By Guest Author: Greg W. Prince
How is it we crave what we haven’t tasted in 40 years? How is it I’ll be doing anything and suddenly be overcome by a desire for a grilled cheese sandwich from the Beach Burger in Long Beach?
A quick Googling shows Beach Burger is still up and running on the South Shore of Nassau County, or at least it’s there again. It changed names at least once during my youth. I would assume it changed hands a few times. Since I don’t live that far away, I could conceivably drag myself over there and seek that grilled cheese sandwich, but I can’t imagine it would be the same.
Besides, I can only imagine eating it across the street. And I can’t imagine doing that.
My experience with the Beach Burger grilled cheese sandwich that intermittently returns to my subconscious did not take place at the Beach Burger proper. It happened on the other side of the city’s main thoroughfare, known alternately as Park Street (commonly) or Park Avenue (officially and a little fancily). It happened at Franco Fanelli. That wasn’t a pizza parlor, to use the term no one uses anymore. It was, if you will, a clip joint.
Specifically, they clipped hair there — my mother’s hair. Franco Fanelli was a beauty salon…more often referred to as a beauty parlor (whatever happened to parlors, anyway?). Going to the beauty parlor was a big deal to my mother, big enough so that when she had an appointment and had to schlep her seven-year-old son, the sense of occasion was extended by ordering in lunch. It wasn’t just my mother doing that. They did it for all the ladies.
All my life going to barber shops it never occurred to me eat around falling follicles. But that’s what they did at Franco Fanelli. I suppose it was as much a social outing as a hair care event.
Me, I’m sitting off to the side somewhere. It’s a terrible place for a seven-year-old. There’s gabbing and industrial-strength hair dryers blasting away and enough hair spray in the air to make Love Canal seem pristine by comparison. When you entered Long Beach, you were greeted by a billboard that welcomed you to America’s Healthiest City.
Unless you detoured through Franco Fanelli. God only knows what I breathed in from second-hand spray.
At Franco Fanelli, I had nothing to do. I had nothing to read except Good Housekeeping. I had nothing to look forward to except at some point my mother would be part of the posse for whom lunch was ordered in from the Beach Burger. I don’t ever remember being asked what I wanted. I just always wound up with a grilled cheese sandwich. I wasn’t a particularly huge fan of grilled cheese, generally speaking a take it or leave it proposition over the course of my lifetime. The only grilled cheese we had at home was two slices of white toast placed in the broiler, each topped by a slice of Kraft American cheese. The cheese melted, the bread was slapped together and it represented a quick and easy breakfast (consumed around 11:30 when there wasn’t school — neither my mother nor I were sticklers for early rising). I don’t think what we had was technically grilled cheese.
I didn’t necessarily look forward to grilled cheese from the Beach Burger except as something to break up the monotony of sitting at the Franco Fanelli. My mother got her hair done for, oh, about five hours (as measured by a seven-year-old’s sense of time). For five minutes, though, there was something to do. There was something to eat. There was that grilled cheese sandwich.
The cheese was nothing like that we broiled or melted at home. It was a little taller and a lot tighter. The cheese served to seal the bread shut. It could have been applied between the two slices with a caulking gun. It was fine. I never turned it down. But I didn’t make a big deal of it, either. It was just part of the package of being dragged to Franco Fanelli.
At eight years old, the dragging was done and I’d be left to my own devices on beauty parlor day. After I turned ten, however, my mother, who had moved on to Andre’s a block away, got it in her coiffed head that my barber of record (Leo, nice old man of German extract who was once kind enough to sit for a second-grade interview so I could complete my report on Community Helpers) wasn’t making my hair stylish enough anymore. Thus, I was suddenly being dragged to Andre’s, which I was told was “unisex” and that men got their hair cut in places like these all the time, so stop thinking this is weird.
I didn’t see any men at Andre’s besides the stylists. And there were no grilled cheese sandwiches, just these disgusting, chemically overwrought Weight Watchers frozen desserts that served as ice cream substitutes for this batch of ladies. I tried one. When mixed with the inevitable cloud of hairspray, it made for a deadly combination. I came home from my styling complaining of a headache that eventually turned to nausea.
The Andre’s experiment soon ended. Barbers were deemed OK again if they had a sign calling themselves stylists. I ultimately landed with Mario at the TSS in Oceanside. He became my barber/stylist for the next 21 years.
Nobody ever ordered in food.
I’ve enjoyed a grilled cheese sandwich here and there since the heyday of Franco Fanelli, yet four decades since those afternoons waiting out my mother’s hair appointments, the urge gets greater and greater for one of those sandwiches, from the Beach Burger. It’s not so much that I can still taste it. It’s that I taste it now more than I have at any time in the past 40 years.
That happens quite a bit, actually. There’s a cheeseburger from the Atlantic Beach Hotel kitchen, which came Saran Wrapped, that I’ve lately developed a hankering for. There’s macaroni and cheese that was served weekly at the Sands day camp in Lido Beach, and I’d sure like another helping of it. There’s lots of cheese and lots of sand in my subconscious. I’ve never much cared for sand. Cheese, apparently, is another story.
As with the Beach Burger, Googling reveals Franco Fanelli is still clipping and curling in my Long Island hometown. Both establishments endure where they stood on Park Street/Avenue from when I was seven years old. I imagine there’s still as much gabbing as there is clipping at the beauty parlor. I don’t know if sending out for lunch remains de rigueur. The caulking of the cheese within the confines of the bread couldn’t possibly still be how it’s made. Some essential ingredient was probably outlawed by the New York State Legislature in the name of our general well-being. And it couldn’t be the same without the hairspray.
Or the relief that for five minutes out of five hours when you were seven that there was something to do.