You Say Tomato, I Say... Love is Strange
Where: 517 East 83rd Street , 10028 New York (United States). When: on 01-11-1962.
Written at 16-09-2011 by Thomas Pryor
Here’s a story about my family’s strange love.
You Say Tomato, I Say… Love is Strange, (1962)
“That’s not how you do it.”
Dad grabbed the yellow mixing bowl from Mom.
“Oh really, Mr. Wizard?”
“You don’t stab the tuna; you press the fork down into the tuna like a pharmacist crushes tablets using a pestle and mortar. Grinding it, that’s how it best blends with the mayo. And you add the Hellman’s last.”
Mom ripped the bowl back from Dad and said, “Take a hike.”
Rory scratched his crew cut. He and I, six and eight years old, had no idea what a pestle or a mortar was, we only wanted a tuna sandwich.
After Mom stingily spread the tuna on Wonder bread, making three sandwiches from one can, she started cutting them in halves. Dad came back.
“Cut them on the bias.”
“Huh?” Rory and I exchanged puzzled looks as another word we didn’t understand interfered with our lunch.
“What?” Mom’s eyes wide.
“If you cut them on the bias, the sandwich tastes better -- it’s all about the presentation.”
Dad cut one sandwich.
“You’re a hot air balloon, blow away.” Mom pushed him out of the kitchen.
Rory and I measured the sandwiches’ size with our eyes and each reached for the fattest one. Mom got it first.
After we devoured the sandwiches, Rory and I battled over who would clean the bowl with an extra piece of bread. During the pulling portion, the thick glass bowl dropped to the linoleum floor and rolled to the stove. Rory and I dove for it. Mom separated us by our necks and threw us into the hallway.
Down four flights into the street, Rory went one way, and I went the other.
I headed down Carl Schurz Park to the Hockey Field. There were some guys playing touch football, fathers playing basketball and several young mothers with strollers. Bored, waiting to play something, I put Joe Menesick into a headlock and we started wrestling. He pinned me. Out of nowhere, Rory flew in thinking it was a real fight and punched Joe in the head.
Joe yelled, “Oow!” and slugged Rory. I hit Joe. Dennis, Joe’s brother who had been playing football, saw this and jumped in thinking Joe was in trouble. Now it was a two on two, full-blown double brother fight. All the kids watching circled the scrum. After a while, two fathers playing basketball came over and broke it up. One father didn’t like the way the other father looked at him, and said so. That fellow hit the other dad and the two of them started fighting. Rory, Joe, Dennis and I dropped away from the crowd and strolled out of the park laughing. Rory and I walked home together not saying anything.
It was five-thirty when we got home, my parents announced they were going up to the RKO to see The Manchurian Candidate, and that we were going over my dad’s parents house for dinner. This was good, they were large people, we’d eat well. We called their refrigerator, Treasure Island.
Pop met us at the door and gave us bear hugs. “No Nonsense” Nan was sitting in her chair crocheting a blanket for a friend. She said, “Hi,” to us then to Pop, “Johnny, I need more blue and green wool, get the car.”
Crap, I thought, late dinner. Pop got the ‘52 Plymouth and we headed down the FDR to Grand Street, the wool source. Pop parked in front of the store with the colorful striped awning, and Nan left her large tote bag in the car, so she could swindle a couple of those heavy duty white Grand Street shopping bags from the store’s clerk. Sturdy bags were essential to collect field supplies.
While Nan shopped, Rory and I fought, first arguing over where we’d go on vacation next year, Disneyland or Niagara Falls. We never went anywhere on vacation, other than a day trip to Rockaway Beach. Then the imaginary vacation squabble turned into a thigh-pinching contest – which led to open warfare.
We wrestled ourselves from the back seat up into the car’s rear window area. We crushed the cardboard Kleenex box and knocked the head off the bobble-head boxer dog with the brown felt pelt, sitting in the center of the rear window. Pop loved that dog.
This was the only time I remember Pop getting mad at me. He came over the front seat and extended his grizzly-sized body toward us, with his big belly flopping in the air over the back seats until his angry face met our faces. Didn’t touch us, didn’t scream. But his white of the eyes look gave Rory and me reason to resume our rare good grandson waiting position.
Settled back in my seat, looking at Pop’s head, I thought of the witch in Disney’s Snow White, because Pop’s head was the same color as her poisoned apple.
A pretty lady with a white cap came over and leaned into Pop’s window, “Mister, you OK? You don’t look good.”
She took his hand in hers. “I’m a nurse, sir, and based on the pulse I’m feeling, you’re going to have a heart attack if you don’t calm down.”
Around this time, Nan came out of the store and saw an attractive, leggy, curly blond, talking low and sweet to Pop, while she stroked his hand.
Nan put half of her body through the open passenger side window and said, “Anything interesting?”
“Ma’am, everything’s fine, I just thought this gentleman looked distressed,” said the beautiful lady.
“Let’s find out and ask my HUSBAND. Johnny, are you distressed?”
Pop said nothing.
“Sorry Ma’am, I didn’t intend to cause any trouble, I was just here in the street, taking people’s blood pressure and I happened to see…”
“My husband.” Nan cut her off.
“Yes, your husband, looking poorly. Well, he seems to be doing much better now, so I’ll leave you be.”
“Bye!” Nan said, while kicking Pop in the leg.
When we drove away there was silence, until Pop turned us north up First Avenue. Then, Nan threw out the question, “What the hell was that about?”
Pop slowed the car, looked back at us, then turned to Nan and let it go, “Did you order us down here? Did you get what you wanted? Were you in the car when the lady approached me with our kids in the car? No, so you have no idea why that lady came to my window. All you have are your presumptions, which are always right. So, for the first time ever, I’m telling you nothing. Think what you want, the world doesn’t revolve around you.”
Nan’s mouth stayed open the entire ride. Pop went silent until a Checker cab cut him off when we exited the U.N. tunnel at 49th Street, then Pop let Nan have it a second time. We didn’t peep. Our mouths were open as wide as Nan’s. They dropped us off in front of our house on 83rd Street without a good bye, like a mob body dump. As soon as they pulled away, I heard Pop’s voice rising.
When we walked into our apartment, Dad was in the kitchen drawing a barn with trees and Mom was lounging on the couch in the living room watchingThe World at War on TV.
“How are you guys?” Dad asked.
“Fine,” I said and disappeared into our bedroom.
“We didn’t eat,” Rory said.
I smacked my head.
“What do you mean you didn’t eat, Nan and Pop didn’t feed you?”
‘Here it comes,’ I thought, ‘we’re dead.’
“Why’d they forget?”
“They were fighting.”
“What?” Dad looked shocked. I peeked into the kitchen.
Mom came into the room, stroked Rory’s hair, put him on her lap, and said softly, “Honey, tell me the whole story.”
Rory took a deep breath, “Nan needed wool, so we went to the store downtown. A lady talked to Pop. Nan talked to the lady. We drove away. A little later, Nan asked Pop or maybe all of us a question, then Pop yelled at Nan for asking the question. Then Pop stopped yelling. Later, a car cut him off, and Pop remembered he was still mad at Nan, he started yelling at her again, then they dropped us off and forgot to feed us, when they drove away I heard Pop yell one more time.”
During Rory’s speech, I walked back into the kitchen. When Rory was done, Mom started laughing and Dad looked like he couldn’t decide what face to put on. Finally, he slipped into a grin and started to laugh low, then harder, just as loud as Mom. Mom stood and leaned on Dad’s shoulder for support and the both of them laughed so hard, I saw their stomachs going in and out in rhythm. That was a new picture. I went to the refrigerator, grabbed three slices of Swiss cheese, gave Rory two, and a love tap on his head.