Say Goodbye To Good Italian

Almost every friend had the same warning upon learning that we were moving from New York to North Carolina: “Say goodbye to great bagels and pizza.”

Unknown to most of them, our pair of North Carolina scouts—Ray and Joann Christie—had been living in The Burg since the mid-1990s and, through much trial and error, eventually discovered the best pizza parlor within driving distance, as well as a second closer option that could pass in a full-blown Italian food emergency.

“It’s not New York pizza,” Ray warned, “but it’s pretty good.”

And he was right. No, it is NOT on the same level that we were accustomed to enjoying—say what you will, but Brooklyn water is magical when it comes to making bread and pizza dough—but it is solid and, most important, good enough to hold us over until we return north to visit family and gorge ourselves on carbs.

On the other hand, good bagels are as easy to find down here as a delicious bacon, egg and cheese on a hard roll.

In other words, impossible.

But I digress.

Though my wife had been able to satisfy her pizza cravings locally in the months before our arrival last week, the home cooking of Italian food always fell to me. I learned from the master, my mother, and managed to fine-tune my sauce recipe over the years that even she now says that my lasagna is better than hers. (While I’m happy to take the compliment, I also know that food—especially the kind that takes hours and hours to prepare, not counting the ensuing and massive cleanup—always tastes better when someone else does the cooking.)

Regardless, Frank’s Famous Sauce can hold its own and we could think of no better way to celebrate our first Sunday as a reunited family in the south but by enjoying a fresh batch with meatballs. It did not disappoint.

My youngest, Fionna—a.k.a. “The Carb Queen”—had THREE helpings, while my oldest, Shannan, enjoyed two helpings along with the largest meatball in the pot. My wife and I also consumed our fair share. Even our pooch, Reese, got a small sampling.

After finishing my meal, I turned to Kelly and said: “That came out pretty good. I guess we don’t have to worry about finding good Italian food here.”

Her response: “No, now that you’re here.”

I’m still all smiles as I’m typing this.

I’m All Out Of Freon, I’m So Warm Without You …

Those who have known me for a long time, and later met my better half, generally make the same observation: we’re polar opposites.

She’s the yin and I’m the yang; she’s always calm and collective, and I’m nearly always itching for a fight; she’s patient and I lack patience; she NEVER complains about anything and, well, you see where this is going …

But I’m ready to proclaim that being TOO laid back isn’t always a good thing, especially in the south in the summer, when the temperature lingers in the 90s for most of the day, with humidity levels trailing close behind.

Case in point: I was unloading our Toyota Highlander late Tuesday afternoon, following a 12-hour drive south, when I stepped inside our air conditioned rental home for a breather only to discover that things weren’t so cool. In fact, they were downright warm.

I checked the first-floor thermostat and discovered that it was 81 degrees inside, and slowly climbing. The upstairs thermostat was pinned at 84 degrees and heading in the wrong direction as well. Both were set for 72 degrees, so that wasn’t the issue.

I ventured outside to investigate and discovered that the outdoor compressor was cranking, so much so that the pipe leading into the house was encased in ice. I texted my wife, who has been living in The Burg since the winter and was here for the quick transition to summer, and she shared that the air conditioning had been underperforming for weeks.



The next day’s call to the landlord, which just happens to be a large national company, went as expected. They apologized for the inconvenience but, due to “extremely high demand for services,” could not immediately provide a window in which a vendor would swing by to address the issue.

Hence, the problem with waiting, especially until mid-July when the issue is an underperforming central air conditioning system.

Yes, I understand that most men are always warm, and have no issue setting both the house and office thermostat to 60 degrees from May through September, and that women are cold all the time, burrowing themselves under comforters and blankets when they go to bed and wearing sweaters to the office.

But even my better half realized in short order that 80-plus degrees was intolerable.

She was now on the case.

After patiently—there’s that darn word again—waiting 20 minutes to talk to a real person, Kelly explained the situation and expressed her unhappiness with the lack of a timeframe for service. She pressed to ensure that our complaint was on record, meaning that we were in the system and that the next step would be to assign a vendor. We also agreed to shut down and restart the compressor—the icing, while normal for the South’s overtaxed systems, could have clogged the line—at the suggestion of the rental company. I'mAllOutOfFreon2I'mAllOutOfFreonIt did not solve the problem.

“You’re probably low on Freon,” said my longtime friend from Long Island and new Harrisburg neighbor, Ray Christie. “It sounds like it just needs to be serviced.”

We decided to give our landlord a full 24 hours to address the issue and, as expected, we received no updates. At my prompting—once again, my wife is the one blessed with patience, as well an internal thermostat that is set much lower than mine—Kelly followed up on Friday morning, explaining that things were just as warm as they were on Wednesday and that the situation was now intolerable.

The email we were eagerly awaiting arrived at 3:41 p.m. Friday:

“We’re working diligently to correct the issue in your home and have assigned AIR SUPPLY to make the needed repairs.”

I read the email twice, with a smile on my sweat-covered face. Air Supply was coming to our home! I mean, this would have been a dream come true in the early 1980s, though I was sort of depressed that Graham Russell and Russell Hitchcock were now in the business of fixing broken central air conditioners instead of churning out soft and cheesy rock songs.

Sadly, someone named Bob ran this Air Supply and, as per the email, he’d be reaching out to us within the next 24 hours.

Oh, well.

At least a new earworm was born from a classic tune:

“I’m all out of Freon, I’m so warm without you. I know you were right, sorry you had to sweat for so long.”

The Beauty Of P.O. Box Ownership


It was my first day in “The Burg” and things weren’t going great.

A day after completing a 12-hour drive south to our new home in Harrisburg, North Carolina—a journey made 90 minutes longer due to unexpected traffic, and our pooch Reese’s propensity for suffering motion sickness—I opted to take on a simple task: deposit the proceeds from our house sale into our joint savings account.

We had created the account in early February, the same week my wife moved into our rental home in the Canterfield subdivision, so she could pay the rent until we sold our home on Long Island. We purposely opted for an account that linked our checking with savings, to ensure the easy flow of money between the two once we had actual money that required flowing.

The teller who greeted me with a smile quickly broke the bad news: our savings account had been automatically closed in March due to inactivity, and my wife, who was at work, would have to come in so we could reopen it.

Confused best describes my initial reaction, as the checking account linked to our closed savings account was very much active. Also, no notifications or warnings were received from the bank prior to closure.

Trying to save my wife an unnecessary trip to our local bank branch, I attempted in vain to plead my case: I explained that they already have all of her information on file (just check the checking account!), that she works Uptown (Charlotte proper for those unfamiliar) and cannot take a day off, and that I was only looking to make a deposit—it was not like I was trying to drain an account. Gheesh.

My pleading turned to annoyance after the teller pointed out that we could have avoided such a scenario if we had made a small deposit into our savings account when we opened it—information that was never shared with us in February. Yes, a $1 deposit would have kept our account active and avoided a bunch of unnecessary aggravation.

There was no avoiding it. My wife would have to come down and, following some rearranging of her busy schedule, we agreed to meet at the branch at 2 p.m. so we could reopen our savings account and ensure that our hard-earned money would earn more than the 0.001 percent rate of return offered by our checking account.

Shrugging off the experience, and trying to kill some time before our 2 p.m. rendezvous, I headed over the Harrisburg Post Office to check on our P.O. Box. My wife had opened the box three weeks earlier and shared that she thought it was odd that she had not yet received a single piece of mail—not even junk mail.

As had been her repeated experience, I was too greeted by the same empty metal cavern. But unlike my wife I also noticed a clear strip of something, which turned out to be packing tape, placed neatly across the rear of our box, where postal workers would normally slip in our mail. I almost missed it myself. Weird, right?

I decided to inquire. I was called to the counter after a few minutes and figured I’d start with a softball question: How do I add myself to the list of recipients for our shared P.O. Box?

The postal employee shared that since my wife opened the box, she would have to come down herself and add me to the approved list of mail recipients. (It was the theme of the day, apparently.) After stating that would be impossible, he asked about my relationship to the owner.

“Owner of what?” I asked, confused by the question.

“The owner of the box,” he replied.

“You can ‘own’ a P.O. Box?’ I countered, not trying to be a jerk as I was thoroughly confused by his terminology, and told him as much.

“Sure,” he said. “It’s like when you rent a home. You’re still the owner.”

Ummmmm, no. But I decided to let that one go unanswered.

He then asked if my wife and I share the same last name (we do) and, much to my relief, he said there was no need to add me to the list. All mail sent to a “Costanza” would be delivered to our box. Finally, some good news!

I then inquired about the lack of mail and the piece of clear tape affixed to the rear of our box. After disappearing in the back room for several minutes, allowing the line of waiting customers to triple in size behind me, the postal employee reemerged with an embarrassed look on his face.

He explained that he had been searching for the fellow who had opened our box three weeks earlier, explaining that he never “officially” opened it. The final step was using a label maker to print out a label reading “Costanza,” sticking it to the rear of our box and removing the piece of tape.

Due to his inaction, all mail sent to our P.O Box had been marked as “undeliverable” and automatically returned to the sender.

“All I can do is apologize,” he said, adding that he would give his coworker a “good talking to” when he returned from his lunch break.

He then added: “It’s a good thing you noticed the tape.”

Opting not to think about all of the returned mail, I decided to share my latest Burg experience with my wife via text. Her response: “Holy cow. Really?”

“Really. I’m choosing to laugh about it. Things are different down here, that’s for sure.”

For example, we’re now the proud owners of a P.O. Box that may or may not be opened.