On Milkshakes

The tempestuous, moody Date Shake
The tempestuous, moody Date Shake

In college I was struck by the pretentiousness of certain writers. Like Lenin’s What is Art? or Sontag’s On Camp. They presumed to empirically analyze sensibilities that were nearly impossible to define. Their arrogance fascinated me and I hoped to add to the annals of critical thought someday with my own essay.

I tried once with Why I Wear A Dress. It was too silly and frivolous to ever pass muster with Suze or Vlad. It has not survived. All I can remember from that effort is the opening line, “Mama died making homemade jam.”  Lifted from the Supremes.

Life in the desert has opened me to new ideas. And this being the time of year when you can’t buy ice cream at the market without it melting on the way home, I crave the unattainable.

Barbara had been imploring me to try the Date Shakes at Cabazon. I had a hard time imagining the flavor, it seemed to involve planes of taste buds that should never intersect. Plus it meant a trip to the designer outlets. I love beautiful clothes, especially deeply discounted ones, but there is no room in my budget or my closet for anything new.

Nevertheless on my way to Beaumont to look at some fake foam bolders I was considering, I saw the Hadleys sign. I decided to stop on the way back. The bolders were a bust, the shake a delicious triumph. Dates and dairy do go together after all (think sticky toffee pudding with clotted cream).

My life with milkshakes began when I was 10. I would spend weekends on my Grandparent’s farm where we’d go to the local diner. I could order whatever I wanted to drink, invariably a chocolate shake. When it arrived Granddad would comment dryly, “looks like mastitis.” I was conversant early on with mammary infections in cattle.

In those days root beer was root beer, you could get a Brown Cow at the A&W. Technically a float not a shake but what were you expecting here, the rigors of Sontag? Moving from floats to phosphates, when I visited Boston the first time there was something called an egg cream at a fountain on Harvard Square. Seltzer made the milk frothy like egg whites. There was not an ovum in sight. More gimmick than taste.

After my teen years, shakes became the liquified styrofoam found at fast food chains. They lost their appeal.

A couple summers ago Billy and I went to the Tasty Freeze in Fort Wayne and he reminisced about a shake from his youth called a Green River. I thought he was joking. It sounded so corny, so Mayberry, so Creedence Clearwater. It conjured up tastes of polluted moss and buzzing mosquitos swarming in my throat. He was insistent and instructed the youngster on how to make one. Basically, lime soda with vanilla ice cream. They were a beautiful electric green and tasted pretty good.

Not long after that I was waiting for a flight in Indianapolis, reading an article in the Star on local soda fountains that had survived. The pictured drink was a Green River. Billy had been telling the truth.

The crown of creation: Brandini's Vanilla Toffee Shake
The crown of creation: Brandini’s Vanilla Toffee Shake

The biggest adjustment I’ve had to make moving to Palm Springs is going from an urban mindset to a suburban one. Everything here is drive-thru, franchised, or made in China. When I heard the story of two kids who loved to make candy, went on a life-changing trip to Italy, invented their own product, won Martha Stewart’s endorsement and were making a go of it, I wanted to support their indigenous venture. But I just didn’t see how they could do it with their product: toffee.

I like toffee though I rarely seek it out. I indulge a couple times a year and can’t eat much at one time. If Brandini’s is to have continued success it will be because of their innovative use of it. They seem to be developing new products conscientiously with only a handful of items other than candy currently in their shop. They are not toffee-ing everything in sight to see what sticks.

The toffee encrusted ice cream bar is excellent. They coat the bars right in front of you after you order. The bars are not filled with preservatives, sitting prefab in a freezer for months crystallizing and losing flavor.

Their poppers are amazing, and I’m not talking amyl. I’m talking popcorn. Every kernel is saturated in buttery sweetness, with flecks of candy intermingled throughout. Completely addictive.

The star of the show, however, is the vanilla toffee shake. Nonpareil. Creamy vanilla ice cream with tiny toffee sprinkles on top, chunks strewn throughout, and at the bottom a mother lode of candy. A long spoon is provided as is an extra-large straw. The larger girth promotes stronger suckage.

Many days I’ll have a late lunch around 2 or 3, then walk over for a shake around 7:30. That’s all it takes to get by in the desert.

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The Last Temptation of Me

Me and Mr. B

We got a thing going on.
We got a thing going on.

This time of year 44 years ago I was in Chicago, hanging with a couple groupies trying to crash the Stones touring party.  I think I’ve told this story before but, fuck it, I’m going to tell it again. Maybe I’ll do a better job this time.

The Stones arrived in town on a Sunday just around midnight. The rumor was that they were staying at the Playboy Mansion so I loitered with my new groupie friends on the sidewalk in front. There were less than 10 of us.

Rolling Stone had printed details of the tour including their decoy vehicle for short hauls: a pickup camper. Their anonymity was pretty much blown when it was reported they’d added an “Eat More Possum” bumper sticker in Arkansas.

When they jumped out of the possum-mobile they rushed to the gate to get inside the french brick and limestone mansion. The gate was locked, there was no one to meet them. They waited impatiently with us on the pavement. Mick and Keith were two feet from me. Mick was distracted, remote. Keith, guitar slung over his shoulder, was relaxed and amiable.

It was my first encounter with celebrity and I felt stupid. Just as I would not gawk at or pester strangers on the street I didn’t think I should treat them any differently. Even though I’d built them up in my mind, they were just people. Still, they were so close I felt I should say something.

I quietly asked Keith if he was going to a party being held for them in Old Town that night. His response was so smooth, “we’ll see, baby.” I still get goose bumps thinking how cool he was.

These memories came flooding back because last Sunday I drove up to San Francisco with Gary. I was leafing through his stash of CD’s and read liner notes written by Joan Jett. In her thank yous the first name she mentioned was Rodney Bingenheimer.

The Stones played Chicago through Thursday and that last night there were many parties going on. The main one was to be at the mansion. I’d had no luck breaking through Hef’s security and didn’t consider my chances much better closing night.

I waited with a few others by the gate then I felt a hand on my shoulder. A guy said “c’mon.” He was this peacock dandy in a satin jacket with spiky hair. He said a few words to the guard and we were through the gate. It was the furthest I’d gotten all week.

We walked into the foyer to the locked main door. The cameras were on us and a voice on the intercom started badgering us with questions. The guy I was with gave as good as he got. He was talking a mile a minute, dropping names right and left. Many I’d heard as being part of the tour, many I had never heard of at all. As the information came pouring out I realized who my benefactor was: Rodney.

I’d seen his name in the underground press a lot, he was always in attendance at hip LA events. But I wasn’t sure what he did exactly. And I still am not sure what he did other than he later became a successful DJ in LA. As good as his foyer rap was, we finally accepted defeat and walked out. Before they threw us out.

Back on the sidewalk Rodney said he knew of a party we should crash. I said I really had to pee. He asked me to go with him to the Ambassador’s East at the end of the block. Judy had sung about that hotel so I went along. Walking through the lobby I repeated how urgently I needed the restroom.

We were the only two in the elevator and as the doors closed he said, “I have to pee too.” He whipped it out and let go on the faux persian carpet. I followed suit and we relieved ourselves on the 16 floor ride up to the Pump Room.

The place was full of business types, we did a quick turn and decided it was not for us. We got out of there then parted ways on the street.

I’ve never forgetten his kindness and how funny he was. I’ve often wondered why he picked me to accompany him. Maybe because I was a visual curiosity who might have looked provocative in a publicity photo. Or perhaps he sensed I was in over my head and needed a protector. What would I have done if I’d gotten into the Stones inner-sanctum?

It was a pre-punk punk moment and we were early adopters.  And I wore the Keith t-shirt years before Patti Smith made it famous.

Wearing the best of the Lonely Ladies T-shirt line.
Wearing the best of the Lonely Ladies T-shirt line.

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The Last Temptation of Me