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A Fourth of July Fireworks Fizzle

Here in the state of mind called ‘Geezerville’ the busiest street is always Memory Lane, especially on holidays like the Fourth of July. Stuck in traffic on Memory Lane is my recollection of Fourth of July 1967, the last one I spent as a 13-year-old pest in East Oakland.

Alameda Post - Woolworth's Lunch Counter
Another Woolworth’s lunch counter. Photo Joel Kramer.

July 2, 1967 was the Saturday before the Fourth. On Saturdays, my friend Rich and I would generally ride our bikes from East Oakland’s hilly Maxwell Park into the South Shore shopping center and beach. Swarthy, muscular, Sicilian Rich stood in great contrast to my pale Celtic flabbiness. He viewed our weekend bike rides as therapy to “work your lard off.” Ironically, we always hit the wonderful Woolworth’s Dinette halfway through the ride for banana splits, so whatever lard I had worked off was promptly replenished.

We swooped our bikes into the South Shore Center, and headed straight for Woolworth’s (located where Safeway is today). We parked and secured the bikes, headed into the store, and were instantly hit with the distinctive Woolworth’s sensory barrage of chirping parakeets, Muzak and fresh popcorn. We headed straight for the faded red stools of the dinette counter and plopped down right in front of a wall sign that advertised “Try our taco — a Mexican sandwich.” As a novice glutton, I was intrigued.

“Hey Rich, have you ever had a taco?” I asked.

“No, but my mom says it’s like a big, hard ravioli that you hold in your hand and eat like a sandwich.”

Alameda Post - Try our taco

Because Rich had brought up his mom, I thought it was a good time to sneak in an apology.

“Rich, tell your mom I’m sorry that I said ‘I hope your feet feel better’ last week.”

“It’s alright. She knows how stupid you are. ‘Only Gil could think that a migraine is sore feet,’ she said.”

I was beginning to blush with embarrassment when I heard “Well, there they are, Richie and Tubby, here for their Saturday splits.” Nadeen, the portly bleached-blonde, pink-clad counter waitress had spotted us and unleashed her booming, gravelly voice.

“The usual?” she bellowed. “No, Nadeen, today Rich will have a split, and I want to try the taco
Mexican sandwich.”

“You mean the ‘tacko’? I got a rule, kid, if customers can’t pronounce it, they shouldn’t eat it.”

Now I was really embarrassed, pink-faced and stammering. “OK, I’ll have the tacko sandwich, no mustard, heavy mayo.”

“Ha ha ha!” screamed Nadeen. She walked to the far end of the counter and yelled to the cook, “Hey Skip, Tubby out here wants a tacko, with heavy mayo!”

Skip roared with laughter and chortled, “His wish is my command!”

Nadeen looked up at me and giggled as she prepared and delivered Rich’s wonderful banana split — billows of whipped cream piled high on scoops of vanilla, chocolate and strawberry ice cream, with rivulets of chocolate, strawberry and butterscotch syrup filling the banana below.

Alameda Post - Banana Split

“Mmm mmm!” Rich teased as he dug in. With a rapturous look he whispered, “I’m in heaven!”

I sneered at him with envy, then heard Skip yell, “Order up, one tacko, heavy mayo, ha ha!”

With evil pleasure, a grinning Nadeen whisked the small plate with a brown object over to me and set it on the counter. “For Tubby, a tacko, heavy mayo!”

Rich looked at the object and asked, “You’re not actually going to eat that, are you? It looks like a fried wallet.”

Nadeen was grinning and glaring at me. ‘C’mon, Tubby, take a bite!”

I lifted the greasy, spicy-smelling, soft brown crescent and took a nibble.

Nadeen and Rich were staring as I thought, “This is edible, but I ruined it with the mayo.” I took another small bite and proclaimed — much to Nadeen and Rich’s surprise — “This is very good! My compliments to Skip the Chef!”

Nadeen skulked away.

Rich had devoured his enormous banana split but was curious. “Let me have a bite.”

Because the greasy, mayo-laden taco was nauseating, I handed it to him with great trepidation. He took a bite, chewed, tried to swallow, but with gaping eyes, yelled “I gotta heave!”

He ran for the door, gasping, with me running behind him. We made it to the parking lot before the torrent of taco, banana split and everything else he’d eaten blew forth like a geyser, all over both of us.

Nadeen was watching from the door, shaking her head. “I need five dollars, guys. Just put the money on the curb and go get cleaned up. I’ll get someone to wash away your mess”

The next part of our day was to go to the beach and set off some firecrackers, but that got scrubbed, literally.

I never saw Rich or Nadeen again, but they’re still here, in that state of mind called ‘Geezerville.’

Gil Michaels is still searching for the perfect taco at [email protected]. His writing is collected at

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