Updated St. Patrick’s Day, 2013
On this day, in 1970, my father, Israel, and I met with the Baird and Warner property manager of the shopping center at 51st and Lake Park, in Hyde Park, on Chicago’s South Side. A giant Whole Foods store completely covers that site as of today. So use your imagination to see all I describe above, ok?
Forty-three years ago, I was 19, and my father was 57.
That morning, we were about to sign a lease to open the Deli-Dali Delicatessen, but legally, I was still too young to sign any lease. So, my father signed it for me. Nevertheless, I would own the Deli. He was to be the manager of the new business, which was about 200 yards away from my original newsstand, closer to the actual corner of the shopping center. My Uncle Ziggy would also work there as an employee. It was a happy day. We were hopeful and saw the future as a bright one for us.
This was ironic, because just 13 months earlier, I had unexpectantly undergone salivary gland cancer surgery at St. Francis Hospital in Evanston, Ill. and had the left side of my jaw removed by a Dr. Danely Slaughter. Nobody talked about “the future” in front of me.
I noticed that. In my otherworldly future were to be a total of 37 operations and transplants. Maybe better not to know your own future. Sometimes I feel like Death is waving at me from a distance. But I can’t quite tell how far the guy is. So I don’t put things off.
I had attended the University of Illinois, at The Chicago Circle (now called UIC) as a freshman beginning in September, 1968. I would end up dropping out after September 1969, with the assumption that without a complete jaw, the US Army wouldn’t want me for Viet Nam, which is exactly what happened. But I had to wait until December 20, 1969 to be sure about that.
I would eventually receive four classifications from the government: 2-s when I was 18 in April 1968; 1-A when I dropped out of college at 19 September 1969; 1-Y when the army rejected me; and sometime later, years later, a 4-F classification just before the Viet Nam War was declared over on April 30, 1975, which happened to be my 25th birthday. No one contacted me about the final determination of that last classification or why, but the government sure takes its time deciding things. Thirty days before that, March 30 1975,my first child, Lisa, now the mother of two herself is probably glad I survived my five year rating period. A bit more on Lisa, below.
The Deli opened in mid-June, four months after Lincoln’s birthday. We laid the tile, painted the walls and shopped for used refrigerated display cases on the West Side of Chicago, where all the cavernous old fixture stores were, and where some still remain, today.
I also apprenticed at the Sinai 48 kosher meats factory in the meatpacking district of Chicago for two weeks, for the sole purpose of learning how to operate, disassemble and clean the razor sharp meat-slicer we were going to purchase from them. It was extremely dangerous work.
I also learned the rhythm of letting the sliced corned beef fall into my hand and then flipping it over to make a nice neat mound and then be ready for the next slice to fall. I learned how to adjust the thickness of the slices and also how to use every single bit of the meat I was slicing to eliminate any possibility of waste. It was an art. Also unnerving to me to notice that all of the old timers surrounding me at Sinai 48 were missing one of more parts of their fingers on their left hand.
Although daunting at first, I learned that assembling the components of a fancy Lazy Susan tray was as simple as neatly arranging overlapping different kinds of meats, alternating their colors on a stiff pizza cardboard tray wrapped in a large sheet of aluminum. Some chopped liver in a small container in the middle of the tray and them some lettuce tucked under the meat, all around and it was done.
If people learned to do this for themselves, they’d save a lot of money. Be careful with that slicer, though…
(Read on …)