I snap awake from a screwed up dream. I am kind of sweaty and my covers are a huge mess. I seem to have ripped the two cords out of my electric blanket. I feel a tinge of misdirected animosity. Maybe more than that, I have a creeping feeling of unresolved childhood stuff. I spent a lot of time indoors during my early years, and I wish I could remember what was good about it. I am sick in my dream. Real sick. I had been even sicker in my young life, around age 9. My fever went up to 106 1/2 degrees and I contracted bronchial pneumonia. My father forced me to eat Vicks Vap-o-Rub, convinced that this would help. It did not help and tasted horrible. In addition, it was not supposed to be taken internally. My fever did not reduce and my eyes were so dry that it hurt to even blink.
My brother felt bad for my measly103 fever and let me play his computer game “Eye of the Beholder II: The Legend of Dark Moon” from SSI. Inside the box was a catalog of upcoming titles, including another Dungeons & Dragons game called “Dark Sun: Shattered Lands”. It looked amazing and I remember lying in bed and reading the ad over and over.
The rest of my sick period involved playing alone. My favorite character was a fighter named Xela who later became a poet. I played Xela every minute of the day, and even ported him into all my verbiage. Staying inside so much caused me to lose track of who I really was. To distract me from my obsession, I was handed a bag of Brach’s Circus Peanuts and told they tasted like a marshmallow. But its flavor and aroma was that of baby aspirin, plastic and chalk. I was now out of my deathbed, but not quite out the door.
My bitchy step-sister had hidden my Dungeons & Dragons books, so I painted the walls in my bedroom in black chalkboard paint thinking that A: black is elegant and cool and B: I could write all over the walls. Alas, what the mind thinks doesn’t always translate into reality. Once the walls were painted black, my dad waited for them to dry, then re-painted them white the same day.
Remembering all this, I pick up the phone to call my brother and quickly hang up. It’s five in the morning and he would be pissed if I woke him up to talk about Dungeons and Dragons and snack foods. He didn’t used to be that way. We used to lie on the floor, staring up at the popcorn ceiling and talk about all our fun-sized childhood snack memories. I will wait until 8 a.m. to reminisce about our favorite European snack – Fonzies.
After my wacky illness my father decided a European family vacation was in order. This is how I learned to love Fonzies, a savoury cheese flavored snack. In the mid-1970s, on the back of the success of the TV series Happy Days, a cheesy nosh named Fonzies for actor, Henry Winkler’s character ‘The Fonz”, was born.
My brother and I were Americans who loved our Triscuits and Wheat Thins. Everything tasted good on them. Europe didn’t seem to have Nabisco anywhere we went so we settled for Fonzies. They certainly didn’t have the familiar zing of a firm Wheat Thin. Fonzies wouldn’t be right for our familiar topping of Oscar Mayer pickle pimento loaf. I faced that reality with the same sigh I currently have to settle for Little Debbie Snack Cakes instead of the preferred Hostess Brand.
Our first stop was Rome and the airport was so exotic to us. Men came out of nowhere with thick, leather straps to loop through our suitcase handles as they hoisted them skyward. Sometimes they broke the handles off the suitcases with a little too much aerial machismo. We desperately needed a snack before taking the miniature cabs to our hotel. My brother and I armed ourselves with snack bags of Fonzies.
The next morning I woke early and joined a random stranger for what I thought would be breakfast on the top floor of our hotel. We were the only people there and were seated at a small, round table set with small, round plates. One had red-colored jam on it, another, a European-style continental breakfast: baked goods, hard boiled eggs, yogurt, fruit, cereals, juice, tea and coffee. I sat in a hard vinyl chair and nibbled at stale biscotti with orange jam. It was the way of the country. No Rice Krispees. A meal based on lighter Mediterranean breakfast fare is too light a meal to satisfy a kid from the suburbs; especially one who easily stuffed several McDonald’s cheeseburgers down for lunch.
I was a glum child until I met the nice American with a jumbo-sized bag of Fonzies. He was on our tour to see the Coliseum. I sat next to him because my brother and father were hot to sit up front in the bus and I wished to pretend to be mysterious in the back. He offered me a cheesey snack twist, and then another, and another. He told me that he would meet me in the lobby with some potato sticks once the bus circled back to the hotel.
There were many nights in Rome for indulging in post-dinner gelato. Hazelnut and chocolate was a go-to flavor combination for my family, but I saved my appetite for the potato sticks I had tucked in my red suitcase from that swell stranger.