In the late 60s, the only good thing about Sunday was apple fritters—cooked in my mom’s deep-fat fryer then covered with maple syrup and, the final touch, a Republican dusting of powdered sugar. It wasn’t work to my mom. She loved every step, ending with placing the plates in front of her beloved and impatient children, their forks at the ready. She’d keep ‘em coming as long as we wanted to eat more. I think my record was 12, which is saying a lot, as I was only about 80 pounds dripping wet at the time—78 if I’d actually used soap.
The best apple fritters are still hot, fresh from the deep-fat fryer, screaming, “Eat me! Eat me now!” It’s an intelligence test. Are you going to be a stupid kid and pop the hot fritters in your fritter hole? Or are you going to stop and think, look before you leap, as your parents were always cautioning you. “What did you think ‘Wet Paint’ meant, for godsake!” they’d say. The fritters are going to burn if you can’t wait for them to cool. But think: The country morning in West Virginia sweetness of the maple syrup. The crunch of the crust. You decide: It’s going to hurt but it’s going to be worth it. You blow earnestly on the fritter on your fork. That’s going to have to suffice for looking before you leap. You pop in the first fritter and bounce it around your mouth between chews. “Hot! Hot! Hot!” you say around your mouthful of fritter.
I had my whole adult life in front of me to do advisable things
But at that point—more, please.
I asked my mom for the recipe for the batter the other day and she didn’t skip a beat, laid it out entirely from memory:
Heat deep-fat fryer to 375 degrees
Beat two eggs
Stir in 1.2 cup of milk
Sift together 1 cup flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt
Beat in one teaspoon of salad oil.
God, when’s the last time I had apple fritters? Real apple fritters. Like Mom made. Not some bullshit shat out by Corporate America. Microwaveable. Where can you get apple fritters around here? That’s the problem with growing up. You leave apple fritters behind, along with your faith in mankind.
And my Sunday shoes—that was the other good thing about Sunday morning. It didn’t matter that they were uncomfortable—pinched like a son of a bitch. Every Sunday morning, I’d shine them. My mom got me a little shoe-shine kit. Wiggle off the lid on the tin of black polish. Pip. Spit carefully onto the polish. Then mix in your spit with the brush until you get a good covering on the bristles. Careful now. Not too much. Rub the polish onto the shoes, fitting your left hand into each shoe in turn so you could polish with your right. Let it sit for a bit. Sink in. Then buff it out with the bigger, softer brush. The faintly medical smell of the polish rising into your nostrils as you worked—restorative. Life was becoming new. Finally, take the buffing chamois and vigorously rub the shoes till they shined like the burnished jewel atop Satan’s walking stick—the one he uses to rap sinners on the noggin as they toil. “Faster!”
Those are some cool shoes.
The way I’d fuss over the shoes—that was the only dalliance with comportment I’d allow myself. Otherwise, I was pure rapscallion, the poster child for Parental Exasperation. Don’t Let This Be Your Child! Intervene Now!
“Why are you wearing that, John?” my mom would groan when I would present myself for inspection on Sunday morning in my shiny shoes. “We’re going to church! People will think you were raised in a barn!”
I’d change whatever it is she didn’t like and she’d look at me, folding her arms and putting a finger to her lips.
“Come with me,” she said and she’d take me to her bathroom, wet my hair and force it to bend to her will.
“There!” she’d say as she tossed the brush on the counter and turned to go. “We’re going to be late again because of you. Again.”
I looked at myself in the mirror. God, you look like a tool!
After the apple fritters and the shoes, Sunday was pure downhill. Church. All the rules! Do unto others as you would them do unto you. Do not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain. Let your fritters cool. Two hours of stultifying boredom until you explode out of the sanctuary and rip off your clip-on tie. (Like my mom had time to futz with a real tie. The boy! My dad made a point of being uninvolved in the preparations for church. )
Free at last!
Not so fast.
It was hard to maintain the delirium. You knew what was looming. The start of the school week. At the school, the janitor was probably already stoking the machinery that would slowly grind away our impudence and make us fit members of Decent Society.
You’d be playing some game, some pretend thing, with a friend and your movements would become increasingly listless until . . . what’s the point?
“I think I’ll go home now,” you’d say, dropping the dice or whatever and getting up.
As you’d climb over the backyard fence to your house you’d think, “If I don’t go one step further could time possibly stand still?” Like the Twilight Zone or something. What if I found a magic stone that was bequeathed to be my some pointy-hat wizard dude: Or I stumbled onto some portal to another reality? There it is, shimmering and throbbing like a cosmic amoeba, like on Space Ghost. (After the popularity of the live-action Batman show in the mid 60s, superhero cartoons were all the rage. They even had Batman and Robin make a guest appearance on Scooby Doo.)
At a certain point before dinner, you’d have to begin your preparations—in my case, after your mom reminded you. Laura didn’t need to be reminded. She probably planned out a week’s worth of outfits. Me, I’d wear the same underpants all week left to my own devices—or, for want of underpants, a swimsuit. After dinner, to corral your wandering thoughts and get them in even single-file rows for the school week, the three TV networks had conspired with parents to ensure all the shows Sunday evening were edifying or educational or inspiring. The two biggies were The Wide World of Disney and Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom. (PBS wasn’t in on it. Their stuff was always educational. That’s why we ignored it. Except for Mr. Rogers, which was a guilty pleasure for all the boys.)
I’m not saying I didn’t like the shows. I did. What scrape was Marlin Perkins going to get himself out of next, wiry bastard? Maybe unraveling a boa constrictor from his mid-riff, like wriggling out of his burial shroud.
And how would he find a way to take whatever he was doing and turn it into a segue for selling Mutual of Omaha insurance products?
“Of course, just as the wildlife refuges and game parks provide protection for the country’s many animal species,” he said, sitting on an arm of a leather chair in the Safari Room, “so too can we always rely on the affordable and complete protection provided by Mutual of Omaha.”
And there was always a lesson to be learned on Wild Kingdom about life at large.
“Although we tagged the magnificent moose, and caught the elusive mountain goat, we brought back no trophies,” Marlin said in one of the show’s sign-offs. “Our only trophy was knowledge, not antlers over the fireplace. And knowledge surely is the richest prize man can seek in the Wild Kingdom.”
When the TV was finally shut off, your fate was sealed. Abandon all hope. You’ve got a big day of school ahead of you, your mom would say, as if that was good news.
Well, I’d get to see my friends, people who cared about being cool and applauded my ham-handed attempts at coolness. Look at the bright side.
Besides . . .
This is where I’d reach into my drawer and retrieve the lone apple fritter I always saved from Sunday morning, a last act of deep-fat-fried defiance before I’m stripped of my liberty. Make it last. Take that, Board of Education! Careful. Chew each bite 25 times, not because it’s something your parents had drilled into you—at least, your mom—but because this lonely fritter was all that separated you from the school week.
It’s not the same as when it’s hot, but once you’ve lapsed into slumber, you’re good as property of the military educational complex, a point somewhere along a bell curve. Ten hut! Everyone who’s getting a school lunch stand here—no, here! “Do you have a question?” “No, I want to be excused to use the restroom.” Spit out that gum, mister. Enough of this and I’ll toe the line instinctively. Won’t even need to be rapped about the knuckles. I’ll conform. Oh, stop complaining! All the schooling’s worth it, I suppose. Knowledge is the richest price man can seek in the Wild Kingdom, after all.
As I laid there in my bed, I thought, I bet I won’t even eat apple fritters at all anymore—hot or cold—because I’m watching my waistline. Or they give me gas or something. Back in the day, you would have eaten more of a given food if you had known it would give you gas. Now look at you. An ass-kissing conformo-drone—guaranteed to engage in only advisable behaviors until you’re on your death bed and you croak for, please, just one more apple fritter before I pass.
And make it nuclear.
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