Aug. 26, 2012

Tomato Pies, 25 Cents

by Grace Cavalieri

Tomato pies are what we called them, those days,
before Pizza came in,
at my Grandmother's restaurant,
in Trenton New Jersey.
My grandfather is rolling meatballs
in the back. He studied to be a priest in Sicily but
saved his sister Maggie from marrying a bad guy
by coming to America.
Uncle Joey is rolling dough and spooning sauce.
Uncle Joey, is always scrubbed clean,
sobered up, in a white starched shirt, after
cops delivered him home just hours before.
The waitresses are helping
themselves to handfuls of cash out of the drawer,
playing the numbers with Moon Mullin
and Shad, sent in from Broad Street. 1942,
tomato pies with cheese, 25 cents.
With anchovies, large, 50 cents.
A whole dinner is 60 cents (before 6 pm).
How the soldiers, bussed in from Fort Dix,
would stand outside all the way down Warren Street,
waiting for this new taste treat,
young guys in uniform,
lined up and laughing, learning Italian,
before being shipped out to fight the last great war.

"Tomato Pies, 25 Cents" by Grace Cavalieri, Sounds Like Something I Would Say. © CreateSpace Publishing, 2009. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

It's the birthday of novelist Christopher Isherwood (books by this author), born in High Lane, England (1904). He published the first of his 25 novels, All the Conspirators (1928), when he was 24 years old. He said: "My father, without, I think, realizing what he was doing, made me think of writing as play rather than work. He was always telling me stories, encouraging me, taking an interest in my toy theater, and so on. And it seems to me that writing has been a game that I have gone on playing ever since. I am inclined to think of writers who bore me as being 'workers.'"

His books include The Last of Mr. Norris (1935), Goodbye to Berlin (1939), and A Single Man (1964).

It's the birthday of French poet and critic Guillaume Apollinaire (books by this author), born in Rome (1880). He said, "I love men, not for what unites them, but for what divides them, and I want to know most of all what gnaws at their hearts."

It's the birthday of Scottish writer John Buchan (books by this author), born in Perth, Scotland (1875). He's most famous for his thriller Thirty-Nine Steps (1915), which later became an Alfred Hitchcock film. It's about a man who is bored with life in London until he becomes the primary suspect in a murder case. He finds himself on the run from the police and from the villains. Buchan wrote it while he was sick in bed during World War I.

John Buchan said, "Without humor you cannot run a sweetie-shop, let alone a nation."

It's the birthday of novelist and playwright Zona Gale (books by this author), born in Portage, Wisconsin (1874). She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for drama. Her books and plays include Friendship Village (1908), Miss Lulu Bett (1920), and Evening Clothes (1932).

She said, "I don't know a better preparation for life than a love of poetry and a good digestion."

It's the birthday of crossword puzzle editor Will Shortz (books by this author), born in Crawfordsville, Indiana (1952). He grew up on an Arabian horse farm, where he spent a lot of his time riding his pony or playing in the woods. One day, when Shortz was eight or nine years old, his mother had her bridge club over, and she wanted a way to distract her son for the afternoon, so she divided a piece of paper into a grid and taught him to write letters in it and make clues for the words. After that, he was hooked, and he published his first crossword puzzle when he was 14.

He studied at Indiana University, where he designed his own major and studied puzzles. He went to law school — his plan was to practice as a lawyer for 10 years and make enough money so that he could retire and create puzzles. But he was never very interested in pursuing a career in law. He said: "Near the end of my third year at law school, the head of the placement office noticed I had never had a single interview. She called me in because she was concerned. She asked what my plans were. I told her I had a job. I could see her face brighten. She asked me who I was going to work for. I told her Penny Press, which was one of the major crossword magazine companies. I'd worked there as a puzzle editor during all my law school summers, and I was going there full time after I graduated. I watched the placement lady write down in her book: 'Penny [comma] Press [comma]' [...] waiting for the rest of the law firm's name."

Shortz never took the bar exam, but instead worked for Penny Press, and then Games magazine, where he stayed for 15 years. He said: "Being editor of the Times crossword wasn't something I dreamed about, because, frankly, I didn't consider myself educated or cultured enough. I grew up in rural Indiana." But when the puzzle editor of The New York Times died in 1993, Shortz decided to apply, and he got the job. He has worked there ever since.

He said: "Of the natural problems we face every day, very few have concrete solutions. But with a puzzle, you have that feeling of completion, which is very satisfying. You have not a solution but the perfect solution."

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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