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Jewish World Review
Oct. 3, 2008
/ 4 Tishrei 5769
Growing Up A Million Years Ago
You know you're heading for the last roundup when you start reminiscing about your youth. I've been doing that quite a lot lately. Not a good sign, I guess. When I was young I thought about my future. When I was somewhere in the middle I thought only of the present - what I needed to do the next day or the next hour or maybe the next week, but that was about as far as it went. And now that I'm approaching my 6th decade I think of my past and try to remember details about it.
The late sixties was a major time for change in our country and in me too. But what changed me wasn't the music or the drugs or the Vietnam War or student protests, or any of the other cultural upheavals that were going on in the country at that time. It was working for my uncle at his restaurant in Hollywood. That's when I came of age and that's when I was introduced in a major way to the world beyond my secluded, sleepy hometown of Burbank, California.
Yes, believe it or not, back then Burbank was a quiet, small suburban town far away from big city sights and sounds. A kid growing up there might just as well have been living in any small town in Middle America. We had no crime to speak of, no nightclubs, no large chain stores and no major restaurants. Just local stuff, mom and pop stores mostly, a couple of movie theaters, nice little shopping streets, the best school system in the county, and plenty of vacant lots to play ball in.
Oh sure, Warner Bros. and Walt Disney had their film studios in Burbank, but those were factories, they might as well have been manufacturing tires or building cars as making movies behind those gates. The glamour and sparkle of show biz was never at the factories, it was far, far away over the hill in Hollywood, Bel Air, Brentwood, Beverly Hills and Malibu. The movie stars came to work at four or five in the morning and left around six in the evening - going from their cars, through the gates, onto the stages, then back into their cars headed for home.
Between the ages of 16 and 20, within a period of 4 short years, I worked off and on for my Uncle Donald at his pizza and barbeque restaurant in Hollywood. During that period I came into contact with more characters and adventures than all of my previous years growing up sheltered in Burbank. Suddenly I was center stage in a series of Damon Runyon style one-act plays. An education in life that no amount of money could buy. And I loved it.
Initially I would go with my father to visit Uncle Donald at his restaurant, Crosby's Pizza and Bar-B-Q; it was a genuine family business. My uncle put in the long hours, did the ordering of food and supplies, and keep watch on the money flow. He was also a genuine people person - a man with an easy smile who greeted his patrons by name and always stopped by the tables to ask if they needed anything and if everything was all right.
Uncle Donald's wife, Aunt Irene supplied Italian recipes and did much of the preliminary cooking of meats, sauces, and things during the day before the restaurant opened. Cousins Diane, Donna, and Bonnie Lou would wait tables from time to time. Cousin Ronnie flipped pizzas and was a short order cook.
Family was supplemented with additional help. A large German woman by the name of Hilda, who looked like she was right out of central casting, baked pies and bread. Tony was from Italy and made great pizza. Richard was a young guy with slicked back hair who was one of the fastest short order cooks I'd ever seen. And little Mexican Tommy did food preparation, was the dishwasher, floor sweeper, and all around clean up guy. He was with my uncle for many years.
Add to that list, a couple of other waitresses; a skinny brunette named Diana who had a thing going with Richard, and a buxom dishwater blonde named Connie, who had a few things going with a few guys, I'm sure (I had a teenage lust-crush on her but I was never one of the chosen). Then there was an ex-con short order cook who did hard time at the state pen for heaven knows what. I once drove to Las Vegas with this guy. He never smiled. Not once.
This environment and these people provided the basis of my higher education in life. My uncle's place may have been relatively close to Burbank in real miles, but in terms of life lessons it was a world away - maybe an entire universe.
To be continued ….
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.
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