TWO GUYS AND A TURKEY

About 30 years ago I wrote about my pal Nick and I taking over  the preparation of Thanksgiving dinner to show our wives it really isn’t that much of a big deal, even if 14 family members and guests would be sitting at the festive table.

When I volunteered for the task, I said to  my wife,”It can’t be that much of a project.  There’s just the turkey, dressing, a few vegetables and a dessert. Nick and I can handle that easily.”

“Okay, so do it, Dear, or take us out to a restaurant,” she replied. Nick said he’d received the same ultimatum.   We accepted the challenge, thinking it would be fun. Hah!

I drove to Nick’s on Thanksgiving Eve with a boxful of ingredients and a Betty Crocker cookbook, determined to turn out a feast which, if not exactly delectable, would be at least presentable and hopefully digestible.

Nick took charge of the huge turkey. He was an excellent barbecue cook, although some of his Hungarian dishes were exotic, or even strange. One concoction consisting of onions, mushrooms, red peppers, pork fat and butter was something my palate remembers fondly.  My gall bladder is still undecided. 

As I was cutting up the turnips, yams, potatoes, carrots and my left index finger, I noticed Nick was rubbing down the turkey with a crimson paste. He explained it was an ancient Transylvanian paprika recipe for pork belly that he was adapting for our 22-pound bird.

We’d started at 8 p.m. and figured we’d be done preparing by 11, but it was well past midnight when I slid two apple pies into the oven. They looked like patchwork quilts. I’d had trouble transferring the rolled out dough from the counter to the pie pans. Betty Crocker had warned that overworked dough could result in a tough crust. We were in for a couple of steel-belted pies.

Nick prepared three kinds of stuffing to satisfy the varying tastes of 14 diners. One had a cornbread base, another used the giblets and the third was a combination of commercial brands which he called “Stove Bottom”. During dinner the next day I asked my daughter to pass the stuffing platter and she replied, “I can’t, Dad. It’s too heavy.”

We were up and busy at dawn with the oven, stove and microwave going full blast.  The guests arrived at noon as we were into the finishing touches, delumping the gravy and trying to get the turkey out of the oven.  It had swelled up and was wedged in.  Fortunately the Transylvania marinade made it very slippery.

Everyone ate heartily and there were compliments to the chefs.  We didn’t say, “Shucks, it was nothing.”  because it had been backbreaking work. But we’d managed to preserve the tradition of a homecooked Thanksgiving dinner and even added a new twist. The carver didn’t have to ask “White meat or dark?”  Everyone had red.

REPORTING THE BARE FACTS

Two little boys went out to explore

the nudist camp that just opened next door.

“What’s it all about?” asked one.

“Mommy says they worship the sun.”

“Climb that tree and look over the fence.

Report what you see if it makes any sense.”

“I see lots of people, about a hundred and ten.”

“How many ladies and how many men?”

“There’s some of each, I suppose,

but I can’t tell them apart, they’re not wearing  clothes.”

OLD HAT BUT STILL POPULAR

When archaeologists in the far distant future are examining the artifacts of today’s society they’ll probably decide, after finding millions of baseball cap remnants, that we were a nation of ballplayers who, in the off seasons, built skyscraper cities, invented electronics and other marvels and went on trips to the moon  and around our solar system.

The baseball cap, according to some historians, was invented in 1849 by the New York Knickerbockers baseball team.  It had the distinctive visor and was made of straw. Succeeding designs were worn almost exclusively by ballplayers until the mid-20th century when non-athletes began to wear them instead of fedoras, derbies and berets. And whoever sees a lady wearing a pretty bonnet these days?

Suppose the caps had become widely popular from the start. Can you imagine Abraham Lincoln visiting the Union Troops around 1861 without his trademark stovepipe hat? Matthew Brady photos would show him wearing a cap from a hometown team called the Springfield Yankees.

The caps were invented to keep the sun out of the players’ eyes. Sunglasses weren’t around until 1929, so the visor was a great idea, especially for flyball-chasing outfielders. Cowboy hats were probably considered, but they would have gotten in the way of batters’ swings and pitchers’ windups, and how would a catcher get his face mask straps around a Stetson?

Since the cap is now worn in all kinds of weather by non-players, the visor also blocks rain, snow, sleet and hopefully, lightning bolts. They’ve been found to be useful by various tradesmen.  For instance, lower level painters are protected from the spillovers of their upper level colleagues.

Modern caps also serve as cranial billboards to advertise the wearer’s allegiance to sports teams, exterminating companies, breweries, etc.  Some proclaim accomplishments such as  WWII service or an opinion like “I Love NY” or “I Hate Disco”.

Some cap wearers with a rebellious streak have done away with the face-protecting feature by wearing the visor in the rear or halfway around in a desperate attempt at coolness.  It’s not a new idea. The old Sherlock Holmes style deerstalker cap has both front and rear visors and retractable ear flaps with stylish back tie strings. How cool can you get?

ACROSS A CROWDED ROOM

I was invited to a cocktail party many years ago during my freewheeling youth and, after looking around the room, I realized I knew no one there except the host and he was busy schmoozing with other guests and refilling glasses, including his own.

I ended up exchanging cliches and platitudes with a fellow in a green seersucker suit who, unfortunately, turned out to be an insurance salesman. He adroitly switched from small talk to actuarial matters and started out alphabetically with accident protection  and annuities .  By the time he got to major medical and mortality tables I was looking around for the nearest exit.  That’s when I noticed the attractive girl across the room who was staring at me fixedly and not paying much attention to the host who had just handed her a glass of wine.

I looked again when Seersucker Suit had finished surety bonds and was starting on travel coverage,  Miss Pretty Girl was still staring, but now she was actually walking toward me and smiling.  This could be the start of something big, I thought.

“Excuse me,” she said, reaching up and touching my shoulder.

“That’s quite all right, what can I do for you Miss?”  I replied,  trying to sound like Robert Redford.   She smiled again. What a great  smile!

“I noticed your jacket collar is all twisted and it was driving me crazy.   Please let me straighten it out.  It’s just one of my quirks.”

As she worked with  my collar I was hoping this was just one of her opening gambits, but then she turned to Seersucker Suit and said,  “I think we should be going home now, Dear.”

It wasn’t a total loss. The next day I called and arranged a date – with Metropolitan Life.

 

BURNING AMBITION

We complain about growing old, but do we really want to stop growing old ?

A friend told me he’d just turned 80 and it made him feel old and feeble.  “Oh yes,” I agreed. “Eighty is terribly old, a really awful age. I’m so glad I’m not 80 anymore.”

Although I feel hale and hardy I might be getting close to the final bell.  I thought I heard the warning buzzer the other day, but it was probably just the wax building up in my ears again.  Anyway, I’m making some hereafter and here-under plans. For instance, I’m opting for cremation.  The old graveside prayer, based on Genesis, reminds us of our “ashes to ashes” fate.  But what to do with the ashes?  I wouldn’t want to be stuck on someone’s closet shelf next to the mothballs box until Gabriel finally blows his horn.

I wrote a feature once  about a fellow named Pete who’d left instructions for his ashes to be dropped from a plane into Giants Stadium, an imaginative idea, but the stadium back then had AstroTurf and he wouldn’t have been able to settle in and fertilize the gridiron grass. A lot of his remains were sure to be picked up by the cleats of visiting teams and eventually Pete would be scattered around all the NFL stadiums.   Maybe that’s what he had in mind.  He’s probably had a bugs-eye view of some great Superbowl games, the lucky stiff!

I have a more personal destination for my ashes.  I’ve lived beside beautiful Lake Parsippany for over half a century and I’d like most of my ashes sprinkled into its blue waters. Since the lake has a catch-and-release rule I won’t end up as part of a fisherman’s dinner.

Taking a cue from Pete, I’d like a very small part of my grainy remains, just a teaspoonful, eventually deposited in Citi Field. I have a feeling that the New York Mets are about due for a great season and I’d like to be there when it happens, if possible in the on-deck circle.

THE CALLEE STRIKES BACK

The very first annoying phone call was made on Friday, March 10, 1876 to Thomas Watson in Boston, Massachusetts.   Watson was Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant and was probably on his break and having TGIF thoughts when he received the world’s first telephone call.  It was from his boss down the hall.

If Watson thought fast he could have replied, “You have reached Thomas Watson. Your call is very important to me. Please leave a message at the signal and I will get back to you as soon as possible…..BEEP!” Then he could have finished his coffee and donut.

Actually, that wouldn’t have worked because Thomas Edison didn’t invent the recording machine until the following year. Faking a busy signal wouldn’t have been a good idea either since Bell knew that he and Watson had the only two telephones on the planet.

It’s remarkable to learn that Bell foresaw that his wonderful creation might not be completely beneficial to the civilized world and could become an instrument of intrusion. When he later went on to other scientific endeavors he refused to have a telephone installed in his study to avoid interruptions of his thought processes.

By 1886 over 150,000 Americans had telephones, but they couldn’t call Bell until after working hours when he was eating his dinner, a situation we’re all still stuck with.  How painfully prophetic the great inventor was!

Although I’m on the official Do-Not-Call List with over 200 million other Americans, the uninvited, unwelcome calls continue in spite of the risk of a $16,000 fine for one illegal ring up and higher penalties for repeaters.

Since Bell anticipated this negative offshoot of his invention he should have incorporated some kind of proactive element or at least the suggestion of one. It would be satisfying if we could press a button to send a mild, but unpleasant electric shock into the headset of a meddlesome telemarketer or perhaps demolish the circuitry of a robotic peddler.