Day 581: New Paltz Schmaltz

Laetitia and her group headed north out of Hackensack, New Jersey. They stopped in Bear Mountain State Park to hike along the high bluffs overlooking the Hudson River. Further along the Hudson River Valley, they hiked in Storm King State Park on trails that afforded great views of the Catskill Mountains.

Their destination for the evening was New Paltz, New York. The town’s settlement history is interesting. French Huguenots founded the town in 1677, but since these Protestant refugees from Catholic France had previously found asylum in Palatinate (now part of Germany), they named the new town after their former German home. The German word for Palatinate is Pfalz, but the “f” is silent in the dialect learned by the Huguenots. Hence their new American home came to be known as New Paltz. The group did a walkabout in the Huguenot Street Historic District before checking into their night’s lodging.

In many cultures there are foods that natives consume as a matter of national pride, even though these foods are not viewed as culinary delights by much of the rest of the world. Examples that come to mind are haggis, beloved of Scots, and lutefisk, prized by Nordic people especially after they have moved away from the homeland. Another such food is schmaltz, the spread made from rendered chicken fat flavored with onions and apples that is often found on restaurant tables throughout the German-speaking world. At the Mind’s Eye meal that evening, several women at a nearby table were complaining in graphic detail about a local friend of German descent whose otherwise fine dinner parties were marred by the schmaltz she put on her table in lieu of butter. Laetitia smiled as she wrote the limerick of the day on her napkin.

A lady who lived in New Paltz
For a table spread always used schmaltz
And though it was greasy
And made her guests queasy
She adored it in spite of its faults.

Day 580: Back in Hackensack

Laetitia’s selected destination for this day was Hackensack, in the most urban part of New Jersey, opposite New York City. Between Red Lion and Hackensack were Newark and Jersey City, and Laetitia decided to avoid the traffic snarls that those high-population areas were likely to have and skirt around them to the east. They made an intermediate stop at Great Swamp National Wildlife Refuge before proceeding on to Hackensack.

At the table next to Laetitia’s barstool during happy hour in Hackensack, there were several men who seemed to be into car restoration. Their talk ranged from details about their cars to the latest excursion that their club had made to upstate New York. Then the conversation shifted to Marge, who owned a local shop that restored old cars. In keeping with the antique car theme, her shop was decorated in the style of the garages of fifty years ago, and when she and her mechanics worked under a car, they jacked up one end or the other and slid underneath on a creeper.

Laetitia smiled. The phrase “works on her back” isn’t used very often today. When Laetitia was a child, she had heard some of the elder members of the extended family use the terminology to describe women who offered love for sale. The phrase has gone the way of the Model T Ford, like “grass widow,” the term James M. Cain used to describe Mildred Pierce, his married female protagonist with an absent husband. Today, though, the phrase and Marge’s old-fashioned style of auto mechanics gave Laetitia her required limerick.

Word soon got around Hackensack
That Marge mostly works on her back
But she doesn’t cruise bars
She just rebuilds old cars
At her car shop that lacks a grease rack.

Day 579: Red Lion Scion

The route taken by the Mind’s Eye group from Browns Mills to Red Lion, their evening’s destination, was not direct. They went by way of two wildlife management areas, Assunpink and Colliers Mills, where they stopped to hike and watch birds. The group’s destination for the evening was Red Lion, a small community in Burlington County. The town’s unusual name stems from an incident during the early settlement of the area, when a hunter brought in a red mountain lion. It attacked after he wounded it, and as he struggled to kill it with his knife, both became covered with blood.

Mention “bourbon” to an American, and he or she will immediately think of whiskey. However, to much of the rest of the world, “Bourbon” refers to the dynasty of French royalty who originated in the town of Bourbon-L’Archambault. At the bar in Red Lion where Laetitia went for happy hour, a man, stylishly dressed in European clothes, was making the rounds talking to all the women. When he got to Laetitia, he told her in a French accent about how he was a descendent of the House of Bourbon.

According to him, his ancestor was forced to flee for his life during the French Revolution and had come to America. He made vague allusions about inheriting an enormous royal fortune in the near future. When Laetitia’s bemused look told him that she wasn’t buying his story, he moved on to the next female prospect. After he moved on, the bartender whispered to Laetitia, “The regulars call him ‘Bourbon Turban.’ You saw his French act. Sometimes he wears a turban and pretends he’s royalty from the Punjab in India. We suspect he got that one from Little Orphan Annie comic books.” Laetitia smiled, and after the bartender turned to make a gin and tonic for a customer, wrote the limerick of the day on her bar napkin.

A devious man from Red Lion
Told ladies that he was a scion
Of the Bourbons of France
To get in their pants
But most of them knew he was lyin.’

Day 578: Browns Mills Thrills

Laetitia’s group headed northeast out of Woodbine, stopping first for a nature walk in Peaslee Wildlife Management Area. When they moved on, a member of Laetitia’s group wanted to stop at Mystic Islands. The woman’s family lived in Newark, and when she grew up in the 1960s, her family dreamed of having a vacation home there.

The Mystic Island development featured simple, prefabricated bungalows closely packed in rows along waterways that connected via a channel to Great Bay, and ultimately to the Atlantic Ocean. The woman’s family had driven through the development several times, picking out locations they liked, but never got together enough money to buy a home there. Time marched on, and she and her sisters married and moved away. Eventually, their parents died. The houses now looked dated and shopworn and some had been replaced by larger, more elegant homes more in line with twenty-first century tastes. “You can’t go home again,” said Laetitia, quoting Thomas Wolfe. The woman wiped a tear from her eye and said, “Let’s go on to Browns Mills.”

Though unincorporated, Browns Mills, New Jersey, has a population of more than 11,000. The bar gossip that became the limerick of the day was about two elderly spinster sisters who had exhausted their savings but prided themselves at their resourcefulness in meeting their financial obligations without going on welfare.

Two old ladies who lived in Browns Mills
Often gave to bar patrons cheap thrills
When they exposed their groins
And were showered with coins
Which was tacky but paid all their bills.