Archive for the Food Category


For several days now, I have been thinking about one of my classmates at the Clayton, Missouri public school system. She was the only daughter of the couple who presided over the small restaurant immediately west of the Clayton High School.

She dressed plainly, wore no makeup that could be discerned and had little to say. She was certainly not part of the social circle in the Clayton public school system. I suspect that she was self-conscious in attending the Clayton school system because of the wealth of the children who were students there. In any event, permit me to tell you a little about her parents and the eating establishment they operated.

I am violating a rule here in that I am commenting for the first time about events that took place during the great American Depression of the 1930s. But this episode is about the Ehrhardts and not about me, so technically I am avoiding my own ban of discussing the Depression.

Somewhere around 1931 or 1932, the Clayton public school system erected a large additional building to house its cafeteria and chorus room. Those were on the second floor. On the first floor, it housed the classrooms equipped for the teaching of “shop” and a garage for the school bus.

There was only one school bus. It was driven by an amiable gentleman named “Shorty” Schaeffer. Shorty was a friend to all the youngsters who road his bus.

Across the street from this addition there was an ancient bungalow that housed a place for students to eat. It was a long narrow building with a sun porch in front, a larger room which must have been in former days the living room and dining room; and in the rear of the building was the kitchen. The place was owned by the Ehrhardt family.

Mrs. Ehrhardt cooked the lunches for the students, which consisted almost exclusively of hamburgers and frankfurters, as I remember it. The food was served by her husband, who had responsibility for the counter that was in the main room. The students often ate in the former sun room if the weather were inclement. In more pleasant weather, they would sit outside on the steps eating their lunches.

Some of the well-to-do children attending the Clayton public school system, including the high school, referred to the Ehrhardt establishment as “the dump.” When Mr. Ehrhardt heard anyone refer to his establishment as “the dump,” he became very angry. The Ehrhardts were doing the best they could during the Depression and it hurt him to hear the words “the dump” as it applied to his place.

The menu choices of hamburgers and hot dogs, if my memory is anywhere near correct, cost five cents each. Potato chips cost another five cents. Perhaps in later years, as we got toward 1940, the price may have doubled, but I doubt it. In any case, it was possible to eat with the Ehrhardt’s for a grand total of ten or fifteen cents.

The kids who ate at Ehrhardt’s establishment had very limited resources and could not afford to eat at the new cafeteria across the street where a complete luncheon would cost maybe twenty cents or twenty-five cents. That was clearly beyond the reach of most of the poor students. There were several students who brought their lunches to school and had no money to spend at all. Generally speaking, the children who ate at Ehrhardt’s had to eat there because, again, they could not afford the prices at the cafeteria across the street.

During all those years, I had attended the Clayton system along with the Ehrhardt daughter, who in retrospect seems timid and self-conscious. Like many of the rest of us, that daughter had trouble competing with the wealth of the rest of the students. All things being equal, the Ehrhardt daughter was non-descript. She did not stick out in her dress, or in her makeup. She seemed to just want to get from one day to the next without controversy.

On most days, the Ehrhardts asked their daughter to work at their eating establishment. She seemed to prefer helping her mother do the cooking as opposed to serving her fellow students along with her father. Working with her mother more or less prevented her from having to face the students that she considered to be her superiors.

I knew the Ehrhardt daughter for perhaps eight or ten years while I attended the Clayton school system and I can’t ever remember having a lengthy conversation with her. It was all only “hello” and “goodbye” and there were no extended remarks in between. I suspect now that the Ehrhardt daughter may have had an inferiority complex, which is not hard to understand given the fact that she went to school with so many wealthy classmates.

The Ehrhardt daughter was a good person in an unfortunate situation. There were students at the school who looked down upon those who patronized “the dump” as well as the Ehrhardt family itself. For my money, the Ehrhardts were hard-working people who were doing the best they could and the daughter was dutiful. She wasn’t beautiful and she didn’t wear lovely clothes. She was just the daughter of hard-working people during the Great American Depression. As you can see, I don’t even remember her name, but she made a distinct impression upon my mind.

I left Clayton high school at graduation time in January of 1940, and I have not seen either the Ehrhardts or their daughter since that time. For the past day or two I have been wondering whether the Ehrhardt daughter ever married or had children or had a successful career. She was simply a child of the depression, which may tell you all you need to know about her. Her father was often gruff but her mother was a loving person who extended a welcome to anyone who came to her establishment, whether they were rich or poor. I hope that the daughter took after her mother rather than her father.

And so I am sorry to tell you that she did not wind up being Miss America or winner of the Olympics in 1936 or anything of the sort. In point of fact, there is not much that I can tell you about her. But for the last day or two, thoughts about this inoffensive woman have bedeviled me. I sincerely hope that she enjoyed life after the closing of the Ehrhardt Eatery, which happened around 1945 when the street was widened.

As a matter of interest, in all the years I attended the Clayton public school system, I was never able to afford the prices at the school cafeteria. Paying twenty cents or twenty-five cents for lunch was much beyond my means. On occasions when I had a nickel or two to spare from cutting grass or babysitting, I often invested with the Ehrhardt organization. But mostly I brought my lunch in a brown paper bag which my mother insisted that I should fold up and bring home because, as she said, “They don’t give those paper bags away, you know.”

I am sorry to leave you up in the air about the Ehrhardt daughter, but if you ever see her please tell her that I send my best regards. Because that woman is now well into her eighties, treat her gently when you find her.

August 11, 2006


Whoa whoa whoa. If a hamburger costs 5 cents, chips certainly shouldn’t ALSO cost 5 cents. Cheese and meat are both a lot more expensive than potatoes! Maybe the hamburger was 8c and the chips were 2c; that would make more sense.
Anyway, 25 cents in 2017 dollars is $6.15. I can get away lunch in San Francisco for $7 sometimes; in light of that, the idea of paying 25 cents for a depression-era school lunch in Missouri seems crazy. $6.15 per kid would add up quite quickly. Ehrhardt’s prices seem a lot more reasonable — it’s a shame the kids gave them a hard time.


For readers who have stayed with me through the first eight parts of the New York series, I hope I haven’t worn you out. New York is a very big town and most observers would say that I am very fond of it. I know when a snowstorm hits the city or when a train falls off the track, there can be considerable inconvenience. But when viewed from the standpoint of the long haul, it seems to me that the big city offers more excitement than any other place in the world.

I approached New York with the thought that I was going to enjoy it. The fact that all kinds of different ethnic groups are found in New York was encouraging to me. My parents were largely consumed by fundamentalist religious church services three times a week. My mother led the two in educational achievement having finished the “third reader”, which I suppose corresponds somewhat to the third grade in 1890 terms. In spite of their backgrounds, they never expressed a hateful word against another ethnic group. Rich people are not an ethnic group. And neither is the German Army. In his unschooled fashion, my father, the original Ezra, often said that, “Ever body needs a chance.” That is no misprint. I know the proper word is “every” body, but in his country way of speaking, he was saying the Negroes, Italians, Catholics, Jews, and as he called them, “Polacks,” and poor people also needed to have a fair chance. The fact that often my parents did not have a fair chance in the urban life of St. Louis made no difference. Ezra Senior said, “Ever body needs a chance.” That seemed like a decent philosophy to me.

And so I grew up not hating or disliking anyone due to his ethnic background. The thought that fundamentalist preachers said that Jews caused the death of Jesus Christ struck me as laughable. When someone comes along who has a different ethnicity from myself, I am always curious about that person and his background. That lack of hatred or dislike together with my curiosity about other races made life in New York a lot easier. It never occurred to me to avoid people wearing a turban as the Sikhs do – or someone with a yarmulke as observant Jews do. Admittedly, I never saw many people wearing kaffiyehs in New York, but if they wore one, my interest would be aroused. Rather than being put off or displeased by someone wearing a native form of dress or an expression of their religion, I would be encouraged to ask a few questions, if given the chance.

It seems to me that diversity is what New York is all about. We have diversity in other cities and other communities in this country, but here in New York, diversity is the accepted norm. There are some cities or some communities where one religious group dominates all the other people. Or where a political party has a strangle hold on the electorate. New York is a different breed of cat. Diversity is an accepted way of life in New York.

Perhaps I can illustrate the diversity using the owners of a nightclub and a pretty good place to eat dinner. The place I have in mind is on Second Avenue on the East side of the street near 48th Street. It is called “La Chansonette,” which means “The Little Song.” One used to go to La Chansonette to have a good dinner and to hear singer Rita Dimitri and one of her later husbands, Stanley Brilliant, who accompanied his wife on the piano or guitar and who would occasionally sing.

Rita had a French mother and a Greek father and grew up in France. At an early age, she became a popular musical comedy star in Europe, singing in several languages. In 1955, the producers of Cole Porter’s Can Can asked her to take the lead in the Broadway production of that musical. Now here is what the jacket cover of her album has to say about Can Can and later developments:

“Cast as the proprietress of a boite in Monmartre, Rita enjoyed her role so much she decided to try it in real life, off the stage. All she needed was a sponsor – and she found one in her unsuspecting husband, Stanley Brilliant. Stanley was a successful New York businessman who spent a substantial amount of time on his hobbies, the piano and singing folk songs with his guitar.”

Rita was of European ancestry with her French and Greek parents. Stanley was a Jewish real estate developer from Brooklyn. And they welcomed lesbian and gay couples to their cabaret. How’s that for diversity?!!

Rita often needled Stanley by referring to him as her seventh or ninth husband. Old Stanley insisted that he was only her fifth husband. The difference between the fifth husband and the seventh or ninth husband didn’t seem of any great moment. Rita was beautiful enough to have enticed seven or nine men into marrying her, but Stanley didn’t get to be a well-to-do New York businessman by making mistakes about the multiplicity of husbands.

In any event, they decided to build the type of restaurant that they felt was missing in New York. It was to be a small elegant club, with good food, music, entertainment and dancing. They decorated it in shades of elegant blue, lavishing original oil paintings on the walls, and placing silver candelabras on each table. The grand piano had antique finishing and was always decorated with red roses.

As you entered La Chansonette, the long bar was on the right. At the end of the bar, steep stairs led downstairs to the restrooms. A few feet beyond the bar, the tables were set up for dining and to hear the entertainment. Curtains were pulled in the dining area when Rita was performing so the place had an intimate feel to it. Stanley and Rita did not have a long commute to work as they lived in the apartments over La Chansonette.

At 10PM and again at midnight, the dance floor would be cleared, a spotlight would be turned on and Rita would take her place on the top of Stanley’s grand piano. It was pretty dramatic stuff, but then it must be remembered that Rita, a genteel buxom personality, would appear in dresses that would make the women in the audience gasp. For awhile, Rita also appeared in evening dresses with the back cut down to a little bit below the waist line. I never tried to figure out what held the dress on because I thought it would be unsportsmanlike for me to do so. Stanley thought all the speculation about his wife’s dresses was pretty funny.

At the time La Chansonette was going great, it was unusual to see gay and lesbian people patronizing straight nightclubs. They often had places that catered to their tastes and I am certain that they avoided most straight places in an effort to avoid calling attention to themselves. But Stanley claimed that they wanted to hear good music and enjoy good food as much as anyone else might want to do. So a few very good-looking men and women would often be found in the audience of
La Chansonette. There were never any untoward scenes. The fact is that Stanley and Rita made it known that gay and lesbian couples would not only be tolerated, but welcomed.

On one occasion, Stanley spoke to me after hours about a table in the corner occupied by two men and two women. Stanley said there was going to be no romance between any of the men and any of the women, because the two women were lesbians and the two men were gay. The two men had agreed to escort the two women to La Chansonette, but when the evening was over, according to Stanley, the women went home together and the two men did likewise. So a cabaret run by two people of Greek, French and Jewish backgrounds welcomed the diversity of four well behaved individuals who did not conform to the norms of the Christian Science Monitor or of Alabama or Mississippi.

Early in my visiting of La Chansonette, Stanley asked me what I did for a living. Of course, I told him I was with AT&T in the long distance and overseas telephone business. Old Stanley’s eyes lit up. It seems that Rita had been trying to call her mother who was visiting Greece. Unfortunately, her mother was not in Athens but in an out-of-the-way town. Stanley said Rita was feeling pretty discouraged after having failed to reach her mother in spite of several trans-Atlantic telephone calls. And Stanley said her sadness carried over into her singing.

So I said let me try to cheer my friend Rita up. It was no problem to reach the AT&T Evening Chief Operator for calls to Greece. We knew each other. She said she would work the call now. In two or three minutes, Rita’s mother was on the phone from Greece but she was talking to old Stanley. So we got the AT&T Evening Chief Operator to come in on the call and direct it to Rita and Stanley’s living quarters above La Chansonette. Stanley said after the call was completed that I had saved his life. I don’t know about that, but if it pacified Rita so that she wouldn’t be looking for a tenth husband, then my duty had been done.

As the years went on, I had many conversations with Stanley and Rita. They were good people who were doing what they liked best. As such, they were happy people and fun to be around. Unfortunately, time runs out on everybody at one time or another. Rita died in the past year or so. I suspect that she was pretty close to 80 years. When she appears before the pearly gates, that will be an appropriate occasion to wear her dress with the front side open to near the navel and the back side cut to below the waist line. St. Peter is entitled to a thrill once in a while, even if he was a Catholic saint.

I got into this discussion about Stanley and Rita because their marriage and business practices represented the essence of diversity – New York style. I am a little old to be going to cabarets with dancing and with women in evening gowns that would make this old soldier blush. But I’ll tell you this. Going to a diverse club like La Chansonette surely beats the evening prayer services at some of Missouri’s most upscale churches as well as a rip snorting Billy Graham revival meeting complete with sawdust on the floor. Maybe if Billy Graham saw Rita in her work clothes, he might take a more liberal or modern point of view.

If someone says that I am partial to New York City, I will save the cost of a trial and plead resoundingly guilty. It may not be that New York is absolutely wonderful; it just might be that some other places leave a lot to be desired. For example, try the cities in Islamic countries. Of all those cities, only Cairo has anything to offer. Even there, I stuck pretty close to the hotel with traffic congestion and threats against Westerners being what they were. And none of the Islamic countries offer any singing or dancing or any diversity. As a matter of fact, they are headed in the other way. And the food in those countries is rather regrettable.

Working for the long distance arm of AT&T permitted me to see all the major cities in this country as well as Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. In the Army, I got to know a bit about Naples and Rome. When I had the Overseas job, there were lots of great cities to visit. London, Paris, Copenhagen, Stockholm, Rome, Madrid, Lisbon, Tokyo and Geneva. I was never comfortable in Berlin or Munich for reasons having to do with Army service. In a different way, I never fought to go to the countries that we used to consider as being behind the Iron Curtain. At the top of that list is Moscow itself, followed clearly by Beijing. On the other hand, I was completely at home in Sydney or Perth, Australia even though the Aussies thought my lack of interest in beer was basically treasonable.

So by virtue of being in the Army and by service with AT&T, I was most fortunate in being able to see big cities all over the world. It may be chauvinistic to say so, but New York is the most open and most diverse city that I have ever been involved with. I know Chicago and Kansas City are considered as broad shouldered towns, but New York has them beat when it comes to the diversity of its population and its outlook.

A small diversion having to do with the phrase “under God” in the pledge of allegiance that is in the news recently. That phrase was inserted into the pledge in 1954 when this country was in its Joe McCarthy period. Congress rolled over just as it has done recently when John Ashcroft pushed the American Patriot Act through the legislative body. For all the years I was in school in Missouri, we recited the pledge as it was originally written. The intrusion of “Under God” cheapens it and makes it a pledge of religious belief. And politicians from both parties are

breaking their backs to defeat the two Ninth Circuit justices, Alfred Goodwin and Stephen Reinhardt, who had ruled that that phrase violates the separation of church and state in this country. When I see this kind of disgraceful performance by our elected officials, I am angered and I also weep for the concept of church-state separation. My belief is that New Yorkers believe in the doctrine of church-state separation. Once again, I find myself with New Yorkers as distinguished from the self righteous members of Congress.

Well, having settled that diversion let me move back to New York. After I moved to the suburban New York scene, my parents never visited me. They were old and not in the greatest of health. But if they had seen one of the headlines last week wherein Donna Hanover accused Rudolph Guiliani of “open and notorious adultery,” I am sure that my mother, if she were alive today, would tell me to leave this sinful city. I would tell her, if she were around today, that debates like this are part of the fun in living in a dynamic city. I have no dog in this fight, but if Donna takes the mercurial Rudy to the cleaners, she will earn my applause and she may not have to appear in the sequel to the “Vagina Monologues.” (Note: She did take Rudy to the cleaners.)

Perhaps I have harangued you too much about New York. Lots of my AT&T colleagues could not wait to tell it goodbye and good riddance. Obviously, I don’t feel that way about the big city. And the reason has to do mostly with acceptance of diversity. I know that New York is not perfect. Far from it. But taking one thing with another, New York suits me quite well.

You may recall one of my essays where as a young soldier I walked guard duty on Christmas with a dock walloper from Brooklyn. His name was Jack Botcowsky and he was quick to tell you that he was a Jew. If I had told Jack that a gay person from Bangladesh was blocking our path and was turning hand springs and thumbing his nose at United States soldiers, old Jack would say, “So what”, followed by a handshake among the three of us. Somehow that liberal viewpoint seems to typify many of the citizens who call New York home. I like it and have for many years.

July 8, 2002


I’m glad Pop’s father was as fair as he was. I think he successfully handed that mindset down the family line, for which I’m grateful. The treatment of gay and lesbian couples mentioned in the essay was surprising to me, even though it probably shouldn’t have been, just because I’ve grown up in a culture that largely treats sexual-orientation-based discrimination as harshly as race-based discrimination. So if even New Yorkers had to worry about that who they were seen going to clubs with, it’s hard for me to imagine the mindsets of the rest of the country. How many generations back do we have to step before we get to a time where interracial marriage was seen as deeply sinful? Thinking about it now, depending on where you look, I guess the answer could easily be zero. Hurray for the South.

Conversely, how many generations forward do we have to step until the rest of the globe catches up to cities like New York and San Francisco, in terms of tolerance? And even for us here in SF, what’s the next step?

In any event, this series is certainly still going strong. I’ll be the first to admit that motif of “here’s a great person, here’s a fun interaction we had, and here’s how this person died or we lost contact” darkens the writing a little, but as my little brother likes to say, “there is a price to be paid” when reminiscing at Pop’s age.

Update: Judy was able to find a picture of Rita!


When I was in New York City for union bargaining in 1949, 1950, and 1951, I found myself being drawn to Greenwich Village. In many cases, food and drinks were cheaper there than in midtown. The place had a small town feel to it. If you ate at a restaurant two of three times, chances are the waitresses or the cashier would recognize you and say hello. In contrast, if you went into the Child’s Restaurant at Broadway and 42nd Street, you would probably never be recognized. Of course, Child’s was a lot bigger, but the friendliness found in the Village was conspicuously missing in much of midtown and uptown.

The Village in those days consisted of many small shops and restaurants. Big chains were unheard of in the area around Washington Square Park. In the small clubs, entertainment acts headed for the big time were always found. And acts that were headed downward would play the small clubs to earn a payday with the hope that they would be seen and sent back to the big time clubs and network radio. Remember, television was in its infancy in the latter part of the 1940’s and the early part of the 1950’s.

Greenwich Village in many respects was a different city from the rest of New York. It was a place where people lived. It was a place where people cared about their surroundings. This is a pure guess, but I’d say the average income of Village residents in the days we are speaking of was considerably less than the residents in apartments buildings on Park or Madison Avenues, for example.

The people were friendly. The shopkeepers acted as though they wanted your business. And most importantly, there were few, if any, barriers in dealing with other residents of the Village in terms of national origin or in terms of sexual orientation. I soon learned that if, for example, the Pakistani man standing near you was also gay, that did not keep him from being friendly. And it certainly meant that he would do nothing to convert you to his beliefs. He lived his life and you lived yours and everyone got along.

In the Army, there were all kinds of people from Iowa farmers to welders from Maine. In Africa and Italy, I met all kinds of people who were different from U. S. soldiers. Before I joined the Army in 1942, I had pretty much stayed fairly close to the Midwest and St. Louis. Those places were basically German and adventuresome folks had to look hard for something inspiring and interesting to do. St. Louisans were basically decent people but they often concentrated on church, family and children. Most creative endeavors were frowned upon. When the St. Louis Cardinals were winning pennants, many St. Louisans deplored their playing baseball on Sundays. So turning me loose in Greenwich Village was a liberating move.

When I first came to New York in 1948 or 1949, going to the Village had a mystical ring to it. It was not forbidden space but it might be compared to going to Harlem, many years later. It seemed to be an out-of-the way place with many nightclubs and saloons being entered after walking down a long stairway into what seemed like a cellar. But the fact is that nearly all the people were friendly and no one seemed inclined to cheat the customers. While I liked all of New York, I came to be genuinely fond of the Village. Let me introduce you to a few people who worked in the Village and who became my friends as time went on.

When I came back to New York on a permanent assignment in 1955, I stayed at the Grosvenor Hotel on Fifth Avenue and either Ninth or Tenth Streets. When I started to work on my first day on the labor relations job, I noticed several taxis in front of the Grosvenor. I was going to walk to 32 Sixth Avenue, a distance of about 1.5 miles, so I did not need a cab. The next morning, the same thing happened. When this old country boy asked the doorman why he had so many taxicabs lined up, he told me they weren’t there for walkers like me, but were intended to take school children, who lived full time in the Grosvenor, to school. The doorman said there were some good public schools in the Village, but these children were attending private schools so they rode in taxicabs. I was impressed and astounded. The more I thought about it, the more I said, “Why not?” But I did think that if I ever drove up to the Forsyth Grade School in Clayton, Missouri in 1930 in a taxicab, I probably would have been declared insane. But going to school in a taxicab – what class!

When I came to New York permanently, I was making the princely sum of $750 per month. My pay was the product of the Killingsworth-Marsh effort to minimize salaries. Killingsworth was the President of Long Lines and Marsh was his Personnel Vice President. On the other hand my boss, Dick Dugan, knew what was going on and told me that I should not be cutting corners on food and other living expenses while staying at the Grosvenor.

All of this led me to an older eating establishment on Washington Place between Sixth Avenue and MacDougal Street. It was the Coach House which I soon found out, offered absolutely the best black bean soup and corn sticks in all of New York or in the rest of the world, for that matter. I sat down to my first dinner in New York to a succulent hamburger. I still ate meat in those days, but it only cost $1.50 to $2.00 per serving – and it was delicious.

The owner of the Coach House was Leon Leonidis who learned his craft in Greece. He could bake and butcher and he could cook. Leon’s staff was exclusively black men except for the cashier, who was a black woman. The waiting staff at the Coach House made people feel at home and anticipated the wishes of its customers. Paul, the headwaiter, became a close friend. When foreign visitors came to New York, I almost always introduced them to the black bean soup and corn sticks at Leon’s establishment. But the Coach House had much more to offer than soup or corn sticks.

Some where in the mid 1980’s, Leon said he and Paul and the rest of the staff needed to have some time off. In point of fact, they closed the Coach House. I had been their customer for almost 30 years. When the Coach House closed, that was a lamentable day. I’m afraid we won’t see its likes again.

When in 1955, it was determined that bargaining sessions would no longer be held on company premises but rather, would be held in a hotel. The hotel selected was the Number One Fifth Avenue Hotel at the corner of 8th Street. You may recall from one of my earlier essays in the New York City series that Jack Marsh, the Personnel Vice President picked that hotel because it sounded expensive and it was his intent to break the union financially. Marsh did not realize that the union’s office was in the Village on University Place at about Ninth Street, so union representatives could stroll to the bargaining sessions with lots of time to admire the scenery.

The Number One Fifth Avenue had electrical problems which made air conditioning impossible to install anywhere above the first six or eight stories. On top of that, the hotel resisted installing self service elevators until the 1980’s. That meant operators for the two manual lifts for the daytime and evening shifts, which must have been an expensive operation.

Before bargaining began, the company team moved into the hotel and stayed there until bargaining was finished. This meant a stay of from six to eight weeks each time a contract was bargained.

The bar was air-conditioned while our rooms were not. Simply put, that meant we spent much of our waking hours in the Number One bar. It was a very hospitable place with John and Louis, the bartenders and Bob the cashier providing us with gossip and good camaraderie. The maitre’ d was Carlo. Carlo had an unpronounceable Italian name, so when he first went to work in Geneva, he saw a large electric sign advertising the casino at Monte Carlo. Carlo said that from that time on, he had people call him Carlo. He was a good man.

Bob the cashier, was for all intents and purposes paralyzed. Using a cane, the length of his step was about six inches. He could not bend over nor could he turn his head. Life had dealt old Bob a cruel, cruel blow but for the most part, he made the best of it. Bob wanted to be like other men. So one evening he saw me coming down to the lobby after his own bar had closed. He insisted that we ought to have a drink together. I said, “Absolutely.” Getting Bob into a cab was some experience. The same could be said for the two of us standing at a bar west of Sixth Avenue in the Village. But it was of great importance for Bob to view himself as a man rather than as a cripple. After we had a drink or two, I hailed a cab and the whole routine of getting him into his seat was repeated. I was glad that I could be part of Bob’s effort to view himself as a normal man. Old Bob went to work six days a week and put in a full eight-hour shift. He had my admiration – all of it.

The bartenders at Number One had some interest in opera. John and Louis were both born in Italy. Aside from their bartending duties, I used to ask both of them for translations of lines I had heard in opera. They often disagreed on the precise translation of a text but when I referred to “In Questa Tomba Oscura” from Beethoven’s opera Fidelio, they both agreed it translated to “In this dark tomb.”

John and Louis were good, hardworking men who never cheated a drunk who showed up at their bar. Somewhere along the line, John gave me an Italian quotation that has served me well for the past 48 years. John attributed this saying to his parents. It was that, “It is better to be alone than in the company of fools.” Sometimes it is also said that we should also avoid the company of pigs. I have heard variations about fools, and pigs, but it all boils down to the same equation.

The Number One bar has now been closed for a long time. John and Louis have disappeared, probably to other bar tending jobs. But I still remember that it is better to be alone than in the company of fools or pigs. Good advice.

After the sun went down, the Number One bar became a nightclub under the direction of a very bright gentleman named Bob Downey. Bob was an excellent piano player. His forte seemed to be in accompanying singers, mostly females. Downey cultivated newspaper people who wrote about entertainment. On Broadway, it must have become known that exposure at the Number One cabaret and bar would be beneficial to one’s career. So soon after the Broadway theaters closed for the night, at least one or two female singers would come by to give an unrehearsed recital. Bob Downey was always good to these aspiring actresses/singers. Obviously, they were using Bob for the publicity it would bring them. And that often happened. On the other hand, Bob was using the singers from new shows on Broadway to draw a crowd – and it succeeded in both directions.

There was an occasion when the musical “Irma La Douce” opened on Broadway. “Irma” is set in Pigalle in Paris and is not intended for viewing by Sunday-school attendees. For example, some of the characters are pimps and tarts – but very nice pimps and tarts. The show opened in New York in September, 1960 with an English woman, Elizabeth Deal, playing Irma and an Aussie, Keith Mitchell, playing the male lead. The show was a great success, but after appearing in Irma for perhaps two years, Elizabeth Seal wanted to leave to pursue other lead female roles. That set off an uproar with half a dozen actresses/singers showing up for Downey’s after theater performances in an effort to succeed Miss Seal.

My favorite was a French woman who laid on the top of Downey’s grand piano. The top luckily was down. Before long, she rolled on around the piano top to accentuate the French song she was singing. Old Downey knew he had a good thing going and told her American audiences in the Village were wild about her singing and would she please do an encore or two. Well, she emoted on top of Downey’s piano turning and rolling one way and then the other. The newspapermen gave her a big story and she was hired as one of Elizabeth Seal’s replacements. As long as Bob Downey played at the Number One cabaret and bar, he always seemed to have aspiring actresses/singers for his late night performances. But none gave out emotion as much as the lady who rolled all over Downey’s grand piano.

After a time, Bob Downey returned to his home port of Buffalo for family reasons. I visited him twice in Buffalo where he had an operation in a hotel much like the one he had at Number One. Aspiring singers must have been sorry to see Bob Downey leave the Village. I’m sorry to say that no one ever took his place. Bob was a fine musician and even he will admit that attractive singers rolling around on his piano top lent a lot to the music he was playing.

A few blocks west of the Number One Hotel was a place called Bianchi and Margherita Restaurant which said on its menu, that they served “Opera a la Carte.” The restaurant occupied premises on West Fourth Street between Sixth and Seventh Avenues. The food they served was basically Italian, and it was pretty good. But the point in going to Bianchi and Margherita was to hear singer’s performing selections from opera in an informal setting.

Bianchi and Margherita occupied ground floor premises in an old four or five story flat. There was a bar on the right as you entered and a piano was on the left opposite the bar. I started going there in the mid to late 1950’s when people smoked lots of tobacco. At the end of the bar, stood Bianchi who rang up sales on his cash register. He rarely left the cash register and showed little emotion in dealing with customers or with Margarita, whom I presume, may have been his wife. Bianchi was all business.

Margherita was a different story. When I knew her, she was in her late 60’s or early 70’s. But she was determined to be the femme fatale or the seductress. Perhaps 30 years earlier, she could have been all that but as her age advanced, her voice cracked and the evening dresses she wore made me feel sorry for her. She was a good sport who did not have a complete grasp of English after many years in this country.

Fred was the head bartender who made everyone feel at home. From time to time, Fred was assisted by a basso who could deliver a rousing rendition of “In Questa Tomba Oscuro” from Beethoven’s opera, Fidelio. Singing is a tough job. It may yield inspiring results to the singer, but most often, the singer had better find a job to pay the bills. I am sorry that’s the way things work in this country. As a result, lots of aspiring artists abandon their careers because they need a guaranteed income.

Several young people worked at Bianchi and Margherita’s in the evening while they sought singing engagements to further their careers. There was the Astoria Hotel on Broadway in the 70’s which catered to aspiring actors and singers. It was better than the YMCA, but not a great deal better. At least three of the waiters at Bianchi and Margherita’s stayed there. It is a sad sight to see someone reach the point where he or she faces reality and gives up the dream of succeeding in the theater or in a singing career. But people still come to New York in the hope that lightning will strike and they will become stars. Not many make it, but that doesn’t keep people from trying.

All that brings me to Joe D’Amico who often greeted people as they entered the door at Bianchi and Margarita’s, who served drinks and dinners and who sang in a robust baritone voice. I got to know Joe well. Aside from his singing at Bianchi and Margherita’s, Joe recorded three albums. He was a professional singer, but like so many others, he never had an opportunity to be a headliner on radio or television or in the big nightclubs in New York.

Joe was born in Rosiaria de Santa Fe in Argentina of Italian parents. He returned with them to Catania, Italy at age seven. Joe came to the United States at age 20. He performed with the London Opera Company in the Northeastern states of the U. S. After he was drafted, Joe won an All-Army Talent Contest. That meant a transfer to Special Services where he performed for troops in all sectors of Western Occupied Germany. I tell you all this to establish the point that Joe was a polished, professional performer. He was good looking and had a very pleasing personality, but in the end, Joe like millions of others never made it to the top rungs of professional success. So he stuck with Bianchi and Margherita hoping that one of the opera producers or show business people would discover him and send him on his way. He was a major talent that was unfortunately overlooked.

As 1977 approached, AT&T had moved its headquarters to various locations in New Jersey. By that time, I was spending much of my working hours in Europe and the Orient, so I was not around when Bianchi and Margherita’s gave up the ghost. Not long ago we went to West 4th Street and found where the cabaret-restaurant used to be. It is now a laundry and no one there remembers the pleasant nights at Bianchi and Margheritas.

After all these years, two thoughts still stick with me. As Joe D’Amico was preparing his third album, he told me with considerable excitement and pride in his voice, that he had musical arrangements for his newest album. It was no longer just Joe and a piano player and a guitar; for this one he had arrangements. I suppose that the album had to be plugged by people with contacts. Joe did not have many of those people. What a shame.

On another occasion, I found out where Joe’s mother lived in Rome. Through an arrangement with the Italian telephone authorities, I was able to get her number and to have a call set up for early evening. We had to use a phone booth near the men’s restroom because Bianchi would never permit his phone to be used for frivolous purposes. Joe did not know about the arrangement for his mother to call. When I sent him to pick up the phone, he did so with a sense of disbelief on his handsome face. After talking to his mother, Joe thanked me profusely.

I’m sorry to say that I no longer know where to find Joe D’Amico. He was a fine singer and a very good man.

The title of this essay is “A Picture on the Wall and Music in the House.” We’ve had quite a discussion of music with Bob Downey and Joe D’Amico. It’s time now for truth in titles, so we’ll talk a little bit about how I came to know a fine Russian artist and how I bought some of his works.

The title of this essay comes from an expression by Phillip Murray who was a power in American Labor circles. When the AFL (American Federation of Labor) joined with the CIO (Congress of Industrial Organizations) to form the AFL-CIO, it soon selected Phillip Murray, the former president of the CIO to head the combined union. In dealing with coal operators in his native Scotland, Murray told the bosses that the people in the pits didn’t aspire to great wealth. He said, “All we want is a decent place to live, with a rug on the floor, a picture on the wall and with some music in the house.” After two or three years in New York, I yearned to have an original oil painting to hang on my wall of our house. We had plenty of music in the house and a rug on the floor, but what we were missing was a painting.

Every year around Memorial Day and Labor Day, outdoor art festivals took place in Greenwich Village. The artists showed their paintings and sculptures on the east side of Sixth Avenue starting at about West 3rd Street extending up to Waverly Place. Often some art work would also be shown on MacDougal and Sullivan Streets and sometimes the artists would sneak their work into Washington Square Park.

The festival lasted about three weeks. Painters hung their works on fences and sat on folding chairs to answer questions and to drum up sales. When the festivals were in operation, I spent many lunch hours and early evening hours admiring the paintings.

I started examining the paintings in 1955 when AT&T was paying me a very modest sum. I couldn’t qualify for food stamps, but I had no money to waste. I looked at the paintings hanging on the fences and yearned to have a real painting as Murray would say, “To hang on my wall.” My mind was set on an impressionist street scene painting by Vladamir Lazarev which had a price tag of $300, as I remember it. With a growing family and a house to be bought, this was a major purchase. I saved for two years until I had enough for the Lazarev painting.

The painting is of a street in Monmartre in Paris. There is snow on the ground. It gives impressionistic artists great glee to paint snow scenes. Impressionistic paintings are meant to be viewed from 15 feet to 20 feet away. In close quarters, I found that lens manufacturers make a reverse magnifying glass which allows impressionistic paintings to be viewed from close range. Painters use such a device as they are painting their works.

Lazarev commandeered the fence on the east side of Sixth Avenue near Washington Place. Lazarev and his American born wife sat or walked near his work. Vladamir had limited English skills but even with Mrs. Lazarev absent, his vocabulary was sufficient to make me believe that he was a first class piece of work. When his wife was around, Vladamir let her do the talking, but she was a pleasant woman, so I enjoyed both of them.

Vladamir was a disciple of the famous French impressionist Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot. The painting I had lusted over was a Monmartre street scene. Lazarev clinched the sale when he pointed out houses owned by famous artists and singers. I don’t remember their names anymore, but Vladamir knew them all and their houses are in the painting.

As I got to know the Lazarevs, I enjoyed tutorials from them. Impressionist painters usually paint outdoor scenes. The Monmartre street scene with the snow was clearly in the impressionist tradition established by Camille Corot.

Lazarev was in his fifties when I met him in 1955. He came from Rostov-on-Don in the Crimean region of what we knew then as the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. When the World’s Fair was held here in 1939, one of its attractions was the Don Cossack Choir and Dancers. The choir and dancers made several appearances in New York theaters as well as in theaters across this country to earn capitalist dollars. Then they settled down to appear at the World’s Fair. Lazarev was a dancer with the Don Cossack Dancers. When the Fair was over, Lazarev defected to the United States. He supported himself by painting and by dancing at the Russian Tea Room located near Carnegie Hall.

I visited him a few times at his studio at 41 West 8th Street in the Village. Directly above his apartment was the roof of his building. He used it for a studio. Vladamir and his wife knew I didn’t have all the money in the world, but they spent time with me at lunchtime and after dark, explaining about painting and about dancing.

Now that I had one of Lazarev’s paintings, I began to lust for one he had painted of Don Quixote with Pancho. It is also an impressionist painting which borders on the dramatic side. AT&T was paying me a little better in the 1958–1960 period, so I made a pass at the Quixote painting. I found out that it had been sold. The Lazarevs knew I was disappointed, but Vladamir said, “I will do one for you and it will be better than the first one.” So he went up to his roof top studio and in two or three weeks, he told me to come get it. I think the price was around $350, but it was well worth it.

I went to Washington from 1966 through the summer of 1969. When I returned to New York, I found another Lazerev painting that appealed to me. That would have been in 1970 when Vladamir was somewhere beyond 65 years of age. And he was still dancing at the Russian Tea Room.

But good things come to an end. Whereas 8th Street formerly had small shops, landlords raised rents and forced the small merchants out. What had been a very nice, old fashioned jewelry store was replaced by an Orange Julius fruit drink stand. All along 8th Street, long time residents were forced to move because they could not pay the new higher rents. The Lazarevs were among its victims. He lost his studio. He continued dancing until he was nearing 70 when the Russian Tea Room was closed for an extended time for renovation. I am sorry to say that I lost track of the Lazarev’s after they were forced to move. He was a hard working man. Vladamir and his wife were very good to me when I was trying to feel my way in the art world.

The moral of this story about Greenwich Village is that good people come in all sizes and in all occupations. The Lazarev’s were good to me and I learned a bit about painting and dancing. Unfortunately, I can do neither. I hung around Leon Leonidis and his waiters at the Coach House and I’m sorry to say I can’t make black bean soup or cornsticks the way they used to do them.

At the Number One Fifth Avenue bar and cabaret, Bob Downey, the Maitre D’ Carlo, bartenders John and Louis and the cashier Bob were good men. I enjoyed all of them. A few blocks to the West was Bianchi and Margherita’s place with Fred, the bartender and my good friend Joe D’Amico and other artists.

In the telephone business, I certainly did not make enough money to rival the deal makers on Wall Street. That is quite alright. I made enough money to get along fairly well and my life was filled by music and art. In the long run, I am a happy man. I will soon be at the age where life insurance tables run out so I suppose I’d better find Joe D’Amico or Aldo Bruschi to play at my farewell appearance. Before I go, I will pick out the music for them. Voga E Va would be a good farewell song and Joe and Aldo know it well. And so do all the sopranos Aldo has trained since 1960.

July 3, 2002


If memory serves, the first painting mentioned in this essay now hangs in Austin, Texas in the company of my parents. I’ll have to grab a picture of it next time I’m home.

Judy was able to find the menu and the map that went along with this essay. Many thanks to her!


This is a story about eating. Specifically, it has to do with eating in old fashioned saloons. The eating I refer to took place in St. Louis which used to offer perhaps a dozen breweries and hundreds of saloons. It has nothing to do with heels on shoes or boots, although St. Louis was also renowned for its production of footwear. It is a given that you will remember the slogan about St. Louis: First in Shoes; First in Booze; and last in the American League. The last part of that slogan was an evaluation of the lowly St. Louis Browns, a major league baseball club that tried its best, but usually fell short.

Before we get to Eating Heels, you may wish to know a little about St. Louis and this old essayist who actually confronted and consumed those heels served by old fashioned saloons. I am quite resigned to the thought that you may consider my conduct in this essay in eating heels as plebeian and probably peasant-like. I accept that evaluation. Never have I denied that plebeian and peasantry definitions should apply to me. I sort of welcome those designations. I will call your attention to the fact that my only redemptive quality is that I drink only four to six bottles of beer per year. When St. Louis preachers occasionally sober up, I’m sure they will comment favorably on that abstemious fact.

It is fortunate that I was not born a Swede. Nearly every meal in Sweden seems to start with beer. When I was in Sweden, it was my pleasure to join with my good friend Sven Lernevall and other Swedes to down a glass of Tuborg. The Swedish Council of Churches (Lutheran) may well start nearly all their meals with beer. If so, my congratulations are offered. I will think about becoming a Swedish Lutheran as judgment day approaches.

As life worked out for me, my parents lived in Clayton, Missouri. Curiously, for the first eleven years of my life, the U. S. Government enforced Prohibition which meant that nearly all alcohol and alcoholic beverages were banned, which gave rise to bootlegging operations. Life for me started in Clayton and continued there to 1942 when an enlistment in the United States Army Air Corps intervened.

Clayton is a suburb which adjoins St. Louis on its western borders. Clayton was and is a wealthy town with the merchant and professional classes of St. Louis having many of their residences in Clayton. The school system was considered excellent under the direction of John Bracken, its superintendent. When the school system counted me on its rolls for nearly 12 years, the demographics of the grade and high school were pretty close to 55% Jewish. That was fine with me. It was generally believed that the parents in such a system would insist on excellence in the schools. And that’s what John Bracken delivered.

The fact that the town was wealthy and that the school system had ample funds made very little difference to me. From late 1929 when the Depression started, my father was often out of work through no fault of his own. For all of my high school years, it was usual for me to have an after school job, even if it was only babysitting or repairing flat tires at Schroth’s Flying Red Horse Mobil Gas Station. My recreation was often with boys from the County Orphan’s Home.

Growing up in this atmosphere did me a world of good. The value of a dollar was clear to me from the beginning. Working was a normal part of my life. Army life presented no problems when at age 19, it came into my life. And most importantly, my upbringing equipped me to deal with big folks and with the “little people”, as hotel queen Leona Helmsley once called them. The little people – the people who work in grocery stores, the people who pump my gas, the man who fixes my roof – are my friends to this day.

And this essay is about some more little people, namely the sandwich makers who worked in a saloon in downtown St. Louis.

St. Louis used to be a somewhat more important city than it is today. With more than 800,000 population, it ranked eighth among American cities in the 1940’s and 1950’s. The city today is somewhere around 400,000 in population. As people got older and gained more affluence, many of them moved to St. Louis County, a different jurisdiction. As a matter of direct honesty, there are neighborhoods that used to be thriving. Today, when driving through those same St. Louis neighborhoods, the car doors must be locked. Leaving as soon as possible becomes urgent. The top executives of Southwestern Bell Telephone Company erected a brand new headquarters building from which to guide their multi-state company. It was soon followed by their move to San Antonio, Texas. The new building was abandoned. The
St. Louis Post Dispatch which was a leading paper in the country in the 1930’s, 1940’s and into the ‘50’s, is seldom quoted these days. It has become a local paper printing AP dispatches instead of having correspondents on the scene. The St. Louis Cardinal baseball organization has not won a National League pennant since 1987 and seems content to muddle through while making enough money to satisfy the current owners. The symphony orchestra under the direction of Vladamir Golschmann, was one of America’s finest. It continued under Golschmann’s successor, Leonard Slatkin. But now, Slatkin has left for the Washington National Symphony. The Grand Opera Association is a thing of the past, I am afraid. I am sorry about all this. St. Louis could probably still be a top flight city. Right now, however, it has a long way to go.

Now we get to eating and drinking, which in St. Louis always seemed to go together. As I mentioned earlier, about a dozen beer breweries called St. Louis home. For a three or four year period, my wife and I rented a flat at 2916A Wyoming Avenue in nearby South St. Louis. The “A” in the address indicated that we lived on the second floor.

Within easy walking distance, there were three breweries in our neighborhood. There was Alpen Brau, Falstaff and Griesedeich, which distributed their beer to saloons, taverns, restaurants and liquor stores within a 100 mile radius of St. Louis. Nearby on Broadway, was the giant Budweiser plant. The breweries were very good neighbors. Their premises were kept spotlessly clean. And every day, they offered a tour of the plants ending up by offering as much free beer to the tourers as they needed.

My brother Earl, whose insurance debit included the brewery neighborhoods, shamelessly took the plant tours at lunch time and ate the beer company’s sandwiches and drank the breweries free beer on many occasions. Earl was acquainted with my thoughts about his shameless conduct. Even though I was 26 or 27 years old and a veteran of the big war, Earl who was 12 years my senior, dismissed my thoughts as the mumblings of a kid brother. He simply kept up his shameless tours of the beer plants for several more years.

At this point, I feel obliged to state my opinion on beer. If someone else drinks it, that is fine with me. But I personally consume only four to six bottles – per year. This has nothing to do with a health problem nor is it the result of some religious proscription. About once each quarter when my wife, Miss Chicka, offers a dish for dinner that seems made for beer, we drink a bottle of beer.

This is not a late blooming reaction on my part. During the war years, it was often my lot to serve on British bases. Some were on the Adriatic side of Italy and others were found through the many possessions that Great Britain held in Africa and the Middle East. The Brits have a reasonable attitude toward alcohol on their bases. They permit it to be rationed and sold by their military system called NAAFTI – which is Navy, Army, Air Force Trade Institute. On American bases, alcohol is almost always forbidden which means that soldiers who are stationed near a town, will often get drunk when they have a leave or a pass to leave the base. By all means, the Brits are many kilometers ahead of the United States Military in the field of alcoholic consumption.

Overseas, upon being paid by the Quartermaster, the soldier would also receive his monthly ration card for beer at the NAAFTI store. In every case, my ration card was given to other U. S. soldiers. For the last six or seven months in the Gold Coast, now Ghana, my bunk was located on top of a bunk occupied by another sergeant named Sylvester Liss. In civilian life, he was a worker at the giant Budweiser plant in St. Louis. Because I had enlisted, my serial number began with a “one”. 17077613. So I was paid first. Liss had been drafted and his serial number began with a “three” and he was paid after all the enlisters had been paid. On pay day, old Sylvester became my shadow. He wanted no other soldier to claim my beer ration card.

Maybe I am making a bigger deal out of my consumption of beer than it deserves. The point I want to make is that I absolutely do not oppose drinking beer. It just doesn’t cause me to perform handstands at the thought of beer. In the St. Louis that I grew up in with a dozen breweries and hundreds of saloons, my casual attitude toward beer was probably considered un-American at the least and probably bordering on Communist treason. But those thoughts did not make me a beer lover.

Two more pertinent thoughts. During Prohibition, starting in 1920, my Aunt Nora made home brew that, to my underdeveloped taste buds, was nothing short of absolutely repulsive. She also cooked ducks and geese. To this day, I don’t eat foul of any kind. I don’t blame it on Aunt Nora; there have been many years when I could have developed a taste for American, or European or Japanese beers. It just did not happen.

The second point is that all those smaller breweries in St. Louis are now seemingly out of business. What is left is the giant Budweiser plant which is more giant than ever. Earl is gone now. I hope the Anheiser-Busch people miss him for the tours and the free lunches.

All of this foreplay about breweries is to set the stage for Eating Heels. Before the First World War, I am told that nearly every top flight saloon had a free lunch counter. The food costs were often underwritten by the breweries in exchange for the saloon owner making a favorable remark to his customers about the brewery. By the time I started to work in downtown St. Louis in 1941, the free lunch counter was just a memory. In its place, saloon keepers sold generous sandwiches on freshly baked bread with lots of side orders such as potato salad also being offered at reasonable prices. By the time I showed up after the war, there was no compulsion to drink beer or any other alcoholic beverage with the sandwiches.

That sat well with young people like me. Working for AT&T after the War, there simply was not enough room in the budget to indulge in a beer with lunch. On top of that, the management of AT&T would have frowned on anyone coming back from lunch with beer on his breath. So it was coffee or cokes or some other non-alcoholic beverage every day for lunch.

Following the end of World War II, the men on military leaves began to return to work in St. Louis. I was among the first to be discharged because my discharge point total was almost twice the prescribed total, and most importantly, I was not on a foreign assignment. So on about November 10, 1945, I reported back to work in the St. Louis Plant Division of AT&T. By Christmas, my old pal Lloyd Rockamann, who had also been in the Italian campaign, came back. Before long after that, Gordon Gintz and Tom Laflin started to work. They were also veterans.

One way or another, the four of us found each other at the one hour lunch period. For a time, we didn’t know where we should eat because so much had changed during the war. Lloyd and I missed the four AT&T men, Ashby Vaughn, Bernie Wheeler, Dave Weiss and Don Meier, who had been killed. I suggested a cafeteria recommended by my wife at the time. It was greatly favored by the women in the office. That was my downfall.

The cafeteria was Miss Hulling’s. It served pretty good food and everyone was very polite. The Miss Hulling’s staff tolerated no boisterous conduct of any kind. It was run, it seemed to me, on New England Puritan standards of conduct. The food was nutritious and the serving sizes would cause no one to deal with obesity. Miss Hulling’s ran a sterile cafeteria.

Before long, my other luncheon companions made it obvious that we ought to go to a place that permitted more relaxed eating. All of my companions had served overseas in the military and when they could get a meal, it was often consumed standing up. Perhaps when it was consumed, it was accompanied by raucous words and gestures. That sort of conduct would be proper in the Army, but would not be tolerated in the prim confines of Miss Hulling’s Cafeteria.

My recommendation of Miss Hulling’s cost me dearly. When the four of us were considering where to find another place to eat lunch, the other three men ignored me. It was absolutely clear that prim eating establishments were not to be considered and I was not to have the chance to recommend one. That was fine with me as I thought Miss Hulling’s place was largely for elderly, female members of the clergy.

So the four of us began to eat in saloons, of which, there were hundreds in downtown St. Louis in 1945 and 1946. Before long we more or less settled on a non-descript place on 11th Street two or three blocks north of our office. It had some saw dust on the floor, but the janitor swept the place fairly often. On the floor in front of the long bar, were spittoons. Few people chewed tobacco anymore, but cigar smokers needed the spittoons.

At the end of the bar, there was a station where a man made sandwiches. A second man offered potato salad and coleslaw and helped make sandwiches when the first man fell behind. The customer would walk up to the sandwich maker and place his order. There were no women as I recall it. The second man would ask if side orders were desired. I have forgotten who got paid, but someone took our money and then we went to the bar to order our beverages. It was absolutely unheard of, at that time, to ask for a dessert of any kind. That would be tantamount to standing up in Miss Hulling’s Cafeteria and shouting an obscenity. Do I make myself clear – there were no desserts. If that was on your mind, you should have gone to one of the many Busy Bee Bakeries and Soda Fountain places that could be found all over St. Louis. You go to a saloon to eat serious food without any frills.

Soon, the four of us became friendly with the two sandwich makers who were also veterans. When I was a young child, my mother baked bread on Mondays in the winter when she could put the dough on the furnace heat pipes to make it rise. When I got home from school, she offered me first crack at the newly baked bread. None of my siblings, who were at work, had come home yet. Always – always it was my desire to eat the end of the bread – called the heel. If my mother had permitted it, I would have eaten the other heel as well.

The heels are more tasty and probably, more nutritious. They have staying power. In my mind, heels are what bread is all about.

As we got to know the sandwich men at the saloon better, I asked them what they did with the heels of the sandwich bread. I could see that they were in a pile at the end of the sandwich station. They told me that the heels were to be thrown away. That included white heels, rye heels and whole wheat heels. At that early point, no one in St. Louis had ever heard of sourdough. Most of the sandwiches were served almost exclusively on white, rye or whole wheat bread.

So I said to the first sandwich man, “Would you make my sandwich with a heel, please?” He asked me to repeat what I said and again, he was asked the same question. Well, the sandwich man cleared his throat and said he would get fired if he put a heel on a customer’s sandwich. So this was very serious business.

I pointed out to the sandwich man that he said the heels were to be thrown away so it made economic sense to offer one or two to me on my sandwich. He said he agreed with my instant economic analysis, but the bottom line was he would be fired if he made a sandwich with a heel. At this point, it appeared to me that an even greater economic incentive would apply if I asked that two heels be used for my sandwich. The sandwich man must have thought that he would not only be fired, but instantly condemned to hell if he complied with my request for TWO heels. This required an appeal to the supreme authority who directed the fortunes of the saloon.

So, somewhere in this friendly colloquy, the owner of the saloon showed up. I explained that under the theory that the customer is always right, he should be glad to offer heels to sandwich customers. I believe my argument was clinched when I rolled out my economic analysis. The owner of the saloon would have to pay to have the heel output hauled away each day. The saloon owner at that point, told the sandwich man that his proscription against heels on sandwiches was hereby lifted. When a customer asked or demanded that one or two heels be used for his sandwich, the sandwich maker was to happily comply. I felt vindicated.

While all of these discussions with the sandwich men and the owner were taking place, the other three men in our group were offering gratuitous comments and insults, and making raucous noises as my absolutely convincing points were made. When I sat down with them, the good natured razzing continued. So every day we ate at the saloon, my sandwiches were made with two heels. Clearly, they were the best sandwiches in St. Louis!

After a short period of time, Gordon Gintz and Tom Laflin got curious. One day, they ordered their sandwiches to be made using one heel. I said nothing as my hopes were to hold out until Lloyd Rockamann was converted. My argument with the one heel eaters was that if one heel made the sandwich better, it was obvious that two heels would improve it by another 50%. Finally, Lloyd Rockamann wanted to see what the enlightened eaters had discovered, so he agreed to try one heel on his sandwich.

For part of 1950, and from April to July in 1951, I was involved in wage negotiations for the Communications Workers of America in New York. So it was impossible for me to check on how the heel eating business was going. When I came back to St. Louis, I was quickly summoned by the General Manager, Vernon Bagnell, to the newly created AT&T Western Area offices in Kansas City. Bagnell offered me a management job that paid an atrocious salary of $475 per month. I took it because it might lead to better things, which it did.

When I told my luncheon companions about the job in Kansas City, they were genuinely happy for me. Naturally, nothing would do but to have lunch at the saloon two or three blocks north of the office. They insisted on paying for my lunch. What really impressed me, however, was that the former cynics each ordered their sandwiches with two heels. The sandwich men said that they were now offering heels and encouraging customers to try them. The owner of the saloon sat with us for awhile and said that such a sandwich innovator, a pioneer in eating, would be missed. Even without a drink, I believed him implicitly.

So I hope this little 50 plus year old story offers you strength to face the future and to eat some heels.

Post Script:
After the four of us ate lunch together, we began to socialize. When Lloyd Rockamann and Gordon Gintz were married, all of us had a part to play in the wedding activities. I hope it is obvious that we cared a lot for each other.

Lloyd Rockamann who was a Signal Corp Sergeant in combat in Italy, wound up in California. Tragically, he died from cancer around 1982 or 1983.

The last I heard of Tom Laflin, he was the Chief of a large AT&T installation in Hillsboro, Missouri. I have been unable to determine if Tom died because AT&T severely restricted the names of deceased employees. I hope Tom is alive and well. One way or another, my mind has led me to believe that Tom has cashed in his chips. I hope I am wrong on that point.

Gordon Gintz did not want to move from St. Louis. He transferred long ago to the Southwestern Bell Company. Several years ago, it came to my attention that he had been promoted to the title of Engineer. That was good news.

They were all good men and good friends. I wish them and their wives well.

I hope that this little essay conveys the thought that these were happy times at the end of World War II. The United States led the world’s democracies. All of the old GI’s who ate saloon lunches with me had, in one way or another, survived the war. At the same time, Lloyd Rockamann and I frequently remembered our four fellow employees who were killed during that war. If they had survived the War, they would have joined us for our saloon lunches.

We were not only alive, but we no longer had to deal with mess kits and the dubious food provided by the United States Army. That was an enormous plus.

These happy times at lunch and in our after hours socializing were often marked by good natured ribbing and insults. For example, at lunch, if one of us ordered any kind of sandwich, it would be a good bet that another old GI would say, “I hope you’re not going to eat that (obscenity)! Sometimes the old GI making sandwiches for the saloon would whisper, “Could you guys help me out? This meat loaf is getting mold on it.” That was probably his best offering for the day. Comments such as these would not have been welcomed in the prim and proper confines of Miss Hulling’s Cafeteria.

As I say, these were happy times. I am glad to commemorate them in an essay called, “Eating Heels.” The old time saloons may be gone, but this commemorative essay lives on.

June 23, 2003

Lagniappe is a French Cajun word which means providing something extra and/or something unexpected.

I am offering this epic poem by Gordon Gintz’s grandfather as lagniappe. When I met the grandfather in 1948, he was between 75 and 80 years of age. That age had not slowed down his wit or his desire to bond with other males regardless of age. When I met the poet laureate of South St. Louis, I was 26 years of age. The poem for the ages is called, “Hot Tamales.”

John and Molly went to the beach,
To enjoy some noontime frolics,
The sun was hot to John’s bare ass,
The sand was hot to Molly’s.

I last spoke go Gordon Gintz in 1951 when I was transferred to Kansas City. After a 52 year pause, I called the Gintz household in St. Louis last week. When I inquired of Dorothy, his wife, she told me that Gordon had died in 1996 of a heart attack at age 73. A year later, she lost her 45 year old son, also to a heart attack. I told Dorothy we would send this essay as well as some others with the thought that they may bring back a pleasant memory or two.

* A tamale is regarded as a food of Mexico, although I suspect that it is probably produced in many places in the U. S. It is ground meat seasoned with chili, rolled in corn meal dough; wrapped in corn husks and steamed. It has been many years since I heard anyone ask for a hot tamale, but there is the recipe, assuming that you will be entertaining the King and Queen of Mexico.

Man, the end of this one was a rollercoaster. A cheerful essay full of good memories, then a postscript, a lagniappe with a dirty poem, and a tamale recipe to boot. I never knew Pop liked bread heels. Maybe I should give ’em a try sometime.


In the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament, there are two biblical injunctions or commands to “make a joyful noise.” If you are skilled at reading Roman numerals, you can look them up yourself to make sure that I know what I am talking about. One comes from Psalms, Chapter LXVI, verse one and the second is from Psalms, Chapter C, verse one. In both cases, the command is to “make a joyful noise.”

I am not widely known for quoting the Old Testament – or the New Testament either – but in this case if you ate at Guido Bocciola’s L’Aiglon Restaurant or if you listened to Aldo Bruschi play the piano, the oboe, the accordion and to sing, I suspect that any rational man could not help himself but to make a joyful noise.

Guido’s restaurant was on 55th Street between Fifth Avenue and Madison Avenue. Aldo played at a club he owned with a partner, In Boboli, in the 70’s on the East Side. He had a studio in Brooklyn and he played engagements all over New York after he ended his association with In Boboli.

Over the years, I knew Guido quite a bit better than Aldo mainly because I ate lunch fairly often at L’Aiglon. Aldo, on the other hand, played engagements in the evening and ran a studio where he taught voice and the three instruments he had mastered, the piano, the oboe and the accordion. So I propose we talk first about Guido Bocciola and then we’ll finish with the musician, Aldo Bruschi.

In the 1950’s, contract bargaining with the union was a yearly affair. There were also grievances and work stoppages to be dealt with. AT&T Long Lines had 35,000 people in those days. I had the day-to-day responsibility to handle the labor problems for this force spread from Nova Scotia to California. So I was busy and I found myself working late and staying in New York City.

I’m not sure how it happened, but I became friendly with the owner of Nino’s 10 East which was located at 10 East 52nd Street in New York. Nino was a suave individual who spoke three or four European languages. But running a New York restaurant that serves lunch and dinner and also caters to the after-theater crowd is a load. It ages men before their time, so somewhere in his early 60’s, Nino closed his place and moved to L’Aiglon, a top flight restaurant on 55th Street East of Fifth Avenue. He became a partner to Guido Bocciola who had run L’Aiglon for perhaps 25 years. That took a load off both Nino and Guido. In a year or so, Nino retired and went to Florida.

My friendship with Guido lasted for the 25 years he stayed in the restaurant business after I knew him. After that we corresponded until his death somewhere around 1990. I knew Guido was gone when his wife, Aurora, sent the last Christmas card.

Guido became a friend to me much like Jake Haberfeld in Israel. Over the years when guests were to be entertained, I always took them to L’Aiglon. That name incidentally, means young eagle or eaglet. If the guests were foreign, Guido would produce a waiter, or a captain, a bartender or even one of the men from the kitchen so that the guest could be addressed in his native tongue. With the possible exception of Russian, Guido’s people spoke nearly every European language. Aside from language, Guido’s food was first class in every respect because the boss oversaw just about everything that was placed before you. In the European tradition, Guido could tend bar, he could butcher, he could cook and he asked his staff to be attentive to the whims of customers.

L’Aiglon had an all male staff with one exception. That would have been his one-person office staff, Helen Dowd. She was a completely charming woman. It always baffled me why she had never married, but she seemed content to be Guido’s Office Manager. Guido treated Helen with old world charm. I suspect she never had thoughts of leaving L’Aiglon.

Aside from the good food and fine spirits, I attempted to learn something about the Italian, Spanish and French languages at L’Aiglon. Guido taught me that two “C’s”, as in his surname of Bocciola, were pronounced as a “K”. From Jorge Alonso, the bartender, the lessons in Cuban Spanish were offered. And from Guido’s new partner after Nino re-retired, Roger Delacroix, I had someone to interpret the French language.

I knew Jorge Alonso, the bartender, the same length of time that I knew Guido and the rest of his staff. Jorge left Cuba along with two or three brothers shortly before Castro slammed the door shut. My belief is that the brothers were able to get their mother out of Cuba from the city of Camagüey. Old Jorge used to claim that the baseball team in Camagüey played better ball than the New York Giants before they ran away to San Francisco. Maybe so.

In those days, I drank Black and White scotch. The more fashionable scotch drinkers asked for Cutty Sark, but when I came into his bar, Jorge always had the Black and White bottle sitting on the counter. Jorge was a good and decent man. He stayed with Guido until Guido left the restaurant business.

There are dozens of memories flooding back as I recall Guido’s place. Two stick out. My younger daughter was attending the University of Toulouse in France. This was a one semester arrangement with Dartmouth University. She planned to spend her two week holiday in Italy and France. The plan was for her mother and me to meet her and to see the sights in Venice, Bologna, Turin, Milan and two or three French cities in the South of France. Guido asked me about my itinerary and I gave it to him thinking that I was just passing the time of day. In a week or so I saw Guido again. He gave me a list of hotels and restaurants in each town that was on our itinerary. In each city, he had called hoteliers and restaurateurs to make reservations or to say that we were coming and to be sure that the Italians and French treated us well. This was done on Trans-Atlantic phone lines which was not an inexpensive. When I tried to thank Guido, he said, “You give me your business so it is my time to give you my business.”

As it turned out, before the holiday ever happened, my daughter was hit on a sidewalk in Toulouse by a motorcycle. Both legs were broken and her holiday was out the window. It was quite a job to get her home. Air France gave her three coach seats so she could lie down. The flight from Toulouse went through Bordeaux. At that intermediate point, the French required all passengers to go through immigration before going on to Paris. When this very snobbish French official found that I was carrying three passports, for my daughter and her mother and myself, he demanded that the other two passengers appear before him. With the help of my pocket Random House French-English dictionary, I attempted to explain that our daughter had two broken legs and was in no condition to see the Grand Inquisitor.

There followed a standoff with the French official saying that I should speak better French. By that time, I was pretty steamed over this little tin pot dictator. When it became apparent that the flight was not departing on time, one of the pilots came to find out the cause. When he saw what was holding us up, he became more steamed than I was and dressed down the immigration official. All things being equal, it was a long day for our daughter to get her from Toulouse, to Bordeaux, to Paris, to New York and that final hour and a half ride to Short Hills. I am deeply indebted to the concern shown by Air France to my daughter and I greatly enjoyed the dressing down given by the pilot to the immigration dictator.

Two or three weeks after we got home, Guido set up a dinner for us which he cooked pretty much by himself. The highlight was the dessert which Guido said was his “specialty.” It was a memorable evening even with old Suzanne in two leg casts.

I was able to return a favor to Guido around 1975. John DeButts had become the CEO of AT&T. DeButts somehow got the idea that the company ought to leave its traditional home at 195 Broadway and move uptown to Madison Avenue between 55th and 56th streets. This was a dumb, dumb move. But nonetheless, enormous sums were spent to buy the property which was probably among the most expensive in New York City. Then buildings had to be demolished and this new Taj Mahal erected. The fact that IBM was moving into the next block might have figured into DeButts’s thinking. I repeat, it was a dumb, dumb move.

In acquiring the property which extended about halfway from Madison Avenue to Fifth Avenue, the land under Guido’s L’Aiglon was sold. By then, Guido had operated L’Aiglon for probably 30 years. He saw this as the death of L’Aiglon. The thought that his staff would lose their jobs preyed most on Guido’s mind. I was unaware that AT&T was acquiring the property for the Madison Avenue site. Not many people knew about it for fear of driving property prices higher and possibly causing one or more owners to refuse to sell their property until an exorbitant price was met.

So early on a December morning, I was in my office at #5 World Trade Center when I got a call from Guido. He was about as far down in the dumps as a man could get. Guido asked me if there was anything I could do to keep L’Aiglon from being demolished. Real estate deals had no place in my marketing efforts with foreign telephone administrations, but I told Guido I would do everything to try to find out what was going on.

My first call hit pay dirt. I called a low level AT&T Vice President with whom I had worked in Washington on AT&T’s lobbying effort. He had returned to New York and had an administrative job at 195 Broadway, the headquarters of AT&T. I had known this fellow for three or four years and I am sorry to say, we got along without much love being lost on either side. If I wanted to have a drink with someone, this fellow would be about the last to be called – and vice versa. I am also sorry that his name has vanished from my head. In any case, he said that a hush-hush group was shepherding the new building project and that its head man was Jack Bradley. So I thanked my informant and called Mr. Bradley. I expected to be told to get lost; that property acquisition is none of your business.

That’s not the way it happened at all. Jack turned out to be a fellow Midwesterner who seemed inclined to hear my story. So I put on my coat and walked the block or two to get from the World Trade Center to 195 Broadway. There was no formality about Jack. There were no secretaries saying that the boss would be out for awhile and could you come later. Old Jack provided a chair for me in his office and I spilled out my story. At the outset, I made certain that Jack understood I had no financial interest in L’Aiglon. I told Jack that Guido had been in business there on 55th Street for 30 years and with Christmas coming up, kicking him out seemed like a cruel blow.

Jack seemed sympathetic about everything. He also disclosed to me that if he worked it properly, perhaps the last piece of property to be demolished would be Guido’s place. His estimate was that if he could make things happen in the right way, it might take nearly three years for the wrecking crew to reach L’Aiglon. That was great news if it turned out to be true. So I said to Jack that I would have Guido come to his office the next day at 9AM to make his case.

I was torn between going with Guido or having him appear by himself. If I went with Guido, it might appear that I was intruding on a straight-forward proposition. I also knew that Guido could make a better case for his own interests than I could. Well, Guido was greatly pleased to receive my call. He promised – guaranteed – that he would be in Bradley’s office 15 minutes before 9AM. And he did just that.

Jack heard Guido out and at the end, he told Guido to go back to L’Aiglon and relax. Jack said that from now on, AT&T would be Guido’s new landlord.

Now a word about landlords. For all the years that L’Aiglon had been at its location on 55th Street, it had been a great task to get the landlord to fix anything. There were times when Guido simply paid to have the property repaired. That, of course, should have been the landlord’s responsibility. As soon as AT&T acquired the property, Jack sent inspectors to examine the L’Aiglon operation. They even asked Guido for his recommendations. Guido almost fell over in a dead faint to think that his new landlord was asking Guido for his thoughts. As soon as Jack had his list, he sent workmen to Guido’s place and fixed everything to Guido’s amazement and appreciation.

Jack was a man of his word. Guido was permitted to operate for a little more than three years and he was very happy with AT&T as his landlord. He didn’t need to do it, but Guido sponsored two lunches at LaCaravelle for Jack Bradley and myself. It was entirely like Guido to make certain that he showed his appreciation.

Not long after AT&T became L’Aiglon’s landlord, we had a gathering there of about 30 people which included some of my staff and some representatives from N. W. Ayer, our advertising agency. On all previous occasions when we had used Guido’s private room, he would come around – very unobtrusively – to ask if everything was being taken care of. On this night, Guido asked me for a little air time to make a short speech. So after the crowd quieted down, Guido said that when he called me on that December morning, three years ago, I had said that I would get back to him in three days time. I don’t remember that, but it could be with the secrecy that AT&T was using in its acquisition of property. Perhaps I thought it would take three days to penetrate the AT&T bureaucracy. In any case, Guido said instead of three days, I had gotten back to him in three hours. I appreciated Guido addressing the crowd on my behalf. The effectiveness of his remarks told me that sending Guido to see Jack Bradley alone was a good move because Guido was a very moving speaker. Guido was a first class friend. I am glad that he considered me a friend to him and to the staff at L’Aiglon.

When the L’Aiglon building was demolished, Guido and Roger Delacroix scouted around for another location. After two or three years, they settled on the site of the old Italian Pavilion on 55 Street just west of Fifth Avenue. Somehow lawyers for the owners of the original L’Aiglon property went to court to prevent that name being used at the new location. So Guido and Roger said they weren’t going to pay through the nose to keep the old name, so they simply called the restaurant by its original name, the Italian Pavilion. Guido retired probably around 1988 and the Italian Pavilion was replaced by a California style restaurant in about 1990. And so another restaurant bites the dust as landlords raise rents to get every drop of revenue out of their property.

When Guido retired for good, he had business cards printed with the following information:

When I retired, I had the cards reprinted under my name.

I said at the outset of this essay that Guido became a friend to me much like Jake Haberfeld in Israel. Jake was one of my most admired friends. Guido joins that class of friends.

Guido said that running a restaurant that served lunch, dinner, cocktail parties and after theater meals, he figured in his 30 years at L’Aiglon he had actually worked 80 years. I never argued with Guido because he had a mighty tough job which he performed with grace and dignity. I simply can’t offer any higher praise than that.

Now we turn to another great artist, Aldo Bruschi, also an Italian. During the day, Aldo ran a studio in Brooklyn where he taught voice, mainly sopranos, accordion, piano and oboe. That wasn’t enough to keep him busy, so in the evenings and on weekends, he performed in nightclubs and restaurants.

My recollection is that I first saw Aldo in the early part of the 1960’s when he played at a restaurant he co-owned with Arturo Sacco on the upper east side of Manhattan. It was called In Boboli after a garden in Florence. It was a lovely restaurant that served delicious food and offered one of the best musical ensembles around. The food was overseen by Aldo’s partner; the entertainment was under Aldo’s control.

Aldo’s ensemble played dance music, show tunes and quite a bit of Italian popular music and folk tunes. Several times he brought female student singers to perform with him so that they could become accustomed to nightclub conditions. In his studio, he said he always taught the aspiring sopranos and altos a Venetian folk song. On many occasions Aldo also sang that folk song, “Voga E Va.” The card he signed simply meant that I asked for that old folk song wherever Aldo or Aldo and his ensemble were playing.

In Boboli had a run of several years. With teaching all day and performing six nights a week, Aldo needed some rest. He elected to drop out of the co-ownership of In Boboli and performed on a somewhat less taxing schedule.

Aldo was a big man with a barrel chest. His voice was in the bass range. The songs he sang were quite moving. As far as his playing the piano, the oboe and the accordion, I thought he was a first class performer. But I suppose anyone who teaches those instruments all day long ought to be good. Aldo was.

I followed Aldo around Manhattan from time to time, where he was performing. I suppose I kept track of his career from the early sixties through the middle of the 1980’s. His music was always in good taste and well performed.

Along the way, he recorded two albums, “Alps to the Sea” and “Enchantment Italy”. Along with songs like Tramonto, L’Edera, Core’ N Grata and Domino, I was pleased to find on both recordings the old stand by, “Voga E Va.” For those of you who like translations, Tramonto means sunset. L’Edera means ivy and Core’ n Grata is ungrateful heart. Domino is about a card game and my all time favorite, Voga E Va is a Venetian folk song meaning row and go. That’s what the men do who take you for a ride in Venice.
In researching Aldo’s background, I was pleased to find that he was a graduate of The Julliard School of Music majoring in the oboe. He continued his musical studies at Columbia University. And if that is not enough, he married Isabelle Pasqualicchio who was also a Julliard graduate. Aldo recorded several of the songs that Isabelle composed including “Boboli” which was the name Aldo and his partner chose for their cabaret-restaurant. Aldo was a major talent.

A few years back, we found a person who converts phonograph records into CD’s. Phonograph records wear out and they sometimes break. With Aldo’s records being converted to CD’s, those problems are avoided and we can listen to Voga E Va as often as we like.

I’m sorry to say that we have fewer reasons to go to Manhattan these days, so it is now more than 16 years since I have seen Aldo. So Judy and I figured that it would be good to talk to Maestro Bruschi. Judy turned her computer loose and found a web site that gave us two Aldo Bruschi names in Brooklyn. The first number I called produced Aldo. What good fortune.

Aldo is still hard at work. He teaches seven or eight classes at a parochial school and conducts the choir at St. Patrick’s Church on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn. Obviously, Aldo hasn’t done much retiring.

When I reminded him of my devotion to Voga E Va, he said he still taught that song. He said Maria, his 20-year-old daughter, was at that moment taking a shower, but when she finished, they would call me back to sing that song to us about Venice. In a few minutes, Aldo and Maria called back and Maria delivered a beautiful rendition of Voga E Va accompanied by her father on the piano, who also joined in, singing the bass part. That made the day for two people here in New Jersey. I told Maria she speaks Italian in a classical fashion as taught by her father.

My dear friend from L’Aiglon, died about ten years ago. Aldo Bruschi, as you can see from these pages, is still going strong.

Aldo and Guido were hard working people who treated the people around them decently. In another essay, I will tell you why I had strong positive feelings for Italians before I first set foot in that country in 1943. These two men are the sort of people I had known in Missouri. The fact that they were engaged in two of my all time favorites of preparing gourmet food and fine music made dealing with them a great pleasure and a rewarding one at that.

And so as I said in opening this essay on two very good friends, the Book of Psalms in the Old Testament had it right. Guido Bocciola and Aldo Bruschi “made a joyful noise” for many years and for many people in New York City. They deserve a special place of honor in this series of essays devoted to New York, New York.

After all these years, it seems to me that great food and great music go together. Perhaps the writer of the Book of Psalms had Italian food and Italian music in mind as he wrote those verses. A joyful noise must have had Guido’s L’Aiglon and Aldo’s music in mind. Vive La Italia.

June 26, 2002


It’s becoming increasingly evident that this series is one of Pop’s strongest sets of essays, in my opinion. I really enjoy learning about the people and the relationships involved, and especially how they fit in with life events that I already knew about, like mom’s sidewalk run-in with a motorcycle. Fun fact, the French doctors tried to get her to stand on it again barely a week after the accident, causing the knee to re-break. If you break your leg in France, go somewhere else to have it fixed.

Courtesy of Judy: Voga E Va, by Aldo Bruschi

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I first became acquainted with jelly beans more than 80 years ago from a grocer in Brentwood, Missouri who served our family. His name was John Gualdoni, who kept a store where all of the merchandise was stacked on counters behind clerks’ heads. As each item was purchased, it was put on a counter in front of the patron. When all of the merchandise was in front of the clerk, he would put the totals near each other on a brown paper bag and then add them. This was in the days before there were such things as computers or adding machines.

I came to learn that Mr. Gualdoni kept two large jars, one of which contained jaw breakers and the other one contained jelly beans. Those were essentially the deserts that Mr. Gualdoni had to offer. And so it was that I began my love affair with jelly beans a long time ago.

A year or so ago, our drug store began to carry a line of jelly beans called Jelly Belly Beans. They are delicious and I give credit to the jelly bean industry. Shortly thereafter, a Whole Foods opened a large store in our neighborhood and provided jelly beans called “Jolly Beans.” Jolly Beans are not as delicious as Jelly Belly Beans but I find both of them very pleasant. Whole Foods concentrates on serving organic products. I have no idea whether Jolly Beans are an organic product, but they taste quite well and I am not interested in finding out whether they are organic or not.

In looking up the history of jelly beans, we are told by Mr. Google that their history goes back to biblical times where they were originally called “Turkish Delights.” I am forced to conclude that any product that has satisfied the taste buds of consumers for more than 2,000 years must be meritorious in all respects. If they have any deficiencies, I am unaware of them, and after 80 years of eating jelly beans, it is my intention not to stop at this point. I hope to be eating jelly beans when the undertaker comes to carry me away.

Now we turn to a totally unrelated subject. That is blue jeans, which have no relation whatsoever to jelly beans. While my love affair with jelly beans goes back to the mid 1920s, I came lately to the wearing of blue jeans. Perhaps it was a prejudice, in that I saw teenagers who had deliberately torn the knees of their blue jeans apart to expose that part of their bodies, which maybe was a sex symbol to other teenagers. For all the years that I worked around the house and cut the grass and climbed on the roof, I tended to wear what were known as “work pants” or old khakis. Then about ten years ago, my wife produced a pair of blue jeans which she had bought over the internet. In the years since that purchase, I have found that blue jeans are a very useful accessory to be worn when doing chores around the house. But they have a drawback or two that must be accounted for.

In the first place, blue jeans have no button or zipper on the rear pockets. Men usually place their wallets in their left rear pockets. When this is done, absent a button or a zipper to give them a permanence to that location, it is an open invitation for pickpockets to lift the wallet. It is for this reason that when I go to the grocery store I must use a shirt with a pocket in it to hold my wallet so that if I meet a pick pocket he will not be rewarded.

Blue jeans are cut in a fashion that requires the front pockets to be entered from the top rather than, as in regular trousers, from the side. In an ordinary pair of pants, change and bills can be retrieved from the front pockets even while seated. However when blue jeans are worn, it is necessary for the wearer to stand up while he retrieves bills and change from his front pockets.

These are minor inconveniences because blue jeans provide the wearer with long service. They are made of cotton which does not necessarily provide much warmth but their thickness seems to give comfort to those of us who wear them now and then.

Well, there you have my thoughts about jelly beans and blue jeans, which is a relief from thinking about what is happening in the stock market and the antics of politicians who are vying to provide us with buyouts, bailouts, and/or rescue packages. As in the case of jelly beans, which I said I would like to be eating until I am taken away by Ippolito, the undertaker, I hope that when that occasion happens he might find me in my well-worn blue jeans. Blue jeans may not be the best trousers in the world, but until something better comes along, I must say that blue jeans fill the bill quite adequately. I know that an essay about jelly beans and blue jeans will not alter the course of the world, but from time to time it is pleasant to think of the mundane in place of cosmic things.

December 7, 2008
Essay 353
Kevin’s commentary: Growing up both a) in the nineties and b) in Austin meant that unless I was wearing shorts, I was pretty much expected to be wearing blue jeans all the time. They were simply the default pants for kids in the 90s. I mention that I grew up in Austin because it is famous for being “low key” — you can wear blue jeans out to almost any restaurant, for instance, and nobody is going to be upset with you for not wearing sufficiently fancy clothing.

The only job I’ve ever had where blue jeans were not permitted in the office lasted only ten weeks. While the dress code wasn’t the reason I left, it was one of the earliest warning signs.


On many occasions, I am unable to recall what I had for dinner yesterday. I mark this short-term memory loss off to advancing age and interest in other topics of the day. While I am unable at times to recall yesterday’s dinner, I am often able to recall events and situations that took place more than 75 years ago. There is no nostalgia for yesterday’s dinner, but events of the last three-quarters of a century have a ring of nostalgia to them. And so it is that my mind has come to rest this week on three items that are to be put in one’s mouth. Naturally, this accounts for the title of this monumental piece. What I have in mind here are first, Jawbreakers, then Mr. Wrigley’s chewing gum, and finally the tonic called Geritol, which men of a certain of a certain age swallow to increase their vigor and sex appeal. So now we turn to Jawbreakers. A Jawbreaker was a piece of hard candy that was delivered as a ball. The ball of candy was probably an inch to an inch and a quarter in diameter. It may possibly have been even bigger than I have described but let’s let it stand at that. The Jawbreaker was not intended for eating but was intended to be sucked, much like a lozenge. The Jawbreaker was inserted in the mouth and was sent to the outside of the teeth on one side or the other, which resulted in a protruding line near the jawbone, and it was from this source that its name was derived. Jawbreakers were sold at convenience stores and small restaurants and were found in those locations in a large globe. When a coin was inserted and a little lever was pulled, one Jawbreaker would drop into a trough and would appear before the patron. My recollection is a little foggy at this moment, as I cannot remember whether Jawbreakers took a five-cent coin or a one-cent coin, but I am inclined to believe that it was five cents all the way. The Jawbreakers in the dispensing globe were colored either red or blue, which gives the colorful delight that was to follow after they were sucked. After a few minutes in the side of the jaw, the child would remove the Jawbreaker to admire the kaleidoscope of the different colors that his Jawbreaker now contained. As the Jawbreaker stayed in the jaw, it would diminish in size and would surprise the child by the sugary delight that flowed down his throat. I have no scientific data on this at this late date, but I believe that from beginning to end a normal Jawbreaker would take perhaps ten to twelve minutes to disappear entirely. Jawbreakers were very popular when I was a child who had no dependable source of income. But even today, I recall Jawbreakers with a sense of nostalgia. In passing, it should be observed that my father and my brother had broken jaws. My father’s jaw was broken by a crank in a rail car carrying clay. The crank got hung up and when it was released very suddenly, my father’s jaw was in the vicinity. My brother, on the other hand, in the Depression of the 1930s, was trying to make a dollar any way he could. He began to put punch cards in bars where patrons would punch out a rolled up sign that said “You lost” or that you might be paid 50 cents or a dollar from the bartender. Each punch of the punch board cost a quarter. My brother’s efforts took him to Kansas City, where he ran headlong into patrons of the Pendergast machine who struck my brother so hard for interfering in their territory that his jaw was broken. The treatment for a broken jaw is to wire the upper jaw and the lower jaw together so that food must be sucked in, after it is mashed, through the front teeth. At a very early age, I vowed that I would try to avoid broken jaws at all costs. So now that you know all about Jawbreakers and broken jaws, let us proceed to William Wrigley and the chewing gum that he offered to the American public for many years and still offers. Mr. Wrigley began to offer his chewing gum in the late 1880s, and sometime after the century had turned, the popularity of his chewing gum increased. For many years, starting with the Depression of the 1930s, Mr. Wrigley offered his gum in various flavors. There was Spearmint, Doublemint, and later there were little cubes called P.K.s. Apparently William Wrigley, the original owner, had a son whom he had named Phillip K. Wrigley, and this confection, which looked a lot like the Chiclets of today, was named after his son’s initials. For many years, it was believed that chewing gum, particularly Mr. Wrigley’s gum, would cover up the smell of nicotine on the breath and there were those who believed that chewing his gum would cover the smell of alcohol. My educated guess is that the chewing gum would perform neither of those tasks. Mr. Wrigley’s chewing gum, which was often carried by young men in their shirt pockets, reached such popularity that somewhere at the end of the 1930s, he was able to purchase the Chicago Cubs baseball club. The stadium that they play in is named Wrigley Field and remains so to this day. The ownership of the Cubs franchise was passed on to The Chicago Tribune Company. The Tribune Company has acquired many assets and has probably overextended itself and is now in trouble. It remains to be seen where the Cubs wind up. Chewing gum was an exercise in etiquette, and there were many gum chewers in the 1930s and ‘40s and ‘50s. If a person chewed gum with the mouth open, he was subject to great criticism. Beyond that, there were athletes and construction workers who chewed Mr. Wrigley’s gum to keep the mouth moistened and perhaps to kill the smell of nicotine. In those cases, when under stress, it was not unusual for a runner or a worker to swallow his gum. I suggest that the intestinal tract would not look kindly on gum swallowing. When the gum had been thoroughly chewed and had lost its flavor, there was also the problem of disposal. Theoretically, the gum chewer would have kept the wrapper that the gum came in, and would put the chewed gum in the wrapper to discard it. But that was rarely the case, as far as I can recall. The gum was often discarded in waste baskets and, unhappily, on the street. On many occasions, particularly after having my shoes shined, I would step on a piece of used chewing gum and would be looking for a putty knife to remove it. When the used gum was discarded in a waste basket, as in the ordinary office, I cannot imagine the cleaning person looking kindly upon this exercise, because the gum stuck to almost everything. But for many years, perhaps fifty or more, chewing gum was an exercise in American democracy. We chewed our gum and made Mr. Wrigley rich and famous. In my own case, I would like to believe that I never dropped my gum on the sidewalk where it could be stepped on by another citizen. But for the last fifty or sixty years, I cannot recall having purchased a package of Mr. Wrigley’s gum. Now as I try to disengage some used chewing gum from my newly shinned shoes, let us turn to a tonic that is also taken by the mouthful. Not long after the Second World War was finished, Geritol, a tonic, appeared on the market that was rumored to provide aging men with renewed vigor. This was before Viagra and the many steroids ever made any appearance at all. As men approached the far reaches of their life span, they often sought the help of a tonic that would miraculously boost their spirits and their vigor. The advertising for Geritol did nothing to discourage these views but in the final analysis, I am of the belief that Geritol was a fraud and provided nothing more than another mouthful of nostalgia. But the reputation of Geritol was legendary. Only four or five years ago, a famous essayist wrote these lines:

When one approaches the eighth decade of life, it becomes an article of faith with every newspaper reporter that in the case of any mishap, the lead sentence will pivot on the age of the oldster. If, for example, an 82 year old man parks his car, enters a drugstore and his car is hit while he is buying his Geritol, the lead sentence in any newspaper account will say, “The car of an 82 year old man was involved in a serious collision.” That is the way it is. My retirement from driving is meant to thwart such journalistic bombast.

As you can see, this well-known essayist deplores the fact that Geritol has disappeared from the market. He attributes his youthful appearance, wavy hair and zest for life to the regular ingestion of Geritol. Perhaps the Chinese drug manufacturers will soon have a tonic on the market that will cause the drug store cash registers to jingle and to give hope to American men. Well, there you have my thoughts on Jawbreakers, Wrigley’s chewing gum, and the magic tonic called Geritol. I am reasonably certain that reading this essay will not greatly increase the scientific knowledge that researchers look for. But that was not the point in the beginning. The point was that this old essayist had a feeling of nostalgia in his heart for Jawbreakers, chewing gum, and Geritol. Those three items constitute a reasonable subject for nostalgia for all kinds. And so in this essay I am not devoted to scientific pursuits but rather to mouthfuls of nostalgia. E. E. CARR May 26, 2008 Essay 316 MOUTHFULS OF NOSTALGIA EXTRA!!! Newark Star Ledger, Tuesday June 17, 2008 mothfulls of nostalgia



Kevin’s commentary: That gum machine looks like something that would be deeply satisfying to use. Same as a pressure washer. I’m rather glad that gum has not gone the way of Geritol; unlike Pop I still buy chewing gum regularly. Perhaps I should send him a pack, if he’d be so kind as to let me know which flavor he preferred. I feel like the jawbreakers’ colorful appeal would probably be lost on him at this point, so those are out. The part about the machines made me think — gumballs are one of the only things that haven’t undergone any sort of price change since I was a kid. They were 25c when I was twelve, and they’re 25c now. The machine is limited by the fact that nobody carries around dollar or half-dollar coins, so 25 cents is about as expensive as it can be. But inflation charges on. So what is to become of the gum machines? At some point before too too long they will cease being profitable for the establishments which house them. I guess you could just start to fit them with credit card readers; absurd solutions are sometimes the best ones.


The title of this essay is lifted from the lyrics of a duet sung by Chita Rivera (Thelma) and Mary McCarty (Matron Mamma) in the original 1975 Broadway production of Kandor and Ebb’s musical, “Chicago.” (See attached lyrics.) It ran on Broadway for 936 performances. After an absence of perhaps twenty years, it was revived and the revival lasted at least five more years. Clearly, “Chicago” was a superior musical.

The “class” that the actresses are singing about has nothing to do with race or wealth. It has to do with those who distinguish themselves by classy acts rather than those who engage in deplorable conduct. For example, Elizabeth Edwards, the wife of former Senator John Edwards, is battling cancer and she is clearly a class act. Ann Coulter, Hillary and Bill Clinton are something less than a class act. Thomas Jefferson was a class act, particularly when he is compared to the current resident of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Joe DiMaggio was a class act, as compared with Roger Clemens, the man who says that he does not remember taking growth hormones. I hope these examples make it clear about the class that is referred to by this song from “Chicago.”

There are three or four testosterone-laden politicians who might demonstrate the antithesis of class. Let us start with the former Governor of New York, Eliot Spitzer. When Mr. Spitzer hired a prostitute from the Emperor’s Club and paid her several thousand dollars, that was an act of class. He didn’t pick up a woman off the streets and pay her $20 or less. No, Mr. Spitzer went first class.

In his final encounter with the denizens of the Emperor’s Club, he engaged a room at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington. When I worked in Washington during the 1960s, the Mayflower on Connecticut Avenue was in its dotage. It was a hotel for older, genteel people, and was past its prime. In recent years, the Mayflower has been refurbished and the rooms there start at about $400 per night. At least that is what Mr. Spitzer paid for the room that he enjoyed. Mr. Spitzer also told his ladyfriend Kristen that she could help herself to the mini bar or she could call room service. Again that was a class act. When the whole affair with the Emperor’s Club was brought into the spotlight, Mr. Spitzer promptly resigned. Another act of class.

Then Eliot Spitzer had to face his wife and his three daughters. May I say that there is no way that a man in Spitzer’s position can act with class when confronted with the need to make amends to his wife and children. Spitzer did the best he could. But in the end, the two years of his governorship of New York will be regarded as anything but a class act.

Now that we have dealt with the miseries of Eliot Spitzer, it is time for us to move to his successor. In New York state there is a Lieutenant Governor who succeeds the Governor when a resignation occurs. In this case, the gentleman who succeeded Spitzer is a legally blind man named David A. Paterson, who has spent many years working his way up the ladder in the New York State legislature. When Mr. Paterson was introduced to the legislature, he demonstrated a ready wit and was rewarded with a standing ovation from the senators and representatives of New York State. So far, so good.

But then came the naked truth about his conduct. According to Mr. Paterson’s own testimony, there was an estrangement in his marriage to Mrs. Paterson a few years ago. During that estrangement, Mr. Paterson bedded down with a wide assortment of ladies who constitute the higher strata of the female gender. Some of the women who shared a bed with Mr. Paterson were state employees, who might endanger Mr. Paterson if he sought higher office. This is neither here nor there, but during the estrangement, Mrs. Paterson had affairs of her own. But with respect to the new governor, perhaps he should be saluted for his accomplishments in bed even though he is legally blind.

But this is a story about class. According to the new governor, David Paterson, he invariably took the women who supplied him with the ultimate in friendship to the Days Inn Motel on the west side of Harlem in Manhattan. Days Inn is a chain of motels that are the successors to tourist cabins on obscure highways that served the meandering males of perhaps forty or fifty years ago. I can assure you that the room rate at Days Inn is nowhere near the $400 that Eliot Spitzer paid in Washington. At the most, I suspect that Governor Paterson probably spent $100 to $150 to provide a room for himself and his good friends.

Going to a Days Inn is not an act of class by any stretch of the imagination. It is something like going to a cafeteria as distinguished from dining at The Four Seasons Restaurant. The French have a word for this conduct. It is déclassé. Translated, the word means no class at all. But aside from engaging all of his paramours in the Days Inn, the marriage counselor who brought the Patersons back together recommended that he take his newly rejuvenated wife back to the scene of his trysts. Whether this was an act of class remains to be seen.

It also turns out that Governor Paterson used a credit card belonging to his campaign fund to pay the hotel bill for himself and his paramours. Simply put, Governor Paterson paid for his love-making using the contributions that were intended for his re-election. By doing so, Governor Paterson distinguished himself as a man of no class at all. Belatedly, he has repaid these hotel expenses to his campaign.

Now we come to the former governor of New Jersey known as James E. McGreevy. Apparently when McGreevy was the Mayor of Woodbridge, New Jersey, before he became governor, there was a time when he was furnished with a chauffeur, a benefit largely unenjoyed by the mayors of all of the other towns in this state. But according to McGreevy’s own book and according to the chauffeur himself, he drove the Mayor of Woodbridge to his important appointments.

Now this is where the taffy gets sticky and will soon wind up in somebody’s brush mustache. The chauffeur has told the press that he was one third of a ménage à trois. The other two thirds of the ménage à trois were supplied by Mrs. McGreevy and by the Mayor himself. According to the chauffeur, when the three of them got together they had what they called “a Friday night special.” The account given to the newspapers is fairly graphic. Significantly, it has been confirmed by none other than the former Mayor of Woodbridge and the former Governor of New Jersey, James E. McGreevy. The “Friday night specials” involved the chauffeur making love to Mrs. McGreevy while the Mayor looked on. Mrs. McGreevy denies any such activity but we have the testimony of the chauffeur and the former mayor and governor. So, please take your pick.

The significant point in this essay is that following the Friday night specials, or perhaps even preceding them, the three of them fed themselves at a chain called T.G.I.Friday’s, which I believe means thank goodness it’s Friday. The T.G.I. Friday’s eateries are one step above a Salvation Army handout. In retrospect, perhaps I am not being fair to the Salvation Army.

To think that the Mayor of Woodbridge and the future governor of New Jersey would celebrate the end of the work week by repairing to a low-class eatery like T.G.I. Friday’s is an act of no class at all. The love-making part of this sordid tale is one thing which draws no comment from this old essayist. However, repairing to the T.G.I. Friday’s eateries is an act of no class whatsoever.

Now if you wed the conduct of Governor Paterson and the Mayor of Woodbridge, it might say that Governor Paterson went from his Days Inn room to a feast at the T.G.I. Friday’s establishment. But even I, a grizzled old observer of human conduct, cannot believe that a man who rents a room at Days Inn would compound the mistake by taking his paramours to the T.G.I. Friday’s eateries.

Well, there you have my thoughts on former Governor Spitzer as well as the former governor of New Jersey, Mr. McGreevy and the current governor of New York, Mr. Paterson. Now let us turn to the current governor of this glorious state. It seems that love-making is in the air in New Jersey and New York.

When McGreevy resigned from the governorship of New Jersey, he was succeeded by the President of the New Jersey Senate, named Richard Codey. For two years, Mr. Codey guided the state and was very popular. But then along came Jon Corzine with wheelbarrows full of cash and pushed Mr. Codey back to the Senate. As soon as Mr. Corzine took over the governorship, it developed that he was having a long-standing affair with a woman named Katz, who was also the chairman of the union committee that negotiated with the State. In other words, Corzine was making love to his union counterpart, from whom he was expected to get the best possible terms for the new labor agreement. When the Corzine/Katz affair ended, Governor Corzine, in an act of class, paid off a $450,000 note on Mrs. Katz’s real estate holdings and it seems that he also agreed to pay tuition for her children. Whether this was a classy act or not, I will leave it for my readers to decide.

Jon Corzine clearly muscled Richard Codey out of the governorship because he believed that the governorship of a state like New Jersey could propel him to the Democratic nomination for President of the United States. But that was not in the cards. In the meantime, Mr. Corzine suffered a terrible automobile accident and now finds himself faced by a $4 billion deficit in the budget of this great state. I would say that Corzine has not had a day’s luck since he decided to leave the U. S. Senate and push Codey aside.

Well, so much for the sordid affairs of the governors of New York and New Jersey. With their non-class acts in mind, I almost called this essay “Jesus Christ, Ain’t There No Decency Left?” another line from the same duet. I hope I have made my point that there are, in this world, class acts and some that fall far short of being classy.

For my own part, I have nothing but the highest regard for the City of Chicago, where I worked for two years, and for Kandor and Ebb’s musical named after the largest settlement in the State of Illinois. My belief is that Chicagoans are generous to a fault, particularly when a two-and-a-half-month old baby girl was adopted by this old essayist. Chicago also distinguishes itself as a class act when it does not interfere with somebody else’s enjoyment. That is your business, not anyone else’s. Again, there are four lines from a little song sung by a character in “Chicago” named Roxie. The lines read like this:

“You can like the life you’re living,
You can live the life you like.
You can even marry Harry
And fool around with Ike.”

Chicagoans would giggle at the thought that somebody was fooling around with Ike and they would consider it only the business of the participants. They would not pass a law barring fooling around. Chicagoans tend to their own business and have no desire to infringe upon the rights of others. In the final analysis, the Broadway play, “Chicago” is an earthy, broad-shouldered production which matches entirely my view of that great city. The play and the city are complete class acts.

Now as for the principal characters in this essay, I have absolutely no intent whatsoever of piling on Eliot Spitzer. When it comes to straightening out his family matters, I wish him well. As for Governor Paterson, I sincerely hope that he moves from the Days Inn to a hotel or motel that offers room service. James E. McGreevy is locked into a miserable battle with his former wife over the custody of their child. The battle has become prolonged and if I may say so, it is not a class act at all. Mrs. McGreevy wants every last speck from her former husband’s bones. When their daughter in future years reviews the events between her parents, she will probably say, “Ain’t there no decency left?”

And so I leave you with the thought that a visit to Chicago might improve everyone’s outlook on life, and if you have an opportunity to see Kandor and Ebb’s “Chicago,” I am certain that you will enjoy it immensely. And if you should fall in love with the Chicago Cubs, I will do my best to understand that situation. My old friend James Reese, formerly of Chicago, loves the Cubs and he is a class act. So rooting for the Cubs is a respectable endeavor.

March 31, 2008
Essay 302

Commentary: Contrary to Pop’s opinion, I think it makes a big difference whether the mayor of Woodbridge ate at TGI Friday’s before or after his weekly cuckoldings. If it was before, that’s really icky and lecherous, like the awful $14 hamburgers and weird novelty drinks were part of some twisted routine of foreplay. But if it was after, that seems okay. They all just wanted to unwind after an exciting night.

Lyrics to “WHATEVER HAPPENED TO CLASS” from Chicago
Whatever happened to fair dealing?
And pure ethics
And nice manners?
Why is it everyone now is a pain in the ass?
Whatever happened to class?
Whatever happened to, “Please, may I?”
And, “Yes, thank you?”
And, “How charming?”
Now, every son of a bitch is a snake in the grass
Whatever happened to class?
Ah, there ain’t no gentlemen
To open up the doors
There ain’t no ladies now,
There’s only pigs and whores
And even kids’ll knock ya down
So’s they can pass
Nobody’s got no class!
Whatever happened to old values?
And fine morals?
And good breeding?
Now, no one even says “oops” when they’re
Passing their gas
Whatever happened to class?
Ah, there ain’t no gentlemen
That’s fit for any use
And any girl’d touch your privates
For a deuce
And even kids’ll kick your shins and give you sass
And even kids’ll kick your shins and give you sass
Nobody’s got no class!
All you read about today is rape and theft
Jesus Christ, ain’t there no decency left?
Nobody’s got no class!
Every guy is a snut
Every girl is a twat
Holy shit
Holy shit
What a shame
What a shame
What became of class?


What I am really describing here is a job opportunity for men who are burdened with the loss of eyesight that afflicts me. In this short essay I will try to tell you why this is a golden opportunity for men such as myself.

Guido Bocciola operated a very fashionable restaurant in New York on 55th Street between Madison and Fifth Avenue. The restaurant was called L’Aiglon, which means, I believe, a young eagle. While escargot and caviar and other such delicacies appeared on the menu at L’Aiglon, roast eagle was never among the offerings. But, nonetheless, it was a very fashionable place that served excellent cuisine and had a much bigger luncheon business than it had for dinner.

Early in my essay writing career, I did a series of 12 essays about people I had known in New York City. One of them was Guido Bocciola. Those of you who had anything to do with AT&T may remember “deButts’ Folly”. In that instance when John deButts became Chairman of the Board of the AT&T Company, he foolishly decided that he wanted to move the headquarters from 195 Broadway uptown to the corner of Madison Avenue and 55th Street. The building that deButts proposed was enormous. About halfway between Madison Avenue and Fifth was the location of Guido’s restaurant. Before deButts’s folly could be completed, it would be necessary to destroy Guido’s operation. You may also recall that after a painstaking search, I located the man in charge of the construction and went to see him. He was an AT&T employee from the Midwest, as I am. He was a very pleasant fellow who said that he would welcome Guido if he came to see him. The appointment was set for 9 AM the next morning. In that meeting, Guido and the AT&T man in charge of knocking down buildings came to an agreement that permitted Guido’s restaurant to remain in operation for three more years. On top of that, AT&T agreed to take care of deficiencies in the building that the previous owner had declined to perform. Guido thought that AT&T as a landlord was truly heaven-sent.

In my jobs as Marketing Director and then as Director of Correspondent Relations, it was necessary and appropriate for me to bring guests to lunch. Almost invariably, I would select L’Aiglon as the place to go.

L’Aiglon had paintings on the wall and there were deep carpets on the floor. It was Guido’s custom to welcome each guest and, after the luncheon was completed, to bid that guest goodbye. Guido was impeccably dressed for the sixteen or seventeen hours that being owner of a restaurant requires. He was courteous to a fault.

Guido was a native of Milan, Italy. It was his contention that the Milanese were the most hospitable people in Italy. I found no reason to argue with that point of view.

For example, when my younger daughter was hit by a motorcycle near Toulouse, France, we retrieved her and brought her home. Shortly after our arrival at home, Guido asked us to come in to his place for dinner. Guido oversaw the serving of each meal and he himself prepared us a desert which he called his spécialité.

One of the reasons that I took my foreign guests to Guido’s restaurant was that the employees there had non-traditional backgrounds. Some spoke Spanish, some spoke Portuguese, many spoke French, and there might have been another language or two which do not come to mind at this particular moment. But the point is that my guests could have a discussion in their own native tongues. I enjoyed the repartee and my belief is that in so doing, I learned a lot from my guests and Guido’s waiters.

When luncheon was served at L’Aiglon, it was usually to a full house. There were many men who clearly discussing business with other men. On the other hand, in a discrete corner or two of the restaurant, there were men entertaining females. Because I went to the restaurant there so often, I became aware of the existence of these other gentlemen. I noticed that from time to time their female acquaintances would change. And so it was that in a free-floating discussion with my great and good friend Guido, I asked him about the men who were dining with different female friends from time to time. Guido’s reply was classic. He said simply, “I look but I see nothing.” Obviously if there were a divorce suit, to call Guido to the witness stand would be a futile gesture. Guido would look and still see absolutely nothing.

The thought about Guido has stirred my desire to get back into the business world. Tomorrow I am going to place an ad in the local newspapers offering my services as a maître d’. It will have to be in an upscale restaurant where my scouts can inform me that men are appearing at lunch with different women. As the maître d’, if I were ever called to testify in a divorce suit, I could say with a straight face, “I look but I see nothing.”

My services should be worth $10,000 per week from the restaurant owner and, if there is a divorce suit where I could repeat my mantra about seeing nothing, there might be a payoff of more than $50,000. If my quest for a job as a maître d’ in an upscale restaurant succeeds, AT&T can take its pension and invest it in Enron stock. So, as you can see, I intend to be gainfully employed for a long time, which will keep my name off of the unemployed rolls that the politicians talk so much about these days. I will tell you that it will be a good thing to go back to work in a profession that I believe I will enjoy.

January 16, 2008
Essay 286
Kevin’s commentary: I suppose I’ll have to read that other essay to find out what became of L’Aiglon. Google tells me that there is no longer any such restaurant in New York, which is a shame. I think that Pop’s business idea is a winner, though. It reminds me of a restaurant in China called “Whale’s Belly” or somesuch where the diners all eat in the dark. In that restaurant and others of its ilk, the waiters wear night vision goggles. Pop would have no need for these and indeed could save the restaurant money on such equipment.


There are dilettantes who dine on snails, caviar and champagne who will contend that eating a scallion is beneath their stature in life.  They will contend that it is nothing other than a peasant food.  Your old essayist holds a contrary view.  In his estimation, the enjoyment of any meal except breakfast is increased by at least 75% to 100% by the consumption of scallions.  A meal served without scallions is similar to one served without pepper or salt.  Scallions may well be a peasant accompaniment to any meal, but is there anyone who says that eating peasant food is deplorable?

My love affair with scallions goes back to the beginning of my life in the mid 1920s.  When the Lilac Roost Dairy Farm closed down, my father built a house on Francis Place in Richmond Heights, Missouri.  The back yard had plenty of room in which to plant a garden.  My mother was an avid gardener who planted all kinds of vegetables which were then canned.  The produce from that garden did much to sustain us during the dark days of the Hoover depression in 1929.

All my life I have enjoyed tending to a garden of the sort that my mother first raised in the mid 1920s.  After World War II, I was transferred to Kansas City, and established a small residence in a town called Prairie Village, Kansas.  After the storm windows were fashioned to fit the windows, my next job was to plant a garden.  That garden was followed by other gardens in Chicago, which was my next station.  When I came to New York, I rented a small farm of five acres, known as the Rickenbacher Property.  Again, I planted a garden.  When I was sent to Washington to work there as a lobbyist, my residence was in Bethesda, Maryland and my neighbors were in awe of the fact that the soil there could produce a bountiful harvest of produce.  When I returned to New York some 40 years ago to live in Short Hills, New Jersey, there was a garden in the ample rear of this property that was most fertile.  I planted gardens in that spot for many years, until the trees began to shade the garden and I could no longer see.  So you see, gardening has been in my blood for all these years.

In every garden that I was associated with, the first items planted were scallions and radishes.  Scallions are related to onions but they are a distinct crop of their own.  One of the virtues of scallions is that the deer will not eat them.  That is a major plus.  Scallions are not difficult to raise at all.  They require a little bit of sunshine, some water and a smidgen of fertilizer.  The effort that goes into raising scallions is amply rewarded by the pleasure in their consumption.

For many years, it was difficult to find scallions in the winter months in our local markets in New Jersey.  However, in recent years, it appears that scallion growers have begun to produce that wonderful vegetable all year long.  At the moment, the Chicka/Carr family is able to buy perhaps six bunches of scallions on Tuesday followed by four bunches of scallions on Friday, which is our next shopping day.  The fact that I can no longer see does not bar me from tending to the scallions.  My wife places two large plates in front of me.  On the right side are the untreated scallions.  The left side is for the finished product.  To my right, on the floor, there is a waste basket in which the roots and the tops are discarded.  Preparing the scallions for the table is a labor of love.  I enjoy doing that work because I know that, come the next meal, the scallions will enhance it greatly.  The cost/benefit allowance is much in favor of the scallions because of their low cost.  In my own case, I would eat scallions regardless of the cost/benefit relationship.

I am told that scallions are very beneficial to the health of their consumers.  I am told that scallions provide us with benefits ranging from vitamin A through vitamin S.  People who eat scallions have  twinkly eyes, and curly hair.  Now who could debate about a vegetable that provides all of these wonderful benefits including the twinkly eyes etc.  They may be a food for peasants, but if that is the case, I say only that we should have more peasant food.

I have been writing essays at this desk for 11 years now, and I regret the fact that I have failed to pay tribute to scallions before this date.  As we go forward, I hope that this failing will not occur again.  Nonetheless, I am pleased by my ability to heap lavish praise on a lowly vegetable called scallions.  They deserve every accolade that the dictionary can define.  And as for the dilettantes, they can go on eating their snails and caviar, but they do so at the expense of missing the consumption of scallions.

There is one other thought that occurs to me in these troubled times.  As our economy is in fritters, the caviar eaters will become fewer and fewer.  But those of us who love and revere scallions can go on chomping away until full employment reoccurs.  Any food that provides all these benefits is entitled to praise of the most lavish sort.



February 15, 2009

Essay 366


Kevin’s commentary: I think I remember reading another essay on this particular subject published in 2011. So it’s safe to say that Ezra’s love for scallions has not diminished in the slightest. For my part, I’m happy to eat them when I run into them but make no particular effort to seek them out.

I remember eating vegetables from Pop’s garden when I was a kid. I always wondered why that stopped being a thing that existed, but now I know it was due to the trees blocking sunshine. The question that I’m sure is now on everyone’s mind is simple: why not just trim the trees?