Tuesday, 24 July 2007

The purpose of writing and Freehold NJ

Gary Allen, cannibal, posted a thoughtful comment on my last entry: Why do people write? Of course to remember, when you begin to mistrust your brain to do it. But also to forget. I don't mean to distract you from everything else - though that is a very real reason I write. I mean to edit, to choose the things that stay in your memory so you can leave out the rest. Pictures do that in a very violent and artificial way. At least they decide for you the images that stick in your mind. But when you write things down, you can reconstruct them, creating your own personal history. Not for others, but for yourself. I say that now, realizing that I did in fact begin this blog for my own personal recollections. But I've kept a journal for 20 years now. Not really sure why I was doing it. To remember, and forget.

I am also spurred on by yet another really pathetic foodie book. An American eating adventure, or something like that, by a guy who made a few day trips outside of NY and then looked everything else up on line. How do these things get published? I know I am either in a really foul mood when I start scribbling violently in a book half way through and then throw it somewhere, or the book just sucks. It's a shame, the author seems like a really nice guy. Maybe food was not supposed to be his topic.

So I will take a moment, if you will indulge me, in a Proustian moment:

I grew up in a an unpronounceable place (Manalapan) just next to Freehold NJ. This is, despite what people think about Asbury Park, the hometown of Bruce Springsteen. And the people there have bumper stickers that say "My Home Town" and "Born in the USA" as if they'd never actually listened to the depressing lyrics of either song. Bruce and I lived near each other for many years I guess, and he's a year older than my brother. But listen closely to the way he speaks. Tidewater, the South. Two miles north is a NY suburb. My mutha says butt-uh. I of course learned to speak from the TV. Honestly, I could never stand Springsteen, only because everyone else adored him. I thank him, indirectly for my addiction to Bach.

But I am writing about food, damn it! Freehold was the place to go, for a real bakery (it was my father's only real weakness in life - crumb cake and sticky pastries - gevalt). Also Federici's - serious pizza, thin and slightly charred, I swear as good as Sally's or Peppe's in New Haven, and yes the same family of that guy in the E Street Band. But when I was young Atillio's was definitely the favorite, mostly because closer. Your standard 70s pizza by the slice. But who names someone Atilla? And there were restaurants: Vans, which I think is still there. A real "continental" operation from the 60s or long before, in a refurbished house. White bread and iceberg lettuce. But also the first place I ever ate olives. Still my favorite food. Oh and the American Hotel, long gone, which had black lawn jockeys lining the hallways and pictures of prize winning trotters and pacers. And my favorite painting, of the hotel entrance in the 1830s with news of the Mexican War being read in front. They had a buffet at which allegedy I scandalized eveyone by eating only lemons and rice at age 5 or thereabouts. My sister had her sweet 16 there too. And not to forget the kitchen at the Synagogue, where a one-toothed growling old troll by the name of Meyer turned out what adults conceded was some of the best food they had ever eaten. Cholent I can still picture and almost taste. There was also the place my high school friends hung out after we returned home, pathetically jobless after college to drink - Frebbles. Or at the Court Jester, which had sandwiches named after local lawyers, one of whom was the father of my girlfriend senior year. It was like bacon and spam with pickle relish or something like that. Then there was the mythopoetic Sorrento's Subs, out on Route 33 - enormous vinegary oniony behemoths filled with everything in the house - salami, coppa, cheese, ham, etc., enough to feed a whole family, or my brother and me. You could smell someone who had eaten it a block away.

But what I can't forget, because it is seared into my senses, is Battleview Orchards. On the field where the battle of Monmouth took place. Also a state park. It is still the first place I hit when I visit. Apples like none I have eaten on earth - winesaps and Macs, later Empires and McCouns. Only directly off the trees, preferably stolen, though now adays pick your own. Sour, ineffible crunch, no explosion of apple in your face. You have to eat at least a dozen per visit, because if you take them home, you might as well just make pie. Which works well too, with brown sugar and a splash of apple jack (made not in the south, but in Scobeyville a few miles away, since the 18th c.) There was also real unpasteurized cider at teh orchard years ago, and the best doughnuts on earth made from it. I have eaten only a few doughnuts in the past decades, only because I know nothing on earth could possibly compare. Crispy and hot right from the fryer, sprinkled with cinnamon sugar. The last few times I've gone, I could taste the apple juice in the batter. But the apples they can't fake. And the orchard is still there.

Ok, so next time we take venture from New Jersey, taking in "THE City" and DC, and lots of other places I've lived. Then across the globe. And at the end we make a book out of it. Any interested publishers or agents out there?

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