Somewhere near the corners of Penny and Memory


My usual Saturday stop on the way to the train is to a little place on Grafton Hill called George’s Bakery. It’s a Lebanese/Syrian bakery that boasts several types of olives, feta cheese, grape leaves, kibbe, Baba Ganoush and the best damn meat pies in the city.
While I like their Baba, their Hummus leaves much to be desired.

If you like Hummus, try my recipe below:

1 lg can of chick peas (has to be Progresso, this brand works the best)
1-2 cloves garic
1 ½ tsp. salt
½ – ¾ cup of fresh lemon juice
1 cup of sesame Tahini (available at most supermarkets)
Pinch of cumin and cayenne

Pour contents of can of chick peas and half its liquid into food processor (save the rest!).
Process for 30 seconds.
Add remaining ingredients and blend.
If too stiff, add more liquid from chick peas (or water) until desired consistency.
Serve in a shallow dish and sprinkle liberally with olive oil and paprika.

Over the years I’ve custom-tailored it to my own preference and have found I like my own best of all. While at George’s I’m usually good for a few meat pies with feta and some grape leaves. Heaven on earth, for me.
There used to be a wonderful place near George’s on Wall Street called the El Morocco.
They specialized in Lebanese cuisine serving up dishes like Port Said, Stuffed Eggplant and Lamb Shish. My wife and I had our wedding reception there we liked it so much but sadly, it closed its doors many years ago.
Quincy Jones wrote some lyrics that went,

"Everything must change.
Nothing stays the same.
Everyone will change.
No one stays the same."

Sometimes things change for the good but more often than not it tends to go the other way; the shadows of yesterday obscured by society’s penchant for progress.
When I was a child, when ever I went to see my grandmother she would leave two quarters on the counter for my sister and me.
We’d take the found money (a fortune back then) and head off down the street to Phil’s Corner Store, one of my favorite destinations as a child.
Phil was an older man with a welcoming face; a paradox considering his curmudgeon-like attitude. I think Phil actually liked us kids, he just didn’t want to admit that fact to anyone.
He had the city’s best selection of penny candy, bar none.
At the time, penny candy actually cost a penny (a revolutionary concept long forgotten).
My sister and me would set about filling our wicker baskets with licorice whips, flying saucers (a communion-like wafer filled with candy dots), peach stones, Swedish Fish, candy cigarettes, Squirrels, rainbow colored boxes of jawbreakers and candy lipstick.
A quarter bought a sizeable bag of happiness stuffed with enough candy to last until we got back home. The store itself was dimly lit with a dusty, wooden planked floor.
There was no Keno, Lottery or credit card machine.
I don’t even think Phil’s had a phone.
If I could freeze any single moment in my life it would be the feeling I got walking into Phil’s, my childhood paradise. I drove by the old store this morning on the way to George’s and felt that undeniable pang of sentimental loss.
Phil packed up his wonderful glass jars of candy and cases of original Coca-Cola long ago.
He sauntered off into the sunset joining all the other small businesses that sadly made their way to the retailing boneyard.
The store is now called “No Name Grocery”, with neon lights in the windows covered with security grates to keep the crackheads out.
Yeah, the neighborhood has changed a bit since my grandmother died decades ago.
This store is as strange and dark as a Skittles commercial.
And there’s this obtuse Spanish feel I get from the signs haphazardly screwed to the sides of the building that read:

Food Stamps!

Casaba!

Yuca!

Plantanos!

Tortillas!

(rank profanity and nasty racial slurs were here before I decided to delete them.)
The sight would make my grandmother fill a case of Depends.
Phil’s spirit has long since been exorcised; a peccadillo that seems profoundly sad and intrinsically wrong.
Some things should never change.
Maybe that’s what memories are really about…

~m

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3 thoughts on “Somewhere near the corners of Penny and Memory

  1. Sad to see the corner candy store go the way of so many other magical things. I remember when a nickel and a walk down the block bought enough good stuff to last all day. That store is gone now too, razed to make room for a Cumberland Farms gas station.

    Like

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