One need common to all is to eat. I awoke early this morning and found myself remembering long past eating experiences. This post is are about eating when we were attending Syracuse U. Back then, there was a little Italian restaurant on Genesee Street, a few blocks walk from the University. Not far at all and none of us had a car anyway. This tratoria was small, dark and ill lit. Do you remember Chianti bottles with the wicker wrapper around them? The empty bottles with a lit candle in them provided a good proportion of our dining light. I don’t know if this was because the owners were cheap, they thought the style was chic, or so we could not get a good view at what we were eating. Cigarette and candle smoke gave the place a definitely dark atmosphere.
At least for me, an apple-knocker from upstate NY, pizza was still an exotic food and there were not chain pizza restaurants as there are now. It was fun to go down there, help empty some Chianti bottles over a pizza, and discuss deep thoughts. Such as “What do you think of that girl, Betsy Baumgardner, in Frosh English, I think she likes me”. Wink, Wink. I think it was Ogden Nash who came up with the rhyme “Women and liquor are what college boys boast of, but between you and me, beer is what they get the most of.” Very deep.
When Roy and I lived at James and Lodi, there was a little local market a few blocks downhill on Lodi toward the University area. We used to go there for essentials. They made their own bulk sausage there. It cost $.33 a pound, cheap even then. Of course we were buying a lot of fat in with the bits of pork, but that was part of the sausage’s charm. The pungent morning fumes from the spices, hidden but smelled in the invisible cloud of pork fat produced by the sputtering brown patties, were a wake-up call. Add a couple fried eggs and we were off to a good start. I don’t know what we did with the hot fat. I hope we didn’t throw it down the sink, but I won’t take an oath to that.
There was also a quite decent Italian restaurant a few blocks further away. Not fancy, but you would feel comfortable taking a girl friend there for an after movie date. I can’t say the same thing for the one on Genesee street.
Marge fits in to these food stories as well. I hope I didn’t mention this in an earlier post. On a fine spring afternoon Roy I hosted dinner in our apartment, Marina was with Roy, Marge was with me, and we had guests. These were Bumppo Gregory, a childhood friend of Roy, and his sister, whose name I can’t remember, I only met her once. She was quite nice, owned a new Pontiac hardtop,which I greatly admired. We were preparing a meal for ourselves. Our skills were minimal, our dinner ware and utensils even more so. Our planned Special of the Day was a casserole, I think link red-hot sausages and beans, with sides of vegetables, and of course wine.
Marge was mixing the casserole before baking. Unfortunately, Marge tried to shake off the last of the mix from the mixing spoon into the bowl. I say unfortunately as the spoon was metal, not wood, and the dish was clear glass. Marge had learned from her mother that to clear the mixing spoon of food particles, the procedure was to rap the spoon sharply on the edge of the bowl. You saw this coming, didn’t you? Yes, she chipped a piece of the bowl into the casserole. Since the bowl was clear glass, it was impossible to know where it was; nobody wanted to take a chance in finding it on his plate. We weren’t that hungry. Not a major tragedy though, we substituted something for the glassy casserole. Maybe we went to the Italian restaurant and got some lasagna, maybe some goodie from the grocery store. Marge was mortified, almost crying, but we assured her the world was not coming to end, anybody could have made that mistake, we’ll still have a fine afternoon. We did just that and our meal ended on an OK note.
A restaurant that Roy and I visited frequently was the New Smile. How about that for a name? Who wouldn’t like to eat in a place with that name? Another inducement was the daily special which was cheap. For example, for $.99 you could order boiled ham hocks, potatoes, and cabbage. Hard to beat. The Simmons School of Embalming (now Simmons Institute, thank you) was near-by and occasionally we would make bad jokes about the source of meat in the really cheap meat loaf specials. Just joking naturally. Some times Roy and I would take the girls with us making a foursome and this story is about one of those times. The restaurant is long since gone, but at time located near what is now the State Psychiatric Center in the general vicinity of what is route 81 and 690 today. In our time the area was a working class neighborhood, now torn down for the highways. The restaurant was working class as well. Unpretentious, the place where guys could go to drink a longneck, or a pint of suds, after a day at the mill or foundry. A place to take the wife and kids out for a meal without it being a budget buster.
New Smile had a bar on one side separated by a small kitchen in the middle; next to the kitchen was the dining area with used but clean brown booths. A couple of guys were in a booth next to us, working class types, perhaps in late 20’s. Maybe caused by a few too many drinks, they became louder and more rowdy with F__k you and F__k that, you catch my drift. This behavior bothered Roy and me; we both got up and asked calmly for them to please tone it down, since we had some nice girls with us and we didn’t care for their loud voices. Fortunately for all concerned, the owner/manager also heard the commotion while in the kitchen and came out. With his voice of authority he told the offending guys that this was a family restaurant, this was no place for yelling and cursing, and they could quit now or leave and never come back. The guys got the message, we all calmed down, Roy, I, and our girlfriends enjoyed a pleasant lunch together.
The University , in loco parentis, required Freshmen and Sophomores to eat in the University dining halls. We received monthly meal cards, queued up at the hall, had the card punched, then selected a nutritious but bland meal and ate it. A unique feature of Syracuse University was that it also housed the NY State College of Forestry. In the first year or two of that curriculum the forestry students took some courses at S.U. and some in the Forestry college. You could always spot a forester. Almost uniformly they wore jeans, well before jeans became fashionable, and sturdy clod-hopper boots. Just the thing for outside work and research. So, we had foresters in our dining room.
A geographic feature of the Syracuse vicinity was a number of caves, caused by the underlying limestone being eaten away by surface water, and we had a lot of that. Now, who lives in a cave? Well, yes Batman is reported to live in his Bat Cave, but that’s not the answer. BATS live in bat caves, have done so for a million years or so. Spelunking was popular with some of the students, and just the thing for foresters to get close to, and inside of, nature. Wouldn’t it be fun to bring a burlap bag or two and bring some bats back? And so, one nice spring day, probably on a Saturday, that did happen. I don’t know how the foresters got the bag, or bags, into the dining hall but they did, and of course, released the bats. It was all Hell broken loose. The bats wanted to get home, and the diners thought it amusing to throw food, wet towels, etc. at them attempting to bring them down. Yes, mildly cruel and childish, but then we were only testosterone charged Freshmen, what could you expect?
Ricocheting from the bat story, and having nothing to do with eating, I close with a Marge And The Bat story. Marge lived in a dorm and there was no air conditioning at that time. So, one fine warm and muggy May evening, Marge left her window open to admit some fresh air. Some time later as she slept, she sensed a warm furry feeling on her cheek. Slowly awakening to some degree, she moved over and saw that a bat had flown in and was keeping her company on her pillow. She coaxed it on to a black school binder from off her pillow and then gently released it out the window. She picked the black binder so it would feel comfortable because it was dark. I remember Marge saying that when it touched her cheek it was very soft, and she dreamed that a baby was touching her right before she woke up.This having been done, Marge went back to bed. In the morning, upon awakening from sleep, she informed her roommate of the nocturnal activity and her roommate freaked out. No harm done, maybe the little bat guy was just weary. Marge handled this incident better than did the foresters. She was like that.
(My note: My daughter Louise, made a comment in which she added to the bat story which Marge had told her.I updated my version to hers. Louise also added the last part below about the bees, so I enclose that comment verbatim)
“I also remember many times when there would be a bee or wasp nearby and us kids would be getting scared and starting to freak out, Mom would gently wave at it and say, “Shoo, shoo – come on now, you don’t want to be over here. Just move along, that’s right,” and darned if the thing would just buzz off (no pun intended ☺️). She never got perturbed over flying critters I guess.”