Foodies of the World—Let’s Eat!

This morning my eleven year old son said, “Pancakes without butter is like Jesus without sandals.” I want to put that on a T-shirt.

Apparently my wife and I have passed down our sick, twisted relationship with food. We are both “foodies”, which is the definition we came up with for anyone who recognizes the line, “You ever suck the jelly out of a jelly doughnut?” from the movie Fatso. Ask me anything. The cousin who always had a candy bar on him, who they haul to his grave in a U-Haul—his name was Sal. The greeting card Dom Deluise suggests for the Polish girl he falls for reads, “I miss your smile/ I miss your grace, But most of all/ I miss your face.” The two fat guys who come over to Dom’s place to talk him off the ledge (“The key, Junior!)? They come from “Chubby Checkers”, whose motto is “I’m fat!”. Among Deluise’s crimes is he eats $40 worth of Chinese food and the “ony” from his nephew Anthony’s birthday cake. He accuses his brother of not knowing how to “run his plate”. I won’t go on.

My childhood obesity is a well-documented fact on this blog. I’ve told the story of the fat kid trying to ski and the fat kid trying to ride a bike. I don’t think I told the story about looking for uniform pants for my Catholic school and not being able to get them in my size. So we had to go to the “Husky” section and approximate the grey—except three shades off and in corduroy. Which I subsequently ripped up the crotch while playing kickball. How did things come to this? Well apparently when my father was in the Army reserves when I was two, I lived with my mother in my grandparents’ apartment. My Irish grandma never met a problem that couldn’t be solved by shoving food in its mouth. There’s a picture of my then-plump eight-year-old mother on top of a pony on her birthday. She swears it died the next day. There’s another picture of me at Catskill Game Farm, my big fat thighs straddling an elephant. I have no idea what became of the poor creature, but if the legend holds true I’m sure it remembered that day as a particularly hard one.

Mary El’s lineage was also counter to a healthy relationship with food. She came from the same lower middle class environment as I did, so getting food in the house was a rare and special occurrence. When she’d get home from school her mother would lead her into the kitchen and open up each of the cabinets one by one to show her that they were filled. Then the refrigerator, the coup de grace. I never met Mary El’s mom, but the my wife keeps saying, “You would have loved eating ice cream with her.” That I can understand. It’s the language of the foodie.

Our relationship was built around food. Before the place closed, we used to go up to Middletown to eat Jewish deli at least twice a month. Neither of us are Jewish, but c’mon, they had Dr. Brown soda and put pickles on the table, sour and half sour. We’d convert for the food alone. We don’t go in for the gefilte fish or the tongue, but hot dogs, pastrami, corned beef, knish, derma…I have to stop, I’m salivating on my keyboard. We both knew where to go for the best pizza, Chinese (sit down or take out), Italian sub, souvlaki, tortilla and salsa, BBQ ribs, steak, hot wings, French onion soup, cannoli… I’m pretty sure she agreed to marry me because there was a bolognese dish at a restaurant we liked, and it would be a big enough occasion for us to go out for a nice dinner. On Christmas Eve one year Mary El was sick so we couldn’t go down to see her family like we planned. To make it up to her I went to Adam’s and bought about fifty bucks worth of cold cuts, olives, mozzarella balls, red peppers, you name it. I made garlic bread covered with prosciutto and melted mozzarella, topped with chopped tomatoes, basil and garlic—my twist on bruschetta. We laid it all out on the floor by the tree and ate like drunken Romans. It was magical.

Then tragedy struck. I was diagnosed with colitis and within three months I had to have a full colectomy, and a series of awful surgeries afterward. It left me with a permanent pain in my stomach which gets worse when I eat. I CAN eat now, but not enough to get all the nutrients I need, and certainly not for fun anymore. I went from 195-200 pounds to about 180, with a built-in aversion to food. You may think that sounds like heaven, but believe me it’s not. To make things worse, we moved an hour upstate. We were welcomed with open arms–my previous post entitled “How the Irish Tried to Kill My Family” explains that nightmare.  Not only is there not a Jewish deli within 100 miles, there’s lousy pizza, lousy Chinese and no one makes a good hard roll. The cold cuts are cut so thick you can shingle your house with them. If the schools weren’t good there’d be a long cloud of dust left from where we peeled out of town. It’s foodie purgatory.

Mary El and I started to drift apart. Suddenly we had to make actual conversation that didn’t revolve around what we had to eat that day. We lacked that certain sizzle, some spice, a cherry on the sundae. If we couldn’t split a gyro, what was the point of continuing? We seriously discussed splitting up, but we couldn’t figure out who would get the refrigerator.

That’s all B.S. My wife was great when I got sick and continues to be wonderful, but how fun is that?

The point is that now our children have become our foodie torchbearers. Conor went through a banana smoothie stage that made us worry for the health of his arteries. Mychal knows the difference between instant mashed potatoes and the real stuff. Breakfast at our house is like spending the morning at IHOP, except IHOP offers less choice. Like any good parents, we have managed to pass on to our children the worst of both of us. Now pass the chicken.

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