Part 3 of 4
Part 1: Motion Sickness
Part 2: “Jew eat?…No. Jew?”
Part 4: Adulthood Begins: The UCLA Dorms
The Thunderbird was a boat. Not as big as the Cadillac Sevilles you used to see on the freeways with their turning signal on for miles, but it was zaftig none the less.
My grandma Shirley drove one of those for the longest time. We called it her Jew canoe, and when behind the wheel, even with her seat pushed up as far as it could go, her toes just barely tickled the pedals. And before I had my license I used to actually let her drive me places, like my best friend Scotty’s house, or to get ice cream…..and that’s pretty much it. Anything beyond a ten-mile radius of the house, and I feared for my life.
It was never an easy drive with Grandma Shirley no matter what the distance. She used to tap the breaks like she was playing chopsticks with her feet. And the “canoe” had those fancy anti-lock breaks, so every time she engaged, it sounded like she was gasping for air. Some final exhalation before going back to the gas, and then back to the break just to be sure she’d pushed it the first time around. Jolt and go, jolt and go. I didn’t know whether to perform CPR or to strangle her. It’s almost as if she was using the car to perform a Sammy Davis Jr. soft shoe shuffle impersonation, which is the perfect analogy, because she always had a thing for him…”ever since he converted,” she used to say.
When driving she only listened to the classical radio station, or her Porgy and Bess cassette tape. I didn’t mind and found it peaceful considering her epileptic stop-and-go technique, but Beethoven was her favorite—it made her cry. For the tears she’d either ask me to grab a tissue from the box she kept on the floor of the front seat, or she’d use the hanky secured to her wrist with a green rubber band that smelled like the newspaper it was wrapped around earlier that morning. My tears were bred from fear, because whenever I sneezed in her car, she’d slam on the breaks and yell “layben zulstah!” which was Yiddish, and until she told me what it meant I wasn’t sure if I should Anne-Frank-it to the attic or salute the Fuhrer. “It means you’ll live,” she eventually translated, but the way she drove—I wasn’t so sure.
Sometimes she’d venture onto the freeway and I’d imagine how freaked out the other drivers must have been, because all they could see were two dry, wrinkled, and sun-spotted hands with a poof of permed poodle pink hair maneuvering the steering wheel. Sometimes when I squinted my eyes from the passenger seat it was as if my chauffeur was a giant piece of cotton candy wearing Ann Taylor from head-to-toe.
“Look at them!” she’d yell, “they’re flying!” Only we were the ones driving 20 MPH in the fast lane. What she needed was her own Morgan Freeman to take her to Mahjong with the ladies, and everything would’ve been ok….but then again if she did ever hit anything she’d be fine because that woman, and that car, were built like tanks.
She never drove on Highway 8 because she thought only “crazy” people drove on Highway 8. And if they weren’t crazy before they merged on or off the freeway than they were crazy while on it. At least she was good at crossword puzzles and she sent me a check and gelt every year for Hanukkah. Now you know why I was so hopeful I’d get the T-bird—and my independence—once I got my driver’s license.
Knowing my father, his plan was to drive the car well over 100,000 miles before giving it to one of us kids. In the meantime, Maurice got to drive the 1966 Mustang dad had repainted cherry red, which was an appropriate color for picking up suburban single mothers in there forties. He said, “chicks loved that car,” and what he meant was, all the single moms, of the kids I was in Hebrew school with, loved that car. You see, my dad was “the Fonz” of my Tifereth Israel experience, and that American classic was like catnip to all the horny divorcees going through mid-life crisis.
But the Mustang was shitty on the inside, as you’d expect a 40+ year-old American-made car to be, and I didn’t want it. But for $100 he had it painted by Earl Sheib and it looked much better then the Crayola tomato-soup-red it was before. Dad had promised Maurice ownership of the Mustang if he got all A’s in high school. Let’s just say Maurice left for college with a ten-speed.
The same promise was made to Allan. I’m still not sure if dad meant to offer him the same deal, because Allan had straight A’s since letter grades actually counted for something….except for the C he earned in Ms. Gullbladder’s Pershing Junior High School woodshop class. That’s equivalent to failing the one course football players take in college and still pass with flying colors. To this day he feels he was robbed of the A- he deserved.
Allan’s the Fidel Castro of my family so I’m sure the deal he negotiated for the Mustange was one-sided, and when he got his license and his 4.0 GPA, it was indeed his—though he barely drove it. It wasn’t easy to drive. It took both hands to get it into first gear, and you could dislocate your shoulder making a u-turn.
Fortunately, dad was starting to date Rose (who’s now my stepmother…not evil….we like her just fine) and she loved that car, so they used to take it on date-nights and to run errands.
Rose drove a 1975 Nissan Sentra the same soupy red as the Mustang before Mr. Scheib got his hands on it. The Nissan was small and zippy. It was also magnetically drawn to walls, other cars, and the occasional pedestrian. Since the Sentra was cheap to repair and easy to maintain, and my dad was still using the Mustang to court Rose, the Sentra ended up being the perfect car for Allan who’d participated in almost seven car accidents his first year behind the wheel. He insists I use the word “participated” because he says “every accident involved two people and besides, none of them were his fault!” I used to think it was good for him to get those accidents out of his system early on, so he wouldn’t get in any later on, but that theory has since been disproven.
So when I first got my driver’s license my parents worried I might drive like my brother, which meant the wise thing to do was give me Allan’s shitty beat-up Nissan to practice on. I was the laughingstock at school when all my friends were getting newer cars with fewer replacement parts from the junkyard. But on the bright-reddish side, it was petite and maneuverable. I used to clean it all the time to keep up its appearance, until one day I finally snapped and saw what I was working with. Let’s just put it this way…..ugly babies can have the cutest, most expensive little Gap kids clothes, and everyone will hold them and kiss them and take’em for a spin….but they’re still ugly.
A year later, the Nissan broke down (I may have helped it a little) and the Thunderbird was finally mine. It was much nicer and not too shabby compared to most of the other kid’s cars. Patrick Henry High was roughly 50% wealthy white kids from the neighborhood and 50% lower income minority kids (schwartzes as my dad might say) who were bused in from the bad parts of town. It was a messed up sociology experiment, and of the kids owning cars—kids who’s parents owned extra cars—mine rated in the top sixty percentile, which was acceptable—I guess.
Honeydew Melon Sorbet Recipe
Growing up the most common trip I took with Grandma Shirley was to the Thrifty’s drugstore up the street for ice cream. What can I say; the woman loved the stuff. Even when she practically had no appetite near the end, she’d still find room for ice cream. It didn’t matter if it was fancy or cheep, sorbet or gelato, if it was frozen and sweet—she was game.
Her favorite flavors were butter pecan, black cherry, and lastly pistachio. Looking back, those trips with Grandma to Thrifty’s for ice cream is when my love affair with pistachio ice cream first began.
Cut to nearly 30 years later, Jonathan and I had just finished picking up two wine shipments from De Loach and Hook & Ladder in the Russian River, and we stopped by the farm stand for fruit and vegetables.
“This one isn’t quite ripe,” the cashier said, palming a melon in his hands. “Do you know how to tell if a honeydew is ripe?”
Always looking for a new trick of the trade I was more than happy to hear what he had to say. This is what we learned.
Smelling honeydew is the first step, but not always a certainty. The best way to tell if a honeydew melon is ripe is to rub your fingers over the rind, as if you’re squeezing it with your hand like you’re trying to palm a basketball. The skin should feel a little sticky as if it were waxy. It should have a little give as well. If the skin doesn’t feel waxy and your fingers move across it without resistance then it’s not ripe!
- 3 cups of very ripe honey dew melon cut into large chunks
- 2 tblsp St. Germain liquor
- 1 tblsp lemon juice
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- ½ cup water
- 1 tsp finely grated lime zest
In a saucepan over medium heat dissolve the sugar in water, creating a simple syrup.
Once dissolved, add the sugar water to a blender with the honeydew melon, St. Germain liquor, lemon juice, and lime zest. Puree the mixture for a few minutes until there’s absolutely no lumps left, and then place it in the refrigerator to cool for at least an hour.
Once the mixture is chilled, pour it into the drum of an ice cream maker and follow the instructions per your specific device.
- If you don’t have St. Germain liquor, you can add Tequila or Cointreau (orange flavored liquor). Any of these will add a depth of flavor to counter balance the sweetness of the melon sorbet.
- The alcohol also helps keep the sorbet smooth, preventing it from getting too icey.
- You can substitute the lime zest with lemon zest if you’d like more of a tang to the sorbet.
- Mint is a nice addition to this sorbet recipe. Add it to the blender and you might get pieces of mint stuck in your teeth when you eat it. I recommend steeping the mint in the sugar water on the stove and filtering it with a mesh sieve before continuing with the recipe.