d yearned to see when I knew her.

Had I truly missed the signals of who she was completely?   Had I arrogantly and woefully misjudged her?  Or had she changed so by the time I knew her that the woman in photo was stuck in time to be replaced by someone else?  If so, what had happened, what had changed her? 

I found that photo on her yahrzeit , the first anniversary of her passing.  Maybe just coincidence.  Maybe not.  Was she reaching out to us? If so, to say just what?

I don’t know. But I can reach back.  On that day I uttered the words of Kaddish for Lillian Frank, my mother-in-law.  The words of Kaddish, the prayer for the departed, is not what most people expect.  The translation of the prayer, from the Aramaic,  is herewith:

Glorified and sanctified be God’s great name throughout the world

which He has created according to His will.

May He establish His kingdom in your lifetime and during your days,

and within the life of the entire House of Israel, speedily and soon;

and say, Amen.

May His great name be blessed forever and to all eternity.

Blessed and praised, glorified and exalted, extolled and honored,

adored and lauded be the name of the Holy One, blessed be He,

beyond all the blessings and hymns, praises and consolations that

are ever spoken in the world; and say, Amen.

May there be abundant peace from heaven, and life, for us

and for all Israel; and say, Amen.

He who creates peace in His celestial heights,

may He create peace for us and for all Israel;

and say, Amen.

translation from myjewishlearning.com

There are praises to God throughout the Kaddish, and a  fervent prayer for peace.  It is that peace that I wish for my mother-in-law, for myself a renewed call for openness and for understanding.