by Jon Kaufman
Can a young man who once attempted to clean his room with a gas powered leaf blower survive the wilds of Western Pennsylvania in an apartment of his own? My wife Janet and I have our doubts. It seems like yesterday when our now nineteen year old son Will channeled his inner Roy Rogers, saddled up our coonhound Tara, and rode her around the living room. Was our rosy cheeked, canine cowboy now really ready to ride out his new unsupervised college lifestyle?
Spurning another year of dorm residency, Will joined two other baseball players and fled the quad for the teeming streets of California, PA (population 6,259 non-students). The thought of escaping student housing sprung from Will’s mind during his freshman year shortly after attending an off-campus party where emancipation and a variety of cold beverages flowed freely throughout the evening. Once exposed to the wonders of true parental absence, the ivy covered walls began to take on somewhat of an institutional; one might even say “correctional” appearance to Will and his comrades.
For those of you parents who are yet to experience the nuances of off campus dwelling, keep this simple abridged adage in mind “You get (considerably less than) what you pay for.” When we arrived at Will’s new college home, I immediately had a sense that something was missing. Upon taking a tour of the grounds, I realized what was absent; an order of condemnation posted by the local authorities. Aside from the tumble-down condition of the edifice, the landlord had painted the entire interior a color my wife Janet identified as “Guacamole Green.” No amount of Tequila could wash this vision from my mind’s-eye, yet, I admit I was willing to try a shot or two had a bottle been present.
Once all of Will’s possessions were properly in place our attentions were directed to the lack of air-conditioning in our son’s avocado boudoir. The fix would be simple; find an affordable window unit and call it quits for the night. Unfortunately a few obstacles halted our progress. First, Will’s room had been fitted with a/c unfriendly slide-sliding windows. More significantly we discovered that no store in all of Western Pennsylvania stocked air conditioners in late August. I suppose working fourteen hours a day next to a giant furnace had conditioned generations of steel workers to consider ninety degree temperatures “seasonably cool,” in their burg. A window fan was a tragic disappointment for a young man who enjoys “meat hanging conditions” in his frigid bedroom back in the ‘Noke.
Hungry and disheartened, our intrepid group surrendered to this strange land and opted for a much needed dinner break. If you are a frequent traveler or watch the Food Channel a bunch, you know that every area of the country has their own particular dishes that are indigenous only to that locale. Philly has cheese-steaks, Chicago has deep dish pizza, and Pittsburgh has the Primanti Brothers (founded in 1933) who pile French fries (among other things) on their sandwiches. A connoisseur of foods that can cause me the most possible damage, I pointed my Honda Civic towards the Three-River City and off we went.
Realizing that this might be my last meal, I ordered double pastrami and swiss and scanned the restaurant to see if there were any uniformed paramedics in the vicinity. While I love to eat, my consumption style is not to “smile and savior”, but rather, “seek and destroy”, and quickly I might ad. When our waitress presented me the monstrous melding of meat, cheese, and fries, I immediately went to work, buzz-sawing through the offering as Gaddafi must have done while hastily packing up his sun glasses collection as the rebels neared. With no reverence for tradition, I had reduced the Primanti’s creation into a small pile of crumbs and mustard. Nodding to an old photo on the wall, I grinned at the likeness of the sandwich making siblings, for on that day, I was their conqueror.
In the wee hours of the next morning, I awakened, smiled and concluded that my hound riding son was now a grown up, responsible man with a place of his own. As I settled back onto my pillow and began to drift into slumber, I began to feel the subtle if not persistent hand of the gastronomical gods. Not long thereafter a look in the mirror revealed that my face was turning the color of my son’s walls. The Primanti Brothers would have their revenge.