Mr. Staaach!

When I was a bachelor in New York City my casual attire was mainly khaki pants and a polo shirt. But, those khaki's had to be starched. Ultra.

From my Army days I developed a preference for my uniforms for what is called "Military Starch". If you don't know what that is, imagine your pants coming back from the laundry so well and thoroughly starched they could literally stand up by themselves. Well, almost. But the exaggeration helps make the point. Putting a leg in for the first time was like squeezing between two pieces of cardboard glued together.

The preference for mucho starch carried over into my civilian life. Also, if you happen to know what I'm talking about and happen to have the same fastidious preference, you'll also know how damn difficult it is to get said "Military Starch" from just about any dry cleaner/laundry. Akin to the imposibility of getting a fluffy, airy omelet at just about any diner in the good old US of A. I suppose if you lived just outside a military base you might not have any difficulty finding a proper service for your slacks.

In New York City there were dotted among the many neighborhoods the trusty and local Chinese Laundry. Often with a forest of potted green plants in the window, with the heady intense aroma of years of the scent of scorched cotton.

My Chinese Hand Laundry used to sit near the corner of 87th Street just west of Amsterdam Avenue on the north side of the block. I don't think it's there any more. The neighborhood was never shabby, but now its posh. Barney Greengrass is still there. Lox at $36.00 per pound, mind you. Like I said, posh. And, that's a few years ago when I checked that price.

After many moons as a customer I became known to the Chinese couple who operated the laundry as "Mr. Starch". Pronounced as "Mr. Staach". Spoken at high pitch, loud. I'd no sooner walk through the door, but I'd hear, "Mr. Staach! Mr. Staach!" They must've liked my business. I do know it does take some extra doing to get all that old fashioned (as in starch dissolved in water, not from a spray can) starch into those pants. But, I insisted, and they delivered. 

The old lady in fact could be a dead ringer for the landlady character in the wonderful movie, "Kung Fu Hustle". 

At the Brooklyn Botanic Garden on the Cherry Tree Esplanade each springtime the spectacular weeping cherry trees are blooming, with an extravagant display of double pink blossoms.

During the last week in April every year since 1982 the Japanese Cherry Blossom Festival, “Sakura Matsuri” is celebrated.

When I attended the very first festival there were several Japanese cultural exhibits. At one there was a venerable Buddhist monk executing calligraphy. Impeccably dressed in traditional robes. He worked at ground level with an ink brush over a sheet of paper on his hands and knees. The fine rice paper sheet measured something like 36 X 48 inches. He would ask every person requesting his calligraphy for their name, which he inserted into each unique drawing. A donation was appropriate. I wanted one for myself, but didn't have any cash. So I hurried back home a short walk away and arrived back with my donation.

As I waited my place in line, a big black ink spot accidentally dripped from the brush onto the pristine white paper. That sheet was about to be discarded, but I stepped forward and said that I would take that one, just as it was.

When he heard my request the old monk stood up straight and sang a beautiful song in Japanese. Then I gave my name and this is what he brushed for me. Notice the equipoise, flowing brush strokes and precise alignment.

" Seasons change. 
Flowers bloom. 
People come and go."

After all that a beautiful older woman gently folded the paper, wrapping it loosely in an even finer blank sheet of rice paper. I took it as an invitation of some kind. I never was able to find that monk, or that group of Buddhists. Another lesson in impermanence. And, Zen. 

I used that fine blank paper to wrap a wedding gift for friends. It looked pretty casual for gift wrapping, but the richness of it was there. Not everything can be seen with the eyes. 

Later on in the park I came across some friends. They asked me what I had there. Still filled with the Zen spirit, I replied, "Just some ink on paper".

PS While back in Old Nippon, they did it right.

For my Polish friends ...

You call your grandma "babcia" or "busia" and your grandpa "dziadzia."

You know how to dance the polka, but you only do it at weddings after
kicking back a few generous shots of vodka or a few highballs.

You like to drink. Especially beer. Especially cheap beer.
When frustrated, you slap your forehead, shake your head, and say "O Jezu Marija!"

You have one grandma that wears a babushka and galoshes every single day
of the year and another grandma that wears a lot of jewelry and too
much make-up.

If you come from Chicago, Buffalo, Cleveland, Hamtramck, or Milwaukee
there is a large church called "Saint Stanislaus," or "Saint Hedwig,"
within one block of your childhood home (that is, unless you're one of
those suburban exiles, in which case the church is within one block of
your babcia's house!)

The neighorhood you grew up in is called "Little Warsaw," "Slavic
Village," "Polish Hill," or something of that sort. You like to
celebrate St. Patrick's Day but only because "the Irish are oppressed too"!

Your knowledge of the Polish language is limited to 'naughty' words
(e.g. dupa, gowno, gatki, etc.); names for food (e.g. pierogi, kapusta, etc.);
and drinking toasts (e.g. nazdrowie, sto lat, etc.).

You occasionally add the suffix "ski" to English words for no apparent
reason (e.g. "I'm gonna go put the car-ski in the garage-ski"). [If you
also happen to know a few basic conversational phrases in Polish you are
considered "old school" by friends and relatives.]

You have a grandma who uses every single part of animal carcasses to
make sausages, soups, dumplings, etc.
You have at least one uncle named "Stan," or "Stas."

You have at least one relative who works, or used to work, for the Big Three.

Your relatives devotion to saints, the Blessed Virgin, the Pope, the
Democratic Party, the U.S. Steelworkers, etc.

Your grandma has a shrine complete with votive candles and a picture of
the "Our Lady of Czestochowa" or "Infant of Prague."

Your parents have at least one crucifix or religious picture mounted on
a wall in their house with palms tucked behind it.

Your grandparents and other relatives habitually kiss everyone they

You refer to your two dozen or so cousins by childhood nicknames (e.g.
Stannie, Nicky, Louie, Joey, Chickie, Honey, etc.) irrespective of their

You refer to grandparents and aunts by pet names (e.g. Aunt Honey, Aunt
Chickie, Grandpa Jo-Jo, etc.).

You regularly attend Friday fish fries, harvest festivals,
parish festivals, Vegas nights, and/or Bingo.

You bowl regularly and/or on a team sponsored by a local bar.

You get your food blessed at Easter and your house blessed at Christmas

Your family has a wigilia meal on Christmas Eve at which you share

You like to put sour cream, horseradish, and/or beer on everything you eat.

Your family likes to play card games like hearts and pinochle, and this
often culminates in full-scale brawls.

You always prefer rye bread to white or wheat.

Your dad has forced you to eat horseradish, claiming that it will "put
hair on your chest" (even If you're a female!).

You like to go "mushroom hunting."

People in your family have their wedding receptions at places called
"Polish Legion Hall," "Sacred Heart Center," etc.

You know the words to "Sto Lat" and sing it at all birthday

You can out-drink all of your friends.

You have waited in line at a church or bakery to buy pierogi or paczki.

You frequently add "dere" (there) and/or "ya know" to the end of
sentences. Words like kiszka, kielbasa, and kolaczki actually mean
something to you.

You know the difference between Czechs, Slovaks, and Slovenes, and you
think they're all inferior to Poles despite the numerous glaring

You used to get a day off from school on Saint Joseph's Day (March 19).

You actually know who Kosciuszko and Pulaski are and why they're

You have at least one relative who plays the accordion.

You are inclined to blame all the world's ills on Germans and Russians.

You have an easier time getting along with Irishmen and Italians than
with non-Polish Slavs.

You're either completely overdressed or completely
underdressed for every occasion.

If you're a woman, you wear make-up at all times - even if it's 90
degrees outside and you're 88 years old.

Your idea of "healthy" is boiled pierogi, light beer, and filtered

You walk into a crowd of people you don't know and talk to them like
they're your best friends in the whole world.

You hoard vast amounts of money in your house.

You have at least one bar in your house - usually in the basement.

Your family always has an excuse to hold a "poprawinie" - e.g. when
someone dies, or when someone gets married.

You've never been to Poland, but you have mysterious relatives there to
whom you send gifts and money every Christmas.

Your front yard is filled with lawn ornaments - e.g. pink flamingos, jockey, Mary in the halfshell, etc.

You have relatives who are priests and nuns.

You collect "prayer cards" from funerals.

You or someone in your family owns a highly outdated Dodge or Plymouth.

You regularly attend Mass but spend most of the ceremony sleeping and/or
looking at the parish bulletin.

You haven't been a practicing Catholic for years but everyone in your
family insists that it's "just a phase."

You often visit cemeteries, light votive candles for dead relatives, and
generally spend an unhealthy amount of time obsessing about death.

You like to gossip and generally talk too much.
People often have trouble pronouncing your last name.

Your family is so loyal that even a second cousin would take a bullet
for you.

You drink your coffee black and take your liquor straight up.
If you're from Chicago you come by my house to go shopping at Jewels or
Dominick. You used to shop at Kroeger, A&Ps, HiLows, Monkey Wards, and
Sears Robuck.

Source: Thomas Sobieski "FB" Group "I Grew Up in Hamtramck"

Interesting how things get passed down the generations. 

Recently my daughter shared an art piece cooked up by one of my grandchildren. Below on a sheet from a notepad imprinted with "a hot cup of cocoa" was written in child style pencil, ". . . is disgusting! because it is too chocolatey". Below the note sheet on a colorful paper was an an assemblage depicting a cup of Cocoa with cotton balls for marshmallows and glittery steam swirls.

The thing that struck me, besides the choice of adjective, was the recollections it invoked in me. When my daughter was a little girl her mother used the term "disgusting" rather frequently. Or, often enough to be a trademark usage in my view. Mostly in referring to tastes of foods she didn't like. But, if I recall correctly, for just about anything she didn't like.

Turns out, I would become disgusting too. 

My young daughters picked up the word as part of their regular vocabulary. The older girl first pronounced it as "acusting". That particularly charming way kids have of uttering what they hear and/or can't quite pronounce may also account for all those precious names for the grandparents. 

Well, now the next generation is on the scene and, as you know what I am talking about, there's that disgusting use of the word "disgusting". 

I will share this post with my daughters. Funny how things get passed down. 

Young Wine at the Wedding

So I got distracted. Who wouldn't. The woman next to me was throwing off some serious sex electricity. Never mind she was well along in the so-called "Family Way". I wasn't going there, you better believe. Not so much about her situation. Heck, bend her over, she'd be good to go. But she was married, and I have my scruples about things like that. 

Besides, her sexual buzz really got me amped up to make a serious move on the gal standing on my other side. A bridesmaid. Kinda like the gal in the photo, but not that far along in the merriment. 

What is it about weddings that fills a young man's head with fantasies about a hot one-nighter. Here you are, out of town for your cousin Vince's wedding. You got a nice room in the hotel, and it's just a few floors away. Nice set up for some naughty business. You know what I mean. No strings or loose ends. She knows you're jetting tomorrow. Maybe, even, she's counting on that too. Fall in love for 12 hours. Rack up a memory or some more.

And, those bridesmaid dresses. I never seen one that looked like it shouldn't come off as soon as possible. Or, that the low cut didn't just invite a warm exploring hand. And this one, I read that low cut number as a coy dare for me to thrust one hand assertively inside, while the other got a handful of that big plump tush. There were so many wedding guests milling around just then no one would notice if I pulled her close and tight and soul kissed her deeply until she melted in my arms and came. Yah, I was that hot. And, I'm talking about just for starters. There's an empty room upstairs waiting. Remember?

Weddings. Don't you just love a wedding? The party part, I mean. The ceremony and all the trappings. That's a girl thing. If you come across a guy who is dying to get married . . . Shoot him.

I mention I was distracted — clearly so, and understandably so given the foregoing — from my duty. It was expected at family functions someone would be the designated minder for Cousin Larry. Larry, let's just say, marched to a different drummer. Not exactly crazy. But enough of a lack of awareness or concern for fitting in with the social context that he could do some pretty crazy shit. 

So, while I was distracting myself with those two bomber babes, Larry goes and sits down way before the guests are invited to dine. The overly anxious caterer host takes Larry's faux pas as a signal, and immediately he invites all the guests to be seated. 

So far, so good. The bread rolls have already been served on little plates at each place setting. Larry takes his round roll and cuts it into quarters. Then he proceeds to plant it squarely on his nose, looking like some kind of a hick scarecrow porno chicken. Hick, because —  oh, I didn't mention, did I — Larry was a bit hard to handle. He didn't like to change wardrobe. Ever. His favorites, bib overalls.Except of course if he outgrew his overalls. So, as you might expect, Larry shows up for the wedding wearing his favoring but too tight, too small overalls; the sleeves and pants way too short. And, the porno part. As dumb as Cousin was, he was just as well . . . endowed. So, as you might expect, the snug outfit revealed quite a prodigious package down there. Talk about your mixed message. When Larry is at a wedding, it's a "Polish" wedding. He brings the kielbasa.

See what I mean:

I should add that Larry was just secretly mocking his brother, the bridegroom. Because Vince was prone to "brown nose" his bride's father. The Old Man was worth a piece of change and expected to be treated accordingly. Vince played along. A little too quickly from Larry's point of view. There's an old Polish phrase for that, it goes . . . [You're] "putting your nose in bread/dough." It's an old expression, maybe that's why no one took offense. But, Babcha read the meaning right away. She laughted, "That Larry. Smarter than he look!"

So there he is gotten up from the table and strutting about like the aforementioned hick porno scarecrow chicken. When he got to the bridal party's table he did a dance. A dance of tribute. A dance of fertility. A dance of well wishing and abundance. A dance of obvious unbridled sensuality. The bride blushed. If it had entered his empty head to whip it out, I'm sure he would have been happy to do so. Thankfully, it went differently. When the music stopped he tossed that bread beak at the newlyweds. His idea of rice, some would say. Imagine! And, it became a family tradition. By default.

Here's what ensued. Just like the guests were seated so hastily after Cousin Larry prematurely seated himself, the assembled guests all followed suit with Larry's other antics. So, with sleeves and cuffs rolled up, everyone put on a quarter piece of their bread roll, and danced wildly in front of the bride and groom. When the music stopped those pieces of bread went tossed at the young couple. No harm. You might even say that, yes in fact, that was a rousing gesture of wishes for abundance in every way. As they say, when everyone is crazy, that's normal. 

Some story. Huh? 

Another time . . . This one concerns toasting. In a way.

You know how it is tradition to take a eating utensil and tinkle it on the side of a glass during dinner? It's a signal that you want to make a toast. 

Toasts. It seems to be an expected ritual at weddings that someone or other will make a toast, particularly the embarrassing kind in which some past indiscretion(s) by either or both the bride and groom are recalled in explicit detail. Or, pointing out who among those gathered were done by or done two by those dewy newlyweds in former times. Hidden secrets might be revealed; illegitimate children, sexually transmitted diseases, gender modification. Come on! We've all been party to some of those. Say, Amen!

In his typically Polish style young Larry sits there during the wedding feast and starts banging on his plate. The party falls silent and all eyes are directed at said Larry. He looks back drawing a blank. His family handler on that particular occasion whispers in his ear that he's supposed to stand up and make a toast. It takes a short bit to sink in. Larry may act crazy, but he ain't stupid. Let's put it this way, he does have more sense than a mud fence. (So, Grandma. Shut the hell up!) 

He stands up without any idea of what to say for a toast. So he explains himself. He tells everyone that the custom at Polish weddings is to start banging on a plate. The assembled join in and the racket only stops when the bride and groom kiss. This goes on several time during the meal. Supposed to get them started on their honeymoon night. 

We this crowd wasn't buying it. They just stared him down. No surprise, after what Cousin pulled earlier that evening. Let's not go into that one. It makes everything else you've read so far rather tame by comparison. 

Here's a nice Polish Polka. Go nuts like Larry in the privacy of your own home.