Sunday, February 15, 2009

My Actual Valentine's Day

I didn't want to get up at 11 a.m., and I didn't like noon either. I had gone to bed at 6 a.m. and knew that in order to spring out of bed without sleep noticeably lingering behind my eyes, 1 or 2 p.m. would be the right time.

But there my sister was, before noon and a little after, trying to wake me. Dad suggested that we all go out for lunch, Mom liked that thought, and Gandolfo's New York Delicatessen was the decision. Not Philippe's in downtown Los Angeles, not Po Folks in Buena Park, because Mom believed that they would be equally busy today and the service would probably suffer because of it. I've been to Philippe's when it's crowded during a workday, for example. The service never slides. Not with what they offer and not with the 100 years they've been in business. I would expect service faltering at Po Folks. I could see that.

So I got up, after my dog Tigger growled at my sister for a time to leave me alone and let me sleep (my favorite guard), and off we went to Gandolfo's, which has brick walls, and Frank Sinatra and Barbara Streisand playing. I didn't really notice any of the other songs that played afterward, since they're not as prominent as "New York, New York." They also have high-definition flatscreen televisions and our table was almost under one, far back enough for me to watch a college basketball game happening on ESPN, and I'm almost convinced enough to get one. That TV had stunning clarity, a little better than my 46-inch widescreen TV in my room.

The sandwiches at Gandolfo's are named after parts of New York. There's the Yonkers turkey sandwich, the Empire State chicken breast sandwich, and the Throgs Neck Bridge, which I had, containing "chicken breast, turkey, bacon, cheddar, lettuce, tomato, onion, avocado, ranch dressing - hot." I perused the menu in the car on the way there and for about a minute, thought that "hot" meant jalapeno hot. Nope. Hot sandwich. It would seem more obvious if it wasn't the last word in most of the listings.

The chicken breast was breaded, and while the owner of the place was friendly enough, as talkative as some New Yorkers, I hope they plan to make it better. A sandwich like mine should be active in taste and the chicken breast tasted flat, more like a food item that just happened to wander into the sandwich and immediately regret it. It was disappointing to learn from the owner that the corned beef and pastrami are shipped directly from New York City, but everything else is ordered locally. The pasta salad, sour cream potato salad, egg salad, all made fresh every day, but though the owner seems to be trying to bring New York to Southern California, it can't be done. New York cannot exist in Southern California. That's why New York is on the opposite side of the country.

There are Jewish delis in Los Angeles, such as Factor's Famous Deli, that are spectacular because they don't try to mimic another location. They know the traditions of Jewish deli, that if you don't have sour and half-sour pickles on hand, you're not a genuine Jewish deli. Matzah ball soup, you need. Egg creams are paramount as well.

Realizing that Gandolfo's doesn't have nearly the floor space Factor's has, it's not expected to be total New York. But what are they going for? They want New York, and their sandwiches are named appropriately, but has any New York delicatessen really been studied? Even if you can't get all the ingredients directly from New York because of shipping costs, surely you can figure out the recipes and try them even with the items you have bought locally. But even then it might be futile. A New York delicatessen only works in New York. I've never been to one, but my parents can attest to that, with enthusiasm. Proud New Yorkers.

The owner, as he spoke, was most proud of the "homemade" cheeseburgers, as he puts it. They can't sell over 60, because Jack in the Box nearby would be mighty pissed about the crimp in their business. So only 60, only on Saturdays beginning at 11 a.m., and apparently they sell out quickly. One customer who walked in confirmed that, and it surprised me to see a regular already, considering that Gandolfo's looked like it had just opened.

The experience was ok. The sandwiches were well-made, and I liked how fresh the pasta salad was (it included oil and vinegar, cucumbers, and strips of red peppers), but a sense of New York would be futile. It's not enough just to have Frank Sinatra belting out how he'd like to "wake the city that never sleeps," which is why New York is where one should go for that genuine delicatessen. I can't get there, but I'm aware of what I have around here. And it made me want to visit Factor's again soon.

After that, we stopped at PetSmart, where there were dogs being offered for adoption, and there was a sweet female dalmatian, who loved seeing everyone that had come to play with her a bit. Tigger and Kitty are enough for us, of course, but she was so playful and adorable. There was also a cockatiel I saw that seemed grateful to see me, perhaps not having gotten enough attention with being in the bottom cage of a stack of three. My sister used to have a cockatiel named Pepsi, who was plenty noisy. I'm not entirely sure, but I think we eventually gave her away.

Next was Bristol Farms, a high-end supermarket in Valencia, though it seems wrong to use the word "supermarket." I bet that company would prefer "community market," even though there's absolutely no sense of community in Valencia and certainly not in the Santa Clarita Valley. This is not where people live, with the hope of being part of a community. The majority of the people who live here work in Los Angeles and don't want to live there. They don't mind commuting, so long as they don't have to deal with the stresses of a big city. We are the backwoods of Los Angeles. And Saugus, where I live, is the backwoods of the Santa Clarita Valley. If I could play the banjo, I would, even among developments that used to sell for over $400,000.

Bristol Farms is always reliable in pissing me off with ridiculously high prices, though those who live comfortably in Valencia and Stevenson Ranch (since this is the only Bristol Farms in the valley), can afford these prices. Or used to. Obviously, because of the economy rushing around the toilet bowl on its way down, the store isn't making as much of a profit as it used to and it shows, with some items my mom likes bearing expiration dates that have long passed, and rotten deli in the case that no one has noticed. No one is really perceptive in this valley. If they were, there'd be a riot and an angry demand to turn that person back into an automaton.

The prices didn't get me mad this time; the drink boxes for kids did. I found a set of drink boxes called Wateroos ( Fruit-flavored water. One was apple.

Great. Another pussified generation on the way. When I was in elementary school, we weren't afraid to go for the hard stuff: Mott's. Juicy Juice. These were names that dared us to fuck around with what we knew was good. If a kid had a rare purple Juicy Juice box, out came the plastic knives from the lunch line. We were not afraid. I'm worried that this future generation will produce an eventual president that will be too timid to be tough with the rest of the world while engaging in diplomacy. Get these kids off the flavored waters and hook them up to what I grew up on. Turns out the company that makes Wateroos exists between San Francisco and San Jose. Figures. A nondescript area. Just like them.

I hope that this product is relegated to only California, but I can't be sure. Looking at the website, it looks like this epidemic is spreading. Damn.

After gaping at the prices in Bristol Farms and picking up a few things, it was back home for a dinner of baked clams, and then chocolates from Rocky Mountain Chocolate Factory. A white chocolate peanut butter cup for me, and chocolate-peanut butter bark which I haven't eaten yet, because it's the size of a bathroom tile. The peanut butter cup was enough for now.

And, as would be expected, I later relished the silence outside while walking the dogs in this deeply cold weather. All of the trees and the parked cars and the vast starry sky for me. Only for me. I own it all. That really beats being in any kind of relationship. I have it all already. And I'm satisfied with it.

My kind of Valentine's Day. I love it.

Oh, and I finished reading "Come Blow Your Horn" before I went to bed yesterday morning. In my previous entry, I called it "merely inconsequential light farce." I should have dropped "inconsequential" because it was of great consequence. It got Neil Simon started on all the plays he wrote, as well as the screenplays for "The Out-of-Towners" and "The Goodbye Girl" and I appreciate that. He does farce well, but the best plays were still to come after that.