Friday, April 8, 2011

On the sidewalks of New York

Friday night I took a walk down East 36th Street in Brooklyn, retracing steps I made fifty years ago to Public School 119, now known as the Amersfort School.  I wanted to confirm that it was there, rather than at Public School 217, that I experienced the Trauma of the Worms.  This topic came up during an office conversation about snakes, and a story I'd recently heard about little baby cottonmouths pretending to be fishing worms, with tragic results.  A flood of worm memories came to mind, and as I related my traumatic episode, I realized I wasn't sure which of the two schools I had attended in Brooklyn was the culprit.  So I took a little trip to Flatbush.

Once I saw the sidewalk in front of the school, I knew that it was there one of my worst nightmares occurred.  Imagine one chubby little six year old with curly hair (no glasses yet) walking to school the morning after a warm spring rain.  The sidewalk in front of the school is completely covered with earthworms in various stages of dying. Every spring for three years, I faced the Trauma of the Worms (not to be confused with the Diet of Worms or the Silence of the Lambs)  My mother explained that the worms came out because of the heavy rains, and some of them (must have been a couple of million) did not make it back into the nice damp earth before the sun dried everything up, including their invertebrate little bodies.  There was no place to put my foot without stepping on worms, and it creeped me out beyond anything I had experienced up to that point in my life.  I tried tiptoeing in between, aiming for small areas of sidewalk, hyperventilating the whole way to the front steps, silent shrieks of terror echoing in my head.  It was truly horrific, and I still have nightmares.  I know, I have issues.  But I still hate worms.

Answer:  to scare the bejeezus out of little kids

I don't know why I worry so much about incipient Alzheimer's, because from memory I was able to reconstruct my daily walk from our house to the school, recognizing the funny zigzag you have to take to cross Flatbush Avenue and still stay on Avenue K, and the corner where my favorite candy store was located.  It's a grocery now, but I faced that corner every time I crossed Flatbush, and I clearly remember the old-fashioned green Coca-Cola sign, something like this one:

I was also able to reconstruct the memory of a class trip I took in second grade.  My teacher, Mrs. Aaronson, had us walk, double file, across the street - East 39th Street to be exact - to the postage stamp-sized front yard of her house, where she gave us a lovely lesson on flowers and trees.  It was that day I learned that crocuses were the first sign of spring (at least in Brooklyn, New York) and it was not until years later I realized Mrs. Aaronson was wrong, and that it is, in fact, the appearance of the Cadbury Egg which serves as the first sign of spring.  She was correct that the forsythia is the official flower of Brooklyn, however, so I'll give her that.

Later I took a drive down Kings Highway to Flatbush Avenue, made a quick left to peek at the Exxon station there (it would have been an Esso station back then), and wondered if my father would remember the time he went to pay for gas, leaving me in the car with the motor running and I accidentally threw his car into neutral, sending me and the car sliding towards the traffic.  I certainly have never forgotten the look of terror on his face as he came hoofing after me, nor the look of relief and pride when I managed to stop the car's backward slide by pressing my small, six year old foot against the brake as I had seen him do so many times.

Is there anything as much fun as the interactive maps on Google?  I just took a long ride down Flatbush Avenue, past Kings Plaza, over the Belt Parkway, past Floyd Bennett Field, and over the Marine Parkway Bridge.  With the price of gas hovering closer and closer to $4.00 a gallon, it's the only way to travel.  Although I do miss the cobblestones that used to make up the roadbed on Flatbush Avenue in the vicinity of Floyd Bennett.  They were paved over many years ago, but I can still remember my father's car bumping over them on our way to the Rockaway peninsula to visit some of my favorite relatives.  Far Rockaway is where I did my candy-striper gig way back in 1968 at what was then St. Joseph's Hospital, but long before that I developed a fascination with the roads and most especially the Rockaway Freeway which ran under the concrete elevated structure supporting the tracks for the New York City Subway.

Once we left the Marine Parkway (Gil Hodges) Bridge, Pop would continue left onto Beach Channel Drive, speeding along the edge of the water, but at some point darting onto Rockaway Freeway, weaving under and around the el, back and forth between Rockaway Parkway and Beach Channel Drive, and then just when I thought I had the directions straight in my head, he would careen onto Seagirt Boulevard.  Memories of those trips remind me of the chase scene in the movie "The French Connection."  Pop was nothing if not an adventurous driver.

It's still all about the food:  Saturday evening Rob and I are going out to dinner with friends at Bonefish Grill, but that hasn't stopped me from thinking about ribs, risotto, and japchae.

Korean Glass Noodles

You know, up until this very moment I never realized the resemblance between Korean glass noodles and the Avenue K Worm Gang ... let's try a different picture, shall we?

Jap Chae / Chap Chae

Much better.  For a moment, I thought I had been sent to Bizarre Foods Hell, where I would be doomed to become Andrew Zimmern's taste tester on all of his eating adventures for all eternity. 

I first experienced japchae while in South Korea.  I feel the need to rhapsodize about that trip, but that deserves its own blog post, so for now we'll just take a quick peek at my family's favorite Korean dish.

Although my son is Korean, I never tried to cook Korean food until I had the chance to taste the real thing, and by that time he was 18 years old.  We do have a few Korean restaurants in the area, but they are still a bit of a drive, and in any event, we didn't know what to order.  The other problem is that much of Korean food is incendiary, and I have had to learn to work my way around those delightful little side dishes (banchan) that would blow the top of my head off.  Fortunately, there are dishes like japchae, galbi and bulgogi that are seasoned for non-chili heads, relying on the flavors of soy sauce and sesame oil and malt syrup to delight the palate.

The end of a great meal in Seoul

For now I'm just thinking about the japchae, but I do have a bag of those noodles in my pantry, and who knows where that might take me - possibly to Publix for the rest of the ingredients?  Perhaps, given the amount of cooked food in my refrigerators, I'll concentrate on those barbecue ribs with a side of risotto.  And whipped rutabagas (I haven't forgotten).

I'll be sure to let you know.

1 comment:

  1. OUTSTANDING! dont you like stepping into the wayback machine and seeing your childhood as an adult?

    i went to a thai restaurant once with some coworkers from a previous job. it was fairly difficult to find a dish that would not blow my head off lol. keep up the excellent work Bear!