Backstory to the fried oysters I presented on the food page.
As a late-stage teenager, I (we) discovered Howard Johnsons in Newburgh. When we, my friends and I achieved the evolutionary state of being able to drive, Howard Johnsons was a place to go to to cure the munchies. Early 1970’s Orange County did not have very much in the way of “places to go to” for young people transitioning to adulthood and starting to appreciate the freedom of adolescence. Fried Oysters and Pistachio ice cream were the only two things I ever bought at HOJOs. Nothing else. Everything on the several page menu was completely uninteresting to me except those two items.
The fried oysters were crunchy, chewy, frozen and refried without much taste and no hint of the original oyster that was buried deep within the greasy breading. But there was nothing else like that. So that was the best thing on the menu. Except for the pistachio ice cream. I’m not going to discuss the fluorescent green frozen concoction that today I could not imagine ordering. But the state of the art of cuisine in 1970 upstate New York was still in the dark ages. Actually the stone age would be more accurate.
I soon started my dysfunctional college career. Picasso move over here comes Sergio. That didn’t last all that long. When I met Alice and came to the realization that living in poverty until I was discovered was just not going to happen, I started looking for alternatives. I was good. I knew how to paint, I was good in color theory, I was near the top of my class in most of my art classes, but none of my classmates had any chance either. So when I started attending Hofstra University in my Junior year I did not go for art. I was going to be a “designer”. I was going to apply my skills in art at designing commercial products and making the world a better place. Unfortunately my advisors at Hofstra were engineers that thought like engineers and looked like engineers and acted like engineers.
My high school career was all about art. I did well in high school considering that I never, ever, studied. I even got a regents scholarship. But I did not like math and after doing really well, best in class, in geometry (I don’t consider that math), I turned off in Algebra 11. No interest. No Desire. After two semesters in community college, my first semester at Hofstra consisted of: Remedial algebra. To that they added calculous 1, differential equations, chemistry, electrical circuits, physics and statics. And an English lit course just to round out the schedule.
I had never studied. I did not know how to study. I was always good at listening and adsorbing in class. This was a whole new level. Living with my new wife in her mother’s house, her mother who hated me, life was not good. It had gotten to the point that I had to reconsider my choice to be a design engineer. It was not going to happen. So one day I went around to the different departments of the University and started interviewing the professors and chairmen. Communications? Not very promising. Law? Gag. History? You want fries with that? Chemistry, Biology, Physics? Possibly. Geology? Now that sounded interesting. This was the mid-seventies and the world of geology was promising. Developing mineral resources in places like South America or the American west was booming. The subject matter was interesting and the professors were cool. That was my choice.
I did well in the Geology department. I had a 4.0 grade average in my core subjects and I was ready to conquer the world and the second oil embargo happened and the field of geology dried up and withered away. The price of copper dropped to an all time low and geologists were being laid-off at the greatest numbers ever. That is when I was handed my diploma.
I did get a job, however. I was sent a recruitment letter from a geophysical exploration firm in Texas. I was offered a position as a geophysical surveyor. Sounds impressive. So I packed up my 1970 Chevy Nova with the saggy left rear spring and drove to Texas. Leaving Alice and her mother behind. I completed the drive in two stages. I stopped to visit my friend Richard in the suburbs of DC where he was attending Washington University Medical and then straight through to Houston. I can’t imagine driving those distances today.
When I was driving in Louisiana, at one of my rest stops, I stopped at a small Mom and Pop diner to get some lunch. They had fried oysters on the menu. A few minutes later I realized the cruel joke that had been played on me by HoJo’s.
To be continued…