Nothing is true and everything is possible

It took me a while to finish this book, but last night, I did. I admit the author was a little over my head, but the glimpses that I did get into Russia’s corrupt political system were fascinating. I can’t imagine living in a place where the police are bought and paid for, where poverty is everywhere and crime is so prevalent.

It’s not that the US doesn’t have these same issues, but the book makes it clear to me that it is exponential so in Russia. Bribes, for instance, are commonplace.

The book talks about how Putin has pretty much turned the country into a reality show, where news networks show only what is approved by the Kremlin.

I loved the ending of the book, because everything was tied together nicely and it became evident that Putin was to blame for much of the corruptness in Russia.

Rush hour at the deli

There was just no telling what was going to happen, business-wise at the deli. But I recollect that if we didn’t get the business between 11 and 2, it was a “Slow Day”.

Actually, I could be wrong. Every once in a while, Dad would express surprise at how there would be a “late rush”, when customers would pour in, in the afternoon. To my dad, there was no rhyme or reason. We’d be sitting there at the deli, lamenting a slow morning and lunch, when only 7-10 customers had come in. All of a sudden the phone would ring with an order for eight Mushroom Cheesesteaks (usually none of the sandwiches were the same, so cooking them could be tedious, which I’ll explain some other time). Then we’d have a bunch of friends from our church come pouring in. Mormons, sometimes, have large families and those families brought good business into the Philadelphia Deli.

It was weird, though. I remember some days after lunch, Dad would pop open the till and start counting. We’d wait for the verdict and then he’d announce that it had been either a good day, or a slow one. Some days there was just no telling as to what would constitute a good day or a slow one.

Some days I was a better worker than other days. On the days that I was “on”, I’d make sure that when a customer was ordering, I wrote clear notes and (this was vital, I learned) whether or not an order was for “here” or to “go”.

Here’s an example of what an order for a cheesesteak with hot and sweet peppers and pickles looked like):


If I was really on the ball, I’d include whether or not this was a call in, or not. Otherwise, sometimes a customer would be standing in the dining room, while a finished sandwich warmed on top of the oven. I made this mistake too many times. This writing is representative of what you’d find on the yellow notepad when a guy named Jeff wanted a cheesesteak with everything (hot/sweet peppers, pickles and tomato), to go.

As with many things in a business that last for almost 20 years, iterations of products develop. In the earlier days of the deli “everything” on a cheesesteak included tomatoes. But they became rather expensive and didn’t seem to affect whether or not a cheesesteak would sell. So they were dropped from the recipe. My memory is fuzzy on this one, but I’m pretty sure that at the beginning we used three slices of American cheese. But for the vast majority of the deli’s life, we used two. I suppose this is a tangent, because the point that I’m trying to get across is that the rush hour was sometimes complicated for me.

Now that I think about it, I think the reason that I tried to write clearly and as much details as possible, is because it was very easy for me to get confused on orders. I was never able to remember a customer’s name, whether the order was to go, or (heaven forbid if this wasn’t written down) if they did not want hot peppers on their turkey hoagie. The flipside of this is that Dad and Mom had gotten pretty good at remembering this kind of stuff. Usually Dad wrote orders down, but sometimes if it was a little more quiet, he wouldn’t write anything at all. This was one time when the phrase “all on the same page” is apt. We had different methods of dealing with orders, customers, etc. This is not to say that there wasn’t a base method for what we did, but we each would deviate in small ways from The Method. For instance, Mom might be a little more generous with how much ham she weighed out for a customer. Mom’s scale and Dad’s scale saw gravitation slightly differently.

When things were absolutely “slammed”, Dad was on the grill. He was very good at handling many sandwiches at a time. Coordinating an order that included a couple of cheesesteaks and a few cold sandwiches, during the rush, required some amount of thought. You didn’t want to have a cheesesteak sitting for 10 minutes while a BLT was being assembled. Hot sandwiches needed to stay hot. Sometimes it made sense to cook sandwiches in the wrong order. For instance, if we new that one sandwich would take longer to make than another, we might start the second order first. But Dad had a very good feel for what needed to be done and at what time, so I knew that if I just did was Dad asked, usually things would work out alright.

Mom handled the cold side, as well as the nurturing of the customer. Mom took time to talk and chat and I believe that she added an element to the deli’s ambiance, that the customers took to. The fact is, everyone enjoyed chatting with Mom and Dad (even if it was a bit difficult for Dad to hear above the noise of the kitchen).

A busy rush hour could go one of two ways. It was either fun and we were on our game, or it was stressful and tensions could be high. The Nelson family is made up of strong-willed, opinionated personalities, loving as we may be. The deli brought out all of our personalities. At our worst, we could bicker about how a sandwich got messed up, in front of the customer.  This didn’t happen too often, but it illustrates that we did not hide from the public that this was a family business.

Sometimes one of us kids would run sandwiches to nearby businesses. We’d run food across a busy Park Avenue (no time to use crosswalks or wait for lights) to Railroad Junction (which usually tipped us!), to a bike shop on Main, or somewhere else. When we were older, sometimes the Nelson kids would actually drive an order somewhere, but this was pretty rare.

A moment ago I referred to a sandwich that was made incorrectly. These creations were called a “mistake”. Dad would point to an out-of-place sandwich in a basket and ask, “What is that?”, to which someone would respond, “It’s a mistake”. The mistake was either: 1) Quickly given to another gracious customer. 2) Consumed by one of us. 3) Discarded after no one would eat it.)

Most of the time, great memories were made during rush hour. If Mom and Dad had the grill and cold station handled, the rest of us would work to stock depleted stations, wash more dishes, bus tables, or whatever else needed to be done. But the banter that occurred during these rushes sharpened one’s wit. You had to be fast to cook, fast to explain an order and fast to diffuse some of the tension that naturally built up over a couple of hours of working over a hot grill. But there was joking around. There was goofiness. Some of the kids, who were much braver than I was, even teased Dad and joked around a bit during rush hour. I preferred to take my chances when things were a little more calm.

When the rush hour died down, if it had been particularly slammed, Dad might mention that it had been a “barnburner”. If had the sense that the rush was over, we’d make our own sandwiches, or for each other, and go sit down to eat. Sometimes Dad would tell us to go sit down and he’d make us lunch.

Dad’s cheesesteaks always tasted better than mine did…to me, at least.

Opening up the Original Philadelphia Deli in the morning

The only thing I’m struggling with, with the following, is the voicing of it. Not sure whether or not to include what my parents did, siblings did, but suffice it to say, most of us all did the same thing. Courtney could have easily written this, because he did the same things I did. But for the sake of consistency, I’m writing this as my own day in the life at the deli. But everyone should know that, especially in the early days, Courtney and I were interchangeable at the deli. We both worked hard and on some days, together. As we grew older, other siblings joined us at the deli and eventually I was gone and on my mission, as other siblings filled in and took over. I’m sure their memories of it are a little different, but these are mine, whether they are perfectly accurate or not.

When we arrived at the deli in the morning, we’d park our cars or bikes in back. There weren’t always a lot of parking stalls, because our family would have one or two cars, usually Subarus, that were in the process of being repaired. It always struck me as odd that no one would steal some of those car parts. I suppose no one wants an old car door that’s been propped up against a wall. Or a van bench. Or whatever. I guess I have no sense of what is worth stealing. Some proof of this is that once I left my bike unlocked in front of the deli. After lunch it was gone.

We’d unlock the black metal security screen, which at some point, we’d locked ourselves out of. You can tell this, because there was a hole near the handle that had been cut, so that a wire could be inserted to unlatch the inside door handle. (Don’t ask me how I know this.) Then the main, also-metal door was opened (the sliding bolt as well as the handle lock) and we were greeted by the strong scents of onions, bleached tile, and silence.

Except for the radio. The deli went through phases of leaving a radio on at night, or turning it off at night. But if the radio was left on, you were greeted by one of two things: Either a country music station, or AM 1060, KPAY, which would have current news, or, at nine am through twelve pm- Rush Limbaugh.

Rush Limbaugh wasn’t always a controversial personality in my family. Politically-speaking, he was all I knew about left vs right, or Republican or Democrat angst. I accepted the Rush is Right doctrines upon hearing them, but never liked the loud and aggressive tones in his show. Oh, I suppose that at one point I thought he was funny, but as I grew older I felt that he was more obnoxious than anything.

Unsupervised, sometimes I’d walk into the back of the deli, into Dad’s office, where I’d change the station- usually to a rock station. The deli took on a whole different feeling when Bon Jovi or Def Leppard or The Fixx was playing. A careful observer, looking from the outside, through the front and west-facing door, might catch me singing passionately into a mop handle. Sometimes it would take a very long time to mop the floor- a lot of great music was echoing through the dining areas, where I’d pretend I had finally made it big. This happened more than I’d like to admit.

There was a lot to do in the morning at the deli. Almost always I’d start with cleaning. None of us in the Nelson family cleaned with the same methodology. To me, there was an order to it. My preference was to do what I disliked the most, first. Get it out of the way. Each successive task should eventually lead to what I hated least. So I’d start with the dishes.

Doing the dishes at a deli, where we smoked meats, sliced ribeye and processed pork shoulder created quite a bit of grease and messiness. I know my dad didn’t like this, but I’d pre-rinse almost everything. There was something about having a clean dish water that I found important and this was impossible without first spraying off the caked-on elements from the slicers, huge mixing bowls, and endless amounts of…of whatever else has slipped below the murky water.

Immediately, I’d drain the water, spray down everything in storage room that was to be washed, and then fill the sink with hot water and Dawn. In the summer, that room could get really stuffy. I’d have sweat and stray water all over me, by the time I’d gotten everything done. I cleaned from left to right. Dirty dishes on the left side of the sink. Dishes being cleaned in the left sink. Rinsed dishes in the middle sink. Clean dishes drying and dried in the right sink, plus off to the right of the sink. Some dishes rarely saw life outside of the right side of the sink. We’d just go through the clean dishes with a racket that made you think dishes were being thrown, retrieve the thing, use it, wash it, then off it would go into the right sink, never to be seen until its next use.

I wonder how many times Nelsons were cut by reaching into that sink dirty or clean water, then coming up with a knife’s blade. We wore bandages all the time, which could be found in the drawer right below the register, or to the drawer at its right.

If the floor hadn’t been cleaned at night, I’d sweep the entire deli, picking up mats which I shook, then folded over chairs. All of the mats in the kitchen were moved into the storage room. Then I’d sweep. If I was in a good mood, or things were desperate enough, I’d flip the chairs upside down to lay on the table, while I swept through the tables’ cross-shaped legs, carefully. If I really wanted to impress Dad, I’d move the tables to one side of the dining room (except for the large 8 person table- it was heavy) and then sweep and mop. Then, likewise, I’d do the second side of the room. By the time I’d worked myself to the south side of the deli I didn’t allow myself or anyone else to cross the barely seen mop boundary. The line was hard to see, but it was there, and the person mopping was very aware of its presence.

With a freshly mopped floor, I’d turn my attention to where we’d be hit first, customer-wise, once the doors were unlocked- food stations. The “left” food station (or the “hot side”, where we mostly made hot sandwiches) housed long containers of ribeye, which we used to slice, but later bought pre-sliced, deep containers of onions (in the deli’s last days, Dad and Mom wisely kept an additional container in the fridge below), sweet peppers, and American cheese, smaller containers of hot peppers, pickles, mushrooms (which later became an open, sharp can in the same fridge). In the “right” food station was kept the food for our hoagies, clubs and deli sandwiches, including a large ham, large turkey, salami, capicola, cheddar/swiss/pepperjack/cheddar(sometimes) cheeses, more pickles, tomatoes, mayonnaise, mustard, and other condiments.

Unofficially, the left, hot station, was Dad’s; the right, cold station, was Mom’s.

All of these stations needed to be filled. My strategy, once again, was to do that which I abhorred, first- cutting several onions to fill the hot station’s needs. Once again, depending on who cut the onions, a different methodology was used. I liked to take about 8 or 9 onions and line them up on the left side of the cutting board (hot station, of course), then slice slice the two ends off. If I’d cut too much of a side off, I had to quickly throw that end in the trash, so that Dad wouldn’t get wise to how much food I’d wasted. If I was caught, I’d hear about it. After the ends were cut and thrown into the trash, we’d slice the onions in half, lengthwise. Once this was done it was easy to peel the outside skin off of the onion. Once again, I wasted more onion than Dad did. I knew that if too much of the dry and slippery onion skin were left, as I cut thin layers from the left to the right, the knife would slip and an imperfect product would result. Dad didn’t care about this, I’m sure. But I had enough of my mom’s traits, that I wanted to see calculated, diced onion. But I also wanted to impress my dad, so I’d make sure that he’d see that he didn’t have to dice onions when he came in (he was usually off, buying product for the deli, checking on a yard sale, or taking a deposit to the bank.)

When I go into a deli to order a sandwich, now, I usually order one with peppers. It always disgusts me when I see that a sweet or a hot pepper hasn’t been “de-stemmed”. To me it seems lazy, plus no one wants to eat that kind of thing. Apparently, my dad though so too, because one of the jobs we kids had, was to de-stem all of the peppers before they were placed into the stations. Once again, the product was placed on the left side of the cutting board. Then we’d quickly go through each one, making sure that each stem was plucked off. The stem would go into the trash; the clean pepper would go into the station’s bin.

Once the dishes and floors were clean and the stations were stocked, I’d give the deli a once-over, unlock the front door at 10 am and flip on the neon “Open” sign. Sometimes there were already customers waiting to get in. I never liked this. Opening the deli was sort of a quiet time for me and I really valued it. If I had had a better understanding of how important the deli was to our family, I’m sure my attitude would have been different.

Oftentimes my dad wouldn’t be back yet, from his rounds, when the deli opened. In the older days of the deli, he’d drive down to Zanzies’, in Sacramento, to pick up a van full of bread. When I say “a van full”, I mean that bread was under the seats, on the seats- pilled high. I believe that back in the older days of the deli, he’d pick up the hot and sweet peppers on these trips.  I can’t remember for sure, but it was supposed to last for at least two weeks. So when dad would arrive back to the deli, from Sacramento, he’d start bringing in bags of hoagie rolls, which Courtney and I would stock in the freezer. Sometimes dad and I had a difference of opinion about how many bags should be left out. My memory is that I’d try to keep one more bag out than Dad wanted, up on the grill’s shelf, where it wouldn’t bake, but would stay warm and soft. (Bread from the day before was to be used for Cheesesteaks; the newer, softer bread was for Mom’s cold station (hoagies). After Dad had owned the deli for a while, he started having bread and peppers delivered to the deli. In my mind, though, they weren’t as good. Or maybe I just missed having the smell of fresh bread in the deli.

On some days, when Dad was gone, I’d grab a five dollar bill and run down to Helen’s Donut Nook, on 807 Main Street and get Dad and me a couple of old fashioned donuts. Sometimes I’d get fritters, but if I got the “wrong” kind of donut, Dad would jokingly get on my case. I remember sometimes, that when he came back to find donuts for us on the table, he’d very kindly thank me for having gone to do it. Sometimes I’d remind him that he was actually the one to buy the treats. I think we both found it funny.

I always tell people that I started running when I moved to Utah, but in writing this I remember that the short run (less than two minutes) to Helen’s Donut Nook was really fun for me. I was pretty careful, but I’m sure that if Dad had seen me at some of the points I’d decided to cross 9th street, he’d have had something to say about it. It’s not that I was trying to run out in front of traffic, but the cycle of the lights was such that, if you got caught at the wrong time, you’d be waiting a lot longer than you’d want to, especially as an anxious fifteen year old, trying to beat his dad back to the deli, before he could know about the surprise. So I’d chance it a bit and run down the sidewalk, always taking a quick glance into the bike shops along the way (nothing I could afford). To this day, I still run across streets that I shouldn’t, when commuting to work in Salt Lake, from Provo (and then back). I guess I liked to run even before I thought I liked to run. Sometimes, when I knew Dad would only be gone for a couple of minutes, I’d wait for him to leave, lock up, get the donuts and try to be back within three or so minutes and back to what I was working on when he left. When Dad got back, I’d let him find the donuts and wait for him to ask me how I ever found time to pick them up. I think my sense of irony was just budding.

Goodbye, double spacing. Hello, single spacing.

After about a week of trying to practice using single-spacing, today I realized that I was finally doing it, unconsciously.

It all started when I came across a random article (can’t remember how), where I was taught that double-spacing is/has being/been done away with and that single-spacing is in. It really surprised me, but the more people I talked to, the more I realized that this generational gap thing is real.

So here’s to single-spacing between sentences, questions, etc., until the rules change again. 🙂

It’s like pulling teeth

I have never been comfortable with the pulling of teeth.  I rarely let my dad pull my teeth, even if they were dangling by a thread.  It was really disconcerting to me.

So along comes Roxie and Reagan in the last two weeks, asking me to pull their teeth, which are dangling by a thread.  I balked both times.  I don’t want to pull my children’s teeth.  What if I accidentally pull them too early?  Or slip?

But I’ve been taking a small piece of paper towel (the quality, Costco kind) and pulling those suckers out.  When I pulled Reagan’s, she complained that I “didn’t get it”, even as I stood in front of her, displaying her tooth in between my thumb and index finger.  That was sort of funny.

Wendy and I have also had a hard time remembering to remind the tooth fairy to pick up the notes and teeth under the girls’ pillows, as well as to deposit a buck for each tooth.

Reagan’s talk on Living the Teachings of Jesus Chris Strengthens me and my Family

In our lives, we can live life without the gospel, or we can live with it.  There are natural results from each of these choices.

In our family, when we forget to do important things like read our scriptures or have daily prayers, we notice that things don’t run as smoothly around the house.  The Spirit isn’t as strong as it should be.

However, when we do those things that we’ve been asked to do by Heavenly Father, things go much better.  When I am kind to Roxie, Jackson and Lucy, I feel happy and know that I’m doing the right thing.

I know that if we choose to live according to Jesus Christ’s example, that we can find peace and strength in our lives.

I say these things in the name of Jesus Christ.  Amen.

First dr visit

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Well, Wendy just sent me this and we’re happy.

She had an appt with the dr at 2 pm and we’ve been praying that everything is ok with her pregnancy.

Dr says that the baby is 6 weeks + a day and that the heartbeat is at 133.

Seems a little high for a Nelson runner.  But we’ll have time to work on that.

Wendy is relieved.