Quiet Down; It’s New Year’s Eve

new-years-party-hatEvery New Year’s Eve at my house was basically a repeat of the year before. My parents were creatures of habit and had no expectation that January 1 would be any different than December 31 or March 12 for that matter. Nevertheless, they did try to create their version of a party scene which generally commenced around 9pm and ended at 12:01am until they realized we could start celebrating at 10 pm and wrap it up by 11:15 pm or earlier if we ran out of food.

I might have created high expectations for New Year’s Eve because this was the seasonal holiday that Cha-Cha’s family celebrated and every year in the 70’s they partied on New Year’s Eve like it was 1999. After most of the other kids had already broken or lost half the playing pieces from their recent Hanukkah and Christmas gifts, Cha-Cha was still waiting around for her loot which was kept under the tree until December 31. Between December 25 and December 31, I was frequently invited over to inspect her gifts by holding, measuring, and shaking them and taking educated guesses as to what might be inside the packages. For a kid who faked getting gifts, I was pretty good at guessing other people’s gifts or at least I could figure out the difference between a new shirt, a record album, and that bottle of Love’s Baby Soft that every 11-year-old girl hoped to receive as a gift and reeked from for years to come. I was allowed to stay at Cha-Cha’s house until the early evening, at which point I needed to leave so her family could prepare for the evening’s festivities. By 9 pm, their house basically resembled a nightclub; the bar was stocked and everyone changed into their fancy clothing while her mom blasted music that she was already dancing to.

Meanwhile, back at my house, dad had changed into his wife beater undershirt and mom was wearing a slightly more festive version of one of her housecoats with slippers. While the vibe at Cha-Cha’s house was 70’s style Studio 54, the vibe at my house was 70’s style Bowery.

The evening’s festivities included certain snack foods that never made an appearance at my house any other time than New Year’s Eve. Cocktails were served, but not the alcoholic kind. As a matter of fact, the only time of year I ever even saw my parents drink was New Year’s Eve, and even then it was usually a glass of champagne and never a cocktail. Yet the word cocktail seemed to be present in every food mom selected for the occasion. We often had Planter’s dry roasted peanuts during the year, but we had to wait until New Year’s Eve to get the cocktail peanuts. We ate hot dogs regularly but could only have cocktail franks on New Year’s Eve. Mom often made meatballs in tomato sauce, but only on New Year’s Eve could we have cocktail meatballs. I think my parents thought that if we were eating foods with the word cocktail in them, we were partying hard. One year, mom expanded the hor d’oeuvre list to include fondue, which she tried to pass off as dinner until January 5 when the cheese and bread supply were exhausted. By the next year we had switched to using the fondue maker to melt chocolate and dip fruit in it. It probably goes without saying that in my house, fruit and chocolate were never mixed on any other day.

For several years, while we had the piano that no one played, mom cleared all the junk off of it and for that one night only created a makeshift buffet table out of the piano top. If we put any food or even a tchotchke with a coaster under it on the piano any of the other 364 days of the year, mom would kill us. But on December 31, she let her hair down for a few short hours to ring in the New Year.

In between eating the fancier mini-sized versions of the same food I ate all year round, I would run into my room to check on Casey Kasem’s top 100 countdown that aired on the radio every New Year’s Eve documenting the top 100 songs of the year. I made a list of all 100 as they were counted down and tried to predict which songs would make the top 10. In 1975, I  started praying every day from November 1 on that the Captain & Tennille’s Love Will Keep Us Together would be the #1 song of the year. This consumed my thoughts from December 20 until New Year’s Eve and made it hard to eat or sleep until the big day. I jumped for joy when the song took first place and this was by far the most exciting thing I ever remember happening on New Year’s Eve. While most viewed the song as a silly little ditty about love, last time I checked,  the Captain & Tennille were still together, which is more than most people who were married in 1975 can say.

In the early years, before I discovered Casey Kasem and before anyone could pronounce the word fondue, my brother Jeffrey and I would try to figure out ways to create the party atmosphere that seemed so deficient in our home. One year we got the idea to take one of dad’s yellow legal pads and tear the paper into hundreds of tiny pieces. At midnight we threw it all in the air and screamed Happy New Year while watching our homemade confetti rain down on us. Dad was amused until about five seconds after midnight when he said, “Happy New Year and be sure to clean up all this pepairluch before you go to bed.” The New Year was off to a rocking start with us down on our hands and knees cleaning up our mess and counting down the 364 days we now had to wait for our next cocktail.

Sights, Smells, and Sounds From the G Train

The subway line that was closest to my house was the G line. This line had been built decades before I was a rider and the trains looked like they were better suited for a war zone than a one-fare transportation zone in Queens. The cars were a horrific shade of army green that resembled what you might find inside a used tissue. The train always looked dusty and dirty, like it had just driven through a sand storm and taken a detour to observe some nuclear fallout. The sound of an incoming train barreling into the station was ear numbing, and while this was way before anyone had ever heard the term noise pollution, we were all sure repeated exposure to a screeching train would cause hearing loss. Luckily in the 80’s we all got Walkman players with headphones and opted for losing our hearing in a more civilized and pleasurable manner.

In order to get down to the subway platform, you had to navigate your way down a few flights of stairs that were often covered with cigarette butts, chewing gum, old newspapers, and occasionally someone who was asleep. Once you got downstairs, you had to make sure you had a subway token which was always mixed in with your loose change and took you hours to fish out. But at least there was no real skill necessary for inserting the token into the turnstile slot, unlike today where you get assorted messages after inserting your Metrocard like swipe again at this turnstile, too fast, too slow, insufficient fare, or do not pass Go; do not collect $200. Despite the ease of token insertion, the turnstiles were not without their own problems. They were made of thick slabs of wood that were old and stiff and could knock the wind out of you if you tried to push your way through them using your stomach rather than your hands (which I tried to do on numerous occasions).

Once you made your way through the turnstile there was yet another flight of stairs to descend to catch the train. If you were traveling with an adult, they would force you to take 5,000 steps back from the platform to avoid the obvious…tripping over your shoelace and being catapulted onto the track, landing smack on the third rail.

When the train arrived and the doors opened, you had the option of sitting in two types of seats. One seat had some sort of fake maroon leather that was usually ripped (nothing like the cool, plush pleather at Jahn’s); the other selection was the wicker yellow and green seat that gave your bottom the same sensation as sitting on a splintered bench at the Saxon Hall playground.

Frequently you couldn’t get a seat anyway, because during certain hours of the day the subways were quite crowded. In this situation, you would do your best to find a pole to hold on to. No kid dared lean on the doors to keep their balance, because their mother had already explained another obvious fact; it was quite likely that the wrong door, the one exposed to the open track, would accidentally open while you were leaning on it and you would once again fall on the tracks and die.

There was also the option of holding on to one of the straphangers that were placed on the ceiling of the train, above your fellow seated, more comfortable passengers, but that was never an option for me because I was too short to reach the straphangers. I’m actually still too short, but if I’m wearing my non-Instant Pants, non-altered jeans with high heels, I can loop my pinky finger in the handle and further steady myself by placing my other hand on a member of the nearby Mariachi band that often performs on my train route.

Once we began our journey on the G line, we would look to our parents for instructions on when to get off the train. This was challenging, even for seasoned train riders for several reasons. First of all, none of the train stations that I can remember had subway maps. And the trains that had maps were difficult to read and easily misinterpreted (kind of like the famous illusion that looks like a young woman to some and an old hag to others). If you were savvy enough to figure out the map, it was usually pointless anyway, since by 1972 all the subway maps were covered with graffiti and impossible to read. Stops were sometimes announced, but more often not and frequently any service change announcements were difficult to hear. The conductor’s message was announced over a crackling, buzzing intercom and you would have thought the guy was broadcasting from an Apollo moon mission instead of a few subway cars away. A typical service announcement might sound something like this. “Attention passengers, this train will be making all local stops until #$%* and then will switch over to the #@%$ line and make all express stops until %$#@ Street. Of course today it’s not much better and it’s not unusual to hear, “Attention passengers; there has been an incident at @#$% Street and $#@& people have been taken into custody after police spotted a suspicious %%$$ in lower %$#@.

To make matters worse, riders also had to contend with the extreme weather conditions that are always magnified when you are hundreds of feet below ground. The trains were cold in the winter, but the real memorable rides were in the summer. Trains did not have air conditioning back then, but instead had old rickety ceiling fans that looked like rejected wood token turnstiles and were just as inefficient for cooling or moving for that matter. Sweaty, grumpy passengers would open the train windows because back then you could and obviously the air circulating in an underground 103 degree inferno would bring much needed relief and a pleasurable scent to boot.

As I got older some of the ancient subway lines were replaced and the city contracted with a Japanese manufacturer to give us some spanking new trains with alternating orange and light orange? seats. The only problem was that the average Japanese ass is about half the size of an American one and we were stuck in seats with half our asses spilling into the seat of our fellow passengers. Call me crazy, but I believe there is a direct correlation between the introduction of these trains and the rise of liposuction in the greater New York area. Hey, it’s just a theory.

Despite my griping about the New York City subway system, I actually enjoy train rides and am in awe of the fact that I can travel across four boroughs, get to a beach, a zoo, the Empire State Building, or even the Shalimar Diner for under three bucks.

Zagat’s Guide to Tween/Teen Dining in Queens

Before we had easy access to sushi and Thai food and the closest thing the neighborhood had to ethnic fare was Italian ices, we frequented a few neighborhood eateries that were more often than not dives, but hold many special memories. Here are just a few.

Jahn’s. Jahn’s was an area ice cream chain that looked like an old fashioned ice cream parlor with booths with red leather and stained glass light fixtures. You could get an amazing ice cream sundae with hot fudge, whipped cream, and a cherry and if you happened to be with a big spender you could grab a few spoonfuls of their Kitchen Sink, which was a trough of ice cream that could feed eight. It was probably a few dollars in the 1970’s, but the last time I checked the price it was $51.95. I don’t even have eight friends, let alone eight friends with more than six dollars to spend on an eighth of an ice cream sundae.

Jahn’s also had a party room downstairs and I had a birthday party there when I turned nine. In addition to the ice cream, I had live entertainment; my brother Jeffrey, who attempted to make animal balloons for our guests. He was shooting for dogs, but most of his creations ended up looking like huge phallus’. Fortunately, the ice cream made up for the lack of age appropriate party favors.

The Chow-Chow truck. The Chow-Chow truck was an Asian- influenced food truck that sold the best french fries in the world. I have no idea why french fries would even be on the menu with egg rolls and other Chinese food options, but I didn’t care and I would stop at nothing to savor a few of these grease-infused fries served in a cone-shaped paper cup. Usually by the time the Chow Chow truck made a stop by the school playground, we had already spent our money on ice cream. As an alternative to purchasing a cupful, we would stand on line near a paying customer and wait for some of the fries presented in the overflowing cup to fall out and into our waiting hands. We often missed and when the fries fell to the ground we applied the dubious five second rule…if we picked the fries up in five seconds or less, they were safe to eat. And we counted very slowly. Heck, let’s be honest; a few times people trampled on the fries that fell to the ground and we still picked them up and ate them. Yes, they were that good.

Alexander’s. In addition to being what I was sure was the largest department store in the world, Alexander’s had a full-service restaurant with pretty good hamburgers and great pickles served in a metal bowl. Most of my time at Alexander’s was spent in the record department purchasing 45’s (note to readers born after 1980: this was the 1970’s version of downloading a single song), looking at albums, or paying for toys I pretended my parents purchased for me, but occasionally I did get to eat at Alexander’s (usually when someone else was treating).

Queens Center Mall. The first real mall in the neighborhood opened when I was 11 and moving into prime shopping age. After browsing the assortment of tee-shirts from the popular Ancil House, a novelty store that pressed decals of various images onto shirts and added felt letters spelling out your name (the full name, not the initials; it’s totally different!) we worked up an appetite and needed to treat ourselves to some good eats in the food court. It was here that I got my first taste of all the crappy chain food that most New Yorkers are lucky enough to avoid, like Orange Julius and Panda Express.

Knish Nosh. Hungry but short on cash? No problem. Eat a knish from this popular eatery and enjoy the week and a half it takes to digest one of these things.

Arthur Treacher’s Fish & Chips. Truly disgusting and not worth the trauma of crossing The Boulevard of Death to get there. Why would anyone want to imitate British cuisine anyway? Mom refused to bring home McDonald’s or Burger King, but this was on the approved foods list.

Jay Dee Bakery. The Jay Dee Bakery was generally reserved for special occasions like school birthdays, visits from our grandparents, and the appearance of other relatives in our house which generally only occurred on leap years. My grandparents would stock up on the prune and cheese danish from this Hungarian Jewish bakery on their visits and usually throw in a pound or two of bakery cookies that looked much better than they tasted. Up until the age of six, I seriously considered pursuing a career as counter girl at the Jay Dee Bakery because I assumed the job entailed eating whatever baked goods you wanted and occasionally serving a customer.

White Castle. Oh, the thrill of walking into a hamburger joint and being able to order burgers by the dozen. The hamburgers were so small that 12 of them was the equivalent of one Swedish meatball. But the real treat for me at White Castle were the shakes. They were so thick that if you attempted to drink them with a straw you could easily have a brain aneurysm, so you quickly grabbed a spoon and opted for a major brain freeze instead.

Wine Gallery. We started going here in high school even though we were too young to be served wine.  If we were lucky, we would hang out with some 18 year old who managed to score a pitcher of sangria.  I’m not sure what the appeal of this place was, other than that it was a step up from White Castle, but I remember thinking you were with the “in crowd” if you were hanging out here.

Shalimar Diner. This was another “place to be seen” in high school. Kids seemed to end up here after every major school event even though it wasn’t located that close to the school. But it was open late and the over 50 waitresses in their orthopedic shoes seemed to tolerate the nonsense and mayhem that only a group of teenagers can cause. I think most of the guys ordered hamburgers here and most of the girls ordered sweets. The muffins were the size of softballs and a piece of cake was so big it came with its own zip code. I remember the food being fair, but the company always made up for it.

The hot dog cart lady. Outside the school playground there was an old German woman who had a hot dog vending cart. After we had spent our money on ice cream and eaten trampled on french fries, we scrounged around for five cents between five kids and asked the hot dog lady if she would give us five cents worth of sauerkraut. One of my friends once asked for two cents worth of mustard and I think this is where she finally drew the line.

Jewish Chinese food. Growing up, I ate the same Jewish Chinese food that all the reformed Jews in the neighborhood ate; spare ribs, pork fried rice, pork egg rolls, pork-filled wonton soup, and egg foo young. My parents ordered Chinese food every Friday night and it was always the same thing. Once I left home and occasionally visited my parents for this Friday night tradition, I would attempt to order something “outside the box” like chicken and broccoli and my father would look at me in disbelief and pray that this was just a phase I was going through and hope I would soon return to my senses and chow down on something that had pork in its name. The last time I had a spare rib was 1981. Sorry dad.

The Lemon Tree. This was a disco (it was the 70’s people!) that was open to kids under 18 on certain days of the week and served non-alcoholic beverages. I assume they served food too. I wouldn’t know. I never went. Perhaps I was waiting to be asked; I don’t know. I defer to my hipper friends to recount tales from The Lemon Tree. I have none,  even though I perfected my “hustle” in gym class in the 7th grade.





The Real Housewives of Queens County

No memoir of growing up in Queens would be complete without including some thoughts about the moms that were such a big part of my early memories.

Harlan was one of my first childhood friends. He lived next door and his mom and my mom were friends which is rare because adults often can’t stand the parents of their kids’ friends and spend years praying one kid will bite the other so the parents have a legitimate reason to end the friendship. Harlan’s mom kept a candy dish in the living room that actually had candy in it. And I’m not talking about sucking candies or mints. Harlan’s mom always kept Chunky bars in the candy dish because Harlan’s dad worked for the company that manufactured them. His mom also introduced me to chocolate ices, another food we never had in our house, and she taught me how to turn over the ices to get at all the frosty, sugary gunk at the bottom. She worked at one of the neighborhood candy stores and would let us pick out a candy or sometimes a comic book. We always felt like VIPs going in the store and claiming our treats. That Harlan was a keeper…I don’t bite the hand that feeds me.

Cha-Cha was also an early childhood friend who lived in the building. Cha-Cha’s mom was beautiful and elegant and could wear a potato sack and everyone assumed she was wearing something from some fancy designer. She played Turkish music, danced around, and screamed a lot when a song came on that she liked. The house was decorated with Persian rugs placed over the mandatory wall-to-wall carpeting everyone had in apartments in the 70’s and the house always smelled of exotic foods, nothing like the TV dinner being served up at my house. She let us have multiple pieces of fruit with absolutely no repurcussions and let us make as much noise as we wanted to. Cha-Cha’s mom nicknamed me Bar-bree and showered me with the same affection she showed her own kids.

Once I entered grade school, my circle of friends expanded. Laurie’s mom wore her hair in two long ponytails and had jeans in multiple pastel colors. She would pick Laurie up from school with their huge English Setter in tow and invite me over to spend time with Laurie. Laurie’s mom made cakes from a mix and let us frost them. She took us for ice cream and sometimes even a hamburger at Alexander’s restaurant. She was frequently the mom on class trips and always had my back on the trips with Mr. Nelson’s class. She threw tree trimming parties and invited all the holiday-challenged Jewish kids to help with the decorations. She invited me and a group of our friends to the house to work on a research project for social studies where we attempted to recreate archeologist Louis Leakey’s discovery of Zinjanthropus using homemade clay she helped us make. Our skull head looked more like the Pillsbury dough boy than a 1.75 million year old skull, but Laurie’s mom told us it was great and luckily our teacher, Ms. Rifkin gave us an A.

Jackie’s mom made us hot chocolate (from a mix!) after we returned from sleigh riding with red cheeks and frozen asses.  She threw awesome birthday parties for Jackie where she would mimiograph copies of a Broadway play like the Makado and let us raid her closet and makeup drawer so we could perform the play with our scripts and costumes. I barely remember my own birthday parties, but Jackie’s were truly unforgettable.

Gaby’s mom was the youngest of all the moms. She wore bell-bottom jeans (maybe from Instant Pants?) and turtleneck sweaters with rainbow stripes. She always chewed gum and cracked it constantly Her house was spotless; the floors were shiny (this is the only apartment I remember without carpeting) and everyone was required to remove their shoes upon their arrival. Gaby once dared me to eat a piece of guinea pig food, which I did because I was stupid enough to do anything including putting toothpaste on my eyelids. Her mother found out and was not amused, but only Gaby got in trouble. Another time, a few of us went to Gaby’s house to work on a social studies project about the Pilgrims. We created a display on green oak tag that we were sure would earn us an A until Gaby called us the next morning to inform us that her little brother had thrown up all over the project the night before. Gaby’s mom scrubbed it clean, and while I noticed a few remnants of puke on the back side of the oak tag, Gaby’s mom saved us from getting an F.

Amy’s mom helped us make lemonade for our lemonade stand and gave us money to go buy some candy to sell with the lemonade.  We sold the candy for less money than we purchased it for and while she might have questioned our lack of basic math skills, she was glad to see us having fun. I think she’s also the mother who tipped my mom off to the Hair So New product, but she was so nice, I will forgive her for that one.

And then of course there’s my mom. Once or twice a year, she made these special apricot cookies that were very difficult and time consuming to make. I learned every curse word while watching mom make these things, but in the end it was worth it. My favorite part was watching her and later helping her make the frosting in four primary colors. Today these cookies are only made when grandchildren visit and usually only for the ones that live out of town (not mine). So now my nieces and nephew are cursing up a storm and the traditional lives on. My mom took me every year to see the Christmas windows at all the big department stores (perhaps to make up for the whole Santa debacle) and to the annual Purim Carnival which must have been mind-numbing for her. She taught me how to ride a bike in Alexander’s parking lot, how to float on my back at the pool, and how to trace pictures using wax paper when I needed to decorate a cover for a book report.

I’m sure there were so many other wonderful facets to these women, but as with many memories, it always seems to be the little things that stand out. A kind word, an interesting mannerism, a special recipe, a different way of doing things…these are the memories that are indelibly etched in my mind.


I Crossed Queens Boulevard…and Lived!

Queens Boulevard is a major thoroughfare that runs throughout a large section of central Queens and ends at the 59th Street Bridge which connects Queens to Manhattan. When I was in grade school, it also served as a barometer of sorts for how much autonomy your friends had or how little their parent’s cared about their well-being and safety. Here’s why.

Queens Boulevard was so dangerous that the locals affectionately referred to it as “The Boulevard of Death” or “The Human Bowling Alley.” Every year you would hear stories about someone who was mowed down while trying to cross the gauntlet of traffic lanes and islands that made up this road.

Most of the parents had strict rules when it came to getting across Queens Boulevard. Many allowed their kids to get from one side of the boulevard to the other by crossing via the underpass available at the G train subway stop. It’s questionable whether this was actually a safer option, because the subway system in the 1970’s was pretty seedy and smelly, but several parents believed crossing underground was the lesser of two evils.

Either because no rule had ever been put in place by my parents regarding Queens Boulevard, or because they already had two kids that had survived it, I started crossing it on my own at age eight. Sometimes kids with the “no crossing rule” crossed anyway in an act of defiance, but that always seemed to backfire as their parents ultimately found out. It was like there was some sort of invisible parent safety patrol or network of parents that secretly transmitted information about their kids’ whereabouts via Morse code or smoke signals (which was the closest thing to text messaging in the 70’s).

Despite the fact that I was allowed to cross Queens Boulevard, I didn’t take the mission lightly. We would start gearing up for the journey across about a block before we got there, plotting how we would make it across the multiple lanes without having to stop on one of the islands due to a red light. Sneakers were mandatory and even once I was in high school and was parading around in my Candies, even I considered this unsuitable footwear for a trip across Queens Boulevard.

Once we arrived at the street crossing we would press the button to signal that we wanted to cross the street (which I have since learned is one of the biggest mind-f@$% out there, since pressing that button has no correlation to when the light changes). Once the light turned green, you would grab your friend’s hand and run as fast as you could, trying to get to the other side which was pointless because making it across on one light was as likely as winning the lottery. You were then forced to wait on the island until the light changed again, which from an eight-year old’s perspective, took hours.

You may be wondering, what was so great about Queens Boulevard anyway, and why were we willing to risk our lives to cross it. Well, if you lived on the north side of Queens Boulevard, you had to cross it to get to Instant Pants, Baskin Robbins or the jewelry shop once your mom said you were old enough to have your ears pierced. (interesting side note-my mom thought it was safe to cross Queens Boulevard at age eight, but getting my ears pierced was deemed unsafe before age 11).  If you lived on the south side of the boulevard, you had a more important reason to cross the boulevard which was to get to Alexander’s department store, which was one of the best places for records, toys, and even pickles which were served in their restaurant.

In recent years, the city of New York has put in new measures to improve the safety of Queens Boulevard, and 2011 marked the first year where zero fatalities occurred from pedestrian crossings. Recently, the city put in new traffic lights with timers to let pedestrians know how much time they have left before the light turns red. I’m on the fence as to whether this makes the boulevard safer or not. When I see the light, I am immediately drawn back to my eight year old much nimbler self and I often assume that seven seconds is plenty of time to cross from start to finish. But I’ve successfully made it across every time, even in my high-heeled shoes.

You Call This Candy?

candyI don’t claim to be an expert on many things, but I do consider myself somewhat of a candy aficionado, particularly when it comes to chocolate. In the early days, before we were old enough to go to the store and get the family dessert on our own, my dad would come home with a candy bar for each of us. He would throw the loot on the couch (because the piano was already full) and we would get to select a Milky Way, Snickers Bar, Three Musketeers Bar, or Hershey Bar. He always brought chocolate and since then, I have always been a bit of a snob when it comes to candy. Once we were old enough to go with friends to the store to buy candy, I was often surprised by their ill-informed, non-chocolate selections (yes, perhaps I was a bit judgmental). Below are a few of their misguided choices.

Wax harmonicas. Play a little tune on the wax harmonica and when you get bored with that, chew on the flavored wax. Yum.

Wax bottles. These gems offered equal chewing pleasure, but before you chewed, you could down the putrid warm liquid inside the wax filled bottles that tasted like the liquid polio vaccines of the 60’s.

Candy necklaces. Fashionable. Functional. Edible. Kids would wear these necklaces and try to eat them at the same time, nearly chocking themselves while trying to get the chalky candy into their mouth.

Partridge Family Bubble Gum. While the boys were buying bubble gum with baseball cards, the girls were buying Partridge Family gum which came with a poster of one of the famed Partridges. Unfortunately, the coveted Keith Partridge poster seemed to only be in one out of every million packs, and after acquiring three posters of Laurie, one of fellow ginger, Danny, and one of that little brother who I’m sure never touched a real drum kit in his life, I gave up.

Red Hots. The kids who selected these candies at the store were the dare devils and the ones always challenging authority. By age 9 they were probably using heroin.

Lemon Heads. Same idea as above but these kids opted for Quaaludes (like some of the other candies on the list, Quaaludes too have been discontinued).

Good N Plenty. You already know how I feel about black licorice. 

Black Jack Gum. So now you expect me to not only eat black licorice, but keep it in my mouth for hours on end?

Halvah. I don’t remember any kids actually buying this at the candy store, but my dad bought it and kept it in the house from time to time. This was the family’s candy equivalent of really bad cookies. This actually did last in time for dad to claim it, because we would sooner eat really bad cookies than halvah.

Marzipan. I have no words to explain this. I just never understood marzipan.

Jelly Fruit Slices. These only made an appearance in our house during Passover, when we broke out the “religious desserts” which included Manischewitz macaroons in a can and these sorry-ass mouth-puckering excuses for candy.

Milk Duds. Yes, they were duds. On your first bite, the candy became lodged in your lower molar and stayed there until your next visit to the dentist.

Jaw Breakers. For the kids who had too much spare time on their hands and were willing to dedicate the muscle and brawn necessary to crack these things.

Candy Cigarettes. The packaging for these was frighteningly realistic and you could buy them in chocolate or bubble gum flavor. The bubble gum ones had a sugar-based powder on them that enabled you to pretend you were blowing real smoke. Oy.

Pretzel Rods. This is what you ended up buying when you didn’t have enough money for real candy. The rods were in a large plastic container at the front counter and you could pick your own ,which often entailed touching every single one to find the right one, which was delightful, because inevitably, the kid who picked his own before you had also recently picked his nose.

To my dentist’s delight, I still eat chocolate just about every day (fortunately, I gave up the chocolate cigarettes decades ago). And every time I have a piece of chocolate, I’m reminded of the happy sound of the thunk of those candy bars hitting the couch and the wonderful memory of greeting my dad with a big hug upon his arrival home from work.

Pidgin Yiddish

Both of my parents grew up in extended family settings that included a Yiddish grandmother with limited command of the English language. While they both claimed to have forgotten Yiddish, various words crept into their vocabulary from time to time while we were growing up. Some were authentic, some were altered to suit their mood, and others were just nonsense words that generally had some root in Yiddish. A large percentage of the words seemed to end in “luch,” which can only be pronounced properly if you make a motion with your tongue and teeth as if you are trying to gather large quantities of flem. Here are the words that stand out for me.

  1. pe-pair-luch: tiny pieces of paper. Once a week, the living room was divided into three pepairluch sections and each child was required to pick up all the pepairluch in their designated area. Obviously our vacuum cleaner didn’t have a pepairluch setting, so we got stuck taking care of this.
  2. feets-e-luchins: of or having to do with the feet as in “are your feetseluchins cold?” or “your feetseluchins smell.”
  3. sweets-e-luchins: term of endearment, usually used by my father when referencing me.
  4. jay-gee-luchins: term of endearment used by my father reserved specifically for my mother whose first name begins with a J.
  5. schluffy: sleep; also go schluffy or make schluffy.
  6. eggies: eyes; only used when dad wanted us to go to sleep as in “close your eggies and go schluffy.”
  7. halucious: ugly; usually used by mom, as in, “Your hair looks halucious; when was the last time you combed it?” or “Those earth shoes are halucious”
  8. oy: statement of displeasure; usually voiced by my father when mom bought something that was over $50.
  9. oy vey; see explanation above; the vey was reserved for purchases he disapproved of over $100.
  10. oy gevalt; same thing but pertaining to purchases above $200 that were non-refundable.
  11. futz: to mess around with something as in “Stop futzing with the color brightness on the TV.”
  12. patch-kuh: see above
  13. pochy: spanking; a sweeter, gentler way to describe a good beating.
  14. tchotchke: useless decorative crap; dad was always teasing mom about making patchkuh with the tchotchkes.
  15. feh; distasteful; usually used by my father when referencing foods he disliked such as liver, chicken, and raisins. Used by me occasionally to describe black licorice.
  16. keppie: head; only referenced by dad when we were sick. He would kiss our keppie and predict if we had a fever and then guess our exact temperature; he was always right.
  17. kevetch-a-la; kvetch is generally used as a verb meaning to complain; dad changed it from a verb to a noun, usually to describe whoever was the most annoying family member that day.
  18. shmegegge: annoying person; used interchangeably with kevetchala.
  19. shmatta; rag; usually referenced by mom when she was trying to convince dad to donate some piece of clothing to the Salvation Army.

In addition, my dad had several non-Yiddish nicknames for his children that he continued to use well into our 30’s and 40’s including:

  1. The Toogie Man: nickname for my brother Stuart; no known derivative.
  2. Beanie; nickname for my brother Jeffrey, derived from a cartoon called Beanie and Cecil.
  3. Boober: my nickname; thankfully my father stopped using this one once I hit puberty and was sporting a generous D cup. Unfortunately the fun with this nickname was just beginning for my brothers and I suffered because of it for years.
  4. Sweetie-petite-ee: my father’s other nickname for me that luckily replaced Boober.

Many of these words are now a big part of the vocabulary in my family and I’m lucky enough to have a sweetseluchin and a sweetie petiteee in my life who tolerate me when I kevetch about all the random pepairluch lying around the house and all the dirty socks that always seem to be on the couch, but never on their feetseluchins.