Part I: Selling T-Shirts at Fenway, the Sausage King
I sold Green Monster and Bleacher Creature t-shirts at Fenway Park during the summer of 1990.
The season was noteworthy for many reasons.
I became firm friends with fellow vendor David Axelrad-a connection that has continued and deepened through living and teaching together, through our becoming husbands and fathers and through our shared passion for a thoroughly examined and joyful life lived in the present.
Thanks to childhood brothers Vinnie, Paul and Gus D’Angelo, I had a job I will remember fondly forever.
Since we were selling right outside Gate E on Lansdowne Street, I had one of the best possible spots near Fenway Park.
Yet, as meaningful as these all ultimately proved to be, one aspect stands above all:
We sold next to the Sausage King.
Gatesy and Jimmy, brothers and a pair of Italian-Irish Boston Police officers, owned and ran the stand as a second job.
In moments that reminded me of Ralph E. Wolf and Sam Sheepdog checking in for the day, tickets scalpers and policemen would gather at the King for a brief chat in what amounted to the equivalent of the demilitarized zone between the Koreas or Switzerland during both world wars.
In addition to the sausages that had hefty portions of Windex that dribbled down from the glass window onto the grill, the stand was distinctive because it had Perry hawking.
A welterweight boxer who hailed from South Boston, Perry bore a striking resemblance to Dennis the Menace. He would spend large chunks of time admiring his tanned biceps and issuing memorable calls to attract customers like “How many, how many, my name is Jack Benny,” and “Coast to coast, like buttered toast, we sell the most.”
Perry often punctuated his favorite jingles with a guttural sound, “AAAAHHHH!”
His relentless desire to scam the customer knew no limits.
When Mike, a pretzel salesman who would have far preferred to practice astrology, left his stand for a minute, Perry stepped in, charged the unsuspecting client two dollars instead of one and then pocketed the change.
His favorite story was how he took a $100 bill from a drunken customer in a limousine, gave him $2 back and declared solemnly, “We’re even.”
Memories of Perry’s antics stirred within me late this afternoon when I met Patricio and Andres at one of the many anticucho stands outside the National Stadium that is the site of the 14th annual Festival of Nunoa neighborhood.
Part II: Festival De Nunoa
These fondos are happening in communities throughout Santiago in observance of “El Dieciocho,” or Chilean Independence Day on September 18. Of course, the celebrations are by no means limited to that day only.
In fact, one of the vendors at today’s event told me that the hours of 10:00 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. from Tuesday through Sunday are actually light compared with the fondo at Bernardo O’Higgins that, like New York, never sleeps.
I met Andres and Patricio on my second late afternoon lap around the stadium. I had already passed by empanadas baking on the grill, the crust carrying bits of charcoal.
I had observed a fussball game that involved three generations of family members, chatted with the owner of a shop that sold stuffed cupcakes with a replica of the Chilean flag made of frosting, watched a series of children try to win prizes by throwing a ring around bottles of soda and alcohol and seen a Mapuche hut made of straw that stood next to a stand where a young woman with blue jeans who did not want to be photographed kneaded the dough that would turn into sopaipillas.
I had heard the wail of children who did not want to get off the rides they were on in the mini-amusement park near the front of the stadium and witnessed a little girl ride a static line from the stadium to a stand about 50 yards away.
The blue sky had few clouds, the air had a gentle cool and couples old and young, groups of friends, and families strolled leisurely around the stadium, their pleasure in the national celebration and being with each other evident in their smiles and relaxed faces.
The smoke billowing forth from the grill he was working and the sunglasses and bright red hat he was wearing obscured a view of Patricio’s face until I walked to the other side of him. A construction worker, he is solidly built with brown and moves with a decisive efficiency.
I took a picture first of Patricio, then of Andres, who is stockier, younger and has a buzz cut that looks like it’s been growing back for about a month.
They asked where the picture was going.
I answered, and we started chatting.
Andres’ extolling the quality of the beef they were grilling in an effort to cajole customers whose ages ranged from teenager to senior citizens rivaled some of Perry’s top efforts to help us sell t-shirts before demanding a commission after a successful sale. (“One hundred percent Egyptian cotton,” he would crow, paying no attention to the fact that our cotton came from nowhere near Egypt.)
Andres repeatedly asked me if I wanted a terremoto, a trademark Chilean drink that Dunreith and I had agreed we would try tomorrow. My refusal neither deterred nor offended him.
Instead he kept emphasizing the importance of our trying the alcoholic trifecta of a Terremoto, La Replica and a Tsunami.
It sounded like a recipe for public drunkenness and free pickings for the many pickpockets we had been advised liked to feast on foreign prey at the fondos.
Part III: Patricio works the grill and an angle
For his part, Patricio called me over behind the red shack that was part of “La Pica Del Tio Nino,” the spot where he was working that had been set up for the festival.
I want you to get me a beer.
That’s fine, I replied. Just give me the money and I’ll bring it over.
My answer did not appear to satisfy Patricio, who then said he wanted two beers.
He then showed me a blue lined receipt with the words, “1 Anticucho” on it.
All became clear.
I would take purchase two beers, which were 1,000 peso each, and then bring them to Patricio and Andres, who would in turn give me an anticucho from the receipt Patricio was about to hand me.
I would save 500 pesos off the price of the anticucho.
Patricio and Andres would have the beer they coveted.
And the store would have 2,000 pesos it had not had before.
The plan went seamlessly.
Patricio hustled me over to the side of the shack, where he placed the beers with such care and reverence it was like he was putting a Faberge egg in its cases.
He offered me a cold coke he had already hidden, but my journalistic ethics against accepting gifts from sources compelled me to decline.
These same ethics hadn’t rebelled against my scamming the company they were working for not one minute earlier, but somehow that seemed different.
I identified the anticucho I wanted, which, as Andres pointed out to all who passed by, had 250 grams, or more than half a pound of fresh beef and sausage from Chillan, a community about four hours south of Santiago.
We made sure the meat was cooked enough and I retreated to one of the Tio Nono tables that were covered with red and white tablecloths.
I had a long wooden skewer, two pieces each of beef and sausage and no plate.
A woman instantly appeared not with a plate, but a plastic cup full of napkins.
I needed all of them, as both the sausage and especially the beef were dripping with juice.
The woman, who was dressed in an all-white outfit, recognized my plight and brought over even more napkins before I finished to help me clean my hands.
I thanked her, then returned to the grill.
In between his salting the meat, I learned that Andres is 29 years old, works in concert promotion and has a wife and nine-year-old son.
Patricio has three children ranging from ages 15 to 24 and offered repeatedly to give Dunreith and me a tour of Santiago’s most beautiful places. (We didn’t talk about which those were.)
He leaned in to tell me that since I hadn’t handed them the ticket for the anticucho, I could get another one later.
I responded in kind.
I’ll get two more Coronas and give them to you, I told Patricio.
He smiled broadly.
I don’t forget, I said.
We all swapped phone numbers. I shook hands again with Patricio. Andres and I hugged.
I said I would come back with my wife the next day.
My rumpled anticuhco ticket in my pocket, I believed it at that moment.
I don’t know if we’ll make it back, but I do know that I appreciated the chance to meet Patricio and Andres.
And to visit with Perry for a minute, too.