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A Good Eater

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Photo by Carla Occaso

I know I have some bad habits and tendencies. Even though I have tried to keep them under wraps, some might have caught a glimpse of occasional self-centered behavior, pugnacious personality — not only in sport but in political work — and a vindictive streak that can stretch over years. And like other New Yorkers, I have been noted as having a loud and an expletive-laden vocabulary, like the kind you might hear in a locker room.

However, one of my best traits is my lifelong habit of being a GOOD EATER. My one reliable skill. If you don’t believe me, please consider the following.

Even in the most trying of circumstances, such as relationships falling apart with drama and tears, the Red Sox dropping a key play in the bottom of the ninth inning, losing my car keys, misplacing my wallet, I am always very skilled at sitting down and devouring a good meal. Even with a pandemic knocking at our doors, I maintain a seat at the table: breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Believe me, not everyone can exhibit this skill. Can you?

Back in the 1960s, I was a student-athlete at the University of Connecticut where I played on the varsity basketball team. I lived in a dorm — Ethan Allen House — that had among other virtues, a pleasant man named Al Bailey, who was our dorm cook. Being a big sports fan, Al was more than ready to please, and I wish he were still alive to confirm that once a week on hamburger Wednesdays, I was known to consume six burgers in a sitting. I still remember Al standing next to me as I finished up, and with joy and satisfaction written all over his face, responding by saying, “Gosh!”

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To further support my contention, I tell you directly that my interest in this subject, even in my golden years, remains focused and steady. To illustrate the point, I confess that my recent reading priorities have shifted away from my daily review of complex philosophical texts and comparative religious studies to a more pedestrian but no less important topic. I refer to my dedication to scouring, like a rabbinical scholar pouring over a religious text, the Thursday Times Argus supplemental section with a colorful flyer from Shaw’s supermarket. Confirming my vigorous and lifelong hearty appetite, I confess that I carefully study and examine the deals listed for the upcoming week. Forget for the moment the numbing effect of the pandemic and forget the challenges posed by my frugal nature. I have lust in my heart when I see that chicken drumsticks, thighs, or leg quarters are going for an astounding 97 cents a pound. My eyes tear up when I see beloved mussels listed for $2.99 a pound, a treat available to those who act quickly. I nearly stand and salute the fact that I can express my patriotism and satisfy my appetite by buying one pound of deli meat and in turn get a whole pound of American cheese for free. And to further strengthen my case for being a good hearty eater — I did not say politically correct or healthy eater, please give me some slack — I nearly swooned when noticing that for $1.88, I can enjoy a Little Debbie chocolate snack box. At that price, I might make it two. Wouldn’t you?

Enough scholarly talk already. Let’s get real. Just this morning, in the early light, I made my way down the stairs to the kitchen. My heart was racing because today is an egg breakfast day. On this very morning, I start breakfast with the zeal and determination of an orchestra conductor. I lead with some strong coffee, and then listen for the nuanced sizzle of bacon on the stove. Whirling around, I push down the toaster after slicing my bagel, then crack two eggs on the stove while flicking my wrist to pour a tall glass of orange juice. As the activity reaches a crescendo, I grab my yogurt container and scoop a healthy amount into a bowl. And in honor of a recent tennis game or as an inducement to play better next time, I reward myself with a cookie or two as I drain my coffee mug.

As if further proof is needed, let me give you the final fact that proves that my good eating finesse has remained part of my core identity. Back in the 1950s, I was a student at Public School 114 in New York City. Classes were larger than we have in Vermont. I know, because we were assigned seats based on a complex and approved scientific method called . . . seating by size places. Our seats were assigned according to our height. Naturally the shortest kids got seats up front. That is why, in my sixth-grade class, I spent the entire year with a chair by the windowsill, which served as my desk. Since our room was up on the fifth floor, I ended up having the best view of the beloved school playground, compared with having to turn to see our teacher up front.

As graduation approached, it was announced that every student would be recognized for their respective outstanding achievements. Not surprisingly, many of my classmates were asked to stand and be recognized for outstanding performance in English or reading, social studies or math, science, music, and even good penmanship. With each announcement, students received warm applause from parents in the audience. Finally, I heard my name called. The principal announced that I was also selected for recognition. With great pride, I tell you that I was the only student at PS 114 who received the GOOD EATER AWARD.