The Staff of Life
There's almost nothing in the world a real goomba likes better than eating. Even the goombas who aren't fat. The whole goomba world revolves around food. Family is all about food. Business is done over food. Deals are made at restaurants. Every big social event-from the christening to the wedding to the funeral-is built around the food. The most important question in a goomba's life is not "Do you take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife?" or "How do you plead?" The most important question in a goomba's life is "When do we eat?"
You can identify the goomba by what he eats, when he eats, how he eats, and how often he eats. In my first book I told you that you might be a goomba if you've ever eaten a sandwich on the toilet. If that sounds like you, you might already be on the Goomba Diet without even knowing it. If you're not sure, here are some more clues:
YOU ARE ON THE GOOMBA DIET IF . . .
•The air freshener in your car is a slice of provolone.
•Your idea of "health food" is vegetable lasagna.
•Your second word as a baby, after "Mamma," was "mozz-a-rella."
The goomba is a hungry man. He needs to eat often and in large portions. And he's particular about what he eats. He's not interested in exotic foods or exotic animals. Don't tempt him with anything made out of raccoon or rattlesnake.
He wants a regular meal, served in a regular way. He's happy to eat a turkey dinner, but don't try to feed him any turkey burgers, turkey sausages, or any of that other fake diet food. Don't bring him any beefalo. Don't bring him any Spam. Don't even think about tofu burgers or Tofutti ice cream.
He'll order out for Chinese, but that's about it for foreign food. You're wasting your time if you think you're going to get him into that little Indonesian place in SoHo, or the quaint Moroccan hideaway in the Village. He'll eat in a diner owned by a Greek guy, but he's not going to order the stuffed grape leaves. Here's another partial list of the stuff the goomba's not going to eat.
YOU'LL NEVER SEE A GOOMBA EAT . . .
•Any other part of the frog.
•Any weird animal that "tastes like chicken." If the goomba wants to eat something that tastes like chicken, he's going to order the chicken.
•Anything macrobiotic. Or microbiotic.
Bottom line, the goomba ain't missing too many meals. How can you tell? Look at the guy. Most goombas are pretty big. They don't look hungry. They don't look like they've ever been on a diet in their whole lives.
If this doesn't sound like you, or anybody you know, you might not be a goomba at all. But you might still need the Goomba Diet.
YOU NEED THE GOOMBA DIET IF . . .
•You have an offensive nickname, like Joey the Stomach.
•Your waist size is larger than your IQ.
•It's been more than a month since you saw your penis.
•They start asking you to use the freight elevator at your apartment.
•It takes more than two people holding hands to give you the Heimlich.
Food is like religion to the goomba. He believes in his mother's marinara and Sunday sauce the same way he believes in the Virgin Mary-only more so. Insult his mother's cooking and you're a dead man. Some people just eat to live. The goomba, he lives to eat. You don't see the goomba taking a business meeting at Starbucks. He's going to suggest lunch at Luigi's or dinner at Mario's if he's serious.
I have a friend who everyone calls Big Rocco. He's a good friend and a great guy. And he's big. I mean, he's huge. He makes me look small. And he's always eating. And he's always excited about eating. You'd think a guy that big might be worried about his weight, or he might have eaten enough already that he wouldn't be too interested in the next meal. Not Big Rocco.
This guy is a perfect representative of the Goomba Diet. He eats everything, and he loves it.
A few years back Big Rocco went on the Atkins Diet. He was eating only meat. No macaroni. No bread. Just meat. But it was a special Big Rocco Atkins Diet. He'd go into a restaurant and make a big deal about how he was on this new food plan. He'd tell the waiter he couldn't eat any pasta. No carbohydrates! No sugar! No flour!
So he'd order the veal parmigiana. But then he'd say, "Double veal on that, all right?" Or he'd order the chicken marsala, and say, "Double chicken." He was like a guy going into a bar and saying, "Make mine a double!" Whatever he ordered, it had to be twice as much as the menu said.
It wasn't just in restaurants. He ate that way when he was in people's houses, too. He and his girlfriend went out to the Hamptons one summer to visit another friend of mine. He was still on the Atkins Diet, so he brought this suitcase filled with meat-steaks, sausages, ribs, hamburger, you name it. He took enough for thirty people.
The first day the three of them ate this huge meal for lunch-a giant Italian lunch, with seafood and roast chicken and steak and everything. Big Rocco got up from the table and said he was going to take a nap. He fell asleep on the sofa.
As soon as he was asleep, his girlfriend said to my friend, "Maybe you should start heating up the charcoal. He's going to be hungry later."
My friend was shocked. "Are you kidding? We just ate enough for ten people!"
"He's on the Atkins Diet," the girlfriend said. "He's going to be cranky if he wakes up and there's nothing to eat."
So my friend started the barbecue. Sure enough, Big Rocco woke up and sniffed the air and said, "Hey! Let's put something on the grill."
It was the same when he wasn't on the Atkins Diet. He'd go into a bar and, before he ordered a drink, he'd say, "You got any finger food?" He hasn't even got a cocktail yet and he's already ordering the Buffalo chicken wings.
In a restaurant, he'd order before the menu arrived. He'd say, "How about a pizza appetizer?" before the waiter even got there. Then he'd order a huge meal-rigatoni, chicken parmigiana, baked clams-and then he'd ask what's for dessert. If two or three different things sounded good, he'd order them all. "We'll share," he'd say. Then he'd eat all three of them himself.
What I love about this guy is his appetite, and what I really love is that it's not just about food. This guy has a great appetite for everything. He loves girls. He loves sports. He's always got tickets to the Knicks and the Nets and the Rangers and the Yankees. Plus he's generous-really generous. He's always calling and inviting you to go to the game with him. He entertains, too. He rents these big houses for the summer and has all his friends come out. This guy is living a big life and loving it.
Last summer I had this party on a boat. I rented a big boat, so me and a bunch of my friends could spend the day sailing around the Hudson and the East River. I invited about thirty people. I told them, "I'm taking care of the boat. You bring the food." I didn't tell anybody what to bring. I just said, "Bring something to eat."
Big Rocco went nuts. He went to Eli's, this great deli uptown, and ordered salads. I don't mean the little Styrofoam tubs of salad. I mean platters of salad. There was egg salad and potato salad and pasta salad. And, being Rocco, of course he brought dessert, too. There were these huge platters of cookies and cherries and Italian pastries.
Not only that, but when Rocco found out I had paid for the boat, he sent me a thank-you gift. A bottle of wine? No. It's Rocco. It was a case of wine.
Even a hungry guy like Rocco has certain foods he would never eat. Every goomba does. Some foods are just off-limits.
YOU'LL ALSO NEVER SEE A GOOMBA EAT . . .
•Any type of kabob
•Kraft American cheese singles
•Anything with the name "Franco-American" on it
•Home Pride Buttertop Bread
•Mayonnaise on French fries
•Lasagna out of a box
Excitement about eating isn't only a goomba thing. Even Shakespeare wrote about it. He said, "If music be the food of love, play on." But Old Shakey was wrong. Food is the food of love. Keep eating.
I don't think this comes from growing up without enough money. Big Rocco, for example, grew up in a pretty rich family. Me, I thought about food all the time when I was a kid. All my friends, too. We were always eating, or thinking about eating, or talking about eating. Sometimes, in a restaurant, we'd be eating lunch and talking about where we were going to eat dinner. This made the lunch taste better, and made us more excited about the dinner, too.
We were always scheming. We had tricks to get free food, to get more food, to steal candy, you name it. We talked about food a lot, too. Do non-goombas do that? I remember being a teenager and listening to guys talk about this restaurant or that restaurant. I don't think non-goomba kids do that. I have friends now, like from WASP families or Jewish families, and their kids don't seem to care about food one way or another.
When I was a kid I knew a guy named Billy. I'd bump into him on the street and he'd say, "Come on. Let's bounce around. Let's hit a few spots."
You've seen The Godfather and Goodfellas. You're probably imagining Billy was thinking of the Copa, or some of the night clubs, or some of the hot bars.
Not Billy. He'd say, "Let's start at the Pizza Palace." This was the pizza joint in my neighborhood. He'd go there and have a few slices.
Then he'd stop up the street at the hot dog stand. He'd take it easy there. He'd just have, like, one dog. Or two. With mustard and onions.
Then he'd hit the deli. He'd get a little provolone and maybe a piece of Italian bread. Maybe he'd get a sandwich, cheese and salami on the good Italian bread. (No mayo on that, by the way. The goomba doesn't mess up his salami with mayo. Mustard, yes; mayo, never.) Sometimes he might have the turkey, if it was fresh. He'd throw some sun-dried tomatoes on there, and some lettuce, and sprinkle a little olive oil and some vinegar, and maybe add a hot Italian pepper-that's a sandwich.
He'd eat that standing up at the counter, looking at the soppressata and the prosciutto, talking to the people who work there.
Then he'd stop in at the drugstore, see who was hanging around. He might not eat anything there-just stop in and say hello. Then he'd step out again and maybe hit one of the luncheonettes or grocery stores.
In those days, Bath Avenue, the main street in the neighborhood where I grew up, was all Italian. Not like today. These days you drive along and you see Russian and Chinese-the grocery stores especially are all Chinese. In those days, no way. You wanted Chinese, you went to Chinatown. So the markets were all run by Italians and they all sold Italian products.
There was great food everywhere when we were growing up. We'd stop in at Emilio Brothers. We'd get a meatball sandwich. We'd get a sausage-and-peppers sandwich. Maybe we'd go to Chick's, which was another place in the neighborhood. They were famous for homemade pies. Incredible! We'd stop at Marino's Bakery for the bread. Or the pizza. Marino's had great pizza, too. Or, if we were really going to do it up and go to Ravioli Fair, we'd get them to make us a prosciutto-and-ricotta hero sandwich. That was heavy. That was living.
(Ravioli Fair is still a great place. A guy named Steve has run it for the last twenty-seven years. He sells the best cheeses and meats in the neighborhood. Fresh breads. Great sandwiches-meatball sandwiches, chicken parm, veal parm, he's got it all in there. The place is as good now as it was when I was a kid.)
So Billy would make the tour. He'd hit the spots. He'd spend $40 and eat like royalty.
I was playing a lot of ball in those days. I was skinny. I could eat like this and two days later be back down to my normal weight. I could eat like that twice a week and never notice it.
These days, I have to watch it. I can't eat like that all the time.
Even if you are fat and need a diet, this one isn't necessarily right for you. You might not qualify as a goomba. For example:
THE GOOMBA DIET AIN'T FOR YOU IF . . .
•You've ever said, "Who wants kugel?"
•You've ever said, "I'll have the ham and pineapple pizza."
•You've ever said, "Chef Boyardee? All right!"
•You've ever even thought of saying, "Dang! We're out of Velveeta!"
Even on the days when I wasn't knocking around with guys like Billy, I could eat that kind of food, in that kind of variety, even in that quantity, without even leaving the house. On a Sunday, if there was going to be a big meal in the evening, maybe if there was family coming over, there wouldn't be any real lunch to speak of. We wouldn't sit down to a midday meal. Instead, there would be various foods laid out in a buffet. You'd cruise the buffet table and make a little plate for yourself.
There would be peppers stuffed with provolone. Or olives stuffed with garlic. There would be rice balls or prosciutto balls. Potato croquettes. Meatballs. Fresh mozzarella. Soppressata. Italian olives. Fresh bread. You'd whack some of that together and make a plate. Lunch!
You want to take it easy. Remember, you got company coming. You don't want to overdo it. Your mother is going to be serving a big meal in a couple of hours. You've seen her in the kitchen all morning. You can smell what she's making in there. There's a roast beef or a roast chicken. There's sausages and peppers. There's the rest of the meatballs. She's got a tub of ricotta and she's stuffing shells. This is going to be a heavy meal.
Sunday mornings there was also bakery stuff. My mother would send me to the bakery for "buns." That meant whatever I liked or whatever looked best. I'd get jelly doughnuts, or crullers, or Italian pastries. I'd get a box of cookies.From the Hardcover edition.
Excerpted from The Goomba Diet by Steven R. Schirripa and Charles Fleming. Copyright © 2006 by Steve Schirripa. Excerpted by permission of Clarkson Potter, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.