Mr. Jingeling On The Brain

The human brain is strange.  Why is it that I sometimes struggle to remember the names of people at my office but can recall — with sharp, striking clarity — every word to the stupid theme song of Mr. Jingeling?

If you lived in northeastern Ohio during the early 1960s, you knew Mr. Jingeling as a guy who appeared on TV around Christmas.  He was Santa’s top assistant, and he had a prissy hairstyle like that of the guard who answered when Dorothy and friends knocked on the door to the Emerald City in The Wizard of Oz.  He carried a large key ring at all times, for reasons his song explained:

Mr. Jingeling, how you ting-a-ling,

Keeper of the Keys!

On Halle’s seventh floor, we’ll be looking for

You to turn the Keys!

Keeping track of Santa’s pack

And Treasure House of toys,

Wind-up things that Santa brings

To all the good little girls and boys

Mr. Jingeling, how you ting-a-ling,

Keeper of the Keys!

On Halle’s Seventh floor we’ll be looking for

You to turn the Keys!

It is mildly disturbing to realize that, indelibly imprinted deep within the crevices and synapses of my brain, is a theme song about a fictional Christmas TV character on a show that has been off the air for decades, sponsored by a long defunct Cleveland department store.  What the hell else is buried in there — that is, aside from the theme song to The Beverly Hillbillies?

Diamond Grille (“DG”, “Diamond”)

Bob’s Diamond Grille blog struck a chord in me. The place and the people who frequented it is a subject near and dear to me.

I worked at the “DG” some 53 years ago when I was a junior and senior in high school. I was hired to bus tables but couldn’t do so fast enough for the waitresses. So, I was moved to the kitchen where I washed dishes and made the salads. I worked Friday and Saturday nights and during the week in the summer. I didn’t do a lot of dating on those weekends. By the time I got off work it was late and after washing dishes and making garlic salads I pretty much smelled like a garbage dump. Nonetheless the experience was great and the money I earned much appreciated. I return to it whenever I am in Akron.

The “Diamond was (and, in my view, still is) Akron’s premier steak house. But, in addition to its great steaks, the Diamond was well known for its “Diamond” salad dressing. It was heavy on the garlic, so you know it was good. About once a month I was relegated to the basement of the restaurant to make the dressing. In the basement was an enclosed room that probably once was a storage room or fruit cellar; in any event a windowless and airless room. There I would fill gallon jugs with oil and then stuff garlic buds into the jugs. I do not recall the proportions, but by the end of the session it was difficult to tell, by smell, the difference between me and a garlic bud. It kept vampires (and girls) away from me for years. At one time the dressing was bottled and sold to customers for home use.

The owners of the DG are the Thomas family. The current proprietors are brothers Nick and Ted Thomas. The restaurant was started by their father in the forties, I believe. Nick Thomas, the senior living Thomas and my brother, Bob’s Dad, were good friends, which is why, as Bob mentioned in his Blog, the Diamond was a favorite place of his father’s. It is also how I got the job there. Nick was a task master and put up with no nonsense from any of his employees, including his friend’s brother. The chef, at the time, was an older man named Dave who likewise put up with no nonsense. He and Nick expected everyone to do their jobs efficiently and correctly at all times. The waitresses at the Diamond were then, and always have been, extremely professional. Service at the DG is never an issue. Nick always saw to it that customers were served promptly. From Dave I learned that one does not put a sauce on a good piece of meat. Dave- would explode when a customer wanted his or her steak well done and/or wanted A-1 sauce or the like to put on it. “Ruins a perfectly good piece of meat” he would say. “If they want hamburger they should go to Swenson’s.” (Swenson’s is another classic Akron restaurant albeit a drive-in hamburger restaurant.) Though I must have rebelled against the demands at the time, I am certain that working for Nick and with Dave I learned a lot about how to work and created a foundation for establishing my own work ethic

Nick has always been a unique character. His loyalty to his friends is unyielding, and to know him is to love him, but he must be an enigma to those who don’t know him well. His demeanor is gruff – you would not find him working at a swank New York restaurant. When a customer comes in before a table is available for them, Nick’s greeting is “take a seat at the bar and we’ll call you when a table is available.” These instructions were given in a not particularly warm and fuzzy manner. Of course that meant you were to have a drink at the bar before you got to the table where you should also have a drink. The money is in the booze, after all. But good customers don’t mind a bit because there is always someone you know at the bar and lively, usually sports oriented, conversations ensue. The Diamond was and is the place to go to see friends and have a great meal.

When I worked there, Nick was dating his wife to be and sometimes, during my work shift, I would be tasked with going to pick her up and bring her to the restaurant. Their dates were spent at the “store.” I didn’t mind the break from the kitchen and moreover, I got to drive Nick’s car, a ’56 T-Bird. I was a happy teen age chauffer.

In the late fifties there was a group of guys, probably two dozen or so, who were Akron’s young Turks who used the Diamond as a club house. This included my brother. These guys had gone to high school, college or law school or all of these together and they were, then, the young businessmen and professionals of Akron. There were doctors, dentists, lawyers, salesmen, car dealers, and contractors in the group, practically someone from every walk of life. As far as I could tell they were all really good guys and most of them stayed friends for life. Unfortunately, there numbers have thinned, but in their day they surely had some good times at the Diamond Grille.

Over the years some of these friends of my brother, Nick for one, became my mentors and I looked at them as my own friends. A few years ago I had occasion to invite Nick to a dinner at which I was speaking where I pointed out to the group there how important he had been to me as my first boss. I think he enjoyed that and I certainly did.

I get to Akron once or twice a year for about two or three days each trip and I end up eating at the DG, always once and often twice on each trip. Underscoring the quality of the food there is the fact that when the PGA tour is in town for the Bridgestone tournament at the Firestone C.C. almost all of the golfers eat at the Diamond. The place is so popular for the golfers that the Thomas’s ask their regular customers to stay away that week so that they can take care of the out of town crowd. You can expect to hear the golf tournament commentators mention the Diamond on the air during the tournament.

Bob mentioned the décor of the restaurant. I believe that it has been changed only once since I worked there. The current look probably dates to the early seventies and is still the “new look.” Any change in the décor would be at a great risk as its retro appearance is a part of its charm.

Nick’s brother Ted is a year or two younger than I and he and I were Lone Star fraternity brothers. The last time I was there, Teddy’s daughter was the hostess and so a third generation is now involved in operating the Diamond. I hope there are Thomas’s willing to continue the Diamond tradition.

The connections of Webners to the Diamond Grille are full of great memories. I am sure that Bob’s mother could regale him with stories from the DG. I know that my wife and I have many and they are all positive, usually humorous and reminiscent of good times. Bob’s blog brought back a lot of memories and I have probably taken too much space to relate my feelings for the place, its owners and its denizens. Just thinking of the place makes my mouth water. Maybe I’ll see you there the next time I’m in town? The Diamond Grill is not to be missed if you are in Akron, Ohio. Its food and its character are the best.

The Things We Do For Our Dogs

You wake up and feel pretty good.  You walk downstairs, look outside, and see that it’s windy and raining, fat raindrops blowing sideways.  Ugh.

Penny is up and alert in her crate, famished and aching to be fed.  You put out food, and she bolts it down with gusto.  In the meantime you conclude that raincoat, ball cap, and umbrella are the best defenses against the crappy weather given what you must do when you are outside.  Already, you are dreading it.

You put on Penny’s leash, open the door, and head out into the elements.  Boy, this weather blows!  Penny, who doesn’t relish the rain, takes care of her first chore straightaway — but there is a cadence and a rhythm to a dog’s life, and the principal outdoor responsibility can’t be rushed.  So she noses around for a seeming eternity, zig-zagging here and there, until canine sensibilities tell her that the right moment and right spot have arrived.

You fish the little plastic bag out of your back pocket, turn it inside out over your hand, and perform pick-up duty with one hand while you are trying, ineffectively, to hold the leash and the umbrella in the other.  My God, what did she eat yesterday?  The familiar, disgusting odor is overpowering.  Then you reverse out the bag and tie it off, rain coating your face and glasses.  While you are performing this delicate task Penny circles around with renewed, lighter than air energy, helpfully binding your legs with the leash.

After you are back inside, one final job remains — toweling off Penny so that you can add that eau de wet dog odor to the fine symphony of scents you’ve endured already this morning.  To add a final element of insult, Penny does the wet dog shake and splatter as you are down in the wipe-off zone.

She trots off, happy and contented, and you stand there, water-coated and nostrils still befouled, and realize that people without dogs are still happily abed.