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Food for thought

October 3, 2008
By Bob Seidenstein,

I'm at the copying machine at work, chatting with my esteemed colleague, Ann Sterling.

Ann's a great co-worker and a peach of a gal besides. She's bright, literate and hard-working. Plus she's got a splendid sense of humor. In other words, she laughs at my jokes. OK, maybe she's just being polite. But even so, that's a rare treat in this Golden Age of Rudeness.

One of Ann's areas of expertise is wine. Unfortunately, it's something I can't share with her due to what I believe are hereditary reasons: If after 5,768 continuous years, my people (the rather immodestly self-designated "Chosen") have produced no better plonk than Mogen David and Manischewitz, our efforts are best served in other realms.

Luckily, I can relate to Ann's other discipline - writing.

Specifically, she teaches food writing - a far more difficult job than mine. Just think about it - writing on food? Sure, on some foods it'd be a cinch, like watermelons, matzohs and cheese (except, of course, Swiss). All you'd need would be a new Sharpie.

But how about something like angel hair pasta, sunny side up eggs or tossed salad? I've no idea what you'd write on them with, which I guess is where the art comes in.

And I thought it was rough teaching my students to write on paper!

Anyhow, Ann and I are talking about her classes and she mentions an assignment she gave them- to write about their first food memory - and we're merrily blabbing about it when suddenly, deep within the Primal Dope, an enormous gong sounds, heralding the emergence of something long buried.

My first food memory? Till she mentioned it, I wouldn't have thought I even had such a thing. But I sure do, and it's drilling me, full force.

Dog day afternoon

It's summer, 1950. I'm three-and-a-half, sitting on our front porch on McClellan Street, itching for adventure.

I don't want to draw; I don't want to toot my whistle and I sure don't want to take a nap. Of course, at that tender age, my choices are severely limited, both in variety and geography.

What to do? I ponder it a bit and then it hits me - I'll visit my friend Georgie Besaw. I go back in the house and ask my mother if I can go to Georgie's, and of course, she gives me permission.

Why "of course"?

While it may sound strange, if not completely irresponsible, for a parent to let a three-year-old wander the streets, in that setting it made perfect sense. First, it wasn't like I was hiking cross-town: Georgie lived about three houses down. Second, back in that long-gone innocent time when media didn't constantly barrage us with horror stories - unlike today - everyone didn't think everyone else was a drooling homicidal maniac. So a kid wandering down the street was just that, and not another lamb about to be led to the slaughter.

Plus, I was going to visit Georgie.

Georgie was one of those rare kids who from the time he was hatched was blessed with a sweet disposition. He never acted out, never sassed, never plotted or planned, never got mad. And when I say never, I mean never. He was McClellan Street's version of the Christ Child.

So my mother had nothing to worry about if I was with Georgie, since not only would he do nothing wrong, but he wouldn't let me drag him into any rascality either.

When I got to Georgie's, he was sitting on his front steps, as I'd been on mine. But unlike me, he seemed perfectly contented, just hanging there, a gentle smile on his face.

I sat next to him and we visited, as we always did. Of course, I can't remember most of our conversation, but there was one thing Georgie said that's stuck with me.

"Hey," he said, "you want something to eat?"

I gave him the obvious answer - "Yes."

"You want some hot dogs?" he said.

"Hot dogs?" I asked, incredulous. "You know how to cook?"

"No," he said. "But I don't have to."

Then he disappeared into his house, leaving me puzzling over the situation.

A minute later he returned with an opened pack of hot dogs. He pulled one out, took a huge bite and smacked his lips with unbridled delight. Then he offered me one.

Eat a raw hot dog? Was such a thing possible? I had no idea. Certainly, I knew my germophobic mother had never done it. I also knew she'd never let me do it. Why was that? Forget the hot dogs themselves - I was under strict orders never, ever, to eat anything, anywhere, if she wasn't with me. And let's face it, she sure wasn't there on Georgie's porch.

But Georgie sure was, and he was holding out that hot dog, that delicious, bright-pink, uncooked goodie, right under my gaping maw.

It was my first ethical dilemma and I agonized over itfor about two seconds. Then I snatched the weenie and chomped on it.

It was unreal. I'd always loved cooked hot dogs- especially the ones cooked over a fire, with their crisp, sometimes even blackened skins. But in one bite of the uncooked one I became an instant believer. In its own exotic way, the uncooked one was every bit as good as its campfire counterpart, maybe even better. And why not - isn't steak tartare a delicacy among the cognoscenti? Wasn't I a cognoscnetus?

Georgie finished his hot dog and licked his lips. Then he pulled out another one and started to demolish it.

I finished mine but this time didn't wait for his generosity. Instead, I snagged one on my own.

Back then, as a baby glutton, my capacity was shamefully limited: I managed the second hot dog, but then ground to a halt. But I didn't need more - at that moment I was plenty stuffed and gloriously satisfied.

A new twist on the Old Testament

I think it was the first time I'd deliberately disobeyed my mother, and I was terrified something bad would come of it - not in a karmic sense, but in a parental one: I was sure my mother would somehow know I'd broken sacred law and I'd end up getting paddled with her nylon hairbrush.

But guess what? When I got home, it was business as usual - my mother didn't even have the slightest suspicion I'd gone astray. It was an historic moment - my first step on the very long road to rebellion .

A year or so later, when I started Sunday school, the first story we were told was Adam and Eve.

It was a wild scene. First, there's Adam and Eve, butt-nekkid and happy as larks in the garden. Then there's the serpent, the apple and Adam and Eve again - but this time clothed, ashamed and evicted, stuck not only with the disgrace of It all, but having to find new digs and a real gig as well.

I can't say I really felt sorry for them. If anything, I felt superior to them, and it was all due to Georgie Besaw.

Disobeying God's command was something I understood perfectly. In fact, I would've done the same thing A and E didbut not for one lousy apple.

However, if the almighty had instead offered me a raw hot dog, I'd've been fitted for a fig leaf faster than you can say "Original sin."



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