Writer Ron Litke Shares His Love For Bacon | WBEZ
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Eight Forty-Eight

Writer Ron Litke Shares His Love For Bacon

A celebration of bacon is going on in Chicago this weekend. It's sold out. For some of those attending it's paradise. For others it's a gateway to hell. Local writer and regular Eight Forty-Eight commentator Ron Litke explains.

It was one of the most memorable olfactory experiences of my life. I was in the apartment of my childhood friend John Tortorice, and his remarkably good-looking Italian family. The aroma and sizzle in the kitchen made me giddy. What was it? [trumpets] It was bacon.

But bacon was forbidden to me, like Kryptonite for Superman. [dark horns, or theme from Jaws] My home, like many in our West Rogers Park neighborhood, was strictly kosher. My immigrant parents were raised as Orthodox Jews. Our oven was known as the deflavorizer, and no one ever wanted to eat over. I didn't want to eat there, either. When I was hungry I ran up the back stairs to my aunt's because she was the sister who could cook -- and they did not keep kosher. For my mother, the kitchen was terra incognita. She often wondered why it was even there.

The day I discovered bacon changed my life. It was Spring. The early season heavy rain was punctuated by booms of thunder from a rapidly darkening sky. [thunder booms] Kind of scary anyway, but especially so for a nine-year-old kid who was AWOL from a Hebrew school class for the first time. [thunder booms]

Concurrent with public school I attended Hebrew school three days a week, not to mention Saturday services and Sundays with my father. I felt I deserved a day off from the rabbi track. And so I took it. [ominous music]

After public school let out I walked my usual route from the Decatur School at North Sacramento and Touhy, toward the synagogue, which was only a few blocks east. Clever as I was, I suspected I was being followed by plainclothes Hebrew school truant officers who were aware of my plot. So, I zigged and zagged just as the rain started to pound the streets and the thunder began. Now I was scared, sure that God himself was tracking me. [booming thunder]

But, I thought, he'd never find me under a car. So I scampered under a black 1965 Chevy Bel-Air, and shivered from the rain and booming thunder. I would soon be dead, for sure.

But after what seemed like eternity, there was a brief pause in the rain. I slithered out from under the car to find Mrs. Tortorice running toward her building. She yelled something in crazy Italian, and motioned me to come with her.

This was not the first time Mrs. Tortorice spotted me coming home from Hebrew school. She would often gather me into her apartment for exotic epicurean suppers, like lasagna, that became instantly indelible memories.

I sat in her kitchen while she got to work. No one else was home. Then that sizzle, and the strong aroma. The rain pelted the windows over the sink where she was cutting a tomato on a simple board. In a few moments she had toasted the bread to create the superb BLT that was graciously served to me on a paper plate, with a glass of milk.

Of course it was already blasphemy that I was eating a product from an unclean animal. But having bacon with milk -- the additionally prohibited act of mixing meat and dairy -- was beyond perilous. Even if God had somehow overlooked the fact that I was, at this exact moment, not only cutting Hebrew school, but also violating the laws of kosher, then he would surely smite me now.

But, just as when the health care bill passed, no asteroids crashed into Mrs. Tortorice's kitchen. No Armageddon. Not even Charlton Heston as Moses. And I realized that as Mrs. Tortorice smiled and I ate in simple ecstasy, there was simply no way I would ever become a rabbi. I skipped dinner that night, and never told my parents. And I have loved bacon ever since. But I'd really appreciate it if you didn't mention it to my mother. [thunder]

Music Button: Taj Mahal, "Bacon Fat", from the CD Giant Step, (Columbia)

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