Irish Philadelphia

The Web guide to Irish music and culture in and around the Quaker City

Friday, December 02, 2005

Let Me Be Frank ...

I was thinking this morning about Frank and Mary Jelinek. I can't explain the random appearance of this thought. Who knows how any of this crap pops into your head?

Frank and Mary used to have a radio show in the Philadelphia area called "Dining Around," and I remember thinking, probably the first time I heard them, that their idea of a good meal seemed to be a lot like my father's. (Sorry, Dad.)

The Frank and Mary gustatory standards appeared to boil down to the following two key criteria:

  • When the restaurant menu says "family style," it means that a single serving is large enough to feed a whole family.
  • You can feed entire said family at said restaurant for under 10 bucks.
Frank and Mary reviews, I suspect, probably appealed most to the "early bird special" crowd at the Pike Restaurant, which Denise's husband Ed insists is famous for its "bottomless cup o' meatloaf." (Full disclosure: We love the Pike! Bring on the croquettes!)

I remember reading a snippy little comment in the City Paper to the effect that Frank and Mary probably believed white bread and mayo to be two of the four major food groups. That sounds about right. Add mashed potatoes and rice pudding, and you have all the bases covered. All of this food is white. I do not know what that means.

But I digress.

Anyway, I was wondering what had become of good old Frank and Mary. I assumed they had stopped dining around 20 years ago. I was wrong. A quick Google search showed that they were dining around fairly continuously until just about a month ago. (Obviously they had taken their act to radio stations to which I do not listen.)

Frank and Mary retired in October. They were 127 and 118 years old, respectively. (NOT TRUE!) I couldn't believe it, but they'd been on the air for more than 30 years, probably flacking for New Yorker Brand Deli Cheese the whole time.

I don't know where I was the first time I heard them, but I can imagine it might have been a late-night drive home from the Courier Times Richboro Bureau back in the late '70s. At about that time, the Jelineks were on WCAU-AM, which was a talk station. My boss Mike Renshaw listened to 'CAU endlessly, which meant that everyone else in our tiny newsroom did too. I'd get interested in something Bernie Herman had to say as I was leaving the office, so I'd tune it in as soon as I got in the car.

From time to time, Frank and Mary would ooze to the surface to offer up their restaurant reviews. I'm not sure they ever had a meal they didn't like. That was part of the fun of listening. I kept waiting for Frank to say something like, "I wouldn't feed that swill to French people!" It just never happened. All the food was always wonderful, and there was always enough of it so you could fill a doggy bag the size of a small U-Haul trailer.

But I mainly looked forward to hearing F & M for two reasons:

a.) They had a Philadelphia accent that could cut glass, and;
b.) They seemed to have no clue about anything. It was as if their restaurant reviews were really meant to be National Lampoon parodies.

I remember in particular a Frank and Mary segment in which they recounted their adventures on a Polynesian tour.

I recall Mary waxing eloquent about a delish meal the two had scarfed down in a hotel restaurant. (Doesn't that just say everything about what they regarded as a good meal? They go all the way to a Pacific island paradise, and they eat in the hotel.)

The restaurant, Mary burbled, was called "The Goggin Room." That's "goggin" as in "noggin," and for the longest time I could not figure out what the hell "goggin" meant. Mary droned on and on with a nasal whine that brought to mind that trick where you put a piece of tissue paper against a comb to make noises like a kazoo. "Lovely paintings, bee-YOO-tee-ful tablecloths, wonderful waiters ..."

But I had stopped listening. I was still stalled at "goggin." I was trying to imagine what it could mean. Maybe it was some obscure Polynesian word that roughly translated into English as: "Our women wear no shirts and they are very friendly."

And then it hit me:


Mary couldn't say "Gauguin."

I am guessing she had no idea who "Gauguin" was.

So where is all this leading, and what does any of it have to do with this blog, the primary purpose of which is to impart brilliant insights about Philadelphia Irish-American culture?

Well, here's what I'm thinking, and it scares the life out of me:

Maybe Denise and I are going to be the new Frank and Mary.

Denise and I are friends. Unlike Frank and Mary, we are not spouses. Like Frank and Mary, Denise and I have been together for years. We went to the same high school, Archbishop Wood in Warminster, which at the time was really two schools, one for boys and one for girls, with a big flaming trench in between and Dominican snipers on the roof of the girls' school. So it should go without saying, perhaps, that we never knew each other then.

Denise went on to Temple journalism school a year or two ahead of me. Ships passing. Trains. Whatever.

A few years pass, and I take a job at the old Today's Spirit, a Hatboro weekly that went daily for a time. Denise's desk and mine are on opposite sides of a room that might otherwise be described as a moderately wide hallway. My chair backs into her chair. We bond.

Denise and I got on as if we had always known each other. We laughed at the same things. That would mean, mostly, everything. The Bryn Athyn Fire Department. The Upper Moreland-Hatboro Joint Sewer Authority. Fire. Murder. Drunks rolling around the floor trying to kill each other at Towey's Tavern. Everyone else in the office. Each other.

I trailed Denise to the Bucks County Courier Times, and from there to Prevention Magazine, and from there to Rodale's Children Magazine.

Denise and my wife Diane were baby buddies. Pat was born just a month after Sarah.

We've both moved on, and around, lots since then, but we've always been friends, and nothing seems more natural than that it should be this way.

And then along came this idea, to spy on Philadelphia's Irish Americans and write about them.

And now I picture us 30 years from now, slurping free beers in yet another Irish pub or exchanging snarky comments as some red-nosed weepy Irish tenor (those guys always make me think of the opera singer with the bursting lungs in the Bugs Bunny cartoon) wrings the life out of "Danny Boy" one more time. We will retire to our separate homes (or maybe to the same nursing home) to jot down our amazingly insightful thoughts and views, and we will publish them to the Web, which in the year 2035 will actually be a network of invisible thought rays and it will be totally free, except for Comcast customers.

And I think, yeah ... Frank and Mary, that'll be us. Two old hacks on the prowl. And nothing seems more natural than that it should be that way.