OOGA CHUKA

Hello again. I missed you. This morning you came to mind so with my third cup of coffee I wanted to reach out and catch up, if that is okay. I wanted to tell you about a time in my teenage years, a bit about the Renaissance Faire and my dear estranged friend DV. Trust me, this is all about food and absolutely nothing at all to do with the communal showers at the Faire. Unfortunately I am afraid you are not old enough to hear those stories. Actually, neither am I.

To begin, I was raised in the 60’s and 70’s. Undoubtedly an era for some of the best music ever. Do not believe me? Just listen to the Guardians of the Galaxy station on Pandora. In fact I have got a little “Ooga Chuka” playing right now.  For those of you who remember, and those who were not there then, these were the days of rock and roll at the beach or by the lake. A time when crochet bikinis and short, short cut of blue jeans, LEVIS, were all the rage.  A place were Dancing in the Moonlight was taken literally. When keggers were the scene and the popo did not show up sometime after midnight because . . . well . . . kids will be kids.

Back then it was the height of cool to have a Holly carburetor, Hooker headers and a Pioneer car stereo blasting your favorite mix tape. To have your own car as a teenager was not merely a symbol of freedom but one of social status. Most of us drove mom’s car, when our grades were good enough. Some had a clunker (a hoopty the kids call it now-a-days.) But a few, a chosen few, had Mustangs, Camaros, 442s, the occasional Road Runner or the ever elusive Corvette.  (My mind took a mini vacation just now, thinking what it might be like to own a ’57 Vette. Route 66 for all you old timers.)

Back then parties were held almost every weekend at someone’s house. The ubiquitous songs to be played were always: You’re Still a Young Man – Tower of Power and 25 or 6 to 4 – Chicago. Slow dancing was all we could think of and you could tell just how much a girl liked you by how close she would dance with you. Ah, those were simpler times for sure.  With Marvin Gaye playing in the background a few of us would huddle around the table filled with veggie sticks, Ruffles potato chips and the ever popular Lipton Onion Soup sour cream dip. Yes, I was a foodie back then too. The difference being, my teenage body could handle all that sugar and cholesterol at a rate undefinable by modern calculus. Unlike today, where it can be easily charted on a graph, handwritten on the back of an envelope. Basically an arrow pointing straight up.

Norman Greenbaum – Spirit in the Sky is just now playing.

High school seems to be the place where you find your group. For me it was the theater geeks who were closely aligned with the music nerds. Funny, unafraid, filled with talent and potential. Painfully awkward were our daylight encounters. It was not until the lights were turned off that we dared be close, let alone kiss. But I stray. I promised talk of the Ren Faire and my old pal DV. Stagecraft was the class I took, and it was there I met Pamela June, teacher and head of the theater department. One day Pam and I were sitting on the edge of the stage and she began chatting about performing in the Ren Faire and shared a few pictures. I knew in an instant that this was for me. Being a kind and sharing person, she organized a group of us hyperly (Shakespeare made up his own words, so can I) energized students and introduced us at Court. This formidable gaggle of giggling goof-offs soon became the servant caste to the actors who portrayed the Lords and Ladies of the Faire. Here is where I met DV. DV was larger than life and sang with a group of men, all of whom happen to be my dearest of friends to this day. Now I have never developed a singing voice and therefore was never really in the In Crowd, but DV and I developed a friendship and passion around and for food.

DV lived in Oakland, and driving mom’s car I would pop over to his house where we would drink Pabst before Pabst was a thing, and whip up a meal on his old Wedgewood stove. DV was a big fan of the Galloping Gourmet and Julia Child and therefore was the first experimental cook I had chance to meet. Throughout the term of our friendship we consumed many, many volumes of alcohol and whipped up a plethora of treats for ourselves and friends who would happen to drop by. Back then, that’s what you did. You just dropped by. One favorite dish, we made, of mine was Hush Puppies, deep fried, with a garlic clove finger pushed into each one. Trust me on this, you want to try it yourself. The other was a constant attempt to make the best Firehouse Chili we could. Burnt tongues and many cans of beer later, we mutually decide to forgo that experiment. Come on ice cream.

DV, to close this story, is solely responsible for my trying Thai, Burmese, good Chinese, real French food and of course Middle Eastern cooking. The latter is the whole point of this exercise. For my long absent friends, I have found the next wonderfully amazing little Middle Eastern food joint in Vallejo. Newly open, never a line (so far.)  A food truck in the parking lot at the corner of Broadway and Nebraska, just down the street from the old Plunge and across from the tire store. It is a smartly appointed food truck. Easy to find I promise you, as the header banner above reaches out to you with the words: KABOB – GYRO-FALAFEL- HAMBURGER. The name of the place is: RUMI KABAB Halel. The owner Serdar Besir, is a kind man whose who goes by the name of ‘Joe.’  A true chef in every sense of the word, his preparations are sweet, savory and mouthwatering all at the same time. I have tried both the lamb and falafel gyros and I swear that I will be back for more.  Do drop in and please tell him that Tommy Judt sent you. You will not regret it. Oh! Ask him about his baklava – to die for.

Until Next Time,

Tommy Judt

MONDAY, MONDAY

Can’t touch that day.

I have come to the stark realization that I am odd. (Many who know me just said,”Duh” in their heads.) The oddness I refer to today, Monday, well is . . . I like Mondays! In 1966 the Easy Beats, out of Australia, recorded a hit single, I’ve Got Friday On My Mind. Throughout the 70’s and 80’s the local radio stations would play this every Friday afternoon, right around closing time. Everyone where I worked would boisterously to sing along. Even my boss sometimes.

Later on, after the new millennium ushered in with a whisper, that Friday Friday song was replaced with the Bob Marley cover of the Sublime hit – Smoke Two Joints. Smoke Two Joints would be played precisely at 5 p.m. on either KSAN or KFOG, I can never remember. I do remember going to the pub right after work and singing along with every other glad-to-be-off-work-for-the-week pub crawler.

My father told me that the eagle flies on Friday. A few of my disgruntled coworkers would say the eagle takes a shit on Friday. I will assure you now that the attitude difference between my father and my coworkers is the exact reason why my father exalted Fridays and the others did not. I too have always welcomed, and will continue to welcome, Fridays; not only for the soar of the eagle, the foam on my suds, and the occasional chorus of Puff the Magic Dragon; but for the comradery of my friends and loved ones.  The deep relaxation of not having to perform at work, to be able to wear clean clothes (the workman’s woe), and then either race off, or sit back, to relax.

Yes Fridays are good, but to me . . . Mondays are better. Some of you have noticed that I like to enjoy a cup of coffee, wine, or whiskey with a book and a meal.  Some of those have noticed that my choice of reading material is a far stretch from bodice rippers and just shy of the Federalist Papers. (Some of which I have read.) It seems to me that my wiring may a bit different, some (I) might call it odd.  The thing that I like about the books I read is how they challenge the very basic premises of life. These authors with their books, if I allow them, throw bare my implicit biases. I mean totally rip off the fuzzy warm comforters which have protected my misjudgments lo these many decades. I will stop the boring here and just say, that I may have chosen the long route but have saved myself tens of thousands in therapy costs.  Conclusion: Better to smoke two joints on a Friday and just chill out. On Mondays? A pot of coffee and a shave, a crisp fresh shirt, and a world full of opportunity.

No real point to today’s story. I just wanted to say hello and good Monday to you.  The world awaits us. What shall we bring her today?

Until next time,

Tommy Judt

SOME CALL ME RUGGED

Lisa Lees gave me that name when I was helping Nicole Hodge getting ready to open Provisions. You see, at that time there were three Tom’s that came around: Nicole’s dad, a bright and funny man, Tom the Father; Tom Pezzuto, the landlord, another bright and kind man, Talking Tom; then there was me, the capable contractor, Rugged Tom. Even before Nicole and I started dating, I would be greeted daily with a text “GMR”, Good Morning Rugged. For almost three years, since right about the time I first started writing this blog, I was called Rugged on a daily basis. As Provisions grew and Nicole and I became more serious, I came to self-identify as . . . well . . . Rugged. Sometimes I would forget myself and tell people that was my name. Those times were quickly followed by a head tilt and a wry joke about my parents not liking me or some such thing.

While my time with Nicole was enjoyable, not all things are meant to last. Still, I enjoyed my new name and my GMR texts. Our friendship was fully cemented by then and even though we were no longer a couple, I still visited Provisions on a regular basis. I helped out when I could and often times enjoyed morning coffee with our lady proprietress.  Once again, the forever constant in the universe, change, came along and Nicole found a new close companion. I will admit, it took some time for me to come to grips with this eventuality. Determined not to have our friendship end badly, or at all, we two committed to talking through everything promising complete honesty. Now I do miss my morning coffees with my friend Nicole, but this was to be the way of the world. My life moved on and every stage of grief swept through me until something hit me not so long ago, and it hit me hard. I had not only lost my morning companion, I had lost something even more dear. I had lost my dream, and with it my identity. You see, while Nicole is absolutely to credit for the success of Provisions, I was there at the start, I helped along the way and after a fashion, it became my child too. The thought of it all, and the loss of it all, caught me up short. The last few years you have known me for my writing but also as a part of that lovely little downtown café. Hmm . . .

Paula McConnell wrote an interesting editorial the other day and it was printed in the Times Herald. I was not able to read the entire article as, for some reason, I am not always able to log in to my TH account and so articles, sometimes, quickly disappear. What I did read referred to the infamous piece by Herb Cain saying, Please Don’t Call It Frisco. Mrs. McConnell went on to make a very good point about feeling proud and just calling our town Vallejo. It may seem odd that I am agreeing with her since I entitled my blog the VTown Social Club. It seems that Paula finds the term VTown less respectful, less formal. While I miss being called Rugged, I do agree that there are times when the sound of my full name is appropriate in more formal circles. As I write this I remember how, in the 70’s and 80’s, my employers would ask that I call them by their first names and not their title and surname as my parents had instructed me.  I found this level of familiarity odd in an employment situation yet that is what the boss requested. Honestly, I feel now that the level of familiarity my employer was trying to impart may have been counterproductive. He was not one of the guys and some distance may have made it easier overall to do business.

What little I read of Mrs. McConnell’s piece made me think that she too was referring to a lost formality. That perhaps we in Vallejo are too familiar. I chose to use VTown in my title not to be disrespectful of past Vallejo. Rather I chose it in an effort to embrace the new Vallejo: VTown.  I had an enjoyable conversation with Justin Saroyan the other day. A longtime resident and former GVRD employee, Justin made a comment just as our time was coming to an end. I will paraphrase. He said, “With the Navy gone, Vallejo doesn’t know who it is.”  My draw visibly dropped. Justin had hit the nail on the head. Paula McConnell sees it too. Vallejo has lost its identity.  Mrs. McConnell fondly remembers the days when Vallejo had respect. When we were a Navy town. Those of us who embrace VTown as our moniker see Vallejo for what she could be: A town of artists, cafés, music and architecture. A place to be that has shaken of its rough and ready reputation.

As I feel that I have lost my identity, as Provisions and I are less a part of each other’s lives, I feel strongly that we Vallejoans have not reached the final stage of grief with our breakup from the Navy. We have not yet decided who we are as a community, or how we present ourselves to the world.  We gather, we drink, we eat good food and listen to amazing music while enjoying world class art and yet, to date, this has all just been a distraction. The time after a breakup when you go to bars, or friends set you up on blind dates. So it has been with us and developers. They come for a bit, try to make it work, and many get frustrated because . . . Vallejo still has baggage. We are not really ready to meet someone new because we have not fully accepted that our future does not wholly lie in the fate of Mare Island.  

Vallejo, VTown; we are no longer a Navy town. Neither are we Nimitz-ville or a suburb of Southern Land. What, and who, we are we must still decide. We point fingers at the police, the City Council and even the City Manager. Perhaps some of that is appropriate but in that thinking, a critical part of the equation is missing: Us. We the people. We gave the police the power they wield. We have given the City Council permission to give the City Manager the emergency powers he is using. We are responsible for not knowing who we are and no one else is going to help us figure it out. But they will take advantage of it.

Sometimes I am too rugged. You may not agree with everything I say here or feel that my interpretation is too . . . too. But whether you see me as Thomas, Tom, Tommy or Rugged; I still am trying to decide who I am after a life’s dream came to an end. Knowing that this is a truth for one man, how can we ignore the very possibility that for Vallejo a dream identity came to an end and that, perhaps, after almost 40 years, it is time to set aside our distractions and work together as proud Vallejoans who are a little VTown after hours.

Until the next time,

Tommy “I will always call myself Rugged” Judt

BISCUITS & GRAVY

I have a relationship with food and I hate how some people characterize these types of things as: Healthy or Un-healthy. I have a relationship. One that is rich, complicated and long in history. I am proud of the fact that we do not go very long without seeing each other. Sometimes it is just a brief hello, other times we engage in a multi-course conversation that can last for days. The very best thing about this relationship is that it is extremely sensitive to my mood, whatever it may be, AND I have found . . . READ MORE