Category Archives: Family

Back to School (Not Really)

I’m in the library at Moorpark College after accompanying Alyssa while she drove to her Jazz Dance class, where I then took the car to a public parking lot and walked to the library. I’m now sitting and waiting for her class to be over at 10:50. We’ve been planning this for a while, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to make it given my health concerns.

However, I did get a heart monitor yesterday and it’s important I conduct myself as normally as possible so we get plenty of data in order to more accurately assess what’s going on. The short walk here with about a 10-pound backpack (I brought my laptop so I could get some stuff done with a full-size keyboard) got my heart rate up to about 106, which seems kind of high. After finding a desk to set up at, it’s now down to 66 which, given that I’ve not been terribly active lately, seems a bit low. Part of me is wondering if my Fitbit tracker is on the fritz, as it’s given me some fairly strange readings lately.

At any rate, I’m going to keep on keepin’ on for the next six days, then remove the monitor and send it to the vendor who supplies it, then wait a few days to hear from my doctor. I’m also waiting to hear from Kaiser regarding an echo cardiogram, which has also been ordered. Overall, I’m feeling reasonably good. Time will tell.


Adulting Not Parenting

They say that getting old isn’t for the faint of heart. I tend to agree with that sentiment, but I’ve managed to add an entirely different dimension to the equation. I did’t become a parent until I was 55 years old. That’s when we adopted our oldest daughter from the People’s Republic of China. When I was 59 we did it again. Now I’m 75 and I still have a 19 year old living at home, as well as a 21 year old.

When my oldest graduated high school, I kind of panicked. I hadn’t been thinking much about what happens when the kids grow up and go out on their own. Everything I’d done for them was with that end result in mind, but I hadn’t given much though to how it would affect me. I took it hard. Even though she wasn’t leaving anytime soon, I went through a painful cycle of distress and remorse. I was certain I’d messed up somewhere along the way and it was too late to fix it. I spent an entire day drying on the shoulders of several friends, just to get it off my chest. I finally discovered that spending a little time talking to her, and being the recipient of her ‘tude was enough to set me straight and I was able to get over it.

Still, last night she went to house sit for some friends for the next 10 days and I already miss her. Even though she barely came out of her room and I could go a couple of days without seeing her, the knowledge she’s not here is somehow distressing. I think maybe it’s because I really want to spend some quality time with her, just talking about life and family, etc. Every since we adopted our second daughter, she needed so much attention I wasn’t able to give my oldest the kind of attention I had been giving her previously. Thankfully, it turns out she’s strong and independent – just like I had hoped.

I know I’ll get over this feeling. After all, I’ve been patiently waiting to get back to a little adulting after all this parenting. I am looking forward to both of them getting a bit older and more independent. That’s when I think the really good conversations will happen. I just hope I live long enough to see, and experience, it.


Sister Golden Hair Surprise

I got a few new articles of clothing from my family for Christmas. They’re currently the only ones I have that aren’t at least lightly covered with dog hair from Angel. Her golden fur stands out nicely against the darker colors I usually wear. These new things will soon be covered with reminders of my fur baby as well. I’ve accepted it as part of the natural order of things.


I’m Not a Chef, But …

My very first job, that is the first one I got paid for, was at a McDonald’s in Arleta, CA. I was sixteen years old and had just gotten my driver’s license. My first day I did nothing but make milkshakes. My second day I bagged french fries. Then they discovered I knew how to work the cash register and to make change. From then on I worked the window, taking and fulfilling orders. I had nightmares involving endless lines of people who ate every meal there (at least lunch and dinner; McDonald’s didn’t serve breakfast in 1963) every day. These dreams were based, in part, on the fact there were several customers who did eat there every day. It was a frightening thought.

My second job was as a bus boy at Pancake Heaven, which no longer exists but was just around the corner from the McDonald’s I cut my working teeth on. I eventually became a fry cook there for a while and learned how to make breakfasts, for the most part. At least, that’s all I can barely remember. I also worked at Mike’s Pizza on Van Nuys Blvd. for a while. The only thing I remember about that job was sneaking out a bottle of Chianti in a trash can filled with the sawdust I was responsible for changing out every few days so the floors were reasonably clean.

The Summer before I graduated High School, which was actually the Summer after I should have graduated High School, I worked as a “bus boy” at Pacific Ocean Park (POP). My job was to walk around the pier on which the park was built and scoop trash into one of those self-opening dust pans and empty it into one of the larger trash bins that were placed all over the “park”. It actually had nothing to do with food or food service, other than that most of the trash was created by people who had purchased something to eat and were too damned lazy to deposit the trash in a receptacle themselves.

I didn’t work in or around food service again until 1973, when I tended bar at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles, where I was raising money for my upcoming trip to Cuba with the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. I had studied Hapkido with Ed Pearl, the owner of the club. It was a favorite target for anti-Castro Cubans and was burned down for the third and final time shortly after I worked there. I don’t think we had a liquor license; only a beer and wine license, so tending bar wasn’t quite as intellectually challenging as it would have been had I been required to remember dozens of mixed drinks, but it was a busy venue and I enjoyed my time there.

Shortly after returning from Cuba, in my first year of law school, I secured a position as a “wiener clerk” at The Wiener Factory in Sherman Oaks, CA, where I served up the finest hot dogs, knackwurst, and polish sausage to ever cross a taste bud. Even though they closed on December 31, 2007 (15 years ago) it’s still talked about as the top example of how a hot dog should be presented to the discriminating public. I loved it there. PS – Click on the link and you might find my posthumous review of the place, which I posted almost 12 years ago.

I didn’t work in food service again until sometime in the mid-nineties. I had left my job at Rocketdyne to rejoin my brother in a family wholesale food/restaurant supply business our father had started when I was 13. After less than two years it wasn’t going well and I decided to leave and fend for myself. One of my customers was Les Sisters Southern Kitchen in Chatsworth, CA. The owner at the time, Kevin Huling, was working his butt off and wanted to be able to take a day off during the week. I offered to run the place for him on Wednesdays and, until I returned to Rocketdyne, I managed the restaurant once a week. My favorite day was when I had to wait on tables. I made quite a bit more money than I did from just managing the place (hint: tips!).

In addition to all these jobs, my father was working at the Grand Central Market in downtown Los Angeles when I was born. He worked at Faber’s Ham Shop, which was a stand in the market that sold lunch meats and fresh chickens. He liked to refer to himself as a butcher, but my birth certificate lists his occupation as “Food Clerk”. I remember my mother taking me shopping there when I was about five years old. We took Pacific Electric’s Red Car on the Red Line that stretched from San Fernando, running right through Panorama City, where we lived, to downtown L.A. My father put me in a far-too-large, white butcher’s coat, and put a Farmer John paper campaign hat on my head, stood me on a milk crate and had me selling lunch meat for an hour or so. I learned my first three words of Spanish behind that counter, which were “¿Que va llevar?” literally “what are you going to carry?”, but was more loosely translated as “what’ll you have?” or “what can I get for you?”

Later on, specifically right after I handed over every check I received for my Bar Mitzvah gift to my father so he could buy a truck, he went out on his own. He became the broken wienie king of Los Angeles, buying (essentially) mistakes from packing houses and selling them to his old boss, as well as to other small markets scattered throughout the greater Los Angeles area. Until his death in 1984, I spent virtually every school holiday being his “swamper” on his route or later on delivering and selling on my own as part of the business. Somewhere around 1994 I left my job at Rocketdyne to rejoin my brother in the family business, once again selling almost exclusively to restaurants.

My point is, I have no formal training in the culinary arts, but during a rather large portion of my life until I was around 50, I spent quite a bit of time working in jobs and being involved in businesses that involved food; at times merely delivering it and at other times preparing and serving it. I know my way around a kitchen and I know quite well how to operate a successful food business. It’s not easy. People can be real assholes when they’re hungry, and people who cook can be real prima donnas, so learning to satisfy your customers can be a painful experience. It is, however, quite rewarding when it works out. I think you have to genuinely like people in order to do it well.


Gobsmacked!

I am absolutely blown away. In writing my autobiography, or a couple of memoirs, whatever-the-hell-it-is I’m doing, I’ve found it necessary to do some research to confirm things like locations, relationships, personal history, even a little genealogy.

I’ve never been big on family history, but I’ve been told or have heard things throughout my life that fill in a few blanks. For instance, as far as I know my paternal grandfather was an orphan from Poland who settled in (what I grew up knowing as) “The Ukraine.” His last name, as my father spelled it, was Wladofsky. My mother’s maiden name was Moldofsky and, since the suffix “sky” means “from”, I’m pretty sure that means her family was from Moldova, which borders Ukraine to the southwest. There is also a town in the far east of Poland, right on the border of Ukraine, called Wlodowa. It’s conceivable that’s where Wladowsky (Wladofsky, Wladovsky) comes from.

Regardless, as I’ve said I haven’t really been terribly interested in discovering much of this. However, I have on occasion attempted to search the database of the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation to see if I could find anything. I’ve not been successful, until today.

The real irony here is that I haven’t found anything about my paternal grandparents or my maternal great grandparents (my maternal grandparents where born in the U.S.) but I finally found a listing of someone. It’s not an immigration record, though. It’s a record of my father returning to New York, via Dublin, Ireland from a Murmansk Run during WWII. He was born in Chicago, but quite high school to join the U.S. Navy and was deployed aboard the U.S.S. William H. Webb.

All these years I thought he was aboard a United States Navy vessel, but I know now he was part of the Navy referred to as the Navy Armed Guard. These were small detachments of sailors who manned the guns on merchant ships. I believe the William H. Webb was a merchant ship outfitted with guns that were manned by the 29 sailors aboard a vessel which also included 41 merchant seamen. My father was the lone radioman.

Here’s what is said about the Navy Armed Guard: “The U.S. Navy Armed Guard was a service branch of the United States Navy that was responsible for defending U.S. and Allied merchant ships from attack by enemy aircraft, submarines and surface ships during World War II. The men of the Armed Guard served primarily as gunners, signal men and radio operators on cargo ships, tankers, troop ships and other merchant vessels. Disbanded following the end of the war, the Armed Guard is today little known or remembered by the general public, or even within the Navy. But without the courage and sacrifice of the men of the Armed Guard, victory in World War II would have been much more difficult and taken much longer.” https://www.armed-guard.com/.

He seldom talked about it, but when I was a child I learned early not to be near his arms when waking him up for dinner. He came out of sleep ready for action. I always “knew” the reason, but never felt it quite as clearly as I do now. I’m attaching a portion of the document that’s the very first thing I’ve ever encountered about his service, other than a certificate he received on February 23, 1944 upon their vessel crossing above the Arctic Circle which I’ve had since his death in 1984. I had to fight back tears. I’m still getting goose bumps.

I don’t expect to suddenly go off in a full-blown genealogical search for my roots, but I have found a few other threads I’d like to pull on. I must, however, ensure it all serves my greater purpose, which is finishing this book (whatever) of mine fairly soon. Certainly before the end of next year.

PS – His name before he and my mother changed it when they got married, was Isadore Edward Wladofsky and he was a Radioman 3rd Class aboard the William H. Webb, all of which is included in the full document of which I’m sharing only a part.


Twenty Years Today

Me and Aimee
The First Day of the Rest of my Life

It has come to my attention that exactly 20 years have passed since the day our oldest daughter was placed into our loving arms. It was in the evening in a small conference room at the Majestic Hotel, located in the City of Nanning, People’s Republic of China.

One week before we had spent 15 hours in the air from LAX to Guangzhou, where we had a three hour layover before flying to Beijing. After six days of sight-seeing (and some interesting adventures) we flew back to Guangzhou where, after one day, we flew to Nanning. That evening there were about eleven families whose lives changed dramatically as their newly adopted children were handed over to them. We were the last to have that jarring, emotional, and life-changing experience.

As you might be able to tell from the photo, Aimee was none too happy to be ripped from her foster family, who clearly loved her, and given to these two strangers (one of whom—that would be me—had a face the likes of which she’d never seen before.) It would be several days before she would have anything to do with us.

At the time many of us referred to the day as “Gotcha Day”, but in the intervening years we have come to believe the term is parent-centric and ignores the real trauma our experience represents. We are actually our child’s third set of parents. We now refer to it as “Family Day”, as it is the day on which we became a family, one that has now lasted for two decades. Aimee has grown into a beautiful young woman and I am so proud of her and her achievements. She has made my life far richer than it otherwise might have been.


Is It Sauce or Is It Gravy?

food plate restaurant dinner
Photo by Anna Tarazevich on Pexels.com

I have always thought of the topping we’re most used to putting on pasta as sauce; generically spaghetti sauce, though we might differentiate between marinara and meat sauce. During the early 80s, when I was living in Playa del Rey, CA I recall a friend from Boston who referred to it as gravy. I had never heard that term used before and I was intrigued.

Never thought about it too much, but every once in a while I would wonder what it was all about. Gravy or sauce. Now I’ve spent my fair share of time in the kitchen and I know my way around, but I’m hardly a trained chef or a connoisseur. I’m just someone who enjoys eating and knows how to have fun cooking many of the things I like to eat.

Recently, I decided to “do my own research” and have discovered there is no simple answer to the question. Suffice it to say, for the most part gravy is used to refer to a thickened liquid made from the drippings of cooked meat or vegetables, while sauce is made separately from the item it is poured over or served with. Gravies are usually served hot while sauces can be served either hot or cold.

It seems clear to me, however, there is a lot of overlap and wiggle room for classifying something as either a sauce or a gravy and, rather than present an entire treatise on it, I’m going to share a couple of links to articles or sources I’ve encountered whilst doing the aforementioned “research”. I have to add that writing this has made caused me to crave a nice, steaming plate of pasta with my favorite kind of sauce/gravy poured all over it (that would be a meat sauce, say a nice bolognese.)

This page runs down a bit of the history of Italian immigrants to the U.S. and how their use of the words has evolved as they assimilated. The author points out how contentious the distinction has become. There’s quite a bit of fun history and speculation here.

This next page is from a source in India for hospitality workers to educate themselves. It’s got an interesting table setting forth the differences between gravies and sauces. It does not go into any arguments that exist regarding the difference; it’s just a decent source for understanding their components.

This blog post goes into what appears to be an ongoing argument over what to call the stuff that in Italy is referred to as sugo. The author also provides information about Italy and Italian-Americans, as well as recipes from salads to desserts.

Now I need to go out and find something to satisfy my craving for Italian. As a Ukrainian-Moldovan-German-Jewish-American, it’s not part of my heritage but my father’s best friend was a DeBiase and I spent a few of my early years eating homemade pasta (Rigatoni is my fave) or Lasagna, garlic bread, and fresh from the oven Pizzelle (Anise cookies) most every Sunday when we lived near each other in Panorama City, CA.

Pizzelle (Yum!)

Sour on Power

Or its lack during a blackout! I just discovered this poem I wrote on December 8, 2020 at 1:50 pm. Based on this text the power had been out for well over 12 hours and I was getting pretty anxious about getting it back. Since I forgot I wrote it, I’m saving/sharing it here, where I’m pretty sure I’ll forget about it again. At least it will be somewhere other than just on my phone or iPad.

Listen!
You can hear the wind howl
And feel it shaking the house
As the dog’s quick to growl
And is shushed by my spouse.

Patience!
SCE proactively turned off our power
Last night at 7 was when it went dead
Hoping now in the kitchen the milk doesn’t sour
Yet the butter I’ve found is so easily spread.

Worry!
It’s not just the reefer I worry about
It’s more than the food that might spoil
It’s my iPhone’s ability to let me shout out
When its battery gets low on oil.

Resignation.
So I sit here and wait for my phone to go dead
And try to ignore angry thoughts in my head
Cause they told us the power won’t be back ’til tomorrow
And I’ve little to do save to drown in my sorrow.


Transference

What follows is an attempt at writing a short story from something like ten years ago. It’s based on an actual experience of mine that was both enlightening and humbling.

James had been napping for at least an hour. His lunch with Daniel proved a little too much for him, as the salt content of the food made him uncomfortable and a little uneasy. Jewish soul food sure was comforting and tasty, but it would never be mistaken for health food. This was especially true if one had hypertension, like James, accompanied by a deep love of Matzo Ball soup and kosher pickles. He was pretty sure, now that he had no choice but to think about it, he’d ingested at least three or four teaspoons of salt. Although it was now the middle of the afternoon and there remained things to do, the sensations he was experiencing were unsettling and he felt he had no choice but to nap, even if somewhat fitfully. He lay in bed, drifting between different states of consciousness, at times dreaming comfortably and at others becoming keenly aware of what was happening elsewhere in the house. 

His wife, Doreen, had come into the room earlier and asked if he wanted to get up for dinner, but James declined, choosing to allow himself a few more precious minutes of rest and relaxation prior to assuming the chores he had no choice but to perform. After all, the trash and recycle containers weren’t going to take themselves out to the curb and, since the kids were off from school the next day, he wanted to get it out that evening rather than arising early to make sure they weren’t passed up by the trash trucks that always came at daybreak. 

Unfortunately, things weren’t working out quite as he hoped they would. He could hear his children arguing at the dinner table . . . and the volume seemed to be increasing dramatically. Suddenly, he heard angry footsteps approaching the girls’ bedroom across the hall, followed by a triple slamming of the door and loud screaming. He tried to ignore it. This, of course, was impossible and he was shortly fully awake. And upset. 

He forced himself out of bed and popped his head into the girls’ bedroom. His oldest, Angela, was sitting propped up in the corner, sobbing uncontrollably. He wasn’t feeling sympathetic and fixed her with as menacing a glare as he could muster.  

“How many times have I asked you not to slam doors? I’m not feeling well and you woke me up.” 

He continued his glare. She seemed not to care, merely staring back at him with sad, tear-filled eyes. Of course, this infuriated him more. Fortunately, he managed to summon up his nurturing side; at least enough to realize he wasn’t going to help by getting angry with her. With a heavy sigh, he withdrew and moved into the family room. He sat down and instead trained his glare on the television which, to his surprise, also showed no sign of caring. 

Doreen, seeing him now awake, began to recount—step-by-step—the events leading up to this latest drama. He didn’t want to hear it. Most of the conversation, arguing, and yelling between the kids had made it into his consciousness while he was struggling to ignore it and remain asleep; he had no desire to relive it all from her viewpoint, thank you very much. If he had been feeling better, he would have listened better. He wasn’t. 

Ten minutes later, he could still hear Angela sobbing heavily in her room. James was finally convinced he wasn’t having a heart attack and now was becoming concerned for his oldest daughter’s anguish. He felt a little pang of guilt for having scolded her. Feeling a bit selfish and narcissistic, he wanted to do something about it. 

Softly, he knocked on the bedroom door. There was no response. He knocked again and heard a quiet, somewhat surly “What is it?” He now had permission to enter the room and state his business. 

James walked slowly over to the bed. Angela was still sobbing, not even looking up to acknowledge his presence. He gently sat on the bed and looked at his oldest. Her sadness washed over him and his guilt was replaced with warmth and the love he felt for this wonderful child he felt so privileged to have in his life. He took her hand. She looked up, somewhat surprised, and he stared directly into her eyes. 

“Sweetheart, I’m very sorry I yelled at you for waking me up. I know you had a fight with your sister and you’re very upset.” She continued to stare at him, softening slightly from the stone-faced, hurt child he’d seen when he entered the room. 

“I can’t stay mad at you, and it hurts me to see you like this. Is there anything I can do to help?” Her face again softened almost imperceptibly as he continued, “I’ll talk to Annie about teasing you and being so annoying. Would you like that?” The mention of her little sister brought Angela back to the feelings she had before he entered the room. Again she began to sob. James took a deep breath, wondering how he could make this better. 

Seeing one of the great loves of his life this miserable was overwhelming and, as he looked into her eyes, he felt tears beginning to fill his own. He could not look away from her and, therefore, could not hide the fact he was crying. As she saw the tears in his eyes, the corners of her mouth began to turn up ever so slightly, and her eyes took on a slight twinkle. 

“You know how much I love you, baby. Can you forgive me for getting angry with you? I really, really am sorry.” As he spoke, a tear slowly flowed from one eye and began running down his cheek. Angela’s eyes widened and she smiled at him with a look of both wonder and appreciation. 

“Would you like to come out of the room with me and see what Mommy’s fixing for dinner?” he asked. She nodded, and continued to look lovingly into his eyes. James was filled with a sense of deep relief and not a little wonder at what had just happened. He’d entered the room hoping to merely calm his daughter down a little. Now he had unwittingly achieved something far greater and more enduring. 

Somehow, his display of emotion had managed to suck the anguish out of Angela. Since he was much older than her, it was easy for him to deal with the depth of feeling he experienced and, in fact, once he saw her reaction he was filled with a profound sense of satisfaction. 

He arose and held out his hand. Angela took it and stood up beside him. “Feeling better?” he asked. She nodded. He turned and led her out of the room—this magical room where something special had just happened. Mommy was making dinner and Annie was still Annie, lying in wait out in the family room. This moment, though, was very special and he savored it. He knew there would be more—perhaps even greater—battles fought between the two of them but, for now he was content to soak up the intense connection he had found in his short conversation with Angela. Life would, indeed, go on. 


My Dad The Bowler

Just found this in the garage, covered by dust. I resurrected it, meaning I cleaned it off and hit it with some Howard Feed-N-Wax. hard to believe it’s been nearly 58 years.

No Lucky Strikes Here

That series works out to an average of 247 per game. The old man was a good bowler, and a scratch golfer. He never rolled a 300; I think his best game was 279.

I used to keep score for his team back then. I was finishing my Junior year of high school when he did this. I don’t recall if I used to sneak sips of beer when no one was looking.


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