THE JEWISH RYE BOYS
By Tina Portelli
I am Jewish and I come from Rye, New York. It's where I spent my first
eleven years living suburban style in the fifties. Back then, being
Jewish was not something to brag about so my father changed our last name
from Markowitz to Martin. He thought it would make life easier, I 'm not
sure if it made that much of a difference. I am a successful man now, not
because I am Jewish but in spite of it, no matter what I call myself.
My parents tried their best to raise my brother and myself as decent human
beings. They did okay with me, I'm not convinced it worked for Barry. He
was never a guy I looked up to, I found his personality to be aggressive,
overbearing, much too intense for my taste. Barry always needed to be in
the limelight while I preferred to blend in the background. I often kept
to myself, did what normal kids did to occupy their time and never gave my
parents any problems. I was a good kid. Barry was a pain in the ass.
So, instead of my older brother being my best friend, it was Harry who
filled the slot. Harry lived across the street and was a year older than
me. We had a lot in common. We both had idiot older brothers. We were
both Jewish and we were both low key. From the start we liked each other.
Neither one of us were athletic. Sitting around with our marbles was more
appealing than playing or watching baseball or football. We both liked to
read and eat, so in our secret cave behind the rail tracks, we spent many
afternoons stuffing ourselves with Twinkies and reading Captain Marvel.
Our brothers competed against each other on the playing fields, while we
just enjoyed each other's company.
The year of Harrys Bar Mitzbah Harry had received lots of cash from his
relatives. One afternoon he asked me if I wanted to have lunch with him
at the local diner in town, his treat. I said, "Sure, why not", so we did.
We took our bikes to town, then a booth in the corner of the diner. We
really felt like bigshots that day, eating out on our own. The
waitress, who looked like an overworked nurse, must have been having a bad
day. As she took our order, she seemed distracted and irritable. She was
very short with us, rushing us to make our selection.
I ordered grilled cheese and a coke. That was simple enough. Harry ordered
a cheeseburger, with cooked onions and tomato, a sesame bun and coleslaw on
the side. "Rare please, and no lettuce on the burger."
When she brought back the order, mine was perfect. But Harry's was all
wrong. The burger had no cheese on it. There were no cooked onions, but
onion rings on the side. There was lettuce and tomato on the plain bun and
the burger looked dry as dirt. The side order was potato salad and cherry
peppers. No coleslaw, no pickles.
Harry immediately tried to catch the waitress before she ran off to another
customer, but it was twenty minutes before we could get her attention. I
had already eaten my sandwich and was ready to leave. And then it
happened. The waitress was screaming at with Harry that she brought him
what he had ordered. After much yelling, the manager came over, Harry was
refusing to pay for the cold, wrong order.
It was time for me to take over. At twelve years old and in my calmest,
deepest, most respectable voice, I tried to calm everybody down. I
explained to the manager that the waitress had it all wrong, could he
please check her order pad. After deciphering her scribble notes, the
manager saw clues as to what Harry had indeed ordered.
Ten minutes later, seated at the counter, Harry had his perfect lunch, free
of charge and I had a second grilled cheese, no charge. We were apologized
to, and felt like real men. We did not leave a tip. My diplomacy worked,
it was a gift.
My best friend Harry eventually moved from the neighborhood with his
family, so we attended different High Schools. We lost touch and made new
best friends. I forgot Harry and he forgot me, a predictable ending of
The path for the four of us, two sets of brothers, took very different
My brother went off to college on a football scholarship and Harry's
brother knocked up his first high school girlfriend, got married and
applied at the Post Office. His life was pretty much doomed. Barry
graduated college, went for his masters and became a psychologist. Pompous
as always, he wanted a position of authority, enjoyed telling people how
they should live. I ended up an attorney, a noble and satisfying
One evening as I sat in my office eating a Twinkie and reading the New York
Times food section, an article popped out at me. It was a restaurant
review written by none other than Harry Schultz, NYC Food Critic! I
couldn't believe my eyes. It had been years since Harry crossed my mind.
I sometimes wondered what had happened to him, but never pursued finding
out. I immediately searched the web for information to locate him. Of
course he remembered me.
We have re-united as friends. We are both old and single, we still love to
eat, so now instead of hanging out behind the tracks at the rail station,
we meet once a month at a New York City upscale restaurant of his choice.
Our desserts have been upgraded from Twinkies to the most decadent
chocolate deserts. We sit for hours, share our problems, bounce our
opinions, laugh at our brothers and reminisce on being the Jewish boys from
Rye. And, we leave big tips.