Dalahus

Gruning’s

July 5, 2008

Gruning's Wet walnuts, that was the key. The cold, frosted stainless steel of the sundae dish provided the context, and the ice cream itself, either chocolate or vanilla (back then the most gourmet flavor was perhaps the plasticy Rocky Road, available only at Baskin Robbins), was the body.

But it was the wet walnuts, a goopy, drippy concoction of walnut chunks and syrup that was the crowning glory of a Gruning’s sundae. Asking for the wet walnuts on the sundae was always a fleetingly risque move, as if an entire lifetime’s abuse of junk food was concentrated into one dollop of nutty glucose. Even as a 10 year old ordering this manna, I knew it was straight-up decadence.

There were two Gruning’s restaurants nearby. One, in South Orange village, was the older, original establishment. I didn’t go there often, but I do remember it having a double wrap-around soda counter.

My Gruning’s was the one “on the hill”; a flattned outcropping off a steep curve of South Orange avenue. The building was an unremarkable one-story elongated box, but a gambrel roof gave it a homey touch. On the inside, a lunch counter ran its length. To the back was the dining room overlooking the edge of the steep ridge.

The peculiar orientation of Gruning’s meant it was easily accessible from my street. Woodhill Drive was a steep road below the ridge, ending in a dead-end at the base of the South Mountain Reservation.

The shortcut to Gruning’s was simple; walk to the top of Woodhill and cut behind the top house’s backyard. From there, you scaled a steep embankment, pulling on saplings and low-hanging branches for leverage. Surmounting this hill put you right into Gruning’s parking lot.

Since Gruning’s was a full-scale restaurant, we didn’t make this trip as often as you might think; certainly not as much as the Candy Store a few blocks away. But the occasional safari to Gruning’s was always a treat. I recall one time going there with a sack of pennies to buy a candy bar at the cash register. I can still see the face of the cashier, humorously incredulous having to count 50 or so pennies for this resourceful kid.

In high school, Gruning’s became more of a proper “hangout”. Not only would we go there for ice cream, but their menu of greasy burgers and fat, scalding fries were a staple. I always had a sense of the history, they had pictures on the walls of the place in the 50s and such. We liked to take booth seats by the big windows facing the ridge, and the heavy concrete foundation provided a deep, solid shelf for a favorite parlor trick of mine, the balancing salt shaker.

My parents divorced in 1985. For years my brother had been collecting fallen road signs and hanging them up in his attic hangout. Stop signs, one way, yield, school crossings, you name it. When it came time to clean out the house, he came upon an interesting idea; he wanted to return all the signs to the town, but, for obvious reasons, anonymously. So he wrote up a note to the town, apologizing for the years of petty theft. We pulled down the signs, trudged them down three flights, and loaded them into the car (road signs are a lot bigger and heavier than you might imagine).

We drove up the hill around 11pm and pulled into Gruning’s lot. The restaurant itself had long been closed, it was a depressingly sad shell. We took out the signs and arranged them along a fence that edged the drop off we once climbed. It looked like a flea market. We taped the note to one of the signs and drove off, hoping for the best.

The very next morning we drove by, and the signs were gone. We never learned if the town got them back, or some other scavenger made off with the bounty.

Gruning’s came back into my life one last time. A few years after college, I had started a design business in South Orange village with a friend. I don’t recall how we got the gig, but somehow we managed to secure an meeting with the owner of Gruning’s in his office at the back of the village restaurant. He talked big about us getting a lot of work from him, he thought we were scrappy, talented kids.

Truth is, we were just starting out, so these empty platitudes made our eyes wide. We ended up doing exactly one project for him; a large stand-up sign for a trade show, where he was hawking Gruning’s hot fudge sauce. The design was taken from the label, showing a silhouette of people inside the windows of an old fashion ice cream parlor. I drew the image, and had it blown up huge at a local sign shop.

The sign must not have helped much; Gruning’s was soon sold off, and the one on the hill was torn down and turned into an ugly apartment building.

Annie Get Your Politically Incorrect Firearm

August 20, 2006

In 1977 or so, the South Mountain School 6th Graders staged a production of Annie Get Your Gun. At that time the idea of letting children enact gunplay or portray ethnic stereotypes (nevermind its sexual politics) was far from considered inappropriate. But fairness was in the rule-book, so students from the younger grades were drafted to be in the show as extras in the chorus, either as “townsfolk” or, inevitably, Indians. As a 3rd (or 4th?) grader, I was one of the lucky chosen to wear the honored feathers of an Indian. I was excited to play such an exotic character, and looked forward to the elaborate costume that being an Indian would afford.

Students were responsible for their own costumes, so my mother outfitted me in period-accurate attire; red and blue dyed feathers, a leatherette vest and belt, and of course stripes of war paint under my eyes. To round out the ensemble, we went to the Livingston Mall and bought a small toy drum at K-B Hobby. The drum, a colonial-style shiny red affair, didn’t have the correct “Indian-esque” look, so my mother purchased wood-grained contact paper and wrapped it around the drum. Now it was authentic!

The teachers planned a grand opening for the show; after the overture ended, the townsfolk would enter the auditorium through the rear doors chased by us Indians with tomahawks a-choppin’, drums beating and war cries hollering. As we ran them down the aisles, the townsfolk were to scream, “Indians, Indians!” in fear. The chase was to lead us all onto the stage, where everyone would break into song. The problem was, it was never actually rehearsed; we probably got the direction all of one time an hour before the show.

So with no clear idea of how this would proceed, we were herded into two lines behind the closed auditorium doors in the front hall of the school, townsfolk in front of Indians. We hopped in place anxious with excitement, knowing our parents inside were ready to see their darlings commit to a whooping entrance. The overture played out and the cue came; the auditorium doors swung open and we burst into the aisles. But with our pent-up enthusiasm and lack of rehearsal, not only did the townsfolk scream “Indians, Indians!”, but us Indians screamed “Indians, Indians!”, wholly forgetting to beat our drums and yell our war cries, completely misunderstanding the intent of the direction.

I’m sure the audience didn’t noticed this innocent gaff, nor the weird irony of Indians yelling at themselves (it was years before even I thought about it beyond the mechanics of the incident). Nevertheless we made it down the aisles, up the steps and onto the stage, and began singing songs about the old west and guns and businesses that are nothing like show business.

The Pinewood Derby

April 26, 2005

pinewood Elementary school in the 1970′s still had the vestigial patina of post-war civic high-mindendess, so along with the book fairs, assemblies (when it was still ok to sing Christmas carols) and field trips to the local police station (we were fingerprinted!), the Cub Scouts came calling. I was never much of a joiner, but somehow became one anyway; probably because it meant for two days a week, I didn’t have to go directly home and could eat junk food at our local Den, the basement of our scout master’s house. But aside from this and the groovy blue and yellow para-military dress, the premier draw of being a Cub Scout was really The Pinewood Derby. (more…)

The Dead File Archives (pt. 2)

March 11, 2005

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desk In 1990 I was partner in a graphic design venture, The Windedale Design Company. Displaying an early penchant for absurdity that would lead to such diversions as VäporOS, I created a faux history of the business with a fictitious founder, one Jacobus Q. Winedale. The following is a biography I drafted intended (but thankfully never used) for promotional purposes. It is presented here completely unedited, as embarrassing as that is.

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The Dead File Archives (pt. 1)

March 5, 2005

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I was recently sifting through old file archives and came across a series of drawings I made during and after college. They were created in a variety of now-dead software applications, and it took some doing to read and convert them to a readable form (thanks, CB!). A lot of the images I found are junk, but some are interesting enough to merit comment.

The first batch I’ll share is a drawing of a Victorian house I made in 1988. What’s notable here is that I saved each state of the drawing as a separate file, allowing a look at the progression of the piece (I must have been quite forward thinking back then.)

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