WHAT HAPPENED?!

I was back in my old stomping grounds last weekend to meet with a couple of old friends for pizza and a few laughs. We agreed to meet at Athens Pizza, because that is where we always used to go, and also because they had “really good” pizza. We ordered a couple pies and talked about old times, old friends and things we wished we could forget. (Like telling a girl the Jeep out front was mine thinking that would impress her, just a minute or two before the actual owner jumped into it and drove away…The kick is up, it’s long enough, it’s high enough, WIDE TO THE LEFT….NO GOOD!) Before we knew it the pies were ready. We brought them back to the table to tuck into a slice of sweet nostalgia…except it wasn’t.

I looked at my buddies after a couple of bites to see if they had noticed the same thing. They were chomping along happily, without a care in the world. “Does this taste different to you guys” I asked? “No, it’s Athens” was the reply. I walked back up front to see the owner who has been there since I was a kid and who still knows me by name. “Did you guys do something different to the pizza?” “No, the kitchen has been changed around, but everything is still the same.”

We chatted for a bit, then I went back to rejoin my friends and continued eating. It’s not that the pizza was bad, it just wasn’t… the same. My friends who still live in the area, have continued to come here as their pie of choice since I left town about 25 years ago.  I grew up eating this thinking it was the end all be all of pizza. We would come here after baseball and football games. We hung out here just about every weekend during our high school years. Well we did when we weren’t busy hanging out at McDonald’s or driving around the town square acting the way adolescent boys act…which is to say, like idiots.

I guess what I’m getting at here people, is that although some things never change, other things do. Things that are supposed to be as you remember them as a child just aren’t all they are cracked up to be. The pizza didn’t taste the way I remembered it, and apart from being in that building with old friends, there was no nostalgia at all. I guess my taste buds have moved on, or had they grown up?

On the two hour drive back to the coast I started thinking about other things that just aren’t as good, or aren’t as I remember them. Totino’s pizza rolls are fine if you like trans-fat and heartburn, but are nothing like they once were. In all fairness, they stopped putting real cheese in them some time ago and so technically they have changed, and much like Liza Minnelli… not in a good way.

Marshmallows might as well be packing peanuts for all the flavor and nostalgia they deliver. I remember eating about half a bag before ever getting one on a stick to roast over the coals when I was a kid. I tried one the other day and all I could think of while eating was I finally figured out what happened to all those Nerf footballs that got lost on the roof of my elementary school.

I never realized corned beef came from anything but a can. My mom would use it to make red flannel hash and a croquette of sorts with potato, onion and green peppers then cover it with breadcrumbs and pan fry it. I used to love those dishes and made them myself after I had moved away from home.

My dad, being more Spartan in his approach to this mystery in a can, would just slice a few pieces off from the square pasty cube, fry them and put between two slices of bread, add a little mustard for what I thought a pretty tasty sandwich! Now, I just can’t.  What animal did this supposedly come from? I like to think somewhere in Brazil there is an animal the locals actually call a corned beef that is in the rodent family, and that’s how they get it into this country as technically being  “Corned Beef”.

Cream Horns… I’m not sure if all of you have heard of these as I see them in some parts of the country and not in others, so work with me on this. Picture a cannoli but instead of a hard shell, it’s a flaky pastry shell filled with a vanilla flavored cream. Sounds great right?! I bought one at the grocery store a month or so ago. If the manufacturers are interested in truth in advertising they might change the name to,” sweet whipped lard in a cardboard like cylinder! Instead of a clear package they could wrap it in sparkly black paper and put a smiley faced Jolly Roger on it… but I’m guessing that wouldn’t have kids lining up to spend their hard earned paper route money.

There’s the old joke that any strange meat you try, be it frog legs, alligator, kangaroo, newt tongues, etc… tastes like chicken. I’m happy to report to you that these things no longer taste like chicken, as chicken now tastes like absolutely nothing. I have a chef instructor friend who says, “People order chicken because they either don’t know what they want, or just don’t want to look like idiots eating a lobster.” I think he was pretty close.

People like to order rack of lamb because it tastes like lamb, regardless of whatever it has been crusted with. People order chicken Marsala because they like the taste of mushrooms and Marsala. The chicken is just a vehicle for the sauce, and at the same time, bulk filler. I used to love chicken when I was a kid as there was a butcher nearby who used to get them fresh from the farm. It used to actually have a real honest to goodness flavor….sort of like… frog legs.

There are plenty of foods out there that still bring me back to when I was a kid or memories of that time. Amongst them but not limited to, Cheerio’s, Bazooka Bubble Gum, tangerines at Christmas, orange marmalade, fig newton’s, waffle cones and soft serve vanilla ice cream, beef stew, Chiclet’s, A&W Root Beer, Mary Jane’s  and those damned Snickers bars.

So I guess it’s fine that some things don’t evoke the same feelings and memories the way they used to. We grow up, our taste buds and senses become aware of different tastes and better sensations that set a new bar of what something should now be. I’ll bet if I already haven’t named a few, you are thinking of other things that do. Things that bring you back to that first day of school, first school dance, day at the beach, first date pizza… or the day you got bitten by a German Sheppard on your paper route and dad took you for a soft serve vanilla ice cream with rainbow jimmies.

For you young people who don’t know what a paper route is…They once had these things called newspapers, and you’d bring them around to people every day to read, and they’d pay you money once a week. Now I got a guy named Tony who’s in his sixties who drives within falling distance of my front door and still manages to miss the doorstep by thirty yards. Why would someone do this you ask? Well, all we had were four snowy channels on a black and white TV, and a game console called Coleco, that basically played three kinds of table tennis, and a father that kept saying “It’s too nice to be inside!” So we had to do something…You want to know what? What’s a snowy channel?!….Oh, hell… never mind…

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8 thoughts on “WHAT HAPPENED?!

  1. Indians on the test patterns… LOL… thinking how kids today would lose their shit if they had to "wait" for cartoons to come on! Yup, our TV was a Motorola B&W and we didn't get a color TV until I was in Junior High…and cable wasn't available until my senior year in HS. Thanks for reading D!

  2. Can't remember the last regular Coke I had! LOL… I am still quite familiar with B&J so much so that I get a personal call if I haven't bought any in a couple weeks. I vaguely remember Pizza Palace I think… Key Road? Along with Mamma Mia's next to Bradleys, and Mr Pizza on Main St. Great memories… Thanks for reading Birdie!

  3. I grew up with the best pizza in the world (Trenton, NJ),but of course didn't really appreciate the wonder of it until I moved away. Nearly every date involved pizza because it was incredibly cheap, yet delicious. Paper boys could afford to take a girl out for pizza every day of the week. I remember snowy b&w TV and watching the Indian in the test pattern waiting for channels to come on and listening to the Star Spangled Banner when it went off at night. We always wanted to go 'out' as soon as our chores or homework was done and stayed out until the street lights came on. In summer, we were allowed to stay out and catch fireflies. I miss those innocent carefree days, and that wonderful pizza and chickens turning on the spit.

  4. Must say we went to Pizza Palace – extra cheese and sausage… followed by Ben & Jerry's NY Super Fudge Chuck, with a Regular Coke chaser …. My heart is clicking just thinking of it. Sadly, Pizza Palace doesn't exist, B&J are not often splurged upon, and the days of Regular Coke are long gone… Memories are great things though!!

  5. Haven't had Athens in a long time. Sad thing is, I'm not sure of any other place in Keene where the pizza is better. BTW, met the owners of Kilkenny's pub while swimming in Key West, what a funny little world eh? Take care Mike! Love you Bro!

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