ABOUT RUBBER GASKETS


The Pasta Kitty on Grand Street
On Sunday afternoon I walked all the way to Little Italy to the E. Rossi and Company store at number 193 Grand Street with my little old stovetop macchinetta in my bag, to buy a new rubber gasket for it. But when I got there the shop was dark and the “Closed” sign was in the window.  It’s a big messy old shop that sells Italian tchotchkes, and a day or two earlier I saw that the doors were open and outside on the sidewalk in front, an old geezer was parked on a chair. I asked him if he had any gaskets. He got up and went behind the counter, where he unearthed a cardboard box full of gaskets of all sizes and thicknesses. He said, “What kind is it?” And even though I’ve used it for a very long time, I couldn’t think of the name of my macchinetta, just that it is made of stainless steel. So the old man said that to be safe, I should come back with the machine and he’d find one that fit.  I was disappointed to find the shop closed on Sunday, but I was even more disappointed today, which is Tuesday, when I made another special trip with my machine and found the store closed again. I stood and looked in at the place, full of boxes and mayhem, knowing that behind the counter, just out of reach, was that box of rubber gaskets. It is very hard to find a rubber gasket anymore, even though all kinds of stores sell the little stovetop machines. And once the gasket wears out in one of those things it really wears out. It really does almost disintegrate and then the coffee tastes very bad.  

The gasket in my little machine wore out a long time ago, but I haven’t been able to find a gasket to replace it, and somehow I managed to lose track of the old gasket, which I saved in a paper bag so that I could, if I never find one again, do what one of my Macchinette advice-givers suggested, which is to buy a sheet of plumber’s rubber from the hardware store and use the kaput gasket to carve out a new one, which doesn’t appeal to me at all.

It was a pretty day today and as I walked I thought about all kinds of things; about the shop itself which has been there for a long time, always very messy but nice, and all the things that have always been for sale there, such as garlic presses and tee shirts that say “Italian Girls Do It Better” and crucifixes and rosaries and pizza slicers and Frank Sinatra records, and many other oddball things, and about how I thought of that store the moment I realized that the gasket in my machine was done.  I thought of an old friend of mine who was born in a little Tuscan village after the second world war, and a story she had about a relative of hers who made a fortune by manufacturing nothing but rubber gaskets for those little macchinette. She told me about him during a visit I made with her once to that village where her mother and grandmother still lived. Everything was very old fashioned there. Her grandmother lived in a very old house with no electricity and tile floors that were all so loose that walking over them was melodious, like a toy piano. The grandmother was so ancient that her nose and chin almost met, and I remembered first seeing her as she sat with her old feet in a wooden tub full of water in her old kitchen. She complained to my friend about some old offense that was committed by someone somehow related to the rubber gasket fortune, none of which was ever shared with her, as much as she could have used it, and as selfless and self-sacrificing as she had been for her whole life, unappreciated by everyone she had ever known.

I remembered walking through the very medieval town a few kilometers up the road from that grandmother’s old house, going to visit one of my friend’s uncles who made us lunch and told us about how he only uses lemon juice to wash his dishes because all soap is poisonous, and about his daughter, my friend’s cousin, who was a cloistered nun in the convent we could see off in the distance from his window. I remembered that nobody but he was allowed to visit her and even he could only spend a few minutes talking with her through a little slot in a door, and only every few months. He was very fastidious, this uncle, and he wore a suit and tie even when he worked in his garden.

I remembered the little post office with its fa├žade still full of bullet holes from the war, and a meadow nobody let their kids pass through because of unexploded mines left in the tall grass. My friend told me about the gasket factory the same day she showed me the bullet holes and told me about the time she went through the meadow against her father’s warnings and scared herself half to death stepping on something that gave under her foot but turned out to be a rusty old accordion.  I thought of all those things walking across Grand Street today, when I found E. Rossi and Co. closed again.

Across the street is the Piemonte Ravioli shop, with a friendly cat and good pasta that isn’t very expensive. What’s nice is that if the cat isn’t in sight, the lady will go and find him, and that’s what happened today. After I petted him I bought a bag of radiatori, the pasta shaped like little radiators, and as disappointed as I was about not getting a new gasket, the cat and the radiators went a long way to make my walk feel worth the effort.


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3 comments:

  1. I loved that little store. Maybe the guy has a cold and is home in bed. I hope so. And thanks for the walk thru the old italian village. Glad you're keeping a record of the secret jewels of space and time.

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  2. My (East) village gasket story:
    Once I needed a new vacuum breaker for my tank-less toilet, but the old, old hardware store wouldn't sell me one because,
    first, I didn't know what it was called (although I had brought the broken one along),
    and second (after I learned the name and came back), because, "I gotta bring my husband."
    I felt like I should invisibly boycott, but they had all the crazy mysterious gadgets you would never find again...
    ... and now we never will.

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  3. My goodness! If you still need a toilet breaker, come up to 7th Avenue and try Kove Bros. They're gruff to be sure, but you don't gotta bring yer husband!

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