by Maria Lagalante Schulz
My Uncle Don was an amazing person. Tall, handsome, funny, with a laugh that made you want to laugh too. But he was at his funniest when he wasn’t even trying.
For reasons that I’m not even sure my uncle understood, he chose to become a shoe salesman in an upscale retail store on the North Shore of Long Island. Never mind that he couldn’t stand most of the clientele, or that his real calling was being rich and lounging by a pool all day, or possibly dancing all night at a nightclub for a living. Instead, he was forced to get up every single day, for many long, boring days, and put shoes on the feet of smelly old rich women who could never be made happy.
His co-worker at one of these places was named Ceil. My Uncle spelled it “Seal” because all she did was bark orders at him and she smelled like fish. Seal was an obnoxious co-worker whose purpose in life was to make Uncle Don’s life equally miserable.
Since they worked on commissions, they would take turns helping customers. That is, my uncle would take turns and Seal would steal any and all customers he couldn’t get to first. Day in and day out, Uncle Don would see Seal rushing towards new customers at warp speed. This forced him to develop strategies for cutting Seal off at the pass.
He would stand there, scanning the horizon for his next customer, and when Seal would drop a box of shoes in the lap of her own customer and run towards a new client, my uncle would run like that couple in the Titanic when the lower decks were filling up with water. Uncle Don thanked God that he had two good legs and all Seal had was a couple of stubby fins (err, bad knees).
Mission Accomplished. My uncle barely had time to enjoy his good luck before the customer would start whining about which shoes she wanted, and he would begin to wish he’d let Seal have this one. Fifty-two pairs of shoes later, Seal was on her fifth sale while my uncle’s customer decided, “I don’t really want shoes after all.”
The best part of his workday was lunch. The second best part of his day was his 15-minute coffee break. My brother, Paul, worked at the same department store and said you could always hear my Uncle laughing throughout the break room…and you would always see him with a great big cup of coffee and a little piece of cake. His quest for coffee, any time, any day, was legendary. It was his Holy Grail.
After the Battle of the Shoes was history and retirement finally arrived, my uncle began his full-time love affair with coffee. One of the joys of his life was finding a place to buy a cup or two of java, hot and fresh. He loved the idea of Starbucks, but could never get the hang of the sizing system: tall, grande, vente. “Just give me a large,” he would say, as the teenaged barista behind the counter tried to explain the sizes. “Oh never mind,” my uncle replied, as he left the store in search of a donut shop or hamburger joint with coffee on the menu.
Coffee was the elixir that he could not do without, and it got him into a lot of trouble. There was the Korean diner that he went to everyday, where a serve yourself coffee bar was his delight. He could sit there for hours, drinking at least six or seven cups of coffee, wondering what today would have in store for him. That is, until the irate owner started screaming at him one day, waving her coffee pot menacingly at him.
“You have to pay for refill!” She screamed.
“Why? I’ve never paid before,” my uncle replied.
“That’s cause you CHEAP!” She yelled. “Now get out!”
But his greatest coffee escapade came one day when his coffee obsession almost killed him.
One beautiful summer morning, as the sun shone and the birds sang, my uncle headed out to the local coffee shop and bought himself an extra large coffee. He got back in his car and started to drive the winding roads on the North Shore of Long Island, humming to himself as he enjoyed the scenery, the drive, the music, but most of all, the coffee.
That’s when he saw the orange traffic cones ahead, blocking the road, but no sign of construction crews anywhere.
“I’ll just stop and move those cones so I can get where I’m going,” Uncle Don thought to himself.
He jumped out of the car, still clutching his extra large coffee, sipping away as he headed to the traffic cones. As he took a long, satisfying sip, he heard something rumbling towards him. He tore himself away from his coffee long enough to see what was making the noise: his car was barreling towards him.
Like the proverbial deer in the headlights, my uncle stood there for a moment and pondered his options.
- Drop the coffee and lunge to the side, to avoid possible death
- Run towards open car door and try to put it in park, while throwing coffee to side
- Clutch coffee to heart, run towards car, try not to get run over.
Uncle Don chose option #3.
He showed up at our house about an hour later, with bumps, bruises and burns that ran from his head to his feet. His all-white outfit, which he thought made him look Palm Beach Chic and we thought made him look like the Good Humor Man, was torn, dirty, and covered in skid marks and coffee.
His first words when I opened the door?
“Maria, honey, could you get me a cup of coffee?”
Recipe: Skinny Cinnamon Coffee
- Two scoops coffee beans (medium roast or flavored coffee, your choice)
- 2 tablespoons fat-free Milk
- Cinnamon Sugar
- Cinnamon Stick
Put the two scoops of coffee beans into a grinder (freshly ground coffee always tastes better). Take your freshly ground beans and place them into your automatic coffee maker. After brewing is completed, add milk and dust with cinnamon sugar. Add cinnamon stick for added flavor. Enjoy.
P.S. For maximum enjoyment, don’t drink while car is driving towards you.
Here’s another recipe that I used to make when I was a kid and my uncles and grandmother were coming over early on a Sunday. I also used to make it when I had friends over for a sleepover. It’s always a hit (and it goes great with coffee, as Uncle Don used to say).
Bisquick Coffee Cake
- 2 cups Bisquick
- 2/3 cups water or milk
- 1 egg
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1/3 cups Bisquick
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 teaspoons ground cinnamon
- 2 tablespoons butter
- Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
- Grease a deep pie plate, 8″x8″ square pan, or 9″x9″ square pan.
- Mix dough ingredients and put in baking dish.
- Mix topping ingredients with a fork until crumbly.
- Spread topping mix over dough and drag a butter knife across like you were making a tic-tac-toe board several times.
- Bake for 25 minutes.
Next on the menu:
- Chock Full of Nuts: stories about eating with my six brothers
- It’s Not About the Cake: oh wait, yes it is. Baking with friends, sharing with my Catholic schoolmates
- Brownies & James Garner: Perfect Together
- The Leaning Tower of Black Forest Cake: my attempts at German Cooking
And more stories from my hungry life.