Then, And Now

Yesterday’s post generated a lot of hits so I assume there is a “hunger” for somewhat nostalgic posts, columns that reflect on “then” versus “now.” I must confess – as challenging as the present is for me at times, I would never trade it for the past. Ever. But there are some memories that make me miss the “good old days.” For example,

I moved out of my parents’ house when I was twenty. I left behind a nice, modern house – with air! – for a dilapidated, three-story monster my roommates and I nicknamed “The Commune.” It was a drafty, rambling wreck of a house but for us, it was heaven. Five gay guys, all living together, in a five bedroom house – with one bathroom! (just a tub; not even a shower!)

Anyway, besides all our other challenges – jobs, coming out, relationships – food was always an issue. But, I do remember my roomies LOVED my PWT (poor white trash) tuna casserole. It was always a hit. Bountiful, reasonably-tasty and very cost-effective at the time, I made it for us like once a week.

It started with two boxes of Kraft Mac-n-Cheese, the old school variety: no real cheese pack, just macaroni elbows, a dry “cheese sauce” pack, a tablespoon of butter (if we had any), a portion of milk and boiling water. That mac-n-cheese used to be eight (8) boxes for $2.00, or twenty-five cents a box…

kraft mac n cheeseI don’t remember the “smmile” part, but it always was the cheesiest. And a noticeably artificial orange color. So, after preparing the mac-n-cheese according to package directions, I added one can of tuna (at the time, I think it was like $0.49/can) and one can of peas, which I remember being like three for a dollar.


peasSo, mac-n-cheese prepared, I would blend in the peas and tuna, pour it all into a 13 x 9 x 2 glass baking dish and, if we were really “flush” that week, maybe add some Kraft singles cut into strips on the top. But the MOST important ingredient, and what made that “meal the deal,” was the final addition of a lunch-size bag of crushed Lay’s potato chips –

lay's chipsIn 1978, that bag of chips cost $0.19. That was the recipe for my Crunchy Tuna Mac, a hit among the 20-something’s in Mansfield. Ohio, in 1978. That gourmet dinner – including the Kraft single strips – probably cost about $2.00, if that. It was fun to sit down with all my friends and eat that once a week – it made me feel like a super chef…

The pic below is what I remember it looking like when completed.

Tuna-CasseroleBut that was then and this is now. To make that same meal now would still be pretty inexpensive but certainly not $2.00 and definitely not very nutritious. I mean, what person over fourteen would eat that now? It is SO bad for you (but so delicious, especially when you use today’s mac-n-cheese with the gooey cheese sauce packs). I guess the real “now” moment of that whole story for me is that of our five, I am the only one left… One lost to a heart attack, two lost to a horrible disease and one just lost. Those guys were my besties back then, and I think of them often. I remember those times on Lexington Avenue with great affection – we were actually hot messes but thought we were the sh*t. But that was then.

Now those guys are gone, and so is my $2 crunchy tuna mac. I miss all of them…

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