Wednesday, November 3, 2021

Of bagels, bodies and star spangled banners

"Did you do anything exciting over the weekend?"

I went to the north end of the San Fernando Valley to retrieve my late uncle's ashes at the mortuary. At this point you might be wondering what the hell does a classically prepared Black Pastrami Reuben (pictured above) have to do with the somber visit to Bastian & Perrott Oswald for Funerals and Cremation and Free Parking?

Indulge me, your patience will be rewarded.

It had been some time since my last visit to a funeral parlor, as we used to call it. They're never pleasant. However the man attending to my uncle's remains could not have been nicer or more accommodating. And a special thanks goes out to the good folks at UCLA.

Apparently, in return for my uncle donating his whole body to scientific research and exploring his unique 39 year survival since first getting diagnosed with HIV+, the UCLA donor program picked up the costs for everything: the cremation, the death certification, and even the leather bound urn. BTW, an urn filled with the ashes of a 170 lbs. man can be surprisingly heavy.

Moreover, because my uncle was in the Army, I also received a meticulously folded triangular US flag in recognition of his service.

I'm not big on flag fetishism. I believe our democratic principles are far more sacred than the piece of cloth that symbolizes them. Nor am I a fan of those who have appropriated and sullied the flag in the name of Trumpism. And so I plan to fly the flag every time this country undoes the crimes of the past administration and takes us a step closer to more better and perfect union. Fuck You Red Hats! 

My uncle would have wanted that. 

As my wife and I left the mortuary, I suggested we grab some lunch. And this is when I sprung the news that a mile done Parthenia Blvd., in the auto body repair and marijuana dispensary heart of downtown Northridge, was a place called Brent's Deli.

I'm not sure Brent is the proper name for a deli. Morty, Bernie, Saul, Irving, Hymie, all seem better and more authentic. Nevertheless, westward bound we were.

It should be noted that my immunocompromised wife and I hadn't sat inside a restaurant for a proper meal since the beginning of Covid and her cancer diagnosis, so they could have served us cold soup and sandwiches slathered in mayonnaise and we still would have loved it. 

But I would not have teased this story out had our journey not been so fruitful. 

In short, it was as if we had walked into Noshing Heaven. The place was bustling, mostly with fat-assed people. You can keep your stars on Yelp or some hoity toity restaurant reviews, in my book, fat-assed people like myself are always the best indication of the quality of the food. 

My pastrami sandwich was over 2 inches in height. And because the Swiss cheese was properly melted, the meat slid back and forth between the melty, gooey slices, making the endeavor a challenge and deliciously messy. 

My wife's matzo ball soup came out in a soup bowl big enough for a Bernese Mountain Dog. The baseball sized matzo was too mas ball for my wife and I received a generous lower hemisphere on a side dish.

Indeed, after the inhalation came to a merciful completion, I still found 1/2 an uneaten sandwich still on my plate. As well as leftover rye bread with a crunchy crust and a pillowy soft interior. 

To Go containers were quickly placed before us. As you walk by the long counter at Brent's, wedged between the hanging salamis and the assortment of salted and smoked fishes, you'll see a mile high stack of To Go containers, also a great indicator of the food's quality.

On the drive home, I carefully and strategically placed the remainders of our lunch in the tiny trunk of my car. And separated it, with a wall of beach towels and golf shoes, from the flag and the remainders of my uncle. 

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