Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Ryebread That Killed Elvis

 My only real concern with going to Chicago for two Cubs games was parking. I'd forgotten quite a bit after being away from the place for more than 25 years, but the trauma experience of trying to park in Lakeview isn't something that ever really leaves you. It hasn't improved any over the years. I really don't mind driving in Chicago, but parking is shit. We were spending the week staying in the suburbs, so it made sense to use public transportation. I spent the first ten years of my life living two blocks from the Skokie Swift station but I can't remember ever taking the train.

When I was a child, the Swift was only a commuting line that ran limited hours from Skokie to the Howard "L" station during the week. Today, it runs every fifteen minutes (or so) seven days a week. As a child, we played in the empty station on weekends and *cough* my sister might have let me "drive" her car around the abandoned lot on a Sunday afternoon (I sat on her lap and steered as she controlled the pedals) but these days children have to find other ways to get into mischief. The newsagent's next to the station that had pinball machines in back is gone, with a Target store standing in its place. The Greyhound bus station is now a Starbucks sharing the space with some sort of exotic massage parlour. The Yardstick fabric store, with their giant yardstick sign in front is gone as well, replaced by a sandwich shop. The clothing store, Just Pants (a name my mother found hilarious ,"It's Just Pants. Get it?!") is a currency exchange, and the beauty shop, Shear Genius in the beautiful Bronx building sits abandoned. The garage where my dad kept his truck is now an upscale ice cream shop, and the drugstore across the street is a matress showroom. One constant though, has been Kaufman's delicatessen and bakery. The original building burned a few years back, but they rebuilt in a way that kept the spirit of the original place alive while incorporating modern improvements such as seating and a public restroom.
Kichels (puffy egg biscuits) from Kauffman's

Living just a short walk from Kaufman's meant I spent a good chunk of my young life there, mostly taking a number and waiting to be served. The old store had a bench on the bakery side where you could wait (and it was always crowded, so wait you did) and some charity had a metal rack of paperback books they sold for a quarter. I bought a copy of Future Shock once, but it was boring, so I gave it to a friend😀.

My sister wasn't sent to Kaufman's much after she misunderstood my dad's joke of, "Tell the counterman to keep his finger off the scale", and she duitifully repeated the message. "My father says you should keep your finger off the scale...and can we please have a pound of roast beef also?" After that, it was my job to buy the cold cuts and bread.
Mr. ETB had a sandwich called, Moshe's Pupik. Or was it Zaydie's Heartburn? I can't keep track of the novelty names.

When we stopped in, the Eastern European woman working at the counter who probably had a real job wherever she came from but was now reduced to slicing bread for suburban idiots like myself, kindly offered me a sample of something. Perhaps overwhelmed by my first visit to my old neighbourhood in years, or more likely because I have a terrible habit of over-sharing not terribly interesting stories about myself, I blurted out, "That's how I found out I was allergic to cashews! The old woman behind the counter gave me a cookie and I got two steps outside on the sidewalk before grabbing my throat and throwing up. My sister was mad when she found out because the old woman never gave her a cookie." The woman, let's call her Masha because she looked like a Masha, nodded without expression and replied, "That is very interesting. Do you want bread with or without seeds?"

One day in the mid-70's, I walked into Kaufman's to find several people talking excitedly. "The king is dead" a woman told me. It took me a minute to figure out she meant Elvis, but I was struck by how upset people were. It occured to me that the last time someone important had died (Mayor Daley), I was also standing in line at Kaufman's waiting to buy a ryebread.

"Do you want bread with or without seeds?" Masha asked, jolting me back to the present. Wondering who might die as I stood in line ordering my bread, I replied, "With, please" before my mouth got ahead of my brain again and I cheerfully joked, "You guys make killer bread." Fastening the twist-tie with a flourish, Masha nodded, "Very nice bread. Pay at front."


Bibi Maizoon said...

Parking in US urban centers is insane.The SF Bay Area is the same (if not worse because it's a peninsula).
Kaufman's sounds delicious! Whenever we fly through Moscow or on Aeroflot I must have the rye bread- so yummy & reminds me of days at my grandma's. I miss corned beef of all things too.
From the previous post: The Great Recession was a period of general economic decline observed in world markets during the late 2000s and early 2010s. Remember the subprime mortgage crisis & bank bailouts thereafter?

beate grigutsch said...

LOOOOVE your writing!!!!

Mim said...

It's incredible how Elvis dying is one of those things everyone who was old enough to register it remembers, if only for the reaction of people around them. The two deaths of famous people that really stick in my mind are John Lennon and Princess Diana - I didn't even know who Lennon was, and my first thought on seeing Di's face pop up on the news was 'Oh god, what's the silly tart done to embarrass the country this time?'

Did you find it a relief or a sadness that how much has changed? Going back to the town I grew up in, I always feel the less it is like it was, the better.

Beth Waltz said...

Seeing changes in the old neighborhood can hurt. It's rather like catching a glimpse of oneself in the bathroom mirror prior to "doing something" about one's appearance, "rude reality" intrudes into one's worldview.

There are many Masha's in my working environment. An older janitor was standing alongside me as we waited for a news crew to tape remarks from a VIP passing through, when we both snorted at an obvious/deliberate error in lighting. We looked at each other. ? He smiled and said, "They do not like this man." I learned he'd been a news cameraman in an African country now devastated by war. Another Masha, glad to be alive, even in disguise.

Vix said...

Like Mim, I remember John Lennon being shot and had the same reaction as she did to princess Di (never could stand the women). I thought Elvis was already dead when it was on the radio, he wasn't someone either parent listened to.
I love your writing and am enjoying your adventures very much! xxx

Polyester Princess said...

I can't say it enough: your writing is just brilliant! Revisiting one's old neighbourhood can be quite bittersweet, you notice the changes and it feels strange that life has gone on there without you witnessing it. I was at home listening to the radio when I heard about Elvis dying. I didn't really know him beyond the caricature of himself he'd become by then. As I was a 16-year-old punk by then, frankly I couldn't care less. xxx

Goody said...

Thank you.

I was shocked at the outpouring of love for Diana after she died, particularly in the US where it shouldn't have merited more than a shrug.
I'm so far removed from most of the places I've lived that it is hard to summon too much nostalgia. I might miss specific things/places but generally feel it is best that time march on.

Yep,Americans would be screwed without highly skilled/educated immigrants to do our menial jobs (that was dripping sarcasm, which I know you caught but others might not).

When Lennon was shot I remember thinking it was a particularly New York way to die-the city used to be more dangerous than it is today. That was before hearing the details, of course.I had just assumed he was killed in a mugging.

Thank you. I've been trying to get these essays out for a while, but the trip seems to have been the thing that got me to sit down and actually write them.
It is only in recent years that I have come to appreciate Elvis' talent. At the time of his death, I can't imagine anyone less "cool."

Melanie Folly Bird said...

Loved this post! The first famous person I recall dying was Rock Hudson, as he was a favourite ... I was an odd child!