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By Tina Portelli


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I am Jewish and I come from Rye, New York. It's where I spent my first

eleven years living suburban style in the fifties. Back then, being

Jewish was not something to brag about so my father changed our last name

from Markowitz to Martin. He thought it would make life easier, I 'm not

sure if it made that much of a difference. I am a successful man now, not

because I am Jewish but in spite of it, no matter what I call myself.

My parents tried their best to raise my brother and myself as decent human

beings. They did okay with me, I'm not convinced it worked for Barry. He

was never a guy I looked up to, I found his personality to be aggressive,

overbearing, much too intense for my taste. Barry always needed to be in

the limelight while I preferred to blend in the background. I often kept

to myself, did what normal kids did to occupy their time and never gave my

parents any problems. I was a good kid. Barry was a pain in the ass.

So, instead of my older brother being my best friend, it was Harry who

filled the slot. Harry lived across the street and was a year older than

me. We had a lot in common. We both had idiot older brothers. We were

both Jewish and we were both low key. From the start we liked each other.

Neither one of us were athletic. Sitting around with our marbles was more

appealing than playing or watching baseball or football. We both liked to

read and eat, so in our secret cave behind the rail tracks, we spent many

afternoons stuffing ourselves with Twinkies and reading Captain Marvel.

Our brothers competed against each other on the playing fields, while we

just enjoyed each other's company.

The year of Harrys Bar Mitzbah Harry had received lots of cash from his

relatives. One afternoon he asked me if I wanted to have lunch with him

at the local diner in town, his treat. I said, "Sure, why not", so we did.

We took our bikes to town, then a booth in the corner of the diner. We

really felt like bigshots that day, eating out on our own. The

waitress, who looked like an overworked nurse, must have been having a bad

day. As she took our order, she seemed distracted and irritable. She was

very short with us, rushing us to make our selection.

I ordered grilled cheese and a coke. That was simple enough. Harry ordered

a cheeseburger, with cooked onions and tomato, a sesame bun and coleslaw on

the side. "Rare please, and no lettuce on the burger."

When she brought back the order, mine was perfect. But Harry's was all

wrong. The burger had no cheese on it. There were no cooked onions, but

onion rings on the side. There was lettuce and tomato on the plain bun and

the burger looked dry as dirt. The side order was potato salad and cherry

peppers. No coleslaw, no pickles.

Harry immediately tried to catch the waitress before she ran off to another

customer, but it was twenty minutes before we could get her attention. I

had already eaten my sandwich and was ready to leave. And then it

happened. The waitress was screaming at with Harry that she brought him

what he had ordered. After much yelling, the manager came over, Harry was

refusing to pay for the cold, wrong order.

It was time for me to take over. At twelve years old and in my calmest,

deepest, most respectable voice, I tried to calm everybody down. I

explained to the manager that the waitress had it all wrong, could he

please check her order pad. After deciphering her scribble notes, the

manager saw clues as to what Harry had indeed ordered.

Ten minutes later, seated at the counter, Harry had his perfect lunch, free

of charge and I had a second grilled cheese, no charge. We were apologized

to, and felt like real men. We did not leave a tip. My diplomacy worked,

it was a gift.

My best friend Harry eventually moved from the neighborhood with his

family, so we attended different High Schools. We lost touch and made new

best friends. I forgot Harry and he forgot me, a predictable ending of

childhood friendship.

The path for the four of us, two sets of brothers, took very different


My brother went off to college on a football scholarship and Harry's

brother knocked up his first high school girlfriend, got married and

applied at the Post Office. His life was pretty much doomed. Barry

graduated college, went for his masters and became a psychologist. Pompous

as always, he wanted a position of authority, enjoyed telling people how

they should live. I ended up an attorney, a noble and satisfying


One evening as I sat in my office eating a Twinkie and reading the New York

Times food section, an article popped out at me. It was a restaurant

review written by none other than Harry Schultz, NYC Food Critic! I

couldn't believe my eyes. It had been years since Harry crossed my mind.

I sometimes wondered what had happened to him, but never pursued finding

out. I immediately searched the web for information to locate him. Of

course he remembered me.

We have re-united as friends. We are both old and single, we still love to

eat, so now instead of hanging out behind the tracks at the rail station,

we meet once a month at a New York City upscale restaurant of his choice.

Our desserts have been upgraded from Twinkies to the most decadent

chocolate deserts. We sit for hours, share our problems, bounce our

opinions, laugh at our brothers and reminisce on being the Jewish boys from

Rye. And, we leave big tips.



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