People used to laugh at my father’s theories on dieting and nutrition. Well, with all the recent news from the scientific community, are they laughing now?
My dad believed that breakfast should consist of three eggs, a rasher of bacon, four pieces of toast with butter and jam, and three cups of coffee. Yes, with cream and sugar. His secret was to cook the eggs in olive oil rather than butter. Based on nothing more than his gut instinct, Dad posited that the healthful properties of olive oil somehow negated the possibly fattening or artery-clogging effects of the eggs, butter and cream.
Since the body is a creature of habit, it should be fed very frequently, my father believed. This is something he was asserting as long as 40 years ago. Only recently have nutritionists caught up to him in recognizing the value of many meals ingested over the course of a day. One of Dad’s favorite meals he called “second breakfast.” A smaller version of the day’s first meal, second breakfast came moments after he had washed down his eggs with that last sip of coffee. This second breakfast typically meant two pieces of well-buttered toast, one strip (not rasher) of bacon and a single egg, with a cup of black tea. Third breakfast was cute, almost feminine: a single Eggo waffle, with honey and melted butter pooling in its every nook, accompanied by a cold can of Fresca.
Before lunch every day-to keep away “the hungries,” as Dad termed them-my father ate a lot of the candy he kept in jars around the apartment. Sometimes I would find bite-size Snickers bars under the cushions. Dad said it was O.K. to eat them if they weren’t smushed-but even if they were, that was all right, too, he always said, since it’s all the same in your stomach anyway.
For lunch, Dad was a big believer in four hot dogs, a bag of potato chips and a quart of milk. Second lunch was salami slices and Coke (to cut through the salami grease). Third lunch was pickles and peanut-butter sandwiches, with the Snapple of your choice. Fourth was a kind of cheese course, I guess you would call it. I don’t know-Dad would just go into the refrigerator and cabinets and grab whatever he could find. Usually, it was cheese, I think. Crackers, too, maybe. During this course, he’d get kind of desperate, almost angry, and he seemed as hungry as a starving person as he tore apart the boxes, bags and wraps holding the food. It was sometimes hard to witness. Then there was candy until dinner, while listening to the never-ending arguments on WABC-AM in the dim kitchen. Talk radio got Dad’s blood boiling, which, he said, burned calories.
A good dinner, according to my father’s theories, would be a nice big pot roast, maybe a chicken or two on the side, with a bunch of buttered, salted spinach, about nine buttered rolls, salad, a basket of French fries, spare ribs, apple sauce and a six-pack of beer. For dessert, he thought pie was good. Cake, too. If no pie or cake, then you could just eat all the cookies you could get your hands on. He suggested drinking plenty of whole milk with dessert, followed by roughly 10 cups of coffee. To round off the meal, Dad found that hard butterscotch candies usually did the trick.
My dad weighed approximately 490 pounds when a heart attack claimed him. I guess you could say he took the fall for his unorthodox beliefs. It took four or five guys to get him out of the apartment. And getting him down the stairs, forget it. We had to bury him inside an old piano, because the coffin guy took one look and he was like, “Oh, geez.”
I guess Dad’s dietary theories didn’t work out too well-for him. But who’s to say that they will turn out the same for me? Or you? The science is changing all the time. The fact that I now wheeze while going up the stairs is not a sure sign that I will meet the same end as he. And my kids practically bust their guts laughing when my big belly shakes and my man-titties jiggle. When I get past the wheezing and this feeling of a gross, bovine heaviness, I will know health and happiness. I just know I will. And I know Dad is looking down on me from on high, with a big smile on his fat, sweaty face.
King Richard II, lamenting that he can’t forgo the trappings of royalty, asks for “a little grave / A little little grave, an obscure grave …. ” This is a modest request. The king doesn’t say in which graveyard he’d like to be interred, whether he would prefer a vault or a headstone, and he certainly doesn’t mention in whose company he would like to spend eternity. Bolingbroke? The Duchess of York?
Gore Vidal, according to a recent Liz Smith item, has an idea. He and his companion of more than 50 years, Howard Austin, who passed away on Sept. 22, are to be “laid to rest in Washington’s Rock Creek Cemetery.” Somehow it seems appropriate that the free-spirited Mr. Vidal, who once yearned to see a cuckoo pop out of William F. Buckley Jr.’s head, will spend the hereafter with his lover of over half a century.
Don’t despair, New Yorkers. You, too, can be buried next to, or near, someone you love or, at least, admire. Trinity Cemetery on Riverside Drive between 155th and 157th streets may be the best- and, indeed the only-place to hobnob your way through eternity: It is currently the only remaining active cemetery in Manhattan. From its vantage point overlooking the Hudson River, you won’t find a better view. It was, at one point, the farm of naturalist John James Audubon.
Couples buried in Trinity who decided that death would not “do us part” include:
John Jacob and Madeleine Astor . The mister is in vault 827-839, the missus is in vault 11, which faces her husband’s. Madeleine outlived John, who had the misfortune to go down with the Titanic .
Samuel Seabury and Maud Richey. Samuel (1873-1958) was a New York City judge who, during the early 30’s, was the head of an eponymous commission that investigated Lucky Luciano. Maud, his wife, died in 1950. They’re under stones 97 and 98.
Fernando Wood and Ann D. Richardson. A New York City Mayor and U.S. Congressman, Fernando ran the city from 1855 to 1858 and from 1860 to 1862. He didn’t support the Civil War and, as a result of being on the losing end of a power struggle over law enforcement, recommended that New York City secede from the state. Ann was the daughter of a well-connected judge from upstate New York. She died more than a decade before her husband. They lie in plots 216-17 and 223 in the cemetery’s easterly division.
John Adams Dix and Catharine Morgan. During his term as President Buchanan’s Secretary of the Treasury, John Adams Dix (1798-1879) was in charge of two revenue cutter ships that enforced customs laws in New Orleans. At one point he ordered them to return to New York, but one of the cutters’ captains refused to do so. Secretary Dix sent a telegraph: “Tell Lieutenant Caldwell to arrest Captain Breshwood, assume command of the cutter, and obey the order I gave through you. If Captain Breshwood, after arrest, undertakes to interfere with the command of the cutter, tell Lieutenant Caldwell to consider him as a mutineer, and treat him accordingly. If any one attempts to haul down the American flag, shoot him on the spot.” Catharine, the adopted daughter of a former Congressman, outlived her husband by roughly five years. They’re buried in plot 477 in the westerly division.
According to the New-York Historical Society, there were an estimated 27 active “burial places” in Manhattan in 1843. Trinity markets itself as the only “active” cemetery left in Manhattan. “This is the only place in the borough of Manhattan where you can be buried full-casket, as well as cremated remains,” said Al Ordde, Trinity Cemetery’s 29-year-old director of operations. “There is space here. We have a community mausoleum program; that’s aboveground burial. Most vaults are family-owned.” He estimates that nearly 50 percent of those buried in Trinity are spouses.
Are there any gay spouses?
“I don’t know. We don’t ask.”
By the way, when his time comes to be laid to rest in Rock Creek Cemetery, Mr. Vidal will be spending eternity not only with his long-term partner: Also buried there is James Trimble III (1925-1945), a former boyfriend of Mr. Vidal’s who was killed in Iwo Jima.
-Elon R. Green
He’s The Boss!
On a recent Friday evening, Tony Danza performed his new cabaret act in Feinstein’s velvet-trimmed dining room (“For men, jackets strongly recommended”) at the Regency Hotel on Park Avenue. Backed by a four-piece band, he wore a cream-colored tuxedo, starched white shirt and black bow tie. At 52, he looked fit and trim, with a few silver flashes in his jet black hair. The amiable 1980’s sitcom man ( Taxi , Who’s the Boss? ) launched into a 70-minute act, The Boy from New York City , a musical and comedic tribute to his Brooklyn childhood. He tap-danced, he sang snappy doo-wop numbers, he inhabited a medley of songs by Barry Manilow, Neil Diamond and Sammy Cahn. He played a Baldwin piano, a brass cornet (kind of baby trumpet) and even rapped: ” Yo, yo, yo, bro, who’s got my back? ” The audience ate it up and rewarded him with thunderous applause.
TV stars who “go cabaret” are ripe for mockery: Cybill Shepherd’s singing voice got her far less attention than her explicit sexual confessions. But Mr. Danza followed his comedy roles with some serious TV fare-he had a regular role on David Kelley’s The Practice -and has earned some respect on Broadway (he took over the lead from Anthony LaPaglia in the 1997 revival of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge ; he played the bartender Rocky opposite Kevin Spacey in the 1999 production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh ). His recording of the Sinatra ballad “The House I Live In” was named Billboard ‘s “Pick of the Week” and is the title track of his CD, which Capitol Records released last year.
“It’s easy to discount an actor you know from TV,” said Feinstein’s club owner Michael Feinstein. “But Tony is one of the hardest-working entertainers I know. He’s disarming and comes across as very self-effacing. He doesn’t have pretensions to be Fred Astaire. But who does?”
“I just can’t believe I’m singing in New York and people are coming to see me,” said Mr. Danza recently over a chilled glass of Pinot Grigio at Patsy’s restaurant on West 56th Street. “This is basically a love-I’m doing this show to see how far I can go. This act was written to come to New York and get a great review in The New York Times . Unfortunately, I choked a little bit in front of The New York Times . But the good news is, you prove to yourself you can do it. I’ll get ’em next time.”
“How about a meatball?” Patsy’s chef, Sal Scognamillo, had come out from the kitchen to greet Mr. Danza. Mr. Danza ordered lunch: cheese ravioli, sausage, a meatball and a salad. Mr. Danza’s photo hangs on the wall at Patsy’s next to Burt Reynolds, Jerry Seinfeld and J. Lo.
Ten years ago, Mr. Danza collided with a tree while skiing in Utah and woke up in the hospital on a respirator; he’d broken his back. It took more than a year of rehab to get back to performing. He set down a list of goals. Performing in New York was at the top.
“When you wake up on a respirator, it changes your attitude,” he said. “I wanted to do things I hadn’t done before, and one of those things was to do an act. I’m in a hurry to make up for lost time.”
He teamed up with Hollywood writer Buz Kohan, who’s known for writing Academy Awards shows (he’s done 11, including this year’s Oscars) and live events such as Michael Jackson: One Night Only . The two penned an act that Mr. Danza debuted at Merv Griffin’s Resorts Casino Hotel in Atlantic City in 1995. Since then, he’s played clubs from New York to L.A. and down to Florida. He plays Vegas five times a year. Mr. Danza lives quite comfortably in Los Angeles with his second wife, Tracy Robinson, and their two kids. “I have thought about moving back to New York, but my wife’s a California girl,” he said.
Mr. Danza said he has several screenplays in the works, and in November he’ll appear opposite Lea Thompson in the USA holiday movie Stealing Christmas .
“If Humphrey Bogart had a Christmas movie, this would be it,” he said. “I actually get to say the word ‘likewise.’
Mr. Danza finished his ravioli and ordered a double espresso. He admitted that it hasn’t always been easy to shake his onscreen persona of Tony Banta from Taxi , in which he starred with Danny DeVito, Judd Hirsch and Andy Kaufman.
“The Tony Danza persona sometimes makes it hard to get into movies,” he said. “But don’t get me wrong: It’s great to be Tony Danza in New York. I wouldn’t trade it for anything.” Next stop: the Mohegan Sun Resort and Casino in Connecticut.