Tuesday, April 11, 2023

New York in Four Brushstrokes.

Maybe because the ancient Jewish Holiday of Passover is upon us, maybe because my bum right hip and my pained lower back are acting up, but of late I've been having Seasonally Affected Nostalgia about the New York that was when I was still knee-high to a roach motel. [Las cucharachas entran pero no pueden salir.]

I saw a man in the fish store who was probably fifteen years past my father's age when my father died for the last time (like "The Godfather" character Hyman Roth, my father was dying of the same heart attack from his first at the age of 39, through his second at 44, to his final infarction at 73.)

The man was there with his wife. Like a lot of people of that generation or older--like myself for that matter--he was dressed like a 12-year-old boy with sneakers, a bomber jacket and a Yankee's cap. Meanwhile, his wife was dressed as Margaret Dumont in "The Night at the Opera," complete with lorgnette to make sure they were slicing the nova thin enough.

The Asian man behind the counter took his order. Most of the Jewish fish-men in New York are Asian now, continuing the Jewish-Chinese culinary symbiosis that started more than a century ago and culminated in mini eggrolls with duck sauce, ducks not included.

"I'll have half a pound of sturgeon," he said. 

Sturgeon is the most exalted of the Jewish fish. I've never gotten either a raise or a bonus that permitted me to order more than three thin slices. At Russ & Daughters, sturgeon tips the scale at $72/pound, thumb not included. At Murray's Sturgeon Shop, it's $66/pound. At Zabar's, it's $69/pound. While at Sable's, where I was shopping, it's $74.99/pound. Not $75/pound. That would be profligate.

"Half a pound of sturgeon," I questioned. "You got a raise?"

He took a Borscht Belt beat. 

"My last check to my kids will bounce." His wife scowled and I hid behind the blintzes until the pickled herring cleared.

Earlier the same day, I stopped at an ice-cream place about a mile from the tilted house my parents forgot to raise me in. The house was tilted because it was built on the side of a hill, but not into the hill. I grew up constantly walking at a 12-degree angle.

My wife and I had driven out of the city to do some Passover shopping in slightly less Minsky-Pinsky environs than the Upper East Side, and I stopped at the ice cream place for a bit of nostalgia and a small chocolate cone of soft-serve with chocolate sprinkles. 

Today the cone comes in a molded plastic holder that won't biodegrade for 127 years. Somehow we've outgrown napkins. She returned to our Simca and handed me the cone through the un-closeable passenger-side window. Then she took her seat and started in on her "flying saucer," ice-cream twixt two stale cookie layers.

"You know," I said shedding sprinkles into the plastic holder like a leper his skin, "I've been coming here since Lyndon Johnson was President."

I thought about how ancient that made us. 97.2-percent of America has never even heard of Bill Clinton, then I thought about the best ice cream cone I ever had.

My friends and I must have escaped early from school and we caroused down the street past the A&P. There was a stickball box painted on the brick. Stores were closed on Sundays in those days, and we could play ball in the empty lot.

"Hey," Chuckie said, "I gotta quarta."

"Me too," said Scottie.

"Twenny cents," said Tony.

I checked my pockets and had nothing but lint. 

"Let's get ice cream at Carvel." A plain cone was just 17-cents and a cone with a brown Betty topping, a quarter.

"I'll meetcha there," I said. "I'll collect somposit bottles."

I found five in the garbage behind the A&P, two more in the small swampy park across the street and two more on the sidewalk near the lighting fixture place. I dodged some traffic and got 18-cents from the beehive at the grocery store and met my friends up at Carvel.

"Y'got it?"

"18 big ones," I boasted and I had a cone I earned myself. I never had a cone like that before or ever again.

Laura, my wife and I headed back to the city, getting on 95 and seeing it stopped like there was a ballgame in the Bronx or the World's Fair had somehow re-opened in Flushing or a pothole had eaten a semi, 
I scooted over to the service road and got off the highway. 

"I'll headta th' Hutch," I said. 

In a minute we were speeding back to the city. 

"That was such a New York move," Laura said.

"You know," I answered, "You getcher New York card revoked if you call it the Hutchinson River Parkway. In all my years, I've never called it anything but th' Hutch."

She countered with a short exegesis about true Californians calling the San Diego Freeway the 405, and the Santa Monica Freeway, the 10. To call them by their right names is tantamount to a Muslim showing a picture of Allah.

"I'll head ovah from th' Hutch t' th' Bruckna t' th' Effdeeare," I continued. "B-r-u-c-k-n-e-r. Bruckna."

We got home quick as Jack Robinson.

Without mangling our car, our language or any more memories.

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