It’s appalling. I admit it. I’ve become a ditsy old woman.
On the Jet Blue flight back from Los Angeles to Newark, I grumbled to the cashier about paying $3.60 for twenty ounces of Dasani water. I sat near gate 50 and waited to be called to board.
When I checked my boarding pass, I was surprised that I was in Group A. Maybe I paid extra for this seat, but I didn’t remember doing so.
Group A was called right after the first-class passengers. I had checked my suitcase, so all I had was a bag of expensive food and water, and my backpack. After finding my seat, 12 D, I unhooked the neck pillow from my pack and hung it around my neck. I had just settled the rest of my belongings when a young woman stopped beside me and said, “Um, sorry, I think you’re in my seat.”
“Oh, let me check,” I flapped around until I found my boarding pass that I’d stowed in the kangaroo pocket of my sweatshirt. It said 8 D, not 12 D. Maybe 12 D was my seat number on the way to L.A.?
“Sorry, sorry,” I intoned, retrieving my stuff.
My new seat was four rows to the front. I bumped and jostled all the passengers who were going in the right direction. “Excuse me, sorry, sorry, excuse me.”
The aisle seat 8 D was next to a youngish woman. I repeated the motions of depositing all my stuff and looked around for the neck pillow. Oh, no! I must have left it at 12 D. I stood up and searched the rows for my former spot. A flight attendant was there, assisting someone. I waved my arms to get her attention. Waved and waved. Jumped up and down for emphasis. Finally, I caught her eye. She held up a finger. I should wait.
I did, sitting down once again. There was the pillow, wrapped above my shoulders. Minutes later, the flight attendant, a slim African American woman, leaned over. “May I help you?”
“Uh, no thanks. I found it,” I muttered.
As we taxied for take-off, the same flight attendant was checking the storage compartments a few rows ahead. I stared wide-eyed at her shoes. Black patent leather with five-inch heels.
I nudged the woman next to me. “Look at those heels!” I said. “I’d break my legs if I wore those!” She stretched a smile and pointed to her ear buds.
By this time, I really had to pee. I’d been afraid to wander off to the toilet before boarding, so now I needed to go.
The plane finally took off. I unclipped my seatbelt and moved toward the toilet, a few rows ahead.
The same flight attendant stopped me. “Please go back to your seat,” she said. “We’re still climbing.” Did I hear impatience in her tone, or just weariness?
Meekly returning to my seat, I was a model passenger for the duration of the flight. I think.
Everybody has them—those special foods, meals, flavors that were so significant in childhood that they evoke emotions all the rest of our lives.
One of my strongest flavor memories is connected to my father. He did not buy ice cream for himself. For some reason, he preferred a cardboard brick of vanilla-flavored ice milk. This product was not smooth or creamy enough to interest my five-to-ten-year-old self. But–when he dropped a spoonful of ice milk into his coffee—I was right there to drink it along with him. This sharing of sweet, milky coffee surely accounts for my love of coffee ice cream. It is my go-to flavor. When, in an experimental mood, I diverge from it, I’m almost always wish I hadn’t.
On my birthday, dinner was my choice. In the early years, I chose roast beef, mashed potatoes, and green peas. It was important to mix the peas into the mashed potatoes. When I was older, I requested a meal at the Imperial Gardens, a Japanese restaurant on Sunset Boulevard (in Los Angeles). The appeal was more the aesthetics of Japanese décor and presentation even more than the food itself. I loved sitting on the floor in the tatami rooms. I loved the lacquered bowls of clear broth with tiny cubes of tofu and seaweed floating in them. By the time the entrees arrived, I would have filled up on jasmine tea and soup. My father bristled with annoyance at the waste, and then proceeded to eat my meal, too. I still love Japanese food. The bowls of miso or broth never fail to recall the tatami mats and the atmosphere of Imperial Gardens.
Another special treat for me was lunch with my mother at the Brown Derby restaurant. This was a famous fixture of Hollywood in Los Angeles, where celebrities used to dine. The inside of the Brown Derby was hushed and dark. Tables were laid with heavy silverware and white cloth napkins. My two favorite meals there were a Monte Cristo sandwich or the vegetable plate (yes, I was the odd kid who loved vegetables).
A Monte Cristo sandwich is filled with a combination of sliced turkey, chicken, or ham, and cheese plus mustard or mayonnaise. Once assembled, the sandwich is dipped in an egg batter, browned on both sides, and finally topped with powdered sugar.
The vegetable plate was a stainless silver platter with different sections. Each section held a cooked vegetable: carrots, peas, string beans, corn, spinach. All were probably drenched in butter. Each portion was kid-sized.
My mother never bought Wonder Bread, which was probably a good thing. But my aunt did buy the nutrition-less bread, and I loved it. I’d peel off the soft crust and eat that part first. Then I’d smash the rest into a ball and suck on the doughy glob until it was gone.
What food memories from your childhood do you recall? Send me a comment.