When my mother came to visit from the East Coast this past week, her suitcase and two smallish bags had to pass under the paranoiac scrutiny of the TSA. One went unremarked, but the other immediately drew their ire- a small, heavy cooler bag with a pair of sandwiches.
According to my mother, the TSA agent removed the deli paper-wrapped logs.
“What are these?”
“A pair of subs for my son and his wife.”
“Okay…. what, they don’t have Subway in Portland?”
“It’s not the same.”
“… Okay. Here you go.”
I am maybe 11 years old. My parents have gone out to dinner. My teenage sister is left in charge. I remember my mother’s perfume wafting through the house as she got ready, dried flowers and slight spice. My dad had on his tux with an oddly loud cummerbund, set off only by the royal purple and ribbon and chain around his neck. Must be another one of those “Chaîne” events he talks about. He says he’ll tell me more about it when I’m older.
The last minutes before a night out were crunch time. Regular yells of “Come on, we’re gonna be late,” clacking heels and pounding footsteps rattling the old house. Then a jingle of car keys and a pause.
Rustling bills changing hands.
“Here you go, Steph. Call up Dino’s, remember to tip a couple bucks.”
Elsewhere in the house, I look up from my comic book. A big grin crossed my face- DINO’S.
Tuna Sub with Cheese tonight.
12 years old. Pizza Steak.
14 years old. Chicken Pizza Steak.
16 years old. Italian, full size.
18 years old. Dino’s Special, full size- the last good sub I’ll have until I finish college.
31 years old, as of this week, Dino’s Special- a double-meat and cheese Italian with lettuce, tomato, onions, oil and vinegar. Couriered in a cooler bag by my mother past the ignorant heathens of the TSA, with love from the Jersey Shore.
This was THE sandwich of my childhood. This was THE Italian meats and provolone, layered up with care in to THE Atlantic City bread, made nowhere else on Earth. It came with THE Cento minced hot peppers that cut through the fat with a shining laser beam of acid and heat.
I have now lived in Portland a little over two years. I left Margate after I came back from college, and I have now spent almost as much time living away from my hometown as I did living in it. Birthdays always make me feel introspective and nostalgic, and while I love living in Portland, there are moments that I can’t help remembering just how far from home I am.
This week, my mom delivered me some memories: a 5 lbs. bag of Shriver’s Salt Water Taffy straight from Ocean City, and two Dino’s Specials- one for me, one for Emily.
I am 31 now, and it was the best gift I could have asked for- the chance to feel 11 again, when Mom and Dad were coming home late, and I could watch a movie and eat a Dino’s sub and everything was going to be alright.
The taffy, with its bright colors and sneaky inner wrapper, reminded me of summer days at the Shore, where a day off with the family could mean the Ocean City boardwalk and all the sights and sounds a child’s ears could bear. It was cute foreign students crushing lemons for lemonade. Smiling men dunking curly fries like lighting and serving them up in big buckets with long wooden picks. The hot friers cranking out funnel cake, and cool breezes rushing out of shave ice stands to die in the sun.
It was colorful kites flying in the beach outside of Air Circus, and of course the tinkling music of the Wonderland Pier amusement park.
I have worries now. I have work to do and bills to pay. In a few days, I’ll be back to work for three weeks straight. I have a wife who has to work at least as much as I do.
For my birthday, I got to be a kid again for one night.
It came in a deli wrapper that my mom got through TSA.