Christmas in July

With New York City (and much of the U.S.A.) in the middle of a brutal heat wave, we need a little Christmas. Right this very minute! We need a little Christmas now!

And so to help alleviate the heat, the Couchsurfing Cook was inspired to write a song.
It’s sung to the tune of Mel Torme and Bob Wells’ heartwarming 1946 classic, “The Christmas Song” and is sure to put a smile on your otherwise red-cheeked (from the humidity) face.

Now I can’t promise that this song will prevent sweat from dripping down your brow and into your mouth as you stand broiling on a rush-hour subway platform, but perhaps humming it while lying in bed at 3 a.m. with a window fan blowing furiously at your naked body while you curse the used air conditioner you bought last summer on Craigslist (because a couchsurfer broke your new one) that’s so weak you wonder if it’s even worth the electric bill**, will make you feel at least a few degrees cooler.

**This is happening to the CS Cook right now!

With apologies to Mel Torme, the CS Cook presents “The Christmas in July Song”:

Piglets roasting on an open fire.

Piglets roasting on an open fire.

Sausage stinking up your clothes.

Sausage stinking up your clothes.

Ice cream cones, being sold from a truck.

Ice cream cones being sold from a truck.

That song will stop, with any luck.

Everybody knows cannoli and some funnel cake,

Everybody knows cannoli and some funnel cake.

help to make your clothes fit tight.

Help to make your clothes fit tight.

Hyper kids, with their mouths stuffed with sweets,

Hyper kids with their mouths stuffed with sweets.

will find it hard to sleep tonight.

They know more food is on its way.
Like cotton candy spun around as if hairsprayed.

Like cotton candy spun around as if hairsprayed.

And every parent there is gonna cry,
when they learn corn costs five bucks to buy.

When told an ear of corn's five bucks to buy.

And so I’m offering this lemonade.

And so I'm offering this lemonade.

To locals and to tourists too.
Although you’ve been warned many times, many ways,
New York’s summer’ll make you brew.

Stay cool everyone!

Watermelons in red and green Christmas colors.

And for the strangest version of “The Christmas Song” you’re likely to see, click here.

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What remains

Envelope

What lies inside?

I found the small, brown envelope, no bigger than a matchbook, buried in the recesses of a sock drawer in my father’s bedroom bureau. The drawer, itself divided into six wooden corridors, each held neatly folded pairs of, respectively, dress or athletic socks. The envelope, along with two others identical to the first, lay in this inauspicious corner for over 40 years, my father its sole protector. Why he’d kept the envelope for so long reflected either his forgetfulness or tenderness, both explanations were plausible. Unfortunately, he was no longer there to resolve the mystery; he’d died within days of my discovering them.

teeth

My first teeth.

He could have easily thrown away the envelope containing my first childhood teeth once I’d graduated college or married or had children of my own. Surely there were other mementos of my youth for him to treasure as he aged – photographs, grade school reports cards, yearbooks, and such. That he saved my teeth could certainly have been an afterthought. And yet, there in his sock drawer, a place he surely accessed daily, it would have been difficult if not impossible to ignore their presence entirely. What memories, I wondered, might he have conjured on the odd occasion when his hand, fumbling for something so quotidian, accidentally happened upon the miniscule package? Did he keep my teeth in close proximity for the express purpose of reminding himself of a more innocent time, before my turbulent adolescence and adult diaspora turned my relationship with him into something far more distant?

Discovering the envelope reminded me of the childhood ritual of placing one’s first, lost teeth beneath a pillow hoping a fairy will bestow a gift of money upon the bearer the next morning, as reward for having endured this first painful act of maturation. What was the origin of this ritual, I wondered? Was it practiced the world over? Or is the Tooth Fairyjust another commercialized, and distinctly American, superhero?

Our teeth are used to eat of course, and the act of eating our first food, absorbing something more substantive than mother’s milk, serves as an important sign of our potential survival past the first still vulnerable years of life. Is the loss of teeth an equally powerful premonition of our eventual death? What would our earliest ancestors have thought of this mysterious transformation from strength to weakness at still so tender an age? Could it be that, just as food and animal sacrifices were given to the gods to assure a good harvest or as plea that winter’s bleak darkness be transformed into spring’s renewal, that the loss of a child’s teeth necessitated prayers in hopes that the youth would survive her own early seasons? When a new tooth then emerged, (pushing forth with the same urgency as the mother during childbirth or the plant bursting through frozen ground), what relief there must have been for the adults, a vindication of prayer, or at least the continuation of life’s progress.

I took the envelope containing my teeth gingerly out of the drawer and distributed the two remaining ones to my brothers. But what would I do with a set of my own childhood teeth? What purpose did they serve now that my father was gone? Or would they, like him, need to be similarly set free, along with his shoes and clothes and socks, the accessories of a life no longer requiring objects to confirm its existence.

dad

Dad and me and my brother.

__________________

* I wrote about my last trip to visit my father when he became ill here. He died on June 27, 2011. He was 79 years old and was surrounded by his family in the last few days of his life.

__________________

Click here to learn the true origin of the Tooth Fairy myth.

Can’t We All Just Eat in Peace?

This past Monday was July 4th. So Liz, Ben, Petter (from Sweden, ergo the spelling), and I decided to celebrate the all-American holiday by taking a road trip (by bike, of course, being the eco-friendly Brooklynites and Scandinavians that we are) to explore our neighbor to the north. No, not Canada. A much more foreign place: Queens.

Where the heck is it??

Upon crossing the border, through the scary transition zone known as The Evergreens Cemetery (the final resting place of Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, Lester Young, Isaac Asimov, and Walt Kelly of Pogo fame, among others), we encountered a native of this unfamiliar land, a lovely man selling fruit and sundry products.

Welcome Brooklyn strangers!

Wanting to appear natural in our newly adopted country, we decided to expand our oh-so-sophisticated Brooklyn tastebuds by trying foods we’d never had before, including:

Tiger Tonic

Good fer what ails ye.

Tamarind and Cassava Bread

Two new discoveries.

and Aloe Vera juice, una bebida inteligente (an intelligent drink).

Green is good.

But what surprised us most was a fruit we’d never encountered on the shelves of our local Trader Joe’s called quenepa or honeyberry. According to our new friend, you peel, pop, and suck the green darlings to savor their sweet-ish, gelatinous interior (but avoid the big pit!). All we could say as we peddled off was, “Viva la Queens!”

So happy, he's leaving Sweden.

From there we wended our way through the pine-filled woods of Forest Park, the unexpected mansions of Kew Gardens, and the iconic World’s Fair landmarks in Corona Park and Flushing Meadows.

And it was there (before getting on the subway because we were bone tired at this point), that we saw what makes America truly great: families celebrating July 4th. Among them:

Afghanis

Chicken kebabs on skewers.

Pakistanis

Grilled steak and chicken tikka.

and Mexicans and El Salvadorans.

Elotes on the grill.

That’s right, all the people who supposedly hate us or are here to undermine our way of life, happily honoring American independence in our public parks.

Makes ya’ think, don’t it?

Perhaps the world would be a better place if we could all just, as my mother might say, eat in peace.

And "You Go, Queens!"

With special thanks to Petter Bertilsson for providing the camera and taking many of the photos for this issue!