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Monday, February 15, 2016

The Absolute Best Kosher Deli in Brooklyn - If Not the Entire World

True story:  Here's a reverse of the classic first-time customer in a kosher deli story.  My wife's cousin goes into a new 'kosher style' deli in Houston, Texas and orders a pastrami on rye with a little mustard.  He's told it will take a little longer because it's a special order.  Why? The sandwich automatically comes with lettuce, tomato and mayo.  Anything other than that is a special order.

Come on, even I can't make up anything like that. How can anything I write below beat that?

Raise your hand if you lived near, or at least ate at, the best kosher deli in Brooklyn.

Think hot pastrami or corned beef taken out of that stainless steel steam chest and the smell wafting over the glass-front counter as it is carefully and gingerly placed (ha!) on the slicing machine and piled high between two slices of fresh rye bread.

Oh I see someone in back has her hand up.  You went to a deli where the meat was cut by hand.  you win!

Hold on.  You know darned well you can't just order a sandwich and don't bother looking at the menu.  Since the age of eight you've had the menu memorized - including the daily specials which haven't changed in at least five years.

It's decision time.  For the indecisive who can't decide between the corned beef and the pastrami there's always the combo triple decker, but for most of us our taste buds were already fired up and ready to go to work long before we even walked through the door.  Looking at the menu was merely an unnecessary ritual while waiting for Irv to take our order, and even that wasn't necessary because all he'd have to ask is if we wanted the usual.

Want to see the counter help go into a fit of uncontrollable hysterics?  Ask if the corned beef is lean.  "Yeah, lady.  It's organically grown, free range tenderly cared for by monks, but I'll trim the fat for you."

Trim the fat off the corned beef and you have a sandwich consisting of two slices of bread and a shmear of mustard.

Okay, so that's the first hurdle.

I liked to order pastrami just to hear how Irv would fracture the word.  Twenty years in the same job and he never mastered the basics of his chosen vocation's vocabulary so that when he yelled the order to the guy behind the counter it always sounded like 'astronomy sagwiz.'  Didn't matter; the counter guy knew.

Here comes round two: 'French fries or knish?' 'knish.' Potato or Kasha?' 'Potato.' 'Square or round?'
'Round.' 'We don't got no more round. It wouldn't kill ya, maybe for once you should try square.'

We're going to take a short detour that those of you have read other of my stories know I am famous for.  (Don't you grammarians go nutso over the construction of that last sentence.)

Irv may have been wrong, after all.  The square ones are fried.  If only your mother knew then what was going into her darling's frail stomach along with the pastrami sandwich and the Cel-Ray soda.

In any case, there was and still is only one major knish purveyor. Gabilla produces more than 15 million knishes a year - most of them the square fried ones - from its Long Island bakery, having long since outgrown its original Williamsburg home - and still sends the majority to Brooklyn where your cousin Arnie consumed one-fifth of them before his by-pass surgery.

Picture this. Katz's Deli on the Lower East Side sells about 1,500 knishes a week - at $3.75 apiece.  If
Arnie knew that, he'd be turning over in his grave.  Yeah, the same knish you paid fifteen cents for - mustard included.  You can now buy them, and round ones in 6-packs from Gabila's website.

Today you can order sweet potato, spinach, mushroom, blueberry, cherry, chocolate cheese, tomato and mozzarella knishes from Gabila's and Yonah Schimmel's Knish Bakery who has been selling knishes since 1910 on Houston Street on the Lower East Side .  Oh yeah, they also have potato knishes.  There ain't nuthin' sacred no more.

The majority of round knishes are produced and baked in the individual deli.  The true knish aficionado prefers the round to the square.  Probably healthier.

OK. I can't wait for you readers to nominate your favorites:  Mrs. Stahl's (which has gone to knish heaven) in Brighton Beach or the guy on Bay 1 who sold knishes out of a shopping bag on the beach   And, of course, how can you not mention the old guy with the 'Mom's' push cart who sold molten hot knishes outside Winthrop and Tilden.  (I have a separate blog chapter dealing with street merchants that talks about the knish man.)

Now, wasn't that detour worth it.  Don't you really want a knish right now?

Ready for round three? 'Cole slaw please.'  'Onda sangwiz or onda side?'

Round four: 'You want sompena drink?' 'Whaddaya got?' 'Whaddaya wiseguy?' 'Okay, I'll have a Tab.' 'OK, one celery soder. Straw or glaz?'

'Excuse me. Its' Cel-Ray, not celery soda.

How else to wash down that pastrami on rye (with a hint of real deli mustard you dabbed on from a stainless steel container that every table had) than with a bottle of Dr. Brown's Cel-Ray soda.  (It was originally called 'tonic' until the government intervened.) Before we get into a major dispute, you can substitute cream soda for the Cel-Ray, but it has to be a bottle and none of those new boutique flavors like black cherry.

First, we're talking about a world before canned Dr. Brown's and a world before Dr. Brown's diet sodas.  The name was Cel-Ray, not Celery - even though it contained a hint of celery seed in the flavor, along with sugar and, of course, seltzer.  Rumor has it that it was created by a Lower East Side doctor treating immigrant children.

Watch out.  Here comes another detour. Brooklynites, in their attempt to conserve letters are often accused of 'dropping the 'r' at the end of a word.  NOT TRUE.  We just place it at the end of words not typically pronounced by the rest of the English-speaking world.  For example: 'Gimme a glassa warda.'  See? same number of r's, just placed more strategically.  Another example: 'Gimme a canna cream soder.'  See wad I'm sayin?

Okay, back to the ordering ritual. 'Please bring some pickles with the sandwich.'  'Sweet or sour?'

In retrospect, there are fewer questions on most AP exams and certainly not as much stress.

Thee were several prerequisites for being hired as a waiter in a kosher deli.  You had to be named Irv, Max, Sol, Lou, Dave, Nat, Ziggy or Sid.  These, coincidentally, were also the required names to be a deli owner. If, at birth, you were named other than the aforementioned names you were destined for another line of work. The desperate would change their name to get the job.  A second requirement was to have zero peripheral vision so that if a customer who was not exactly lined up with the waiter's nose tried to get the waiter's attention, he would be ignored.  Minimal hearing would also be a plus: 'I heard ya say square knish.  Eat what I brung.  I won't charge ya.'

Age plays a major role in the hiring process - at least reversed age discrimination.  You stand a better chance of being hired if you had already put in fifty years in another job - preferably as a tailor.  Younger than age 60 you were destined to be called  Junior, or worse, 'Kid'.

Growing up in East Flatbush we had a plethora of deli's. Like synogogues, there were always at least two - one you wouldn't step foot in, even if they had the last pastrami on earth. Let's have a moment of silence for Brooklyn's real kosher deli. May it long live in our memories.

Now, before you get your stuffed derma in an uproar, I'm talkin' real kosher deli - no milk products.  And, I'm not talking about places like Carnegie Deli in the City or the Carnegie wannabe Harold's in New Jersey or Ben's in Forest Hills or their outpost in Westbury.  I'm talking real kosher deli. Are there any outside of Brooklyn? 

OK.  Today's quiz.  Name the deli  on Church and E 46, Church and E 48, Church and Linden, Ave D off Utica, Utica between Church and Linden, Clarkson and E 51.  Was there any on Church Avenue west of East 46th Street?  How about on Remsen or Ralph Avenues?

We live in north central New Jersey.  I've googled 'kosher deli in Northern New Jersey.'  Ha!

How about opening one in Houston?

And a final shot of a 'real' sandwich from Harold's in New Jersey.






Thursday, February 11, 2016

Grandpa's Chair



There comes a time in one's life when he looks around the commuter train and realizes he is the oldest one on the train.  Changing cars doesn't help; same demographics.
Same thing at family gatherings when you realize you are the patriarch.
How did that happen?  Last year you were sitting at the kids' table drinking grape juice and trying to get it to come out of your nose.  Now you're sitting at the head of the table in the chair that only grandpa sat in.  That comfortable buffer in the form of older relatives is gone and there ain't nothin' separating you from you-know-what.
You're next, buddy.
Once you come to grips with your own mortality it's time to take inventory of your past. You 'inventory takers' are my blog readers.  All of a sudden the place from which many of us escaped decades ago is important. 
So, where were you for the past thirty or forty years?
What, you think Brooklyn stood still waiting for its prodigal sons and daughters to return?
Whaddayanuts?
Unfortunately, as I write in one of my earlier blogs, our memories can't always be trusted.
Brooklyn, our Brooklyn, maybe wasn't so hotsy-totsy to start with, like we now remember it.  It probably never was, but we had nothing to compare it to.
Trust me, our Brooklyn - East Flatbush, East New York, Crown Heights, Brownsville, Pigtown - didn't get no memo 'bout gentrification and certainly no memo about regentrification.  Our neighborhoods would need remedial regentrificcation and a summer school semester to maybe be a candidate for a Starbucks.  Health warning:  Don't hold your breath waiting for that to happen!
A side note:  I'm not talking about the neighborhoods surrounding Madison or Midwood or those areas west of Flatbush Avenue just north and south of Church Avenue where some of the old Victorians sell for close to two million dollars.  I'm referring to our neighborhoods.
Okay.  When you drive down the side streets, the residential streets, at first blush, things look the same as we remember them from the fifties and sixties: kids playing in the street and well cared-for attached and semi-attached private homes - except for the security gates and bars on the windows. Now that's the business to be in: wrought iron fabrication or, more likely, wrought iron fortification.
It's the commercial strips that have changed.  You know, the ones along Church, Utica, Nostrand and Rogers Avenues and the ones in the small strip centers.  They show the most change.  Forget about the premier shopping streets: Pitkin, Flatbush, the Highway.  You want dollar stores? You've come to the right street!
All the stores that were there when we were born and still there when we moved away, all those stores that our parents owned and worked at six days a week so you could go to camp in the summer, trust me, they all closed up the day after we left town.
What? You think the kosher deli around the corner from your house was going to keep the pastrami hot just for us, if we ever returned? And the round knish?  Yeah, I know, you liked the square one. Well, Sol, or Irv or Dave or Murray or whatever his name was threw them all out and followed you to Long Island or New Jersey or Arizona or, more likely, Florida, where he opened a larger, Brooklyn-style deli, with twelve kinds of gourmet, designer knishes and, if you want, you can get mayo on your pastrami sandwich.
The further we get - in distance and time - the more we fall in love with our neighborhood.  I have a friend who headed up the Alumni Association at Brooklyn College.  Her hardest job was getting recent graduates to join.  Fast forward thirty or forty years and the alumni are banging on her door clamoring to join their beloved alma mater.
I find my blogs cater to older people.  (Notice I make the distinction between old and older.  Older people are not as old as old people. This flies in the face of everything you learned in eighth grade English. Go figure.) My East Flatbush Memories blog is more of a community service for chronic delusionals - including its creator.
Years ago I asked our son if he ever thought about his elementary school days. By the time he was in elementary school we had long since moved out of Brooklyn to Long Island, near the Sound.  "Nope!" I showed him the responses to this blog and from groups on Facebook and the fond memories the readers have of their Brooklyn childhood.  His response: "But you didn't do anything." I explained the fine art of stoop ball, ("What's a stoop?) hit the penny, punch ball and using a manhole as second base or just sitting on Sammy's stoop to hang out.
So, here I am, trying to avoid sitting in Grandpa's chair and holding on to the memories of those years more than a half century ago, where we did nothing, but somehow had a great time doing it.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Too Late to the Party

 First, a bit of housekeeping. Are you reading this in its original EastFlatbushMemories.blogspot.com ?

If you went to high school in the late fifties or early sixties, you may have missed the real Brooklyn. Our parents were invited to the party; we weren’t.
Brooklyn , the real Brooklyn, the Brooklyn celebrated in film and in novels had already changed by the time we came on the scene.  

At best we merely prolonged its death by trying to keep the memories alive. But to have grown up in the post-war years, the Eisenhower era, was to be cheated of the real glory days of Brooklyn.
The Dodgers had already abandoned Brooklyn; their home leveled to make way for a high-rise apartment house. Coney Island’s fabled Steeplechase had closed; Lundy’s was suffering through its last days. Ebinger’s would soon shutter its doors, taking with it the best black-out cake ever created by man (or woman); Brooklyn College embarked on a misguided open-enrollment policy guaranteed to fail. The subways, just beginning to be unsafe at night, required the presence of a uniformed cop on every train.
 
Closer to home, the Rugby Theater – on its way to oblivion - was first converted to a two-screen theater; ‘For Rent’ signs became more prevalent on Utica and Church and Flatbush Avenues and if lucky, the stores were finally rented as dollar stores; and Brooklyn’s Church Avenue trolley - the last line in the last borough to operate trolleys - had its swan song in October, 1956.
By the mid-sixties, New York City public school education, which had served our parent’s generation and us so well, was no longer the key for upwardly mobile kids like us. We were the last. The families of the kids following us moved upward – or more accurately, outward – to the suburbs, to Long Island or New Jersey. The move sent once-solid East Flatbush into a tail-spin from which it has yet to recover.

That was the final straw. Once urban flight took hold in the sixties, the last vestiges of our parent’s Brooklyn disappeared. I watched in amazement as six high-stooped attached houses on Rockaway Parkway near Linden Blvd displayed for-sale signs at the same time. I was too na├»ve to truly understand the ramifications of that sight, but to this day when I think of the one most significant thing that represented this abandonment of Brooklyn, and specifically my East Flatbush, I think of those ‘for sale’ signs on Rockaway Parkway.
 
By that time the streets and especially the subways had become unsafe. Until then we had been insulated from the Pigtown and East New York gangs; from the drugs; from the poverty. Having already given up teaching, first at Meyer Levin and then at Tilden High School, I too, became part of that flight as my young family moved ‘to the country’ from Avenue H.

Current residents can claim they know our East Flatbush, but it’s a different neighborhood they're describing.
 
Brooklyn, and specifically our neighborhood, had lost many of its 'institutions' by 1970:
Garfields on Flatbush and Church – gone
The Tower of Pisa on Utica and Vincent’s on Church – gone, gone
The RKO Kenmore, Loews Kings, the Carroll theaters – gone, gone, gone.
Even Tilden – gone.
 
But Brooklyn's most important loss in this period was a loss of confidence. In the 1950's alone, the borough lost more than 135,000 residents.  They were buying the hype about the suburbs, they were buying cars, they were moving out to the 'sticks'.  Filling the housing vacuum in our neighborhood were, for the most part, first generation Americans from the Caribbean islands seeking the same good life, a better tomorrow, that our grandparents were looking for when they moved here.
 A drive down Church Avenue reveals only a few vestiges of the Church Avenue of my youth. A ride up East 57th St from Beverly Road to Kings Highway bears witness to the change. The typical East Flatbush homes built in the years just before and after World War II– the attached, brick, high stoop design - now include the obligatory wrought iron gates and window bars. 

The Brooklyn that brings us to websites such as this one is the past, recorded on curled black and white photographs with scalloped edges, faded slides, brittle home movies and clouded memories of innocence, childhood, family and above all – a safe place and to think back on how life had once been in Brooklyn.

From the vantage point of a half century later I realize the neighborhood of my memories no longer exists. It, too, is gone.
 
Brooklyn is the precious thing we’ve lost. And for a lot of us, that's how Brooklyn ended.
 
I welcome your response.
N.Berger                             nberger1@outlook.com


Saturday, June 06, 2015

Remembrance of Things Past - with a nod to Marcel Proust

"Remembrance of things past is not necessarily the remembrance of things as they were."

                                                                                                               -  Marcel Proust 1871-1922

Okay, folks. We’re going to take a slight detour down memory lane. The nostalgia-laden among us will appreciate it more than, say, the purists, who come to this site looking only for things East-Flatbush. Actually, the events depicted in this blog took place in East Flatbush and in the middle of the last century.

Think back to your high school days.  Some lucky souls just put in their four years, graduate and that's that. But for most of us our adolescence occupies a prime piece of real estate in our memories.  Give an adult a series of random cues and odds are he or she will recall a disproportionate number of memories from adolescence.  The summer you fell in love while working as a counselor at Camp Equinunk or while in summer school so you could graduate early and your new soul mate could retake Geometry. Whatever the case, your time together was magical, it ended prematurely... but you never forgot.  And maybe a half century later, when the routine of your daily life starts to get to you, you find yourself wondering what kind of a glamorous life he/she is leading now.

But now we can find out. Somehow we stumble across an email address and compose the ideal email to send to someone we haven't seen in fifty years. And, if we're lucky. maybe we get a  chatty response  and all of a sudden  the grass we have is as green, if not greener, than the person's grass we remember from a lifetime ago.

Researchers refer to this phenomenon as the 'reminiscence bump'  suggesting that memories from the ages of 15 to 25 are most vividly retained.

Here's another piece of news.  Teenagers are lousy at assessing the behavior of others.  When teenagers in one study were asked to name their closest friends, for the majority the results were not mutual.  The person you listed as your best friend probably did not name you as his/her best friend - proof that high school is a time of unrequited longings.  A lot has to do with the fact that teenagers cannot tell when they are being rejected - or accepted.

OK.  Armed with these studies when I first embarked on this 'blog business' I researched to see what 'non-scientific' information was out there that would/could jog my memory. I noticed a common thread.

Person A (the Rememberer) sees Person B’s name on a site. Person A has a major attack of nostalgia resembling something along the lines of: “Holy ____. I know that person. He/she sat behind me in ___ and I/we___ . Wow! I remember it like it was yesterday.”

What usually follows is a written litany by the rememberer (you) of events to legitimatize the relationship, to prove you’re not some kind of weirdo.

Now, you probably know where this is headed, but hold on, buckaroos.

Person B’s (the Rememberee) responses fall into one of two categories depending on the emotional level invested in the original relationship:


Category 1:

Rememberer: “Hey, you lived across the hall from us on Linden Blvd and your mother played maj jong with my mother every Tuesday. You were in high school and you usta babysit me."

Or, “You lived on East 52nd Street and I lived on Beverly Road and we played punchball on East 53rd Street because it was a wide street.

Rememberees in this category remember every minuscule detail. Wanna know the color of your mother’s kitchen wallpaper? Yellow. How many Twinkies you had before you puked your guts all over the living room carpet while watching Milton Berle? Five. Who hit the brand new 'Spauldeen' down the sewer and had to retrieve it or get the ____ beat out of him? You. (As a bonus, the Rememberee will tell you how much the ball cost fifty years ago and where he got it and who supplied the coat hanger so you could retrieve the ball from the sewer and that you still owe him fifteen cents for the ball.)

Category 1’s are easy, because deep down, there ain’t no deep down. You remember or you don’t remember. No big deal. Yeah, it would have been nice if B remembered but if not, tough!


Category 2:

Category 2’s are a whole ‘nother story. Ah. I sense some smiles forming already.

Category 2 remembrances are usually emotionally charged.

Now we’re talking serious, heavy-duty, life-altering, potentially embarrassing stuff that, in retrospect, makes us wonder how we ever climbed out of puberty, sloshed through our teens, and made it into semi-adulthood. Somewhere in this scenario is the recurring phrase “unrequited love.”

Let’s face it. By sixteen you knew what love was. You knew you had found it. Case closed.

And for the next forty or fifty years every once in a while in the privacy of your own mind, you would conjure up that image of that person who truly shaped your life. And, since your mind can be your best friend, your mind wouldn’t let that person get any older. In essence, it's a story you've rehearsed and memorized and played back to yourself a zillion times.  You knew that person as a sixteen year old and, wonder of wonders, that person is still sixteen! And she still wears her blond hair in a pony tail or you can still fit into his team jacket that he let you wear one Friday night when you were shivering outside Vincent's Pizzeria.

Typical Category 2 scenario: “Do you remember me? We went steady during the summer of '60. We both worked on Flatbush Avenue that summer.  I gave you my ID bracelet. You were the first person I ever … and you said I was the first...

Typical response: “No. And don’t write to me any more.”

I marveled that two people who shared the same  experience could remember it – or not – so differently and attach such different significance to the event. What a loser. She didn’t even remember him! Whew!

Until…

About a year ago I came across a great site where people wrote about their memories growing up in Brooklyn.

There, tucked in among all the unimportant things about far away places like Coney Island, Bensonhurst, Sheepshead Bay and Williamsburgh was a short piece from someone describing growing up in Flatbush. Everything she mentioned I knew. The people she talked about and the places where she hung out, I knew. And when she listed her name, I knew her!

Not only did I know her, but she was the first girl I dated. It was my sophomore year in Erasmus Hall; we dated for about six months. I mean serious, steady dating. I finally understood why my friends said dating was cool. Holy! I can still remember her.

And, in my mind, she was still fifteen.

So, I wrote to her. I mentioned our mutual friends, the neighborhood, the places we went together. This was sooo cool.

Sure enough.  About two weeks later, I get a long, chatty email from her in which she tells what she’s been doing since high school and updates on the neighborhood, some of our mutual friends from a half-century ago and her brother who grew up to own a major league ball club. Yeah, yeah. Get to the point where you remember me, too.

And finally, in the last brief paragraph the information I had been waiting for...

she politely apologizes for not remembering me.

Judy, Judy -  say it ain’t so.

P.S. I’ve sent this blog on to some friends. Each has come back with a similar story. What’s yours?

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Seltzer...The Agony and the Ecstasy


"Good seltzer should hurt."
The most lethal weapon in our house was the seltzer bottle.  More so than all the knives in the drawer next to the stove.  I lived in fear of a dropped bottle causing an explosion that would level the entire block. 


But, did you ever know anyone who actually dropped one?  I'm not talking about the urban legends.  You know, where your cousin dated a girl whose brother had a classmate who dropped a bottle.  I'm talking first-hand knowledge.  Rumor had it that Herbie was a victim of a dropped, or thrown seltzer bottle - a crime perpetrated by his mother upon learning he was well on his way toward failing every class in the eleventh grade - again.

In any case, Herbie manned the last booth in Dave's Sweet Shoppe and Luncheonette, often carrying on an animated conversation with himself ending in disgust when he was unable to convince himself that he was right.  The neighborhood kids would sometimes screw up the courage to ask what happened to his left eye and all he's mutter was 'seltzer.'

Did they really explode? If one bottle could level a block, I estimated a case of ten packed the same wallop as an atom bomb.  For all we knew, the Enola Gay could have dropped a case of seltzer bottles over Hiroshima. 


(This ain't no history class, but the Enola Gay was the name of the B-52 bomber that dropped the Atomic bomb on Hiroshima.  During the Second World War pilots painted the name of their planes on the fuselage.)

Had it been a crate of seltzer bottles it would have been called the "Brooklyn Project" not the "Manhattan Project."

To prepare for the honor of carrying a seltzer bottle I practiced carrying my cousin's new-borne infant. "OK.  If he could carry Little Warren, maybe we could trust him with the seltzer."  "I dunno, Nat.  An infant is one thing, but a seltzer bottle?" 

I got my first opportunity somewhere around the time I got into junior high school. By this time my parents had no problem with me crossing Utica Avenue, Linden Boulevard and Church Avenue  or carrying a dozen eggs and a bottle of milk by myself, so I guess they figured they'd give me a shot at carrying the seltzer bottle from the refrigerator to the dining room table.  The second time I saw my parents show how proud they were of me was at my Bar Mitzvah- although in retrospect, I think the seltzer incident won first place.

Let's take a break for a minute.  I'm not talking about what passes for seltzer in those puny plastic bottles with the screw-off caps and I'm not referring to the imported 'sparkling' water hand-crafted by monks in the Alps. I'm referring to the real stuff in thick glass bottles with metal siphons.  The bottles that look like fire extinguishers, but more powerful.  (C'mon, you gonna tell me you never aimed a seltzer bottle out the window to see how far the stream would go and then have Mrs. Schneider rat on you to your mother because you got her laundry wet.)  The bottles that now sell for upwards of thirty bucks on E-Bay.  The bottles that all the me-gens have been converting to table lamps.

Ok.  Wanna be a hit at your next social gathering.  What's the derivation of seltzer?  like, where did it come from?  No, to the wiseguy in the back of the room who said it came from his grandmother's icebox. It was actually named after Niederselters, a small town near Frankfort, Germany that began producing carbonated tonics in the 16th century, but it wasn't until 1809 that Joseph Hawkins patented the machinery for carbonating spring water and the hermetically sealed bottles became a staple in our 20th century diet.

(Bear in mind, the seltzer you now buy bears no resemblance to that which came in a siphon. The sense of adventure is gone; the new seltzer is like drinking tap water. Why bother?)

Every block had a seltzer man.  Our block had Sol.

Sol delivered them in crates of ten Good Health seltzer bottles on his shoulder which he removed from his open-top truck. Ponder this, buckeroos: Piled as high as they were on the truck they never fell off on sharp turns and, equally impressive - no one ever stole the bottles from the open truck.  At age 10 you're not particularly good at judging age. Your teachers were all about 70 so it only figures that Sol, who looked old enough to be their father, had to be close to 100 and still schlepping those cases up three flights.

On special occasions he would deliver Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup. In a nod to healthy living, we also consumed Cott diet soda, also delivered by Sol in his attempt to corner the beverage market. Being first with a product does not guarantee quality. "It's Cott to be good" was about as far from the truth as one could get. But, if you wanted sugar-free soda, it was the only game in town, even before Tab. Boy, did we know how to live!!! 

To the few unaware of the lethal power in a glass of seltzer: Pour a glass of real seltzer, let it sit for 8 hours. That has as much punch to it as a freshly opened bottle of Coke. Let the real seltzer sit for 12 hours, you're coming close to the fizz quotient of a freshly opened bottle of sparkling Perrier.

Here's a brief seltzer vignette.  I admired my father for a lot of reasons.  Interestingly, the older I got, the more reasons were added to the list.  But there was one that I vividly remember from my childhood.  He would sit down for dinner and pour himself a glass of seltzer.  Now, I'm not sure what the proper action verb is.  It seems that the word 'pour' is too gentle a word for what comes out of a seltzer bottle.  In any case, the seltzer made it from the bottle into his glass.  And then he would take a big long gulp, and I mean a really big gulp. No puny sissy sip for my dad!  Based on my limited experience with the beverage, I waited for the belch.  Nothing.  Not even a hiccup.  Sometimes a sigh, but nothing more.  And we would begin to eat as though nothing happened.

I, on the other hand, would pour a small quantity into my glass at the beginning of the meal and then hoping most of the fizz would evaporate into the atmosphere, just before dessert was served I would slowly sip the liquid - not unlike what I later learned to do with fine wine, including the swishing around in the mouth before swallowing.  Regardless of how long I waited, the exercise always ended with at least a hiccup.

But, if you're old enough to read this you know there is always a subtle contest between you and your same-sex parent.  To prove my manliness on several occasions I would attempt to chug a freshly poured glass of seltzer, always with the same results.

With the first gulp your brain is already on emergency alert frantically sorting all the messages to determine the best method for minimizing the devastation that is about to unfold. First, you feel as though your eyeballs are going to pop out of their sockets.  In retrospect that would be a blessing because the seltzer is trying its best to escape your body  through any orifice it can find.

At this point, it ain't too choosey.  As sailors stuck in a storm say: "Any port in a storm."  Picture sneezing through your ears, for example. Failing the obvious escape routes, it will try some unconventional outlets.  Fearing that it may try for your brain you hold on to the top of your head to prevent your scalp from being ripped from your head because once that first line of defense is breached the brain is sure to follow.  Now, bear in mind that it's critical that you continue to appear ultra cool throughout this.  But it's difficult to do when you realize your toes are separating like they do when you get a cramp in the sole of your foot and for the first time in your life you actually feel your toe nails tingling.  At the same time your throat is going into gag reflex so that even if you wanted to you couldn't spit it out.  The damage has already been done.  Even your nose gets into the act.  First with a little twitch; then something that resembles the equivalent of a nasal mambo and it is through this orifice that the remnants of the gulp shoot out with such force that even Grandma Jenny, who rarely notices anything, looks up startled, frantically moving the pot roast from the path.

Ah!  That's good seltzer, Dad.

Now, as cool as you want to be, your father is even cooler.  He knows what's going down.  But he won't let on, other than to ask if you'd like some more.  Hey, don't you think he tried the same thing with his father?

Every block had a seltzer man. 

No more.  According to a Times article about ten years ago there was only one guy who still had the last remaining seltzer route. There's one family-run business on Avenue D and East 92nd Street that still fills seltzer bottles, and oddly enough, the trade refers to his business as a 'filler.' He lives in New Jersey and schlepps to Canarsie to continue the business started by his great grandfather.

How will  you explain the ecstasy of seltzer to your grandchildren?

As a bonus, I've included a recent article from the New York Times:

As Old as the Bottles

By
 
Name Eli Miller  Age 79
 
Where He’s From Coney Island
What He Is The city’s longest-working seltzer deliveryman
Telling Detail Keeps a copy of “The Seltzer Man,” a 1993 children’s book about him, on the front seat of his delivery van; it was written and illustrated by a longtime customer, Ken Rush. 
“I’m running on fumes — the reason I work is, I just can’t stay home,” said Mr. Miller, who has been delivering seltzer in Brooklyn for more than a half-century.
He can afford to retire, but that would mean his customers, many of whom have been with him for decades, might have to resort to store-bought seltzer.
“I don’t want them to have to drink that dreck you buy in the supermarket,” he said, using the Yiddish term for dirt. “So I guess I’ll retire when Gabriel blows his horn.”
Mr. Miller said that when he began delivering, on March 10, 1960, there were perhaps 500 seltzer men in the city, and a half-dozen seltzer bottlers. Now he can count his delivery competition on one hand, and they all fill up at the last seltzer factory in the city: Gomberg Seltzer Works in Canarsie.
A gritty old machine there pumps its effervescent, bubbly elixir into Mr. Miller’s thick glass bottles, made in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, hand-blown and hand-etched, with pewter siphon tops.
“You drop one of these, it will explode,” he said, holding one up. “Inside here is triple-filtered New York City water with 80 pounds of carbonic pressure.”
Mr. Miller jams wooden shims between the 10 rattling bottles in the beat-up wooden cases, which he delivers for $31 each.
On a recent weekday morning, he pulled his van up to the seltzer works and exchanged his empty bottles for full ones. He said hello to the owner, Kenny Gomberg, and his son, Alex, 25, who last year started his own seltzer route.
“I’m the oldest seltzer man in New York and he’s the youngest,” Mr. Miller said as Alex Gomberg loaded his van next to Mr. Miller’s. “I’m passing the baton to him.”
In quieter moments, Mr. Miller allows that he might consider retiring in a year, and that there is no one to pass the route to. He has about 150 customers, many of them sporadic, which is about half what he once had. He works two or three days a week, delivering to brownstones in Brooklyn Heights and Cobble Hill, and to restaurants in Williamsburg.
His seltzer always sold itself — he includes the sound of a spritzing bottle on his answering machine — but these days, new customers seem as enthralled by the deliveryman, as much a throwback as his product.
“I rely on mouth-to-mouth recommendations, but I’ll only take new customers if they’re near my other ones,” said Mr. Miller, who will turn 80 in June.
He used to be able to carry two full cases of seltzer up four flights. Now he asks his customers to bring them up themselves from the lobby.
His lanky frame is still strong, and he can still hoist a crate to his shoulder, but usually he lugs them at waist level. Some days, back pain prevents him from working.
But he declared, “Old seltzer men never die — they just lose their shpritzer.”
Mr. Miller, a lifelong bachelor, has lived in the same apartment in Bensonhurst since 1977.
“My customers are my family,” he said. “They feed me dinner, and I’ve watched their children grow up.”
During a recent delivery to a brownstone in Park Slope, a housekeeper let him in and then left Mr. Miller alone in the place.
“You see?” he said, picking up the empty bottles. “They give me the keys to the kingdom.”
Mr. Miller grew up in Coney Island. His three siblings became professionals. He worked as a dividend clerk on Wall Street but wanted to make more money. He began a beer delivery route in Bedford-Stuyvesant, which turned into a seltzer route in other neighborhoods.
His father, Meyer Miller, began helping Eli after retiring from his house-painting job. In 1976, his father, then 72, died of a heart attack while carrying a case up to a customer.
“This customer, she used to give him a glass of schnapps, so he liked to deliver to her,” recalled Mr. Miller, who had run up from the truck but was unable to resuscitate his father.
To this day, he keeps copies of his father’s yellowing stationery in the front seat of his van as a keepsake.
“My father died on the route and I’m going to die on the route,” he said, and resumed stacking the old, clattering cases of seltzer into his van.
 
A version of this article appeared in print on April 28, 2013, on page MB4 of the New York edition with the headline: As Old as the Bottles.
 

Friday, February 07, 2014

Delaney Cards

If, as you scroll down this page everything is in one long, very long, paragraph, then you are not reading this in the original format. Someone has stolen my blog for their own use. So, to see it in its original,  pristine condition, please go to EastFlatbushMemories.blogspot.com

What do you mean you don't know what a Delaney card is?


If you attended a New York City public high school in the fifties or sixties, you know what a Delaney card is.

In any case here's a refresher course:

Welcome back, class.

First, let's take care of some housekeeping chores. My name is Mr. Berger and I am your homeroom teacher. When the late bell rings you WILL be in your assigned seat so I can take attendance.

I'm going to hand each of you a Delaney card. For those of you new to high school or new to New York or can't remember anything prior to last June, these cards serve a bunch of purposes. Each of your teachers will ask you to fill one out and each teacher may use it for different purposes but its primary use is as a seating chart and a way of my keeping attendance. I'll get to know most of your names within a week. Some, like the young man facing the back of the room, I'll learn a lot sooner.

Yes, they're called 'Delaney cards.' No, not da laney card. What do you mean 'Why?' They're Delaney cards because they were created by Edward Delaney, a Harvard graduate who taught history at DeWitt Clinton High School."

It's easier to explain what a Charlotte rouse is than a Delaney card. "Hey, yo, teacher! I dropped my Charlotte Rouse on da laney card."

Wanna make it a complete trifecta? "Hey yo, teacher! I dropped my Charlotte Rouse inna my egg cream and it spilt on da laney card."

It don't get no more Brooklyn high school than that!

"Yes. Print your name and all the information called for on the black side and print your name on the red side." Yes, in ink. OK, then you can use pencil. No, you can't borrow a pencil. Yes I know it's small. What do you mean you made a mistake? It just asks for your name and address. Yes, I know it asks for personal stuff, but I need to know your name if you're going to be in this class. Yes, even if you're in the Witness Protection Program. No, you can't use your pen name."

And so continues the unique rights of Fall in New York City high schools. And the first forty minutes of the semester.

Each Delaney card was put into a slot in a Delaney book corresponding to the row and seat of the student. Six or eight rows across; six rows deep. This works if the room is set up in the traditional configuration of classrooms with desks bolted to the floor. One year I had an official (homeroom) class that met in a lab or woodworking shop. Don't ask.

At the beginning of the class each day I would take attendance either by calling the names - a good technique for the first week until I got to know the students - or by scanning the room for empty seats, looking in the Delaney book for the corresponding card, turning it over to the red side and drawing a line through the corresponding calendar date.

I also learned to leave extra time at the beginning of the first few classes so the students could remember their seat assignments or negotiate changes. Unlike some teachers, I didn't care where the students sat -except for those with valid reasons for choosing a particular seat. (Having to sit next to the cute blond did not qualify as a valid medical reason even if the sun cast a shadow on the desk you originally chose.) But after the first day or so, that was it. You chose your seat, live with it - unless I moved you.

Delegate: the first rule of good classroom management - and sanity. And there's no better task to delegate than class attendance. There's never a shortage of students willing to take on the role of attendance monitor. Picture the thrill of standing in front of your class of peers and marking some fellow student absent. A minute ago, you were just one of them; now, that maroon Delaney book in your hand signaled awesome power. Its status is the equivalent of the junior high school color guard or elementary school chalkboard eraser monitor.  (What a great way to get even with some guy who said he'd call and didn't.  Just flip the card over, put a line through the date and wait for the damage to settle in.)

The front of the card was personalized by each teacher. I would put in various codes and if I wanted to garner extreme fear in a student who had just committed some capital offense, I would make a big deal of putting a mark on his or her card. It usually took about two weeks before I forgot what all the codes, dashes, and symbols meant.

Every once in a while an attendance monitor would ask me what some of the marks meant. Invariably the monitor would be mysteriously replaced by someone less inquisitive or at least smart enough not to ask. Test scores and grades were entered in a separate book.

Impersonal? Maybe, but, hey, I had thirty-plus kids in each of five classes I met daily. By the end of the day I considered myself lucky if I remembered where I had parked my car. 

No one had to teach me the importance of handing each student only one Delaney card - and collecting one card individually from each kid. None of this passing a supply of cards back ("Hey, teach, I didn't get no card." when you know you gave each row six cards.) This method also reduces the number of sophomoric obscenities that have been around for a hundred years. What it doesn't do is eliminate all the phoney phone numbers. The war never ends.

As the semester wears on, the alibis and excuses become more numerous - but less inventive.  Often, I would offer a 'by' for a truly imaginative, original story. I would be amazed at the creativity from a kid explaining his absence, who, when asked to write a compositon would come up with a blank stare and a paper to match.

"Roberta. Why were you not in English yesterday?  What do you mean you were home taking care of your sick sister?  A week ago you told me you were an only child and asked if I could adopt you. Also, I saw you in my homeroom class yesterday morning, and then I saw you fourth period outside sitting on my car smoking. That's why your Delaney card has a line through yesterday's date, and that's why the Cutting Office was notified."

And so it goes.  Every day.

Well, not every day.  There were weekends and school holidays!





Monday, November 11, 2013

Exploitation

Exploitation
Okay, kids. Settle down. Hey, everybody! Quiet. While Carol is taking the attendance  and Billy is adjusting the window shades and Norman is erasing the board I want to talk to you about the assignment I wrote at the top of this blog. I gave specific instructions that you were to scroll to the bottom of the page - that the blog on the bottom should be read first. Some of you in your zeal to please me are reading from top to bottom.

Wrong!

Let's spend a few moments today talking about the exploitation of children - specifically, the voluntary exploitation of school children by those entrusted with their education.

In the twelve years I spent as a student in the Brooklyn public schools and the five as a teacher in the same system, not once did I hear a parent complain that the in-class assignment his or her child was doing - for free - was demeaning, dangerous or degrading. In all those years I did not know of any case - real or imaged - of any illness or injury - physical or mental - associated with any in-class 'job.'

And there was never a shortage of volunteers, even for the most menial of 'jobs.'

The reason: every job had its perks.

What future career opportunity was washing the blackboard or cleaning the erasers going to provide for Norman when he 'got out'? OK, walking up and down the aisles with the waste basket might lead to a lucrative civil servant position, but the others?

It starts in grade school, probably around the fourth or fifth grade.

Anything is better than sitting a whole day in Miss O'Neill's class - even cleaning the erasers would be a welcome respite.

Take it from someone who knows.  I was senior eraser monitor in the fifth grade - a promotion no doubt based on recommendations from my fourth grade teacher who saw it as a great way of getting rid of the kid who kept asking questions and from the school custodian who recognized talent when he saw it.

Whatever.

There were two ways to clean erasers: The purists would take them outside and clap them against the wall.

It was a cushy job in September.  Go outside near the auditorium, clap them erasers silly against the wall for maybe an hour until Miss O'Neill sent a search party out looking for me.

Three rules for outside eraser clapping:
1. Stand upwind of the clapping or resign yourself to a coughing fit like you wouldn't believe.  You're gonna feel like your eyeballs are falling out. 
2. This is no time to show your literary creativity by clapping the eraser in the form of certain words you've recently learned from that sixth grader who lived on the other side of the hospital who spelled everything phonetically (This invariably would lead to some second grader's mother coming up to school and registering a complaint.  It didn't take a Sherlock Holmes to figure out who the miscreant was.)
3. pick a wall that can't be seen from your classroom.

The avant garde eraser cleaners embraced modern science and used 'the vacuum.'

Regardless of your philosophical leanings, when it got colder it meant using the eraser vacuum in the basement which shared space with three of the largest pieces of machinery I had ever seen.  The Indian Head nuclear reactor was based on the same design, but because of space limitations it could not match in size or output what was residing in the school basement and in cold weather those babies worked overtime making those weird sounds, like what you'd imagine a boiler would sound like just before it explodes. I seemed to be the only one concerned about all those needles on the gauges pointing in the red zone. They'd find parts of you scattered in a three-block radius down to Albany Avenue.

But, the most miraculous thing is that when they found your hand it would still be clutching a clean chalkboard eraser. For years afterward, old neighborhood people would still be talking how 'dat kid what got hisself blown up could clean an eraser' and they'd shake their heads muttering that kids nowadays don't know the meaning of clean erasers.

The two groups never saw eye-to-eye on the best method. The chance to be outside usually ended the discussion in favor of the purists. However, being downwind of the eraser and engulfed in a cloud of chalk dust did convert some purists. I imagine the discussion and the job died a natural death with the advent of whiteboards and dry markers.

In any case, eraser cleaning was probably close to the bottom of the in-class job hierarchy - until the first nice Spring day.

Years later I wondered how much critical learning I missed because of all the time spent outside the classroom.  No doubt it was the sole reason I did not get into Harvard.  At least the waste basket monitor did his job in the classroom.

Six years in the school - seven, if you count kindergarten - and that's all I remember about it!  (Well, come to think of it, I also remember the bench outside the principal's office, but that's another story.)

At the polar extreme was being in the color guard for assembly. Because of the wider visability, this job trumped class president. Remember, we're talking grades 4-6 It's like the difference between being a governor and a US Senator. (Do kids still go to assembly? Do schools still have auditoriums? Do kids still own white shirts or blouses?)

Even that job had its hierarchy. Carrying the American flag trumped all other flags. If you had that assignment, you had it made; you were destined for great things. When you walked the halls, kids would stand aside and let you pass.

Unless, you trip on the stairs leading to the stage, or sneeze, or... once you make it to center stage holding the flag with both hands and there you are in front of the entire school, and I mean everyone, and right in the middle of the Pledge of Allegiance, right at that point where everyone is saying that stuff for Richard Stanz you realize that your fly is open. The snickering starts with the boys in your own class and then quickly engulfs the girls sitting in Row F.

It's the little kids who are the least cool. They have to point. It's the pointing that really gets to you.

And, all of a sudden, clapping erasers against the side of the building in twenty degree weather does not sound like such a bad job - when you finally return to school.

(My wife was an elementary school teacher - in the same school I attended as a student. She keeps in touch with a class she had more than forty years ago and two of them remember being in the color guard - that it was the single best thing that happened to them in elementary school.)

I was never in the color guard. No, really! It wasn't me. I swear!

I was a crossing guard. Yup, with the white belt and the AAA badge. Even then, I was into the 'power thing.' Hey, there are limited options open to an eleven-year old to impress the chicks. (Do they still have student crossing guards? Like today I would really tell some fifteen year old sixth grader that he had to wait for me to say it's ok to cross the street.)

I was also an AV monitor - before it became a dorky thing. We would set up film strip projectors. (Explain that to your kids!).

There were other neat jobs in the classroom. Being the window shade monitor took somewhat of an anal retentive personality. Who else would be so exacting in their lives to line up all the shades?

Howard Newman was. I swear that if the shades were off by more than a quarter inch it was a lot. Those shades were the envy of every teacher in the school. They would stand across Lenox Road and stare up at Howard's work. It was a cool job and often required team cooperation with... the window monitor. 

Now, that job was way cool - other than the aforementioned color guard and maybe being class president!

Settle down, Buckeroos.  I know, I know.  Board of Education (now Department of Education) policy forbade anyone other than a teacher from opening or closing windows. Let's get real. Hey, I'm talking about my school where the average age of teachers hovered around 60.  The new 'girl' was at least 50. Which one of them could look up to the top of the pole without falling over, if she could even see to the top. Why risk the embarassment?  That's why you had Warren!

All class activity would stop while the window monitor carefully removed the twenty-foot pole from its brass mooring and carefully place the hook in the brass loop on the window. Well maybe not always so carefully. We would wait in anticipation for the gentle sound of the brass hook - some twenty feet in the air as it ever-so-gently penetrated the window glass. Sometimes we would be disappointed; but more often than not Warren would not disappoint.

And the response was always the same: Warren's same and unimaginative curse, Miss O' Neill's questioning his intelligence, the cheering from his fellow classmates and later on, the occasional transfer of cash from one unhappy student-bettor to a happier one. You would think Warren would have given up the pole - or handed it down or whatever. He made it through the entire fifth grade with that job and the next year when Miss Reilly asked who wanted the job he got it based on prior work experience - with the same results.

Come on! You all have seen those little holes or cracks in the center panes of those big glass windows. How do you think they got there?

Knowing Warren's shortcomings in the spatial relationship area, I obsessed over that pole not being firmly engaged on its hook and it coming crashing down on some hapless student - mainly me. I figured I could be in seat one in row one and still get whacked. Maybe it was better to sit in row six- near the windows. That way you wouldn't get the full force of the pole - and especially the hook. I thought I was alone in my fear until I noticed other kids - in fact the whole class would be mentally figuring the trajectory of that flying pole. Even Miss O"Neill, who would get out of her high chair in the corner (Remember those?) put her rubber-tipped pointer down and walk toward the back and give a reassuring tug on the pole to verify that it was safe.

(Did you know that those wood poles have been replaced by aluminum and those old teachers have been replaced by young, even pretty, teachers?)

One step up from basket monitor was the wardrobe monitor whose job it was to close the wardrobe after all coats had been hung up. (This is for the folks who went to a '200 series' elementary school where all the sliding wardrobe doors were connected, so if you closed one door, all of them would slide closed at the same time.)

One of my tasks as a Director of Human Resources is to deal with job enrichment - how can management and employees make the job more interesting, thus keeping the employee more involved and, hopefully, more productive.

Hell, this ain't nothing new. Way back in the fifth grade Harold had learned to make the wardrobe monitor's job more interesting and enjoyable - much to the consternation of the girls he would periodically lock in the wardrobe. Midway through the year Harold learned a vital lesson about job security - a stigma that he no doubt carried with him throughout his work life. He was fired! But the job provided a future career opportunity - Harold became a conductor for the New York City Transit Authority

Oh, my! There's the bell. I can't believe the day is over already, class. Let's continue this tomorrow. Harold, let Marcia out of the closet. What do you mean she doesn't want to come out? Who's in there with her? Harold, open the doors NOW!

Thursday, September 06, 2012

"Put It On The Wall, Lou"

"Put it on the wall, Lou"

Here's some serious stuff. In researching this series I came across an interesting phenomenon. 

The overwhelming majority of respondees to these 'Brooklyn' blogs had parents who worked in the neighborhood and most were in retail. "My father owned the bakery on..." "My father worked in the men's shop on Utica Avenue." "My father owned the jewelry store on..." So many of the respondents had families that worked in the same neighborhood in which they lived.

What a quaint concept. No one-hour commute. How totally last century! And the stores were open six days a week. All their lives my grandparents struggled so they wouldn't have to live above the store. I think of that every day on my one-hour commute to work. Any of you who grew up in East Flatbush had a parent who worked in Manhattan? 

I was in junior high school when I decided I wanted my own money, not an allowance, so I went into every store along Church Avenue from Albany Av to Kings Highway. ("Hey, you need anyone to deliver orders for you? Have bike; will deliver!")

Not one of the stores I went into looking for a job was a chain store. The person I spoke to was not a manager, but the owner. Aside from the Woolworth's on Utica Av, the closest to a chain store, was the Carvel on E55th St, but even that was an individually owned franchise.

Speaking of Woolworth's, walking into that store was a throw-back to an earlier life. Wood floors and wood counters. THE place to go to for school supplies. A fun place to stroll through before going to the Rugby. This one was unique - no soda fountain. Just very old sales 'girls'. Even my grandmother, who was far from being a spring chicken herself, would comment about how old the 'help' was with their smocks no doubt designed by the same people who designed the Howard Johnson restaurant uniforms. These factors all contributed to the chain's demise. The name above the store may have been replaced, but there is such a distinctive look that long after, you just know it was a former '5 and dime.'

     
Ok. So I forgot about Ebinger's, started by a German immigrant family in 1898. There was a bunch of them in Brooklyn and by the time the chain went belly-up in 1972 there were 67 in Brooklyn including the ones on Church Avenue, Queens, Staten Island, Nassau and Suffolk.

The closest was on Church near Utica (click on the picture here, courtesy of Brooklynpix.com) but their bakery and distribution center was on Bedford near Snyder and if the wind was blowing in a westerly direction, the aroma would not just float over Erasmus; it would sort of caress the school. I still drool, just thinking about Ebinger's layer cake, but hands down, the blackout cake was to die for. Several web sites proclaim to have the original receipe.

Ebinger's also did some miracle work with crumb cakes and buns. Those in the know would just pick off the crumb topping leaving the rest of the family to deal with a virtually bald bun. The stuff was delivered to the stores several times a day in red and black electric-powered trucks that would invariably double park blocking the trolleys.

There was a certain irony in that the large percentage of the chain's Brooklyn customers were Jewish which did not extend to their hiring practices. Ebinger's died a quiet death, allegedly because it did not follow its customers out of the City in the late sixties and seventies, to be reborn as Entenmann's packaged cakes and a Bay Ridge bakery using the signature Ebinger's logo and colors.

How much heartache can one kid endure? Dem Bums moving west and Ebinger's disappearing.

I got my very first job delivering prescriptions after school for a drugstore on Church Av. That won't help you pinpoint the store. There was a drug store on every other block.

I was paid by the number of orders I delivered plus the tips from the customers. It wasn't until years later that I realized how good a deal I had. I'd get the same tip for carrying a bottle of pills as the guy delivering three bags of heavy groceries. Rarely did I have to collect any money from the customer; everything was charged. Not with plastic; but with a pencil and a box full of index cards.

After a while, I'd get to know the regulars and they'd invite me in. ("So, you want I should make you sompem to eat? You look so skinny.") Sometimes they'd tip me by giving me soda bottles to cash in at the candy store for the deposit. That's interesting: Fifty years later the quart bottles have mushroomed to 2-litre bottles, but still command a 5-cent deposit. How did the world of bottle deposits escape inflation?

In high school I went to work delivering for Rubin's Kosher Butcher. And the tips really began rolling in and still the packages weren't as heavy as groceries. Added bonus: I got to ride one of those delivery bikes with the big basket in front. Now, THAT impressed the girls! On rainy days Seymour Rubin would drive me. (He didn't want I should get vet and seeck. It was easier to drive me than to deal with my mother, his customer.) That job lasted through high school. I got two dollars a day for about two hours of work. My first real salary: 2 fives, which my father framed.

If you didn't go to Ebinger's, there was Sutters on Flatbush and Caton or you went to a 'Jewish' bakery. You didn't have to be Jewish to own a Jewish bakery. If it was a bakery and you lived in Brooklyn, it was a Jewish bakery - pronounced as one word. That's it; don't argue; don't ask why. Just get a small seeded rye and ask them to slice it. And make sure it's fresh. Truth in advertising did not apply to local bakeries or fruit stores. "Of course it's fresh! Would I sell your mudda sompem that ain't fresh? Of all the retailers, bakeries had two of the most fascinating pieces of machinery. Sure the butcher had his saw that could cut through bone like it was butter, (a bad analogy, especially in a kosher butcher shop) and the shoe maker had that neat row of grinders and belts and brushes, but bakeries had bread-slicing machines and cord tying machines. You know, those gismos that would wrap a cord around a box in five seconds including tieing the knot. How it do that? And why did your mother save all the cord in the kitchen junk drawer? Especially the green and brown cord from Ebinger's.  That was special occasion string.

Each store had its loyal following. Would you ever think of going into a candy store that was not your 'regular' store?

I lived in an upscale neighborhood. We didn't have a candy store; we had Dave's.  Just plain Dave's  No further explanation required.  It was on a corner, there was a newspaper stand out front.  What did you think it was? And when Coca Cola replaced the old Breyer's Ice Cream sign, Dave's became Dave's Luncheonette and Soda Shoppe accompanied by a price increase. East Flatbush must have been the candy addict capital because Dave had competition on all sides - four within two blocks; one on the same block. How did any of them make any money?

At home our refrigerator had a freezer compartment large enough to hold two ice cube trays.  That's it.  You want side-by-side?  One of the trays would have to be put in the sink.  We'd go to Dave's and order a pint of hand-packed ice cream and we'd stand over him to make sure he packed that container with as much ice cream as it could possibly hold.

Each store had its unique aroma, but none compared to the smell of the fish store. My mother went to Al's on Church near Schenectady. No one could accuse these local merchants of creativity in naming their establishments. The decision centered solely around whether to use the owner's first or last name. If the names were already in use, then just initials would do. Al's offered the freshest fish at the best prices. It was the best. It was the best because my mother knew. Yeah, I know. Your mother also went to the best fish store, wherever it was. Everyone's mother did. Same for the bakery.

Maybe not so for the grocery. Even after a Bohack's opened two blocks away. my mother still patronized Lou's. Not only was allegiance based on proximity but on certain other perks: free delivery and your family's ability to join the hallowed ranks of those to whom credit was extended. I would be sent to Lou's for a container of milk (or 'a milk') and a stick of butter and maybe a measure of sour cream. Never eggs. (It wasn't until I started shaving that my mother would trust me to carry a dozen eggs a block and a half. To this day I still have an aversion to carrying eggs... and seltzer bottles.) After I told Lou or his wife what I wanted, he'd reach under the counter, take one shopping bag just large enough to hold my order, remove the big pencil from behind his ear, lick the point and add up the order on the paper bag. Maybe he didn't got such good English, but he sure as hell knew addition. I would tell him to 'put it on the wall' and every Saturday my mother would go in and Lou would add up all the orders we had bought for the week and my mother would pay. No plastic; just a sheet of wrapping paper on the wall and Lou's big pencil. (What's with the licking of the pencil point???)

Here's something to ponder: Let's say American cheese was on sale for 89 cents a pound and you wanted a quarter of a pound. It never came to exactly a quarter of a pound. as good as he was, Lou wasn't that good, so the cheese on the scale would be a little under or over what you had asked for. How did the Lou's of the world determine the price? And do it before the scale's needle stopped quivering? Did you ever know anyone to question the grocer's math?

OK. For you non-Brooklynites: a container is what you outlanders erroneously refer to as a carton, or quart of milk; a stick of butter is a quarter-pound stick of butter (one-pound boxes would be opened and the individual sticks would be sold separately) and pints of sour cream (a 'measure' according to my grandmother) defy derivation. The best I can conjure up is that at one time sour cream was sold in bulk to the merchant who then ladled out a supply to the customer. Hey, if you can do better, let me know! Also, 'a milk' was always one quart.  If you remember being sent to buy a half-gallon container, you are too young to appreciate this blog.  It wasn't until much later that milk started being sold in larger-than-quart containers.  By the way, the half-gallon containers helped signal the death knell for home delivery of milk.

Going to the appetizing store to buy lox (smoked salmon to those of you who might have just landed from Iowa) was close to a religious experience. The slicing of lox added new meaning to the word 'thin.' An eighth of a pound could serve a family of six. A pound of lox? You bought a pound maybe for a bar mitzvah.  Forget your definition of thin.  Thinly sliced lox meant you could see through it.  Rumor had it that our favorite appetizing store on 48th and Church, hired moonlighting surgeons to slice lox

There was even an art to applying the lox to a bagel. I grew up in a 'dot' house. This meant you took a small slice and to make it last you cut it up into even smaller pieces and placed it strategically over the cream cheese so that each bite would have some lox. This process paved the way for the splitting of the atom, which was a piece of cake in comparison. Rich people put an entire slice of lox on their bagel. I used to dream of someday being rich enough to do that. Gentiles sometimes did that when they wanted to 'assimilate,' or wanted a change from the usual corned beef with mayo on white bread diet.

The only way to buy halavah was from an appetizing store. The clerk would cut off a piece from a giant hunk and weight it. The pre-packaged stuff is good, but does not come close to buying it from that giant hunk.  While we're in drool mode, think about those chocolate covered jelly candies and all those other goodies strategically placed at waist height for a six-year old?

Next session we'll touch on a sub category of merchants - the street guys. Later blogs will delve into the exotic culinary world. How old were you when you learned that exotic cheeses did not include Velveeta or any cheese you spray on a cracker?