Gook Gook

This is how my mother ruined dinner as a kid.

Lonnie ("Lavender Lonnie") my mother, grew up in Fort Lee, NJ.  When she was a young girl in the 1930's, her house had a large backyard with assorted  farm animals.  Chickens, roosters, goats, pigs, as well as successive cats and dogs.  My mother referred to this petting zoo as her playground.  She always loved animals, and still does.  In those days, this semi-agrarian way of life was common to many first generation Italian-Americans, and with the Depression, it made sense to feed yourself and live off the land as much as possible.

The difference in age between my mother, the baby, and her oldest sibling was 19 years.  In fact, Uncle Primo was already out of the house when my mother was born.  She did have one brother, Uncle Eddy, who was just a couple of years older than mom.  I thankfully was able to meet him once as a young boy, to understand how close he and mom were in spirit, and why it hurt her so much when he died so young a few years later.

Their age proximity formed a special bond between them, and they shared the playground/zoo in the back yard.  One chicken stood out among the many egg layers.  Gook Gook,  my mother named her, for the sound the chicken kept making in its unending query for food.  Gook Gook must have been a dog in a previous life, following Lonnie and Eddy around the yard even after feeling time, while all the others lost interest when their hands were empty.

After school one day, Lonnie and Eddy went into the back yard and discovered there was no Gook Gook.

They reported this to their father, who explained that, possibly, someone may have stolen Gook Gook.  The yard was next to the road, and in those desperate Depressive times, someone might do just that to survive.  Heartbroken, Lonnie and Eddy accepted their father's theory, and tried to attach themselves to another chicken.  There just wasn't another Gook Gook.

Their mother (see "Nana") was a great Florentine cook.  From the stories I've heard, it could have been her, and not Mama Leone, who opened a famous restaurant in New York City.  In fact she came to this country as a cook for a wealthy Italian family.  She didn't get sponsorship, and free passage to America by being a lousy cook.  My grandfather was a successful mechanic, having built a car for his wealthy patron to race in the early days of that industry.  He had the means to put food on the table, even in those hard times.

Sunday dinners, I've been told, went something like this.  Hot and cold antipasti, minestrone soup, risotto or pasta, poultry, followed by a meat roast, nuts and figs, sometimes dessert, then espresso.  Nana took great care to entertain family, friends, significant others, and potential in-laws.

The next Sunday dinner after Gook Gook went missing was going fine until the poultry offering was presented.

My mother said, "Eddy, that sure looks like Gook Gook, doesn't it?"

Nana reached over and twisted my mother's ear, and with a vice like grip on it, lead her out of the dining room.

Sunday dinner was effectively over because Papa didn't choose another chicken, and the rest of the family, in sympathy, lost their appetite.

The only thing Gook Gook did wrong was she stop laying eggs.



Any Boomers, like myself, considering a spiffy sports car like you always wanted in your younger days, this Volkswagen may fill the bill for you.  Its a hard top convertible, seats four, although the back seat is for liliputians.  Genna and I use the back seat for our cooler when we take trips to Florida.  Other than that, it has lots of pep, handles like a go cart, gets good mileage, and with the top down, the windows up, you'll leave the car without a bad hair day if you keep it under 70.  I'm sure you would agree, it is a fun car.

Last winter, we were fortunate to get away to our place in Florida, just before a major snowstorm in New Jersey.  So, we just got down there in time, and have to admit to snickering at the weather that our friends and family were experiencing up north.

After a couple of days our son, George, send us an email photo of his car, which under so much snow, looked like a giant vanilla ice cream cone.  Bordering on malice, Genna decides to snap a phone picture of me in the Eos, with the top down, under a shady palm tree in a 75 degree cloudless ideal of a day.  As a caption, she adds, "How much snow is on your car roof?" Clicks send.

George sends back, " I hate the both of you.  I hope a big bird shits on both of your heads."

Not content to chuckle at his pain, Genna decides to forward the photo and George's response to Mike, our neighbor.

Mike, not too amused either, sends back, "I hope a VERY big bird."


Max and Eddy

Max, short for Maxine, and Eddy were to two shop dogs that George, my father in law, and I had at our place of business.  You may recall (see "The Route 3 Piglet") it was located in the Meadowland in Secaucus, NJ.  How they came to us is a matter for speculation.  Being so close to Route 3, they could have been left to fend for themselves by owners with a probable poor reason for doing so.  There weren't any houses nearby at the time that they could have run away from, or gotten lost.  No one ever came around looking for either of them.  

Anyway, I'm pretty sure they both thought they died and went to Heaven when they stumbled upon us.  We  installed trap doors so they could go in and out as they pleased.  They ate vet recommended dog food, as well as parts of our lunches every day.  It was a pretty good common law relationship, with us as servants.

Max stumbled in first.  My best guess is she was a cross between a Golden Retriever and a German Shepard, and the vet guessed she was about three years old.  After a checkup, shots, and flea collar, she was deemed to be in pretty good shape.  

She followed George everywhere around the premises, except when she was hunting rabbits among the cattail grasses that stretched behind the building for about a half a mile.  We witnessed her catch a rabbit on the run, like a lioness on a plain in Africa. 

Max loved cars and trucks.  "C'mon, Max," was all George had to say if she was within earshot.  Each day, he would take her into town, as he visited the bank and post office.

Eddy dropped in a couple of years after Max.  He was probably a cross between a German Shepard and Dalmatian.  Eddy got the same regimen that she did, and was also deemed fit.  However, we noticed after a short while, that Eddy was not too bright, and a little crazy.  Just like Max followed George, Eddy followed Max, everywhere.  Shortly after Eddy arrived, George and Max were making a daily run into town, and George just happened to look in his side view mirror and noticed Eddy running on the road shoulder trying to catch up to the car.  He stopped the car and loaded Eddy into the back seat.  Eddy barked, just to hear himself, I think, at everything.  When he barked, Max would start to bark.  So here they are, the three of them, two barking and George yelling, at them.  While proceeding onward into town, Eddy decides he want to join George and Max in the front seat.

George returned back to the shop white as a ghost, nearly crashing the car and the three of them, when he recounted to me what had happened.

"That's it!" he said, "No more dogs in the car, unless they have to go to the vet."  Until the dogs got the picture, we had to keep them inside while George got in the car to make his daily trip to town.

I mentioned Eddy being a little crazy.  Somehow, we left a can of dog food on a lower shelf that Eddy could access.  When I returned to work the next day, I spied that can of dog food, BITTEN in half, its contents devoured, and Eddy licking his chops.  Kid you not.  Change that to German Shepard and Shark!!

Both dogs were fun to be around, and without fail, they always provided at least a minor chuckle each day.  George was usually last to arrive in the morning, he was getting older, and had certainly paid his dues.  We knew his arrival by first Eddy, then Max barking.  They greeted him in the parking lot, and followed at his side as he entered the building.  Max would walk straight next to him, while Eddy would circle around the two of them, barking all the way.  They followed George into his office where he had a biscuit jar.  They would both sit at his feet, Eddy settling last, on Max's right (not left, every day).  Eddy knew that Max got the first treat, but he would stare and follow it from George's hand, into Max's mouth.  Knowing the next was his, Eddy would adjust his backside, wag his tail, then catch it as it dropped from George's hand (remembering the dog food can, George thought it best to keep his fingers this way).

Both dogs lived until their mid teens, which, for larger dogs is very old.  But hey, they didn't have to work,  their every need was attended to, and they had fun every day.  I hope when they did die, that Heaven was as good for them.


Pop Pop's Sailboat

That would be my grandfather's, however this story is about his son, my Pop's use of his boat as a young boy on the Hudson River.  My dad grew up in Edgewater, NJ, a town aptly named for its narrow bordering of the Hudson from Fort Lee to the north to Cliffside Park to the south.  On a map, the town looked like an eel, being so narrow.  A heavy hitting golfer could tee up a ball at the shore and posit it on the Fort Lee cliff overlooking the town.  For a kid like my father growing up during the 20's and 30's, Edgewater provided an easy access to water, and boats that were moored along row after row of boathouses and canoe clubs.  I remember, as a kid myself, seeing as many boats as stars in a moonless sky.  When my dad was a kid, the river was an inexpensive paradise, before most everyone decided that looking at the New York City skyline should be expensive.

My Pop Pop, like most other residents, had a small sailboat,  a locker for his gear, and a slip for the boat.  My father took every opportunity he could to be around that boat.  He sanded, painted, varnished, and did everything else to keep the boat, "ship shape."

One hot, late spring day, before school was out, my father decided to play hookie, and went to the boathouse to go for a solo sail, unbeknownst to anyone in his family.

The day was going fine when two things happened that my father forgot to plan for:  the fickleness of the wind, and a pair of oars for that possibility.

How do you say, Dead Calm.

Meanwhile, from his office on the tenth floor of  Alcoa, the aluminum company that in those days had a plant on the river's Jersey side, Pop Pop was conversing with an associate.

"John," his co-worker said, " isn't that your boat in the middle of the river.  It sure looks like your sail."

Pop Pop had a pair of binoculars handy, and sure enough, there was my father hanging onto a mid channel marker, waiting for someone, with oars or a motor, to come to his aid.

When dad finally did return home, around suppertime, Pop Pop said, " The broken lock (he knew my dad didn't have a key) is going to be replaced from your allowance, and you'd better think about what you're going to say to your teacher tomorrow." 

 My dad said in later years, my grandfather was really more annoyed that he didn't ask if he could go for a sail that day, because he would have said yes.



This is not a funny story, but I believe a good one.  Good in the sense of what kind of person Al was.  

Al died last Monday, age 92.  Just 92.  His birthday was last Friday.  He was not famous to the rest of us, just to his family, who accounted for everything in his life.  Everything he thought and did, worked and planned for, was for his family.  His graveside eulogies by family members made us friends realize what a hero they had lost.  What a truly wonderful world if Al's book of Fatherhood were read by the men who need to.

Al was the father of Genna's very dear friend, Melodie, and we would see him at least once a year, especially since I share a birthday with Mel's youngest daughter.

I called Al my gold standard, for the way he lived life to the fullest, and for a long time.   The other thing I liked about Al was, when ever we'd meet again, he would say, "John, you've lost weight!"  It was never true, but I took it anyway.

Poignantly, the last time I saw him, he needed a walker to get around, and Father Time was hanging on his shoulder.  He looked me in the eye and said, "John, I'VE lost weight," which he painfully did, but the twinkled eyes, the ruddy cheeks, and the ready smile were still there.

I suspected that might be my last visit, and I am thankful for it. 


The Joke On Kerry

There are six of us, the "Tara Six" we've come to call ourselves.  Mike and Donna you've already met, Genna and I, and, introducing, Kerry and Brad.  Tara for Tara Homes, the builder who took deposits from the three couples, then sunk into bankruptcy as soon as the housing downturn commenced a few years ago.  We were all going to be neighbors in "Horizons at Peach Hill", a site that previously was a successful cabana and pool area, a successful, intimate concert venue (the Stones played there), a successful summer college basketball league site, but, for us, a nightmarish debacle of a housing project.  Tara Homes, developments 'Gone with the Wind'.

The sad part was each of our homes were only weeks away from delivery, Mike and Donna, only one week.  All of us were going to be neighbors in the same U shaped court, in the best part of the development.

In the weeks right after the bankruptcy filing, I got a craggy, hand written fax from Mike ( probably scrawled alongside a second or third 'Stollie'), asking me to call him and his wife, Donna, which I did the next day.  We began a friendship and commiseration which has lasted through the bankruptcy until the present.

Kerry and Brad we didn't really get to know until Mike suggested the six of us have lunch to discuss another housing development that the first four of us really liked, and thought they would too.

Well, we all met at the restaurant, Kerry and Brad arriving last.  Brad seemed to have a 'que sera, sera' take on the whole bankruptcy / other new house situation.  Kerry seemed like a deer in headlights.

The rest of us explained to them the benefits of the new development.  The builder was solvent, no outstanding construction loans.  The street was the best in the development.  It had just become available for sale, there were no houses in front or in back.  There was a lake on the other side of the street, etc.  Kerry and Brad seemed to like what we had to say, and didn't want to miss an opportunity at this new development. Kerry seemed to visibly relax, she actually started blinking her eyes, which I don't think she did up until that point.

I don't know why I have the urge to humor someone at their expense, especially when I know they're really not up for a joke.  However, I kept glancing at Kerry during lunch, and really did try to suppress what I ended up doing.

Lunch was over about 2PM, we settled the bill, and all got up to leave.

"Well, I think you should  go over to the sales office, these houses are selling really fast.  I think the office is open until 2:30 this afternoon," I said looking at Brad.

"Whaaaaaatttttt!!!!???  Kerry burst, as the rest of us, except Genna, laughed.

Genna just gave me that 'why would you do something like that, again' look.

I was really sorry after I said it.  I am a  remorseful Gemini.

Kerry and Brad did purchase a home on the same street as the other four of us.   Kerry I've found to be a very good sport, but for that first prank, she has a joke at my expense account, which is unlimited, and can be used at any time.


Courtside with BK

Time for another story about my beloved Rutgers Mens Basketball team.  It's safe to say I'm a fairly dedicated fan.  I have had season tickets for about 20 years.  I go to most related functions, banquets, Court Club meetings etc.

My friend, BK, has a dedication and knowledge of the game and the program that makes mine seem trivial, and just about knowing that the ball's round.  I call him "the Oracle".  He know's everything and everybody associated with this basketball enterprise.   He's missed only one game in about 15 years.  Two foot snowstorm.  He's such a loyal supporter, regardless if the coaching regime is on the way in, or on the way out.  His work schedule is arranged AROUND the basketball schedule (nice to be able), so he makes all the away games also. BK sure knows how to put the fan in fanatic.

Last year we had yet another coaching change, which seems to happen as frequently as our national elections.  I think this one's going to stick, though (fingers crossed).  The new coach is in his early forties, with very high energy and intensity, which we all hope his heart can keep up with.  He also talks like he was born at sea, and gargles with rock salt.  This  produces a raspy voice that raises profanity to an art form which would make any sailor blush.

Let me tell you how I found this out.

BK tells me there is to be a free exhibition game, the coaching debut for the new guy.  To make it extra special for him, BK says his parents are coming to their very first Rutgers game, ever.

"Why don't you and Genna come early also, so we can all sit in the front row, behind the team bench?"

Excellent idea, I told him.  Neither of us has our regular seats in this area.  We'd be able to hear everything the coach says during the game, and during time outs.

Did we hear everything.

It wasn't like the whole gym could hear him, just Genna and I, BK and his lovely wife, Jane, and especially BK's parents.  They both had the look that an irritated Queen of England gets that says, "We are NOT amused."  Genna, having spent too much time in parochial schools, was giggling hysterically, making up for lost time.

I was glad to see BK's parents at a later game during the season, far enough away from the coach's mouth.


Lavender Lonnie

It's funny how people get nick names, and how they stick.

That's my mother's family nickname, given by me as a teenager.  I appropriated this tag after noticing her pattern of transforming various household items from whatever color they were, into this very soothing shade of purple.  When you say the word "purple", most people think, "murky," "dreary," "mourning", or just "eeyyuckk".  Lavender is different.  Imagine if you could mix a dab of clear teal blue sky with just a little blueberry juice.  That would be lavender to me.  It's peaceful.  A clear blue sky can do that.

I guess it does the same for Lonnie.  Over the years, I've watched her lavender magic work on nick knacks, picture prints, picture frames, railings, floors, walls, cabinets, etc.  But here's the thing.  It was never too much lavender at any one time.  Never a monotonous shade.  Lovely lavender has a very narrow range of calm and peace, and Lonnie always had that balance.

She also liked an occasional clothing item in lavender, which will get us from my lavender dissertation to the funny part of the story.

A few years ago, I went to pick her up at the airport after her flight from the Outer Banks area of North Carolina.  I see her coming down the passenger tunnel in a just the right shade of lavender pants suit, and an extra bounce in her step (yes, she's an "octo" that still has that).

"Ma, you look extra chipper.  That must have been a very good flight."

"Let me tell you how good.  There was this very charming young steward who lit up when he passed my coach seat and said,"

"WOW Mayam,  that is THEE most Gor gee us lavenduh out fe it Ah have EVUH laid Ahhs on!!"

"I thanked him profusely, and said what a fine, kind young southern gentleman he was.  He left to go about his business.  Then I noticed the plane had quite a few empty seats.  The next time I caught his eye, I hooked my little first finger between my sight and his, and he came back to my seat," Lonnie said.

What happened next made me realize the gene connection between Lonnie and her mother, my Nana, who I've already told you about.

Lonnie said to the young man,  "Don't you think this lavender pants suit would look much better in first class, next to a glass of champagne?"

"He just rolled his eyes and walked away, but I knew I had him on the line," she continued.


"A few minutes later, he summoned me with his own little hook finger to the forward cabin, where he sat me down in this huge seat made from a cloud, poured me a glass of champagne, and left the bottle right next to me.  I was so nice to that young man the rest of the flight."

Lonnie sure has a way with that color.