Wednesday, July 28, 2010


Rock’n’roll shaped my opinion of life and death. As a teenager, I adopted the mantra of my generation, “I hope I die before I get old,” never imagining back then that Roger Daltrey would be belting that tune out in his 60’s. I used to awake every morning to Roger’s taut naked chest suspended above me on my bedroom wall never thinking that someday it would be covered by layers of shirts and vests in an effort to conceal his AARP man boobs. I mean, WHO would have thought back in 1975 that someday Pete Townsend’s bursitis would get in the way of his windmill? And now Ringo turned 70? Loathe though I am to admit it, my rolling stone is gathering moss where no moss should ever grow.
The truth is that unless I live into my 80’s, my life is already half over. I’m not opposed to living that long, but only if I’m crazy as a loon because I don’t think I can handle the betrayal of my body. I don’t want to be aware that my body can’t perform the simple tasks that my mind tells it too, like putting on pants or shaking a martini without dislocating my shoulder. Also, I don’t want to shock people just by the fact that I’m still alive. I recently had a conversation with a very vibrant 90 year old woman who told me that you don’t know what freedom is until you’re 90. “The very fact that I’m still alive shocks the hell out of people. I can drop my shorts and it wouldn’t be as shocking as the fact that I’m 90 and still have my wits!”
My wishes are simple, so let me go on record so there’s no confusion about my send off. Now, I love going to parties. I love celebrating the milestones of my friends—birthdays, marriages, divorces, but I’ve never been comfortable having the attention put upon me. That changes when I die. I want the biggest, brassiest party to make up for all the ones I said I never wanted. I want Jamie, the bartender from In Napoli, to just set up shop on the hood of my coffin. Remember: Open bar, closed casket. I can’t bear to hear, “God she looks awful,” without replying, “Of course I do. I’m DEAD! Jamie, a Makers Mark, toots-sweet!”
          Let me be perfectly clear, if anyone buries me wearing pantyhose I will haunt them for the rest of their natural life, and then hunt them down in the hereafter. That goes for underwear too. I don’t want to spend eternity with a wedgie. Since we’re on the subject, sans bra as well. It’s always Saturday morning in my heaven.
          I know that this will shock those of you who know my insane shoe addiction, but bury me shoe-less. Socks are just fine. However, place a few pairs of my beloved platforms inside the casket just in case there’s Dancing with the Stars and Jesus needs a partner.   
          Now this is very important. I want to be buried with my beloved dog, Burkey, a.k.a. Bad Dog. If she has pre-deceased me unearth her and put her in the casket with me. If she’s living, smother her. Trust me, if she’s left with my husband to care for her she’ll put her head in the oven anyway.
          Even though I’ve moved from the parish, I’d like to have my funeral mass celebrated at Holy Trinity Church in Fort Lee. I began my sacraments there, it would be smoother administratively to end them there. I don’t want St. Peter saying, “Well, we received St. John’s paperwork, but we’re waiting for Holy Trinity’s. Have a seat with the Atheists.”  Also, while everyone is mourning me, I can run across the street to the 7-11 and get some scratch-off’s, a coffee, and a buttered roll. 
          I’m formally requesting that the Fort Lee Police escort my funeral procession. Not only because I know Chief Ripoli, but I fear that if I’m escorted by the Leonia Police my coffin will be littered with tickets and I don’t want my entrance into eternity delayed by having to go to purgatory to pay all those surcharges.
          Lastly, if I should die before I get old, somebody take out the recycling. My husband never remembers.

Monday, July 26, 2010


Sparkling Gin Punch
  • 20 oranges, juiced
  • 12 lemons, juiced
  • 2 quarts gin
  • 4 jiggers grenadine
  • 6 dashes orange bitters
  • 2 quarts chilled soda water
  • ice for chilling

Combine the orange juice, lemon juice, gin, grenadine, and orange bitters in a large punch bowl. Add a large ice block to chill. Just before you are ready to serve, add a large ice block to chill and pour in 2 quarts of chilled soda water.

Whiskey Sour
  • Ingredients
  • 2oz whiskey
  • Juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1/2 tsp powdered sugar
  • 1 cherry
  • 1 orange slice
In a shaker mix whiskey, lemon juice, and powdered sugar with ice and strain into a whiskey sour glass. Decorate with the slice of orange, top with the cherry, and serve.

Classic Martini

  • 2oz of gin
  • splash of vermouth
  • olives
  • Chilled glasses

In a shaker mix gin and vermouth with a lot of ice. Strain into chilled glasses and add olives.

Tom Collins

  • 2oz gin
  • 1oz lemon juice
  • 1tsp sugar
  • 3oz club soda
  • 1 cherry
  • 1 orange slice

In a shaker filled with ice mix gin, lemon juice and sugar. Shake and strain into tall glasses filled with ice. Add club soda, stir and add cherry and orange slice.

Bloody Mary

  • 1oz vodka
  • 3oz tomato juice
  • 1 dash Worcestershire
  • Pinch of horseradish 
  • Splash of lemon juice
  • Pinch of pepper
  • Celery Stalk

In a shaker filled with ice mix all ingredients. Pour into glasses filled with ice. Add celery stalk.

Brandy Alexander

  • 1/2oz brandy
  • 2oz cream
  • 1/2oz creme de cacao
  • Dash of nutmeg

In a shaker filled with ice, mix all ingredients except nutmeg. Strain into glass and add nutmeg.


  • 1.5oz gin
  • 3/4oz vermouth
  • Cocktail onions

Stir gin and vermouth in a glass filled with ice. Strain into a cocktail class and add onions.


  • 2oz whiskey
  • 1/2oz dry vermouth
  • 1/2oz sweet vermouth
  • Dash of bitters
  • Cherries

Mix all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Strain into a glass with ice. Add cherries.


  • 1.5oz of vodka
  • 6oz of orange juice
  • Orange slices

Mix vodka and orange juice and pour into a tall glass filled with ice. Add orange slices.

Pink Squirrel

  • 3/4oz creme de Noyaux
  • 3/4oz creme de cacao
  • 1.5oz heavy cream

Mix all ingredients in a shaker filled with ice. Strain into chilled glasses.

Gin and Tonic

  • 2oz gin
  • 5oz tonic water
  • Lime slice

Pour gin and tonic over ice in a cocktail glass. Stir and add lime.

Grasshopper Recipe

  • 1oz creme de menthe
  • 1oz creme de cacao
  • 1oz heavy cream

Mix all ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Strain into cocktail class. 

Rob Roy

  • 1.5oz scotch
  • 1/4oz sweet vermouth
  • Dash of bitters
  • Cherries

Pour ingredients into glass filled with ice and stir. Strain into a cocktail glass and add cherries. 

Sloe Gin Fizz

  • 2oz sloe gin
  • 1/2oz lemon juice
  • 1tsp sugar
  • Club soda

Mix all ingredients into a shaker filled with ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and fizz about an inch from the top of glass. Splash more club soda if you want more foam.

Cape Codder

  • 2oz vodka
  • 3oz cranberry juice
  • 1/2oz lime juice
  • Club soda

Pour vodka and cranberry juice into a cocktail glass filled with ice. Add club soda and stir. Garnish with a lime or orange slice.

Champagne Cocktail

  • Brut champagne
  • Sugar cube
  • 3 dashes of bitters
  • Twist of lemon

Place a sugar cube into a chilled champagne flute, add bitters and pour in champagne. Garnish with lemon twist. 


  • 2oz scotch
  • 2oz ginger ale
  • 2oz club soda

Pour scotch into a glass filled with ice. Top up with ginger ale and club soda. Stir and drink.

Rusty Nail

  • 2oz scotch
  • 1/2oz Drambuie

Pour scotch and Drambuie into a cocktail glass filled with ice. Stir and drink. 

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


“I wish I would have written them down so I’d never forget,” said my cousin Carol who, as the oldest of my 40 Viola cousins spent every weekend sitting with her brother Charlie whose stories made her laugh even as he lay dying.
          We can reconcile the death of a parent with the gentle understanding that nature is following its predetermined course, but losing a brother or sister is never easily justified. There’s an implicit pact that you helped each other survive the worst moments of childhood and celebrate the best. The dissolution of that bond severs that part of you that you spent years using, drinking, or in therapy trying to escape, but whose memories bring strange comfort in the lonely recesses of night.
          Charlie’s voice has been removed from the choir of our family. Gone with that voice is the laughter, the memories, the connection with a part of our collective past that only he could bring to life with such clarity that I often had to remind myself that it was his memory, not mine.
Growing up in Fort Lee surrounded by 40 cousins blurred the lines between cousins, brothers and sisters. We all took care of each other; we all had a role. Charlie assumed the role of comedian. From the depths of my memory I can’t remember a time when he did not make all of us laugh, mostly at the most inopportune times—wakes, funerals, when our uncles were screaming punishments at us. Even the mistakes he made were hilarious.   
Charlie had the distinct pleasure of working in the film industry with my grandmother. Now, my four-foot nothing grandmother was a force to be reckoned with. Any woman widowed at 37 with 10 children is a woman who takes crap from nobody, most especially from her sarcastic teen-aged grandchild. Every day a car came to pick them up and everyday he collected more stories about Grandma. It’s because of Charlie that memories of my grandmother are preserved for me.
Charlie also raised the bar for the Viola family and brought us into high society. One summer in the early 70’s, four or five cousins were getting married. The altar boys in the family made a fortune serving the wedding masses! Up until Charlie’s wedding (“Charles” to my aunts and uncles), the VFW served as our reception hall. Charlie broke tradition when he married the only daughter of a well-to-do local family. His reception was at The Manor, in West Orange. Well, my aunts were in a tizzy for months buying new dresses and getting their wigs coiffed in preparation for the big day. Unfortunately, the marriage didn’t last, but the memory of my family “moving on up” like the Jefferson’s did.           
          As I sat in the old Madonna Church on the hill listening to Father Carey’s sermon, staring at a portrait of Charlie smiling to the point of smirking, I couldn’t help but cry. Cry for the loss of laughter, cry for the fact that our once vibrant family has thinned, cry for the mortality of all of us crowded into the pews of a church that our family has been baptized, confirmed, and married in for 100 years.
My hand searched my pocketbook for a tissue. Finally, I came across a stiffened crumpled tissue and pressed it against my eyes. Suddenly, it felt like my eyes were on fire and it was all I could do to suppress screaming in pain. At the same time a beautiful fragrance filled the pew making me think for a moment that it was Charlie’s spirit seated beside me. Then it occurred to me. That scent was awfully familiar. I strained to look at the tissue and realized through my watery blur that it wasn’t a tissue I had wiped my eyes with, but a used dryer sheet. Clearly, my tears re-activated the fresh Downy scent.
It seemed an appropriate thing to have happen at Charlie’s funeral and I could hear him saying in his lower-Main Street, Huntz Hall-tinged accent, “Whata you a freakin’ idiot?”  Through the tears, I laughed. It reassured me that even though his life on this earth has ended, the legacy of his laughter will forever live on and the stories that he told so well will fill the empty spaces of all my yesterdays.  

Wednesday, July 14, 2010


Shadows sink from the awning of the outstretched arms of the tremendous oak tree and dance at my feet as I sit in my deck chair, gin and tonic in hand, thinking and remembering. On this July afternoon, it’s those priceless summers of the ‘70’s. For you, it may be the summer of the 60’s, 50’s, 40’s, or 30’s. It doesn’t matter. What matters is that every summer of our youth called us forth to fill its empty days with possibility. In the end, we’re left with a string of bloated golden moments hemorrhaging meaning and memory.
The recognizable scent of Coppertone makes me want to do the Jersey Jig and shake the sand from my swimsuit; air perfumed by sausage and peppers summons crowds on Lower Main Street in Fort Lee feasting at the Feast of Saint Rocco. The other day I was sitting in my mother’s kitchen when the sight of her dust mop leaning against the wall conjured summer days long gone. Her threatening screams, “Did your brother take the handle of my dust mop for a stickball game?” echoed in my head.
Then the other day I was in Modell’s with my son roaming the aisles when I came upon a box with a big sign that read, “Stickball Bats.” I started to laugh thinking, “Really? They’re selling mop handles?” Then I saw the price tag and gulped. $25 for a mop handle?  Yes, $25 for a mop handle. If our moms had any foresight, they would be millionairesses now and could afford to hire someone to mop their floors.
          We never know what event can trigger memory, but for the tanned Jersey boys of summer’s past, now burdened by responsibilities they never anticipated, it’s got to be stickball. Stickball was, perhaps, the greatest of any unorganized sport. You didn’t have to try out for it, you didn’t have to wait for field time, and you didn’t have to buy any special equipment—all you needed was a mom with a mop, tape for the handle, and a pink Spaulding Hi-Bounce rubber ball from Feiler’s or County Discount. Stickball was a pick-up game that could be played pretty much anywhere.
That distinctive hollow pop of the pink rubber ball perfectly connecting with the wood of someone’s mother’s pilfered mop or broom handle; a fusion of excited voices caught midway between youth and manhood; the scraping of black converse high-tops upon the sun soaked gravel; the crack of the bat splitting the ball in half—one part dropping dead to the ground, the other hurling through the air like a spastic spaceship.
The boys from Fort Lee, Englewood Cliffs, Cliffside Park, Palisades Park, Leonia, Edgewater, Fairview, North Bergen, West New York and all towns in-between all had one thing in common (other than their paper routes)--stickball. For Jersey boys, all you needed was a wall to draw a batting box on, or a chain-link fence to string out a box, and a Spaulding. In Fort Lee there was the handball wall of Sixth Street Park, the handball wall of Holy Trinity’s field (anyone in Coytesville remember that?); the south facing red-brick wall of Madonna’s CYO Hall; Westview Park’s chain-linked fence.
In the summer of 1978, my best friend, Mary Lutz, created what was to become the great batting box mystery of Westview Park. For 32 years it’s been a cold case. Until now. In retaliation for her Frisbee interrupting Bobby Peterkin’s perfect pitch, one of the boys indiscriminately tossed it onto the roof of an elderly gentleman’s house. As cranky as he could be, he told Mary that her lousy Frisbee could rot on his shingled roof before he retrieved it for one of us hoodlums. In an act of pure vengeance, beneath the cover of night with only me by her side, Mary withdrew her pocket knife from the pocket of her Levi cut-offs and severed the ties of John Pagano’s meticulously twined batting box. The wrath of all the neighborhood boys greeted us the next day. These pious, genuflecting altar boys promised that the perpetrators of such a heinous crime would be shown no mercy. No suspects were ever charged.
So here’s to all those Jersey boys of summers past and their stickball games, especially the boys from Westview Park who waited 32 years for their case to be solved. Ah, memory…

Wednesday, July 7, 2010


No matter how many Fourth of July’s I celebrate, my mind is always drawn back to our nation’s Bicentennial. July 4, 1976. While Americans celebrated 200 years of freedom, my mouth was adapting to the installation of barbed-wire on my teeth. Yes, that adolescent rite-of-passage, braces. To add insult to injury, my orthodontist, Dr. George Diament, gave all of his silver-mouthed patients tee-shirts with the iconic 1970’s Smiley Face wearing braces. The braces-wearing Smiley Face shouted, “BRACES ARE BEAUTIFUL!” The unwritten subtext was, “But I’m Not!”
Only God knows why I was compelled to wear that shirt on July 4th, 1976 as my family trekked down the one thousand crudely carved bluestone steps of the Palisades (hauling coolers of salami sandwiches, Lays Potato Chips, little neck Rolling Rock ale, a cylindrical blue plastic thermos of gin and tonics, and cans of ShopRite grape soda) to join the rest of old Fort Lee and Edgewater down at the base of the Hudson River at Bunty’s Dock to watch the regatta of ships afloat in “Operation Sail.”  Looking at photographs from that day, the shirt truly enhanced my je ne sais quoi? Geekiness. I mean, really, what was I thinking? “Braces are Beautiful” was an oxymoron to the moron (moi) wearing the shirt.
          Middle School is traumatic enough, so it makes no sense to slap your smile with braces at that precise moment when your inner-dork decides to become an outie. And it wasn’t just the braces that you had to contend with, but the goody bag of accessories that came with it. The rubberbands, the ball of wax, the hooked toothpick, the headgear. Hands down, the worst part for me was the “headgear.” Remember that pinkish-beige neck strap-on that was the height of fashion circa-anytime 1970’s? It connected an external vise-like semi-circular wire to your braces, the purpose of which was to use the sheer force of excruciating pain to shift your entire jaw into the next room.  
On the cutting edge of orthodontistry, Dr. Diament took the headgear to a new level. His headgear not only included the snazzy neck brace, but a plastic skull cap. Together, the neck brace and the skull cap cleaved themselves to the parenthetical wire protruding from your grossly deformed mouth. While the neck brace yanked your molars into the back of your skull, the mental-patient helmet wrenched your misaligned eyeteeth (and your eyebrows) down to your toes. To take one look at me was to think that one of my ancestors mated with a rabid Schnauzer.  
Added to this wretched scene were rubberbands. Those mini Campbell-soup-like rings-o’s housed in a small mustard-colored mailing envelope you kept in your pocket. Not only couldn’t you open your mouth, but how many of you got shot in the eye with one of them when your friend yawned? Talk about bringing weapons to school! I can still feel the breaking sting of the rubberband against my gums before it ricocheted directly into Mary Lutz’s face. She never complained because her rubberbands snapped me more than a few times.
The braces shredded the inside of my cheeks tingeing everything I ate with the taste of blood. Every time I smiled my cheeks got impaled on the wire! (I can still feel the scars.) The only relief came from covering the wires with wax which inevitably led to bartering with the person who sat in front of you in class for a piece of their wax because you either used yours all up or, more likely, left it home. Depending on your desperation, these transactions could be shadowy and costly. I think I promised my first-born to George Frangos. (By the way George, I’m ready to make good on that delivery!)
Now, my husband and his brother and sister never wore braces. (Ah, the aristocrats of Abbott Boulevard!) Not because their teeth were necessarily straight. I’m certain it’s because their mother loved her children too much to put them through that physical pain and psychological degradation. My husband possesses an uncannily undisturbed sense of confidence that I attribute to his not having had to suffer through the social suicide of braces and headgear. Me, and all my braced head-gear-wearing compatriots, are still trying to unearth the remains of our dignity buried by braces somewhere back in the ‘70’s. Alcohol helps.