It's been a big day for leaving this mortal existence. Folks who've never died before have been trying it. Here's another obit on Joe Simon and here are thoughts on three other people…
I've received several e-mails saying things like, "Well, I know you're busy writing about Joe Simon but I hope you'll find time to also write something about Eduardo Barreto." Eduardo Barreto was a comic artist from Uruguay who made a big splash in the eighties and since, working for DC (mostly notably on Teen Titans), Marvel and several newspaper strips. I never met Mr. Barreto and have nothing to offer other than a list of his credits which others can do a better job of providing. I can say that he was responsible for a lot of fine looking comics but anyone who ever saw his work could tell you that.
And I note the passing of writer Christopher Hitchens, following a much-publicized battle with cancer. Hitchens, an outspoken atheist, seemed to be appalled at the assumption by believers that upon facing his maker, he would recant every last thing he'd said during his life about there not being a God. I admire that he (apparently) held to his beliefs to the end and didn't turn to religion to try and cut a hypocritical last-minute deal. I also admired his facility with words. I didn't always like what he did with those words and thought he was largely though eloquently full of manure on many occasions. But even when I thought he was wrong, he gave me much to think about…and I admire that.
Lastly for tonight — assuming no one I care about dies in the next 26 minutes — I want to mention a man named Marvin Saul. When I was but a wee lad, my mother sometimes took me into a wonderful but tiny delicatessen on Pico Boulevard, just east of Westwood. The building, considerably expanded in square footage, is now a Maria's Italian Kitchen. But back then, it was mainly a deli counter with about five tables for dining. The two brothers would cut and sell meat and cheese to go or they'd build you a sandwich and personally serve it to you at one of their tables.
We became regulars at the Saul Brothers' little deli, which was called Junior's. They always recognized us and one or the other of them would give me a free shtickel…or maybe it was spelled "shtickle." I have never seen these anywhere else but they were like little salamis, each good for about four bites. It took longer to get the cellophane wrapper off the shtickel than it did to eat it. They were displayed in a little bin atop the deli counter with a handmade sign that said, "It used to be a nickel a shtickel. Now it's a dime. Ain't it a crime?" I have never seen them anywhere else and I wonder if anyone even makes them anymore. Once in a while, my lunch would consist of a shtickel and a pickle. If you want to grow up to write poems, try eating a lot of foods that rhyme.
Business was good at Junior's. It must have been because one day they moved into a much bigger building around the corner on Westwood…and then they began expanding that building, buying up the shops on either side and knocking out walls. Soon it was and still is a rather huge deli and Marvin Saul rarely cut the meat anymore. Instead, he ran the place with unceasing energy. If you walked in there at any hour, you'd see this man scurrying about and you'd know that was the owner. It had to be. (Marvin Saul's brother soon moved out to the valley and opened his own deli.)
Junior's is still a thriving business and I go there often. So does Mel Brooks, who is quoted in the L.A. Times obit for Marvin Saul, who just left us at the age of 82. I often saw Mr. Saul there — and Mr. Brooks too, for that matter. A lot of show biz folks considered Junior's a great place to "do lunch." Saul claimed to vaguely remember me, especially after I recited the little shtickel jingle for him. He said he didn't know where to get them or he'd still be selling them, though he laughed and said, "Well, if I did sell them today, the poem wouldn't work. We'd have to price them at a buck or so." I said, "You can say, 'It used to be a nickel a shtickel. Now it's a dollar. Don't scream and holler!' Or 'Now it's a buck. You're outta luck!'"
Anyway, thank you, Marvin Saul for a great delicatessen. And for all them free shtickels.