Tales From A Hungry Life

September 6, 2011

Dancing in the Dark

by Maria Lagalante Schulz

Out here on Long Island, I spent the last two weeks in the shadow of Hurricane Irene.

First, I had to prepare for the coming apocalypse. That meant buying lots of water, flashlights, batteries, peanut butter, jelly,

In Case of Emergency

bananas, cereal, bread, and of course, nutella. In the event of a real catastrophe, I knew I couldn’t live without my nutella.

Then, after the storm came and went, we were happy to find that no trees crashed through our house (like a few of our neighbors’ did) and our home did not get flooded. The only problem was that our electricity was out. But how long could that possibly last?

My daughters thought a blackout was a novelty; they had fond memories of the Blackout of 2003. My husband and I were pretty sure that we could get through the day with an upbeat attitude and some laughs.

On Day 1, we played board games, ate what we could salvage from the fridge, and read books by the light of battery-operated lanterns, candles, and one flashlight each.

Before we went to bed at 9 pm, my girls broke out their iPods and we danced in the dark to Lady Gaga, Pink, Rhianna, and the Broadway soundtrack to Spider Man: Turn off the Dark.

We went to bed with high hopes that soon, this would be a happy memory and our lights would be back on.

Let there be light

By the morning of Day 5, I had lost all hope of ever having electricity again. My kids were bored out of their minds and starting to say things like “Who said blackouts are fun anyway?” Meanwhile, my husband kept walking up the block to peer into the empty distance, hoping that a LIPA crew and cherry picker would magically appear like a ship coming through the fog when you’re stranded on a desert island.

I had a severe case of hurricane hair and wanted nothing more than to be reunited with my hair dryer, a working refrigerator and some air conditioning. I was beginning to look like a homeless person and I wasn’t so sure I could stand another minute of hearing I’M SO BORED I’M SO BORED I’M SO BORED I’M SO BORED from my two kids.

I needed to go to my happy place, so I put on my own iPod, turned it to “shuffle” and let and it transport me back to my growing up years. Music was always around me in that little house in Bayside.

I could hear it all as if I was there again: All the Young Dudes, the Barney Miller Theme Song, Purple Haze and Jumpin’ Jack Flash blasting from the basement as my brother’s band practiced.

Or, early Sunday mornings with Frank Sinatra on Jonathan Schwartz’s show on WNEW am while my mother’s sauce simmered on the stove.

Or even singing and acting out the parts to The Man of La Mancha with my father in our living room. He played all the male parts and I played the female parts. It was one of the few times I was able to sing in front of someone without running the vacuum to hide my voice.

Here are just a few of the albums that popped up and took me back to those days.

Billy Joel The Stranger

I remember putting this record on the turntable in our dining room and turning it up really high so that my mother and I could sing to the music while we made dinner.

My brothers came in and out of the kitchen and sang with us as we belted out “Scenes from an Italian Restaurant,” “Moving Out,” “I Love You Just the Way You Are,” and of course, “Only the Good Die Young.”

This was my brother Tony’s album, and I listened to it every single day. I went on to get Streetlife Serenader, 52nd Street, Glass Houses, The Nylon Curtain, An Innocent Man, and River of Dreams.

I spent a lot of lunch breaks singing “All for Leyna” and “You May Be Right” when I should’ve been heading back to afternoon classes at St. Robert’s.

I saw Billy Joel in concert for the first time in 1980 with my friend Marianne. We were 13 years old when she told me she could get great tickets because her sister knew someone with pull. I was thrilled.

“I would love to go! But my parents won’t let me go without someone older.”

“No problem!” Marianne said. “My cousin will take us.”

So, we went that night and hopped on the Long Island Rail Road. Marianne’s cousin met us there.

“Hi!” she said brightly. I realized that Marianne’s cousin was only a couple of years older then us, and that this probably wasn’t what my parents had in mind when they said I could go.

“My parents are going to get mad at me,” I said.

“We’ll be fine,” Marianne replied.

And we were. We had fantastic seats up close in Madison Square Garden and saw one of the greatest shows ever.

We laughed, danced, and sang along, especially when Billy sang, “Oh your mother told you all that I could give you was a reputation./Oh she never cared for me/but did she ever say a prayer for me?” and “I’d rather laugh with the sinners and cry with the saints/the sinners are much more fun/you know that only the good die young.”

Amen, brother.

B-52’s Cosmic Thing

Love rules at The Love Shack

Breakfast, lunch, dinner…any time of the day was a great time to listen to this album. “Roam,” “Planet Z,” “Dry County,” “June Bug,” “Topaz,” “Bushfire,” and of course, “Love Shack” made any mundane task pass by in a flash.

I could set the table, stir the sauce, wash the dishes or spin the salad while I was singing and dancing, and somehow, it was always fun.

My mother loved this CD, and we would sing it together whenever we were in the car together. We would sing duets on “Topaz” and go crazy whenever we sang “Tin roof….rusted!” from Love Shack (that’s where it’s at).

I saw the B-52’s in concert at Madison Square Garden with my sister-in-law Christine, my brother Chris, and my friends John and Lisa. The band was on fire that night and everybody was up dancing.

Afterwards, we stopped at White Castle and had cheeseburgers, onion rings, and shakes so thick that you could barely suck them through the straw. Yum!

Blondie Parallel Lines

When I was caught somewhere between being a kid and a teenager, I was dreading what people would get me for Christmas. Some of my relatives gave me dolls that year when I was 13 going on 14, and my doll days were well behind me.

My brother Jude, however, handed me a gift that would introduce me to a whole new type of music.

“Listen to this, you’ll like it,” Jude told me.

I ripped off the paper and saw the words “Blondie” emblazoned against a black background, with the band lined up and a pretty blonde girl in front.

“Who are they?” I asked.

“They’re a hot new band. Just listen. You’ll be hooked.”

And he was right. By the New Year, I knew all the words to “Rip Her to Shreds,” “11:59,” “Hanging on the Telephone,” “Call Me,” and “Heart of Glass.”

At a time when disco was dying and rock-n-roll hadn’t reasserted itself yet, Blondie was a tour de force. It was like having my ears opened and suddenly being able to enjoy bands like The Clash, Cheap Trick, The Cars, and of course, Squeeze.

Squeeze 45s and Under

I spent a lot of my high school and college years studying in my bedroom. Of course, I couldn’t study without listening to “Take Me I’m Yours,” “Another Nail in My Heart,” “Pulling Mussels from the Shell,” “Annie Get Your Gun” and “Goodbye Girls.”

Dorothy, my best friend in high school, and I saw Squeeze in concert in 1985 at the Nassau Coliseum. We sang along to every song and stood on our chairs while we danced.

Afterwards, Dorothy and I drove in her little blue VW to the local Howard Johnson’s. We enjoyed tuna melts and ice cream sundaes while we talked about the concert. Good times!

The Complete Tom Jones

One of my earliest memories is of watching my mother make me lunch. She would whip me up a devilled ham sandwich and chocolate milk. I loved it back then, but just thinking about it now makes me gag.

Meanwhile, Tom Jones was singing “Green, Green Grass of Home” while my mother pulled out the bread and I waited at the long orange bar in our basement kitchen. I twirled on the stool and sang along with her and Chris.

Back in the day

Fast forward to the first two years of my marriage. I would get home first and make dinner. I’d make chili, chicken cutlets, arroz con pollo, lasagna, bratwurst with sauerkraut and the occasional phone call for Chinese take-out. The whole time, Tom Jones would keep me company while I cooked or listened for the delivery man.

I’d sing along to “Delilah,” trying not to cry when Tom sang, “I felt the knife in my hand, and she laughed no more.” Why, why, why Delilah?

My mother-in-law, Irene, would hear me singing since we lived in the apartment over them, and she’d come up to chat while I cooked and Tom sang.

Irene never understood why I loved Tom Jones, but that didn’t stop me.

The last time I saw Tom Jones in concert was in 2009. I went with my brothers Jude, Joe and Chris, my sisters-in-law Barbara and Anne, and my friend Denise.

My brother Joey was really coming along just because Jude had an extra ticket and he was always up for some fun.

“I don’t really understand what you people see in him,” Joey said.

What's new, pussycat?

When Tom Jones came out and started to swivel his hips while he sang “Sex Bomb,” I looked sideways at my brother. I really hope Tom didn’t hear my shrieks of laughter when I saw Joey’s face.

Denise and I started singing all of Tom’s songs, and we all sang at the top of our lungs during “What’s New, Pussycat?”

I realized then that my true calling was to be one of Tom’s backup singers. Where had I gone wrong?

The Traveling Wilburys, Vol. 1

Anytime you could get Tom Petty, Roy Orbison, Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Jeff Beck in a recording studio together, you’ve got gold.

Every song on this album was a sheer joy to sing. “Last Night,” “Tweeter and the Monkey Man,” “Not Alone,” “Over You,” “End of the Line” and “Freedom” were all easy to remember, and I learned them quickly while walking to my first job in New York City.

I strapped on my WalkMan and practically ran from 34th Street and 7th Avenue across town to 42nd Street and 2nd Avenue for my first job after college. What I remember most about those days was the bitter cold, my inability to ever catch the bus, and the simple joy of singing along with this amazing CD.

This album was right up there for me with George Harrison’s Cloud Nine and Roy Orbison’s Mystery Girl. I sang all of the songs with my new boyfriend, who would later become my husband, while we chomped on White Castles, Wendy’s and pizza. We’d turn the radio up to high and drive around town after a long night selling china at Stern’s Department Store.

Huey Lewis and the News Sports

In 1984, there was nothing better than stampeding out of the employee entrance towards beautiful, sweet freedom after another long, boring night of working at Stern’s Department Store.

My pal Lisa Hahn and I would jump into my dark blue Volkswagon Superbeetle and blast the stereo as we cruised down Douglaston Parkway towards Northern Boulevard. We’d drive to Port Washington, then head back towards Flushing, singing and dancing in our seats to “If This Is It,” “Heart of Rock-n-Roll,” “I Want a New Drug,” and “Heart and Soul.”

When my gas tank got low, we’d stop at the Seville or the Scobee Diner for a sandwich, some fruit or maybe a big ice cream sundae that we would share.

With a couple of quarters for the juke box, we’d search out another Huey Lewis song, or maybe something by Prince. And then we’d start singing again.

Thankfully, my music saved me that day. The fact that the power came on about 12 hours later helped a lot too.


Here’s one way to have fond memories of a blackout: this recipe that’s based on a cake from a renowned Brooklyn bakery.


There’s not much to a root beer float, but I love the story behind this recipe:


So Hungry Lifers…did Hurricane Irene come your way? How did you make the time pass by while you played pioneer? Please post a comment here on the blog and let us all know about it.



  1. Music is God’s way of letting you know he is always with you. Music is our bond with past memories and future glories. Music is truly a way of reaching the innermost part of our being and keeping it locked up within just so it can come out at the appropriate time. The Billy Joel you refer to is the great Billy Joel unfortunately he has lost a lot of what was his cutting edge of combining melody with with true story telling. For me after the swing era the Moody Blues, “Nights In White Satin” and their first 5 or 6 albums will always be the benchmark. Nice Post, I really like it.

    Comment by Bglou — September 6, 2011 @ 4:58 pm | Reply

  2. Nice post — I can almost hear the soundtrack to it in my head!

    Comment by Turafish — September 6, 2011 @ 9:37 pm | Reply

  3. I knew I was going to love this post because you had my main man Tom Jones in it. Its amazing how music and certain songs can bring up some wonderful memories. Great music selections. Now I have an urge to update my IPOD. Great post as usual.

    Comment by Kathleen Lagalante — September 6, 2011 @ 9:47 pm | Reply

  4. The pictures you always paint in my mind with your words were just replaced with awesome, old tunes I haven’t heard in years. All for Leyna – what a great Billy Joel song! DIdn’t we both say we were singing, “Come On Irene” when this hurricane hit? Fun post, Maria!

    Comment by Lisa — September 8, 2011 @ 10:51 pm | Reply

  5. Funny stories mom, keep writing! :)Paige

    Comment by Paige — September 16, 2011 @ 9:32 pm | Reply

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