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My Dinner With Zal

by Gary Allen

Did I ever tell you about my day with the late Zal Yanofsky, former lead guitarist for the Lovin’ Spoonful?

Decades ago, long before I was the upright citizen you see today, I was a struggling young illustrator/​designer, living in an empty apartment in NYC. Well, pretty much empty: I had a mattress, a wok, an answering machine and all the other stuff that an illustrator/​designer needs. At that time, I was taking any kind of art job I could find — which ranged from some truly sleazy drawings for skin magazines to occasional spots for The New York Times.

One of my regular clients — regular in the sense of “repeat customer” — was a little rock band called The Camaros. They needed a logo, and posters to staple annoyingly wherever they could, etc. There was no money in it, of course, but it was steady and it allowed me to cultivate the illusion that I was moderately hip. Two of the people from that band, Murray and Diane are good friends of the Lovin’ Spoonful ‘s John Sebastian. Murray you’ve probably heard — his day job was writing jingles for TV ads (he wrote the pseudo-​​Native-​​American stuff you heard in the background of the old Mazola — “We-​​Call-​​It-​​Maize” — commercials; the bass voice that sounded so authentically Indian was all Murray). Diane was the sultry singer/​saxophonist of the group — you’ve probably never heard her. Once, in a recording studio, downtown — somewhere in the thirties, I watched as she recorded the vocal and sax tracks to a song called “Too Hot to Handle, Too Cool to Touch.”

She said she wrote the song about me.

piggy

Chez Piggy — Kingston, Ontario, Canada

Anyway, this is not really about Murray and Diane (who were married to each other at the time), but about their friend Zalman. When Zal left the Spoonful, he took all his money back to Canada — a lot of folks were going to Canada in those days — and opened up a luxury restaurant in Kingston, Ontario. Chez Piggy is, as far as I know, still going strong. Anyway, Zal came into town one day, ostensibly to visit the Weinstocks — but really to eat.

We all (some seven or eight of us) met at a Chinatown dive, where we ate practically everything on the menu. We started eating at lunch time and were still eating when it started to get dark. If you have any questions about who Chez Piggy is named for, forget them. I may have been, at one time, a serious trencherman — but Zal was unbelievable.

carpark-food-china-1Appetizer after appetizer disappeared into his stringy beard — spareribs and wings and shrimps and dumplings and spring rolls. Soups of all descriptions vanished — leaving no traces but the residual droplets on his mustache — egg drop, hot and sour, sliced chicken with hot peppers. He marched triumphantly down the menu, making stops at each of the Seafood entries — shrimps, prawns and scallops — all gone, he pranced through the poultry — the bones of ducks and chickens tossed away like plucked feathers, he begrudged not the Beef — ignoring nothing, he promenaded proudly through each of the entrees listed under Pork. Virtually wiping out the Vegetarian dishes, he resisted not the dishes made with Rice, nor was he afraid of negotiating with Noodles.

He was no longer the skinny goofy-​​looking kid on the Spoonful album covers, but he was nowhere near large enough to explain his Rabelaisian capacity. I, of course, strained to keep up appearances. No one else even tried — people lay back on all sides, their bellies swollen like ticks, pathetically useless little legs and arms sticking out at their sides, staring in exhausted disbelief at this consummate consumer of comestibles. Finally, the meal came to an end.

Many in the room seemed to be relieved.

Acting as tugboats for each other, we nudged and prodded ourselves away from the table, and squeezed out onto the sidewalk. Refreshed by the cool night air, I sensed that Zal’s trip to the city was incomplete. I casually mentioned an unassuming corner place in Little Italy, where we could get some Espresso or Cappuccino and some Cannoli, Pasticiotti, Sfogliatele, Pignoli or — for the truly spent — perhaps a glass of seltzer with Tamarindo.

The man practically raced me up Mulberry Street.

Gary AllenGary Allen’s most recent book is Can It!: The Pleasures and Perils of Preserving Foods, his third book from Reaktion. You can find more of his speculations about things he has been known to (but really shouldn’t) put in his mouth — his own foot being a prime example of the latter — on his website:  onthetable​.us  

 

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