Friday, September 04, 2009

Potato Chips?

In my last conversation with my friend Slow Eddie, about his tour of the old neighborhood, he mentioned that the old Pizzeria where we hung out on Fridays and Saturdays was still there and still doing business. He had thought about taking the grand kids into the restaurant, but after seeing the patrons he decided that it was not a good idea and decided to stop at the Home Run Inn on 31st Street instead.

The name of the restaurant was the Del Campo Pizzeria and it is located on the corner of Cermak (22nd Street) and Troy. It was about 6 blocks from our high school and less than three blocks away from Eddie’s childhood home and about 6 blocks away from mine.

We would go there after a Friday afternoon Football or Baseball games and for Saturday night get-togethers. The pizza was very good but did not compare with the Home Run Inn’s pizza. But the Home Run Inn was more than a mile and a half away from my house and an even farther distance for most of my other High School friends.

My Dad would get our pizzas (and pizza was never considered to be a dinner food – although I would argue that it contained all five essential food groups) from a Pizzeria two blocks away from our home. It was a thin New York style pizza but it didn’t have the cracker crust which I preferred.

It was owned by two brothers that had emigrated from Italy to New York City in the early 1940’s. They lived in Brooklyn and both went to work for a local Pizzeria; one as a busboy and the other as a kitchen clean-up man. The younger brother was the busboy.

This Pizzeria had no wait staff; you would get a number when you ordered your pizza and they would call the number when your pizza was ready.

Although his job was only to clean the tables and the floor (and restrooms), the younger brother took the initiative to get the pizzas for the customers. He'd say something like “don’t interrupt your conversation; I will bring your pizza to you”. His fetching the pizzas did not interfere with his job and the owners of the Pizzeria appreciated his extra effort. Plus he would usually find nickels or dimes on the tables when he went to clean them. Soon the nickels and dimes turned into quarters and although he was making less money per hour than his brother; he was bringing home a lot more.

I transferred into Cyrus McCormick Elementary School (Chicago) in the third grade. I knew absolutely no one in my class and they didn’t exactly welcome me with open arms. Most of my neighborhood friends, (which I had just met that summer) went to Catholic Schools.

The next fall when I entered the fourth grade there was a new transfer student. Now I was no longer the new kid on the block.

By this time I had become friends with several of my classmates. I was such an affable character that they couldn’t resist my pleasing personality, besides I was bigger and stronger than most of them and I knew how to throw a punch. A fifth grader was picking on one of my new found friends and I decked him (actually it was a sucker punch that was taught to me by my older cousin Bob). I gained the immediate respect from my fellow male classmates (however, my mom was summoned to the school to explain my inexplicable behavior). Fortunately this turned out to be a good move on my part because my friend’s parents owned the candy store across the street from the school and I didn’t get severely disciplined by my parents.

The new student’s name was Giuseppe. On the first day of class our teacher called on him and asked him to introduce himself to his fellow classmates. He said “Ma’am, I go by the name of Joey, I’m Italian but I was born in America.” A harsh silence fell over the classroom; both Joey and our teacher sat down. More silence.

I decided that I liked this kid, so after class I introduced myself to him and we shook hands. He lived about a half block away from the school and I lived two blocks away. When I walked to school in the morning he would be sitting on his stoop waiting for me and we’d walk the last 100 yards to school, every morning, together. After school I would often stop at his house and we would do our homework together. His Mom baked some of the best cookies that I have ever eaten.

One day Joey came to my house after school and one of the local kids, from my block, yelled “Hey George, who is that grease ball that you’re with.” That was the last day that Joey came to my home. Kids can be cruel. But one must consider the fact that I grew up in an extremely bigoted Bohemian/Polish Chicago neighborhood.

One day Joey and I were walking home from school and he continued to walk past his house. I asked him if he was coming to my house. He told me “No, I’m going to see my father at work.” I thought that it must be nice to have your Dad working so close to home.

The next day, at recess, I asked him where his Dad worked. He told me that his Dad and his Uncle ran a Pizza Parlor. He also said that his Dad worked 14 hours a day and he hardly got to see him. He asked me if I would like to meet his Dad and I said sure. He said that we could go there for lunch. I told him “not today” because my Mom would be worried if I didn’t come home for lunch.

After clearing it with my Mom, the next day Joey and I had pizza for lunch. I met his Dad and his Uncle Carlo. After that day Joey and I would go to the Pizzeria for lunch one day per week.

The next year I was invited to their home for the Feast of Saint Joseph (March 19th). It was on a School day so I went home to clean up and change clothes first. I arrived at about 4:30 in the afternoon. When Joey opened the door to let me in I received a blast of some of the most fragrant aromas that I had ever encountered. Joey said that his Mom had been preparing food for 3 days.

Joey’s Dad and Uncle were sitting at the dining room table (which looked like the worlds largest antipasto platter) drinking wine and speaking in Italian. The greeted me in English and welcomed me to their home (Uncle Carlo lived on the second floor of the two-flat house). The sideboard next too the table was covered with an assortment of cookies, cakes and tortes. Uncle Carlo saw the look on my face and said go on and take one. I reached for a round cookie that was full of holes and had powder sugar on top. Carlo said no no those are only for after dinner; try the Pignoli or the Biscotti. I chose the Pignoli.

Joey and I, his two cousins and his brother and sister went into the living room to watch television. I notice Joey’s Mom clearing the food from the table. I said “Mrs. *******, I haven’t eaten yet.”, she laughed and told me that I would eat soon.

I couldn’t believe the amount and varieties of food Joey’s Mother and Aunt brought out of the kitchen, it truly was a feast. There were so many types of pasta including Ravioli and Lasagna, three different sauces (they called them gravies), several meat dishes and one vegetable (actually a mixture of several vegetables).

Uncle Carlo sat at the head of the table (he was the oldest member of the family – the Patrono) and gave the benediction, said a prayer and the talked about family members for 2 or 3 minutes. I didn’t understand a word he said because he was speaking in Italian. Then he sat down and said Mangiare, I knew what that meant.

Joey’s Mother fixed me a basket of food and cookies to take home with me when I left that night. She said “Bringa back the basket.”

After Elementary school Joey and I rarely saw each other. His parents sent him to a Catholic school and I went to a Public High School. But on every March 19th I was there at his house to celebrate St. Joseph’s Day.

Now after this extremely long missive, I suppose you are wondering what this story has to do with the title of this Blog – Potato Chips.

On August 3rd I wrote a blog about snack foods and Potato Chips in particular. Somewhere in that Blog I wrote about Joey’s Dad’s Pizzeria having the best Spumoni that I have ever eaten. Writing that Blog reminded me of my old friend Joey.

The Beach Bum

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16 Comments:

Blogger alfredo_tomato said...

Excellent storytelling.

Fri Sep 04, 08:28:00 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I was in the big windy in July having Oysters,& Home Run Inn Pizza with the Admiral & Capt. Belly. Bite the bullet and get in the program,life is short and you are brave. Don't leave your Buddy's Behind.

Buck

Sat Sep 05, 09:22:00 AM  
Blogger TI said...

That story, and its manner of telling, made me a little misty recalling my own youth growing up just outside Boston. You have an amazing mind and memory, my brother. Wish you were going to be there in two weeks.

Sat Sep 05, 04:17:00 PM  
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