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Sundays in the summer, Sundays when the sun shined, my father and my mother argued over underwear.

“Put your damn pants on,” my mother yelled.

“It’s too damn hot.”

“But what if somebody stops by?”

“Who the hell is stopping by here on a 95° day?”

“We have friends.”

“And they have air conditioning.”

He had a point there. I was never certain why we were the last family on the block with only a window fan. My father said it was because my mother got too cold and had to wear a sweater. My mother said it was because my father was too cheap.

On a day when the humidity was higher than my Uncle Nate, my father would walk around in his blue boxer shorts, his belly hanging handsomely over his waist. He would sit in his big green sateen chair, smoking a cigar, drinking a beer from a frosted beer mug, the mug that he one day taught me how to frost.

Run it under cold water for 10 seconds. Not 9, not 11 – 10. Then put the glass in the fridge as close to the back as possible because that was the coldest part. Leave it in there for 10 minutes. Not 9. Not 11.

Understand that this was not a father lovingly teaching a son a talent or trade. This was so he never had to get up from the big green sateen chair.

This was my father’s biggest guilty pleasure, sitting around in his boxers on the one day a week he had off from work.

As my father’s only son, I would grow up to have guilty pleasures of my own. Having learned the process as a boy, I would ice bottles of Stewart’s root beer, as close to the back of the fridge as possible. Ice them until the sweat poured off like bubbling beads.

That was easy. However, I would come to develop pleasures that took a lot more work. While doing the “Best of SJ” many years ago, I discovered what I thought were the best cupcakes this side of the Ben Franklin. They were made with loving care by old women in hair nets and starched white dresses. The only problem was, we lived a good 45 minutes from what has become our favorite bakery. An hour-and-a-half round trip for cupcakes? You bet. It became a Saturday morning pilgrimage. We dumped the kids in the car, and spent the whole ride, over the river of potholes called Route 70, talking about which flavors we would get. My favorite was vanilla cake with chocolate icing. A classic as cupcakes go. We would put most of them in a big white box. But 2 in a bag. Those are the two I would eat in the parking lot before we drove back home. They were so sweet. As sweet as sugar.

Oh, speaking of sugar, did I mention that I am diabetic? Yeah. As much as I loved them, these cupcakes could kill me. So I ate them sparingly and slowly, savoring every bite. Guilty pleasure.

Eating sugary sweets with great care became a theme in my life. Reese’s peanut butter cups, Creamsicles, and the thickest milkshakes you’ve ever seen. I would get mine at a place where they have those special wide straws, straws that only people with an esthetic sensibility about the art of sucking would understand.

My love of milkshakes goes back to my childhood, where they were used as bribery for acting well during grandparental visits.

When we went to see my grandparents in South Philly, my father would take me to Feldman’s, a drugstore with a great fountain. Home of the best milkshakes that side of the Walt Whitman. And cupcakes with the thickest icing ever.

I would ask him if I could get both a shake and a cake. “Are you serious?” he said.

“Can we come back tomorrow to get a cupcake?”

“Are you nuts?” he said. “Nobody drives that far for a cupcake.”

April 2021
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