Gerry Glenn: “I got into baking accidentally."
Chocolate Oblivion Truffle Torte
- bittersweet chocolate
- unsalted butter
- 6 large eggs
Genn: "Two years later Love Story was happening to me."
5:00 a.m. City Delicatessen, comer of University and Sixth Avenue. By Southern California standards this is an ancient restaurant site, selling victuals to the public since the early 1900s. Today’s restaurant, the building’s fourth, serves an uneasy medley of gay, yuppie, and down-home patrons with solid, basic foods. Superb cheeseburgers and splendid meatloaf often brought by tight-sphinctered waitpersons who impart their names along with daily specials.
In the far back room, back where workers work, a 47-year-old, five-foot-ten-inch, 230-pound baker opens and then peeks into a Vulcan oven. His face is round and pale, a night-shift paleness that overpowers blue, hooded eyes.
Glenn: "Some bakers are just bread bakers. They’ll be bread bakers for 40 years; they could see a pie or Danish pastry and never know how to make it."
The man sports a small, dark goatee and a light, very light tan mustache; both goatee and mustache struggle to survive beneath receding, thin, brown hair. He wears a white baker’s uniform and white baker’s hat. It’s the look of a Piltsbury Dough Boy grown up rough. This is pastry chef Gerald “Gerry” T. Glenn.
Over a wooden table top, fast hands cover two-inch squares of dough with blueberries scooped from a five-pound can. This morning’s turnovers are underway.
Glenn: “Two of my kids moved to Vegas."
“I used to work for a North Park bakery, and I busted my ass, and the guy just promises, promises, promises. I quit because he wanted to cut another guy out. I said, ‘Wait a minute. I’m putting in 50 hours now, and you want to cut another guy out, you’re crazy, Arnie.’ So he turns me in to the IRS. What a low motherfucker! I wouldn’t do that to a dog.”
Home is a $285-a-month room in the Leland Hotel, Sixth and E, downtown.
Moist Chocolate Genoise
- bittersweet chocolate
- 8 large eggs
- sifted cake flour
- liqueur of your choice
Glenn sits low in his desk chair, feet stretched, sipping a freshly made glass of bourbon and diet Coke, four ice cubes. Today is going to be a good day.
Walk through two sets of swinging doors, out to the dining area, on to the front door, turn right, and behold a rack of glass display cases. This is home to Gerry’s completed creations. Cakes: cheese, fudge, mousse, German Chocolate, carrot, Black Forest, Boston Cream, banana, strawberry. Six kinds of muffins, six kinds of cookies, nine varieties of pie, seven varieties of cheesecake, apple rolls, blueberry rolls, apple strudel, fruit squares, cheese puffs, eclairs, custards, white puffs, Napoleons, mousse cups, tarts, brownies, bear claws, fruit and cheese Danish.
Glenn at the Star Bar
Back in the kitchen I stand next to the baker, gaze at a triple-layered chocolate cake, one of six lined up on his workbench waiting to be iced. I remark, “They’re lovely.”
A high, soft voice, almost a kid’s voice, replies, “You can make them even taller by putting in another shot of white cream and then cherries. But — and this is the whole thing — all those cherries got to be going the same way. See, two minutes’ more work can make a big difference in presentation. I make beautiful presentations.” The happy voice is spontaneous, enthusiastic, satisfied.
Gerry works two shifts. The first begins at 5 a.m. and normally lasts until ten in the morning; the second starts at 4 p.m., running until eight or nine that night. It’s five days a week, more if they’re busy. Gerry commutes via the #25 bus. Home is the Leland Hotel, downtown, Sixth and E.
More precisely, home is a $285-a-month room, bathroom down the hall. Gerry’s residence is a walk up to the third floor, then down a hallway where enormous sheets of clear Visquene drape over the ceiling’s exposed air ducts, lightening the dark, dark rug.
Inside Gerry’s room, patched and chipped brown paint cover the walls and cobwebs decorate three corners. A single bare bulb hangs over the soft, squeaky bed. Stained brown curtains camouflage two large windows that face onto Sixth; each window’s casing supports a large, inset fan. Next to the bed, a small color TV.
Inventory includes a 24-inch-high fridge, toaster, an electric skillet. Against the north wall is an oak bureau with two drawers. Opposite, an odd writing desk with a white porcelain top under which is pushed a brown desk chair. Also, one fold-up TV tray, another bureau, a closet with no door (modesty preserved by a single paisley sheet), one wash basin with mirrored medicine cabinet, a small stereo, two easy chairs, and a 1940s hotel picture of two fishing boats. The entire space is maybe 12 feet across, 18 feet long.
Above the fan in the south window is one of three hand-colored cardboard signs that face the street announcing to downtown friends that Gerry is either “In,” “Out,” or “Star.” Star refers to his clubhouse, the Star Bar, two blocks down E.
Gerry’s room is a world away from the City Deli, where I, after a good breakfast, stomach round and warm, stand by the cash register, waiting for change, impatient for the day to begin and glance again at Gerry’s happy carrot cake — the one with milk-white icing, two bunches of orange carrots, a joyful, even ebullient yellow trim — and become aware of a small, wee thought. “I wonder what brought Gerry here?”
Orange Glow Chiffon Cake
- sifted cake flour
- baking powder
- safflower oil
- 7 large eggs, separated, + 3 additional whites
- orange juice, freshly squeezed
- cream of tartar
Enjoying a day off, Gerald T. Glenn sits low in his desk chair, feet stretched, sipping a freshly made glass of bourbon and diet Coke, four ice cubes. Today is going to be a good day.
“I was born in Hammond, Indiana, in 1944. My mother was a waitress. My father was a railroad worker and a crane operator. I had two brothers, both older. The oldest was Howard Jr., then John. Mother’s name was Rose. She remarried. My stepfather’s name was Tom Yee; he was Chinese. That’s where I learned all my gravies and sauces.
“I went three years to high school, but I was 13, see, my birthday lands in October, so I was actually 13 and then one month later I’m 14, so I was the youngest kid in high school. I quit when I was 16, couldn’t stand the academics.
“When I was 13 I got my first pot-washing job at the Le Salle Restaurant because my brother worked there and they were breaking him in. When I was hitting 14, I started working days on weekends, and this Greek started showing me short-ordering. See, a short-order is your basic guy who’s gonna put out anything from a sandwich to lunches. If I caught up on my dishes, I could help cook at noon.
“I was learning when it was slow, after the lunch hour, and my mother and two aunts worked at this place too. So the guy was teaching me how to make hamburger. It was, ‘If you want a hamburger, make it yourself.’ Then he’d say, ‘Come, help me make the hamburgers.’
“You weighed them out into a little ball, put two wax papers together, and you smashed it with plates. You got to do it real hard to make your hamburger. Then he started showing me a little more and a little more.
“I worked at the La Salle about a year and a half. God, I loved being in the food business. I knew I liked learning different things and I liked food, but it was what you could do with the food and how you can create different presentations of everything from — like, your pasta, you can have so many kinds, but how you present it, that’s the thing. You can have the same dish, four different cooks fix four different, beautiful presentations out of their heads.”
Cordon Rose Cream Cheesecake
- cream cheese
- 3 large eggs
- freshly squeezed lemon juice
- sour cream
“I got into baking accidentally. They had this job in the newspaper, and they said, ‘We'll teach you.’ And it was just frying donuts, which was your main job, took five or six hours. Well, frying a donut is not a simple thing. And they did it the old way: they picked up the donut right after it came out from the grease. Later I learned how to slide the whole thing into one pan, but they didn’t do that.
“I actually liked the job, but it's a different end of the restaurant business. Now you talk to my stepfather, he’s a chef, Chinese. He knows five different kinds of foods to make. Me frying donuts was like, 'What, working in a hot dog joint?’
“But he never ruled over me. My mother knew him when she was a young girl, and after she got married she worked with him at a restaurant called Barry Ho’s. Then he left and she went to another restaurant, and like, 20 years went by, and they run into each other again.
“My real dad split when I was 5. He liked to ride big Harleys. My mother left him because he bought that bike and not a car. He stayed around for about a year or so, and then he took off, came out to California. I was 13 when he came back. I’d already been in and out of the orphanage.
“After he left, my mother lived with my grandmother. What it was, I was a very bored child. I used to go to this grade school, St. Andrew’s grade school. It’s a funny thing because every birthday I had, I used to give the nuns a birthday cake. And what am I today? A baker.
“My grandmother and grandfather, they were Polish. They couldn’t talk hardly any English. My grandfather hurt his back when he was 35, and there were seven kids and they supported my grandfather. I used to see him go dig in garbage cans, just trying to contribute something. I couldn’t believe it.
“My mother wasn’t waitressing then; she worked for the rectory as a cleaning lady. I couldn’t get along with my grandmother. I was very bad. I was very mean to my grandparents. I was very cocky, very vulgar.
“One of the other waitresses put her son into this place called the Carmelite Home for Boys that summer because she couldn’t work because of having to hire a babysitter. He was ten years old. He liked it and all she had to do was pay them, I think it was $45 a month. That’s where I went just for the summer. It was just a nun taking care of 20 kids. It wasn’t like any reformatory. Compared to any other orphanages that I ever heard about, it was like being in a Cadillac. We used to go to picnics every day during the summer. Picnics EVERY DAY? Can you imagine going on a picnic every day? And when a group didn’t sponsor it, the nuns got their own food and took us. I said, ‘Wow, this is heaven, what are you talking about.’
“After I got there I wanted to stay. They had two bedrooms for the big boys, and they had ten boys to a room. We slept in old hospital beds from the ’40s. You had a regular routine, and every boy had a job. The worst job they had was called the black hall. It was brown, a real dark brown hallway, like concrete, and that thing always stayed dirty. Nobody wanted that job.
“After two years there, it got to be a routine. I went to parochial school 2 1/2 miles away, and you had to walk. My mom would come see me every week. See, where I went to school, it was three blocks away from the restaurant, and I used to stop and see her every day. So that made it good, and that’s how I met my stepfather; she married him when I was 13.
“It’s funny, looking back now, my mother never told me she loved me until I was hitting 35 and only because my oldest brother was an alcoholic and he constantly used that word, love, and he finally got my mother to use it. Well, he died ten years ago, I haven’t heard my mother say it since then either.
“Anyway, I got out after two years. That’s when my mom married my stepfather. They were married in February, and I didn’t get out until June, end of the school term. They bought this house in Calumet City. Two blocks away is the state line, Hammond, Indiana. My stepdad made pretty good money. He was the head cook of a restaurant, made a hundred and a quarter a week.
“I was 16 and I used to dance a lot. CYOs, YMCAs, the high school. I loved to dance. I won contests, wasn’t bad. It was the late ’50s, early ’60s. I quit high school and went to work for a bowling alley.
“I was a cleanup boy, kind of a busboy. I used to make good tips, couldn’t believe what I made there. I couldn’t get the customers drinks, but I could go get them pops and stuff. I was real good at it too.
“My real dad came and then he left and then he came back again, but he was gone so long the first time that my mother, to remarry, had to claim him dead. Seven years he was gone. They looked for him, couldn’t find him. They didn’t know he went to California, nobody knew where he went, not even his own family. He was out in California from when I was 6 until I was 13.
“When he was around Hammond, we used to hang around, buddy-buddy all the time. He used to take me and a friend out, get us a couple quarts of beer as long as he was with us and we didn’t get wild. Sometimes we had girls with us, then he’d go into the bar and we’d stay in the car making out with the girls.
“Later on I heard he died when he was 52. He was helping a guy walk from his flat, in an old rooming house, to the washroom, because the guy had a bad leg or something. My dad fell, but he was dead before he hit the floor, heart attack. Gone.”
Checkerboard Fantasy Cake
- extra bittersweet chocolate
- 4 large eggs
- sifted cake flour
- baking powder
- unsalted butter
“My first restaurant was the Big Wheel. I was hitting 17. The Big Wheel was like a Denny’s, same type menu. They had a short-order fry cook, that’s all, no head cook or anything like that. I was the hamburger and restaurant boy. But again, it’s how you present it. What do you put with a hamburger? Might put a pickle with it in some places and in some places you don’t.
“Then I went to work for the Ranch Bakery owned by the Germans. People called the owner Papa Berthell. Oh, they put me right into it, they had me doing everything, learning how to roll dough, make the Danish, make pies, right away.
“When I saw these guys working with bread and cookies and cakes, I thought, ‘This is interesting,’ ’cause there’s an art to it. Some bakers are just bread bakers. They’ll be bread bakers for 40 years; they could see a pie or Danish pastry and never know how to make it.
“The old German liked me, used to tell me, ‘Come in and help out.’ It was the first time I saw a cake decorated, the first time I saw a flower decorated. I thought, ‘I want to do this.’ But the German says, ‘First you learn this and this and this.’
“I worked from ten at night until noon. I just loved the food business, no matter what I baked. The fun part is you never stop learning. I’ve learned from guys 10 years my younger, but maybe they’ve learned from somebody 60 years older than them. ‘Hey, I’m doing the same thing but you’re doing it faster!’ And recipes and formulas, the sky’s the limit.
“I picked it up very fast. I worked at the bakery for almost a year, then I went into a big wholesale shop. I had to travel farther, but I got more money ’cause it was union. What happened was, it was in South Chicago, there was old lady Hascal’s Bakery, she had 15, 20 outlets, she dies, and the family says, ‘We don’t want nothing to do with the bakery, it’s closed.’ Twenty bakers are out of work.
“I was working at a similar-type operation, Goldman’s Bakery, but considerably smaller. Old lady Hascal had 10, 12, 15 trucks. My guy only had 3. All of a sudden, overnight, this guy’s got all the business and all the bakers came over. Now the volume, you’re talking stuff that was made in lots of a hundred, now thousands of breads. You’re talking about five guys, what they call the Danish line; one guy is feeding the dough, and these other guys are picking them up and making coffee cakes, one right after the next, as fast as you can make them, same thing for Danish. The foreman was an Irishman, always tough on me, always down my throat.”
Chestnut Chocolate Embrace
- 1 recipe chestnut genoise
- 1 recipe rum syrup
- 1 recipe chestnut mousse cream
- 1 chocolate band
- candied chestnuts brushed with chocolate
It was during this time I got married. I met her when I was 10 and she was 13. I was in that orphanage, and her brother Jerome, he was younger than me, was in the orphanage. Jerome had his first Holy Communion, and he had two sisters, Elizabeth and Barbara. Barbara was the older. The sisters came over for his Holy Communion, and that’s how I met Barbara.
“I don’t remember what she first said; we were chasing each other a hell of a lot, I remember that. You know how you do when you’re that age. After that I used to see her constantly. They came every week for the picnics.
“I seen Barbara for a couple years through the picnics and stuff. I left the orphanage and didn’t see her for three years. Then I’m standing out in front of Walgreens waiting for a bus, she walks by me and says, ‘Hi, Gerry. Don’t you remember me?’ and she keeps walking. I’m thinking, ‘Who is this?’ Couldn’t believe it. See, she matured very fast. So I was standing out there trying to figure out who the hell that was because she walked by so fast. Then I remembered her brother and I thought, ‘That’s Jerome’s sister!’ I followed her, ‘Where are you going?’ She said, ‘Home.’ I says, ‘Oh, I’m going on the same bus too.’
“Yeah, and I made a date with her, and from that date on we lived with each other. I went and picked her up. We had to go see my brother; he owed me some money from playing drums.
“On our first date, we went to pick up my money, which was in my brother’s pocket and he was in a bar, so we stayed for a few drinks, and then we went to my dad’s place and started fooling around. It was actually later on the night we went out.
“I’ll show you. Come over here under the light, let me get my wallet out. Now, this was our marriage picture that we lost for 12 years. When my buddy bought my house, he found that picture. See, that’s me, that’s her, that’s her sister, and that’s my mother. Look at this one, there’s my grandson and my brother John. And these are my kids when they were living with my rich uncle. This one is the last Christmas I had with them.
“So Barbara and I are together. We got our own place, nice little apartment. By then I worked in a union shop, and they paid good money. Things were pretty good until the cops busted us for morals charges because I was 17 and she was 20. We spent two weeks in the county. My father had to get us out. He got me out, but Barbara had to stay another week.
“See, when Barbara was living with her mother, her mom remarried, so now they got two families. There was three boys and two girls in one family and two girls and one boy in the other. And this one kid was big in juvenile hall, he was 13 or 14 and the cops picked him up for something, and he mentioned that Barbara was living with a minor. The cops thought I was 14. They came and picked us up and busted us. We go down to the station, and they totally feed you the line, ‘If you agree and tell all and so forth.’ And she started telling them about our sex life. She made statements; she was very naive with the police. See, blow jobs are considered sodomy and sodomy is unnatural sex. They’re telling us they’re going to let us go, and then they put us in the car and take us to the county.
“Finally, after we were married almost a year, our lawyer says, ‘Go down to the cops and show them your license.’ We went down and they dropped the charges automatically. I asked the cop, if I did this one month after I was married, would you have dropped the charges?’ ‘Oh yeah, ’cause you got married.’ Fucking lawyer just bled us dry for a whole fucking year.
“Barbara was very emotional. She can remember everybody’s birthday in my family and her family both, I mean down to the cousins. Very hyper even when she was pregnant. I’d work nights, so she usually went out visiting then. I never let her work. I saw my mother work all her years, 38 years in a restaurant, and support us, and even when my stepfather couldn’t work for a year and a half, she’d still support us, pay the rent, even gave us allowances.
“Barbara was quiet and shy when she was younger. She liked to watch the love story movies and romance movies. She wanted to be a homemaker, have kids. She had three miscarriages. One doctor says, ‘Never have a kid.’ I’d like to see that doctor now. I got three.
“By 1970 we had three kids and I was working at the Big Wheel again. We had an apartment, one bedroom, drove a ’56 Chevy, two-door Bel Air. I used to go in at nine, ten in the morning ’cause I had to go to the bank and make the deposits. A lot of times I would take off at two or three in the afternoon, we’d go on picnics, and then I’d go back to work at night and close up. After I closed up, all the kids are sleeping by then. Very rarely did I take a day off, a whole day off.
“My kids were quiet. When I was in that orphanage, one of my jobs was to take care of the little kids, the little babies, from one year old to four or five. You keep them busy. It started at a Christmas play. I was the guy sitting in the chair telling these little kids a story about Christmas. I learned this off my uncle and aunt. My uncle was good. He could imagine and in a sense create a story. And his stories always had something to it, especially if the kids were older, some kind of moral to it. It wouldn’t be just about the three little bears. He used to tell me that a lot of times he’d read short stories and then he couldn’t remember all of it and he’d just have to put together the rest. Mostly he could remember the beginning or the end, that way he could create these characters and make it into a children’s story.
“So when I had my own kids I was into that. I used to pick up these little tricks from Norman Vincent Peale. He says, ‘Ask your kids what makes them happy.’ You don’t want to get too sophisticated in words; you lose a child. Just ask who makes you happy. ‘Going to school makes you happy? Mommy makes you happy?’ So I laid this out on Tommy; he was five or six. First he said it was Mommy. Well, Mommy made him happy, and he was close to his sister Tammy, and he says, ‘Tammy makes me happy, and Uncle Howard makes me happy.’ Howard’s my older brother. And I was thinking, ‘Okay, I should come in there somewhere.’ And then he pops up and says, ‘And Brutus makes me happy.’ Brutus was the dog.
“Barbara, being my childhood sweetheart, I think being in love with her was something a little deeper, a little more special, a little more emotional. We were both emotional. We could argue, and all she had to do was walk into my arms. It wasn’t, like, who’s going to give in first. It was boom, the argument is over.
“My mom, at first, when the kids were born, she used to come over. But after a while, most of the time Barbara used to go visit them. It would make up for them not coming over. And she’d do that to keep busy while I’m working or if I’m home sleeping, she’d take off for the whole day. She was great for that, she’d take the kids with her. One time her girlfriend moved to Indiana, and Barbara went all the way down there to visit her.
“Barbara was the type of person when I had to go to work at three in the morning, she’d go start the car in the middle of winter because it would be cold, super cold, and that car took 20 minutes to heat up.
“At this time my brother and my stepfather owned this restaurant, Ford City Grill, across the street from the Ford Plant on 127th in South Chicago. Nobody ever thought I was gonna stick to the business. I’m the black sheep of the family. Don’t forget that. So brother John had some money put away, and he and my stepdad went into business. So I confronted my mother and father and said, 'Well, listen, if I come up with, say, $5000 — ’ which was a lot. They didn’t think I could do it so I got a loan officer, got the check right there, all I got to do is sign this check and this piece of paper.
“I was trying to buy into the restaurant, and they said maybe there wasn’t enough for both families, and since they favored my brother they said, ‘Well, we ain’t gonna do it with you.’
“It hurt me. I didn’t talk to them for over two years. Nine years later they’re going out of business. My stepdad is an asthmatic. My brother was tired of the restaurant so he took this one little part that was empty and started to sell packaged liquor, and overnight it was 99 and nine-tenths black. So it killed the restaurant part. So my brother made it all into a bar, only he couldn’t handle the black people. All he’s getting is the black trade from the Ford and from the docks, so he says to me, ‘You still got that money?’
“I bought the business from him and took over all his bills. With the bills and everything it was $12,000. I didn’t have trouble dealing with black customers. They try to pull your leg and jive you all the time, and I played their game. You got to put yourself in the situation. If you’re sober most of the time, anybody’s that drunk, black or white, you can always get rid of them in a nice way, otherwise you’re going to get into some scrapes. At first it was kind of rough, but it’s your personality. I was into the hip talk, the hip-jive talk like they talked. They’d say, ‘Hey, man, this guy knows what he’s doing, we don’t care if he’s white.’ I could dance. I was a great dancer. I used to learn from them. I’d go into nothing but all-black joints. The word spread fast that I was okay.
“In the meantime I started making money. If my brother ever knew what I made, are you kidding, the only thing he saw was when I bought my second house.
“The bar opened up at six in the morning, closed at two in the morning. I would try and get away in the afternoon just to get some sleep, and that went on six days a week. I’d close up and I’d open up. If I went out partying, I never saw no sleep for two days in a row. Got to be where I was 350 pounds, but the booze didn’t affect me that hard.
“At the beginning Barbara complained a little bit, and then it was, like, ‘Here, this is what we’ll do.’ The Ford plant ain’t open Saturday and Sunday. I would stay open Friday night until two in the morning and Saturdays go over and figure my books, do inventory, stock, and shit. I had my uncle running the package liquors on Saturday and Sunday mornings. Nobody would come in the bar because it was all dead on weekends. So I spent all day Sunday with the kids no matter what. She was happy with that. The money was coming in better now, we got a house, now we got two cars, now we’re getting a third car and looking at another house. The bar was good money. I had two sets of books. Matter of fact, at one time, I kept three sets.
“A lot of times I’d sleep at the bar. It would take me 20, 25 minutes to drive home, but if I was too tired or too drunk, no way. If I walked to the car and I felt too drunk, I’d just go to sleep in the car, especially if it was during the summer months. During the winter months I’d just go to sleep on top of the pool table if I had to.
“Barbara and I talked. I remember one time I said someday I was gonna be 47, and she was three years older so she’d be 50. ‘Are we still gonna be boom-booming all the time or what?’ We’d talk about how old the kids would be then and stuff like that.
“Barbara was all Polish. She waited on you hand and foot. Fix more food than you could handle. She was the one that kept us together. She had that young baby face; she was, like, five foot three, but put her in high heels and I don’t know how many guys when I first took her into bars used to make passes at her, and I’d get into a fight just like that and then she quit telling me about the guys making passes until we got home because then I can’t swing at the guys.
“In August of ’74 we found out she had cervical cancer. She went in the hospital right after Thanksgiving. The kids didn’t see her from December until she was in the coffin.
“She was hurting inside. We didn’t find out much until just before Christmas when the doctor said she had two months to live. He said they had to give her this radiation treatment. I didn’t understand a lot about it at the time. I learned more about it afterwards, found out that’s what she died of, but at that time I didn’t think it was that serious.
“She called me from the hospital, told me over the phone that she was going to die in two months, her voice was scared. I was at work. I don’t even want to think about it. She just kind of came straight out with it, she was going to die, she only had a couple months. Hit me like a ton of bricks. I sat down for two hours.
“I heard about this one movie, Love Story, when it first came out. It was about a guy and this girl and he finds out she’s gonna die and he’s with her till the end. I said, ‘Naw, I’m not going to go see that movie, you go with Marilyn.’ Then it came on TV a few years later. ‘I ain’t gonna watch it.’
“ ‘Aw, come on and watch it.’
“ All right, what’s the big deal about it?’
“The story hit me, man. Two years later it was happening to me. What it was was Barbara went into a coma after the new year. The pain was getting so severe they had to give her, like, heroin and morphine shots. A lot of times I’d be there and she’d be just laying in the bed, and she’d pop up, open her eyes, and she’d say, ‘Oh, I just bought Tommy some clothes. Why don’t you go look in the closet?’ and then she’d lay back down and go to sleep and I’d be going, ‘What the fuck is this?’
“I was going in and out of the hospital so much they didn’t care when I came. Sometimes I’d come at two in the morning. What it was, she was, like, a veggie. I asked the doctor, ‘What about her popping up?’ He says, ‘Oh, she’s in a dreamland. She won’t accept dying.’ It went on for 2 1/2 months and then she hemorrhaged and they had to cut her open. I mean, they cut her long and deep. Then she came out of it. She was still in a coma when we moved her to this convalescent home, because it was cheaper.
“She popped up one day and said, ‘Can I have a glass of water?’ I says, ‘Sure.’ Barbara sat up by herself. You can’t believe how skinny somebody 67 pounds is. I mean, count her ribs, it’s like seeing films made in other countries, and you think how skinny the women and children are, dying of starvation. I said to the nurse, ‘She wants a glass of water.’ Nurse says, ‘She does?’ I says, ‘Yeah.’ Barbara says, ‘Let me have a cigarette too.’ So we call the doctor. In the meantime it’s ‘Give her the water, give her this, give her that.’ But she’s not hungry. She ate so slow. It must have took her an hour to eat just a half of a meal. Like it was in slow motion almost.
“So now we’re getting all our hopes up because the second month went by. I bought her a wig, and we’re going to bring the kids down for Easter Sunday, and she died on Good Friday. Just like that, she was gone. I went to check her, and she was gone. It was around noon, ’cause we were both Catholics, ’cause I wanted to be a priest when I was a kid one time, I thought, ‘Jeeze, died at noon.’ I always think of Christ dying on the cross with the two thieves. She believed. So I always thought, ‘If she ever thought she was bad, she died the same time, he actually died at 3 in the afternoon, but between 12 and 3 it was kind of ironic. She’s in heaven for sure, no doubt about that.”
Lemon Crepes Suzette
- 1 recipe chantilly crepes
- lemon butter sauce
- unsalted butter
- grated lemon zest
- lemon juice, freshly squeezed
- fresh blueberries
- powdered sugar
- light rum
“After that I roamed, couldn’t face nothing, ran away from everything and nobody to help you. Her relatives made the funeral arrangements, mine didn’t even go. I was just one big sobbing ... had to go out and get drunk every night, couldn’t face it at all.
“We used to talk about it if one of us died. Which one, you know. We said, ‘Don’t sob in your tears long, the kids are too young, that’s for sure.’ One time she said, ‘What if we both died?’ I always used to say, ‘Well, I think probably my Uncle Teddy would take the kids,’ and that’s just what happened.
“I threw away both businesses, both houses, everything. I had a hotel room, I remember, not at the beginning but later. Just bummed out for a year. My kids — bad scene. The welfare moved in. Gerry Jr., the first six months he was, like, in a shell. Little Tommy was only six. I’d say, ‘Mommy’s in heaven and she’s happy.’ Most of the time I was home in the mornings, but when I wasn’t home I had a couple of cousins, couple babysitters.
“One time I left and nobody was home. It was all done by accident. We had this dog, and the dog was in the back yard and some kids came through the back yard and the dog might have bit one. They came for the dog and found nobody home but the kids. Then they found out I was drinking too much, and they said, ‘You got to prove this and prove that.’ That went on for a while, and then my uncle stepped in and he says, ‘Well, we’re the uncle and aunt.’
“So my uncle and aunt, they’re multimillionaires already, took the kids. They tried to adopt them after the first year. So now I’m on the outs with my uncle and aunt because I’d never sign. My uncle, he’s the one that said, ‘Hey, Gerry, here’s 200 bucks, go to California, see your brother, maybe you’ll straighten out.’ It turned out they shipped me off trying to get rid of me.”
Vanilla Bavarian Cream
- 5 large egg yolks
- I vanilla bean, split
- heavy cream
- cherry eau de vie
I moved out to Chula Vista in ’75, ’76. My brother Howard was in Chula Vista. He worked as a butcher in a supermarket. I stayed with him, wasn’t a month before I got a part-time job in a restaurant. It was a chain restaurant, and at the same time I got a part-time job at Victors II as a bartender.
“In the bar I was on all different shifts. Mainly the daytime shift, from noon until eight at night. They had a kitchen, great food, everything the best. When I started with him, the boss said I was pulling more than anybody else. I remember one night, it was unusual because a wedding party came in, and the whole joint filled up. I had a brand new waitress and there was over 500 glasses. I went through every fucking glass in the place.
“I loved California. I came to California at the end of October, 70 degree weather, it’s 25 back East. ‘Aw right,’ I said, ‘Now this is weather!’ And the people out here were different, friendlier. People say hello to you on the street. Shit, you ain’t gonna hear that even back in my little home town.
“As a bartender I met a lot more people. I had a little apartment a couple blocks away from the bar. Had a housewarming party and over 70 people showed up, didn’t think I’d invited that many. Served over $125 worth of food. The people thought I had it catered! I catered it all right, ’cause I fixed it up a little bit, you know. Perfect party, was over by ten, I went to Tijuana for the rest of the night.
“I worked around town for the rest of the year, and the following Christmas, Howard, my brother, left California for Vegas, and I went around May. I was just talking to him on the phone, and I had a weekend off. ‘Maybe I’ll come and visit you.’ I took a bus. I’ll never do that again.
“When I went to Vegas it was a whole different ball game. I didn’t realize. I started putting applications in the hotels, but I was really reluctant about hotels because I never worked a hotel, and I figured I didn’t have that kind of experience.
“The second or third day I was there, I starting checking on a few jobs, and this guy offered me a job at Winchell’s Donuts.
I say, Ah, I think I’ll take that.’ And I still had enough money to go rent a room.
That’s how I started. Then after two or three weeks, well, they didn’t pay a lot, they didn’t pay hardly shit, I got a job at the Riviera Hotel, that was my first job.
“I had to go to the union and get in. I was lucky because the dispatcher was a former baker and he liked me. You pay initiation, it wasn’t much, only a hundred and something, but they broke it up for you.
“The job at the Riviera, mainly I’d go in at four in the morning and I’d work until noon and it was baking bread. First you help the bread baker finish up, and then I would bake anywhere from 9 to 15 racks of bread.
“One guy, all he did was what they call finishing, and he finished nothing but cheesecakes all day long. Another guy, maybe he had to make three trays of custard cups, a lot of time involved in that because they’re all individual, besides making the mix and pouring them into the damn cups.
“My first five years in Vegas I did a lot of floating. I had this wild idea that if I worked enough places — because I knew the retail business on the small side and large volume on the wholesale side, and the thing in Vegas was, I wanted to steal the best recipes and learn the best ways. So for five years I was just floating. Six months here, eight months there.
“Vegas, I figured, ‘I’m going to learn something there.’ I like to do new things, create, get into the pastries, the fancy stuff.
So that’s when I started hopping jobs, but I was learning on every one of them. I didn’t care if it lasted three or four months. I got the best formulas, learned the quickest ways, and I would take my knowledge and kind of improvise on all that. The idea is to make it quicker, come out with the same product in half the time.
“There’s 12 major hotels over there, and I’ve worked 10 of them. Stardust and the Dunes about the only two I missed. I stole the best. I ate a lot of shit to do it though. Some of these guys I couldn’t stand, so fucking prima donna, and they didn’t know a fucking thing.
“Most of the old timers — like at the Dunes, the pastry chief at Caesar’s Palace, the assistant at the MGM Grand — I used to go on my days off, stop, have coffee, and bullshit with them. Those people could bake.
“While I was there I lived in a little hotel, even had a swimming pool. They must have had about 80 rooms, but the rooms were half as big as the one I live in now.
“Money was good in the hotels. Especially if you worked overtime. I remember, it was 47 bucks a shift. But man, I was on the tables the first payday. My second payday I was down to 50 bucks, then I turned around and broke even. I’d only play on paydays, but it was a hell of an experience the first and second time. Then I would say, ‘Well, wait a minute, it can go just as fast as it comes.’ I was still drinking at the time, and my brother says, 'Well, it’s only your drinking.’ I says, ‘Okay,’ so I quit drinking for a couple weeks’ and then I said, ‘You’re bullshit, I still gamble it away.’
“I wasn’t even there a year and I quit drinking, totally. That’s when I went to work for the MGM. I learned a lot about French pastries. Different ways to make them, different formulas. You could take instant custard that would taste almost like real custard, and all you got to do is add milk to it. Well, when you learn real fancy ways, the way the French really make it, a lot of time involved there. You can be faster, but you still got to be to perfection. That was the biggest thing I learned, you got to be fast but perfect almost.
“Two of my kids moved to Vegas. Gerry moved to Vegas when he was 18, which was two years before I left, and then Tammy moved to Vegas when she was 18, one year after Gerry.
“They grew up back in Hammond. The rich uncle, he put them back in the orphanage the last six months before they turned 18. What the kids told me was, they didn’t want nothing to do with him. I said, ‘Well, come out here. What the hell, you got nowhere else to go.’
“I mean, you know, it was a nice and happy thing when they came, but my oldest son, he was kind of floating when he first got to town. I got him a few jobs doing this, doing that. Finally, he went to work for Denny’s, and he got into cooking and he’s still cooking.
“My daughter Tammy came out to Vegas too. Since I lived in a small place and Gerry had his own place by then, she stayed with him. I thought they got along, but they didn’t really get along a lot. And Tammy being on kind of the slow side, you got to have your birth certificate to get a work permit in Nevada, and all of a sudden she couldn’t find it — matter of fact, it took her five or six months before she found it. By then I was leaving. I’d told them, ’Maybe six months, maybe a year, but I’m going to be leaving so you better get ready.’
“The day I was leaving, I’m leaving at noon, I was the one that was upset because they got money from my uncle. I had previously told them, ‘That would really hurt me if you did that.’ And they did it anyway. Then they lied to me straight out.
“It would be different if it was for rent, because I was paying the rent one half of the time. It wasn’t, it was just screwing around money. So the day I was leaving I found out about it. And I was leaving in another two or three hours. I didn’t really get in a big argument or scream, I just kind of said, ‘Well, I’m on my way, goodbye.’ I wasn’t happy and they knew it and I knew it.
“Now my daughter is the only one I talk to. My youngest son, I haven’t talked to him in over ten years. They’ll get in touch with me sooner or later. They want to know what you’re about. All I got to do is call certain people in the family, and I could still find out what they’re doing, where they’re at. But Gerry, I heard Gerry was floating too. Trucking for a while, working for a trucker down in Georgia, Florida, Chicago. And Tommy, he was in roofing, in construction, so I think he’s got a trade.”
- corn syrup
- grated beeswax
“I left Vegas and went to Santa Rosa, worked in a small bakery for a year. I lived in a room right on the premises. The owner, Frank, he had all Mexicans, and these guys were just taking him left and right. I mean, their lunch hour lasted almost two hours, so I kept believing the guy was gonna give me a bonus or a kickback when he started making money 'cause of all I did for him, but all he did was get harder and harder and colder and colder.
“I like San Diego, I liked it from the beginning. It wasn’t hard to come back. I worked at the Hotel Del for a while, then at a joint downtown, then one in North Park, and now City Deli. Can’t believe I’ve been there for a year and a half. I’ll probably stay in San Diego because of the weather and the people.
“Today is my day off, payday is tomorrow. I got over 200 bucks people owe me. I should have 100 of it, but the guys say, ‘Can you wait till payday, Gerry?’ Only 'cause I work with them.
“I don’t like to go out and be broke. If I'm broke, the hell with it, I’ll be up here sometimes my whole two days off. I could be up here, watch TV, have a couple drinks, nap here, nap there. I only go out if someone is with me. I won’t go myself. I won’t even go to the movies, and I used to go to the movies all the time. I think part of it is when I let go of the car. Moving downtown was cheap, but all the bums were hittin’ me up for money and shit. Every time you go to a movie, somebody is hitting on you. You go to the Horton Plaza movie and it’s cheap, you go at ten in the morning and they still hit you up. Anyway, who likes to go alone, and besides, a couple years later you got it right on TV.
“When I get old, retirement age, I think about having my own small shop. You always feel like that, you know. That’s what I liked about Santa Rosa. If I ever get to where I’ve had it, ready to retire, it would be to a real small city and a real small bakery, where you could invest or buy into the building and you live upstairs or close by. I’m not into a house unless I remarry, but I’m done with that. I was just reading an article; there’s hardly anybody that remarries after the age of 40, 45. Just 30 percent.
“Last Christmas, this guy gave me a turkey, and I didn't know what the hell to do with it; it was a pretty big turkey, 20 pounds. I fixed it at work and brought it down here to the hotel: turkey, potatoes, and vegetables. Set a table, put all the food righr on my dresser, fed 28 people, and nobody knew about it until the last minute hardly. I just dragged them out of their rooms, knocked on all the doors."
Burnt Almond Milk Chocolate Ganache
- Hershey's golden almond bars
- unsweetened cocoa
- heavy cream