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A PIECE OF PIZZA, A JUG OF WINE, AND US
26 May 2006
In going through the old videos, I came across a segment of my father playing a couple of numbers on the piano. The first was "She's Funny That Way," written in 1928 by Charles Daniels, with lyrics by Richard Whiting. He always considered that "their song," his and my mother's. I don't know that she ever did.
The other song that he plays on the video (which is today's video of the day) is "You Didn't Quite Know Me Yet." This was a song that he composed and I helped with the lyrics. I don't remember when he wrote it. I don't know if I was in grammar school or in high school, but I remember that he was in the bathtub and when he came out of the tub, in his bathrobe, he went to the piano and said he had this song rolling around in his head. He played the tune and asked me to help with the lyrics.
This many years later, I don't know if I made any major contribution, or if I just think I did, but it was the first song on which I collaborated. I still remember that as a special night, and how hard I tried to come up with a lyric that worked.
("bloom" and "tune" still doesn't rhyme, though)
My memories of my father are sad. I can't say I had a terrible childhood or that he was a terrible father, but he had his moments--too many of them. He wasn't physically abusive (except occasionally to my sister) but he was verbally abusive. In the long scope of things, he was probably "good" more often than he was "bad," but his "bad" was so predictable that I can't remember happy times without there being a cloud over the memories of the fun things we were doing, imagining that he probably ended the day, or the activity, angry with someone.
It was fun, for example, driving to visit my grandparents in Inverness. It was the days before superhighways were built and the road was long and winding. I looked forward to stopping at the paddock along the road where there was a mare and her colt. We watched the pregnant mare and when the colt was born, I named him "Brownie." I loved horses and I remember standing at the fence with my father calling the horses over so we could give them some sugar cubes...but then invariably as we continued the journey, I would get carsick and whenever I got sick to my stomach, he would get furious. And I always got sick. So it's hard to remember "Brownie" without thinking about my father yelling because he had to stop the car and let me vomit.
But one of the few memories I have that are untainted is when we used to get pizza to bring home for dinner.
Pizza and Chinese food were the two meals that we ordered in fairly regularly. We would call to have them deliver the Chinese food, but we lived on the edge of North Beach, and so we would go to the pizza parlor to have our pizza made.
But this was the 1950s and there were no RoundTable or other pizza parlors that we know today. Time may have dimmed my memory, but what I do remember is that this was a tiny little hole-in-the wall place, with no tables, and with sawdust on the floor. It was dark and we walked to the back, where there was a desk/table-like thing. There was a box that I could stand on and I would climb up to look over the top of the partition.
The baker would haul out a hunk of dough and do the toss-it-in-the-air thing. I could hear the sound of the dough hitting his hands and smell the yeast from the dough.
Then he would lay it on a flour-covered table and dip into a big vat with a tiny stainless steel scoop and bring out the perfect amount of tomato sauce, which he poured in the center and then spread, with the back of the scoop, to the sides. He would sprinkle it with oregano, which he rubbed through his fingers to bring out the flavor.
Next came the anchovies--'cause I remember that we usually had anchovy pizza--spread generously around the pizza. We probably had other toppings, but I only remember the anchovies, smelling that strong oily, fishy smell.
The mozzarella wasn't grated, it was cut in thick slices and spread out over the top of the pizza.
Then he slid a wooden paddle under the pizza and moved it to the huge brick oven and we watched it cook, watching the baker rotate it periodically so that it cooked evenly.
When the pizza was cooked, and steaming hot in the box, we would go next door to the wine shop, where my father would order a gallon of "Dago red" (he called it -- in those days we used ethnic slurs all the time and nobody realized how offensive they might be). A big jug that they filled from the wooden barrels while you watched--no label, but a handle that you could hook your finger through to carry to the car.
We lived just a few blocks from the street where the pizza parlor and wine store was, so we got home with the pizza still hot and steaming and delicious.
I watched Tim Russert on The Today Show this week, talking about all the wonderful letters he received after publishing the book he wrote in tribute to his father. He said the letters were full of the stories of all those special little things that happen between fathers and children and he has published a second book to talk about the special relationship that exists between fathers and kids. Books like that always made me feel sad because I feel I missed something very special. We never had long talks. We never understood each other. In the end, we probably didn't really even like each other.
I guess that when you come down to it, the song my father and I wrote together was appropriately named: "You Didn't Quite Know Me Yet."
AMERICAN IDOL POST SCRIPT.
This was the first year that I watched American Idol. Each year I felt like I was missing out on something so this year I decided to check it out, not expecting to like it, much less get as hooked as I did. Naturally, I was glued to the finale last night.
While I had voted for Katherine McPhee last week (how could I not vote for someone who did such a great rendition of Over the Rainbow?), when push came to shove and I had to choose between her and Taylor, my vote went to Taylor. Katherine has a beautiful voice, but she's another bland performer. Taylor brings electricity to the stage and I'm very glad that he won.
What I hated about the two hour show was all the fillers. OK--I can see the promo for "American Idol on Tour," and I can see giving a stage to name performers who want an audience of 60 million people, but what I hated was the "American Idol awards," making fun of the people who tried out and did not make it into the competition. It's one thing to laugh at the foibles of the competitors, but to laugh at the no-talent people who really thought they were going to make it to the top seemed just simply cruel.
Of course if they had eliminated that awards, they would have had to shorten the program to one hour and would have missed all that commercial money. But the whole thing left a bad taste in my mouth.
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