The Knish Caper

Laura Greenstone

I’m delighted to share The Knish Caper story with you. My accomplished, beautiful, compassionate, artistic, funny daughter Laura wrote this wonderful story about me. But sadly, tragically, incredibly, unexpectedly (I have not the words) she passed away before she could get it published. It’s a story told with love and humor about my life in the Colorado mountains from her New Jersey suburbs perspective. Professionally, she was a Super Star. You can read about the high regard her Art Therapist colleagues have for her here. I treasure the gift of her story more than anything Laura left behind other than the memories. I invite you to read Laura’s story and get a sense of the creative and funny side of my dear girl.

The Knish Caper

By Laura Greenstone

© 2021 Laura Greenstone and Steve Edelstein. All rights reserved.

My father will probably be eaten by a bear in the end. The natural process of switching roles as “safety monitor” happens to most children as their parents age. I never expected that wild life would be part of the equation. I tried to discuss estate planning with him once and the conversation didn’t go far. He said his plan was to walk into the woods.

Dad called after his weekly Sunday breakfast at “The Merc” to tell me that the town council voted to haze the bears. They were wreaking havoc by rummaging through garbage cans and destroying property. Hazing is to fire shotguns to scare them away. I imagined bears drinking beer out of funnels or running through town wearing togas.

My father moved from New Jersey to Colorado with my stepmother Nancy and their white and yellow cockatoo named Sammy over twenty years ago. They named Sammy after Samuel Clemens otherwise known as Mark Twain. There is an estate plan for Sammy. He is my half-bird with a trust fund.

Dad lives in what used to be an old gold mining town named Jamestown, in the Rocky Mountains outside of Boulder. Legend has it it was originally called “Jimtown” but the locals decided a more formal name would be more distinguished. I call my dad “The White Stone Cowboy” because he grew up in the New York City borough of Whitestone Queens.

Dad and I share a dry sense of humor and a fondness for cheesecake. He makes my liberal leanings appear conservative. Dad likes to play the game of “My neighborhood is more liberal than your neighborhood” but our viewpoints are similar separated only by the perspective of different generations.

Our wardrobes are vastly different. He dresses in what can be described as “Mountain Chic” comprising of old, stained, graphic T-shirts or plaid flannels with beat up jeans, a baseball cap and hiking boots. My style is more practical, East Coast preppy with A-line skirts or slacks and cardigans in monochromatic colors. I stand out in Jamestown like a sore thumb even in my casual attire. Dad’s favorite pastime is to sit on his front porch playing his banjo while overlooking the breathtaking view of the forest and hills across the valley. Dad likes the idea of being eccentric and living remotely, but is attached to the modern world living in a home with wifi, central heating, a hot tub and a large screen TV. He has a wood burning stove they use in the winter to combat any accusation of a contradiction.

Miners looking for gold settled Jamestown in the mid-to-late 1800’s. Dad was looking for an escape from New Jersey. The town exists somewhere on the continuum of paradise to purgatory depending on your perspective. It is nirvana for someone who wants solitude with postcard views of lush greenery against jagged rocks and to hear the echo of birds singing in the canyon. The mountainous landscape has the aroma of sweet pine and the feel of clean, crisp air brushing against your skin. For an “urban suburban” like me who prefers the comfort of an art cinema, indie boutique, gallery, or ethnic restaurant within a short distance, Jamestown is a slow-moving tortoise in the wild.

There are almost three hundred residents in Jamestown with nicknames that describe a unique talent, interest or vice, such as Banjo Picking Bill or Ganja Gail. There is only one eatery in town, the Mercantile, which functions like a saloon where politics, gossip, live music and pancakes are served. The Merc has a rustic eclectic interior with round tables and a few intimate booths. Serving of alcohol depends on the sobriety of the current owner. The locals call themselves “Jimbillies” and live as if it is the Wild West, but the reality of suburban sprawl makes Jamestown only a half hour from the nearest movie theatre, chain restaurant or big box store in the flatlands below.

Jamestown is far from the realities of everyday life in Boulder with booming technology, bioscience and aerospace industries, which brought Dad to the area as a Physicist. Boulder edges the Mountain ridge. The inhabitants are trim, nature loving, educated, unicultural, white people of privilege, who would never believe that of themselves. Dad has a comfort there that I do not share. I have always felt a little uncomfortable as the laid back attitudes feel more forced and judgemental than natural. Boulder seems like it tries too hard to live up to its own reputation, lacking substance and grit.

One of the prominent features of Boulder is the pedestrian mall on Pearl Street filled with restaurants, shops, outdoor sculptures and street performers. The “uniqueness” of the downtown is found in other places in the country that strive to attract tourism. As Boulder experiences an economic boom complete with population explosion, traffic, rising property prices and chain store buyouts outs replacing independent commerce, it appears to be losing its laid back, indy edge.

Jamestown features a single dusty road through the center of town straight out of an old Western, with a firehouse, a community center, a post office, a bike shop and the Merc. It has one of the only one-room schoolhouses left in the country. I brought friends with me to visit once on our way to a ski trip. Dad gave us a custom tour of the tiny, off grid, log cabins on a remote mountain peak on the edge of town. My friend who grew up in Boulder was aghast and asked in disbelief, “People live like this?”

The two lane road into town is a leisurely ascent with a creek on one side and an evergreen forest on the other. As my father ages and his vision declines I worry that he may someday drive off the road into the creek and slide down the mountain. The elevated terrain is prone to snow storms, floods, forest fires, landslides, mountain lions and black bears.

Black bears are the most petite of the North American bear family with sharp extended claws useful for climbing trees. They are introverts who prefer their own company unless it is a Momma bear with her cubs. Black bears hibernate in the winter but in areas abundant in human food they stay awake all year round to enjoy the twenty four hour diners like back home in New Jersey.

Dad has served as an official Boulder County Bear Counter, which is why I worry about him getting eaten by one. I can see him sitting on a tree stump behind a bush, dressed in green and brown camouflage with a clipboard filling out census forms on his iPad. He was vague about what the job entailed, so I looked it up on the internet. I did not find an actual job description, but I found advice that appeared to be practical on “What To Do If You See a Bear in Your Backyard” on the Boulder County Website:

  1. “Stay Calm – If the bear finds no food, it will usually leave.
  2. Stay Away – bears may attack when they feel threatened.
  3. Warn Others – Bring kids and pets indoors. Remind others to keep their distance.
  4. Scare That Bear – Make sure the bear has a clear escape path. Make lots of noise, turn on lights, bang pots. Don’t let the bear become comfortable around your home.
  5. Remove Attractants – After the bear has left, make sure your home is bear proof.
  6. When to Call for Help – If the bear is threatening human safety, pets or destroying property, call the police at 911. Report sightings and encounters by following the link under Black Bears and Mountain Lions or call…”

. . . But the best advice of all, “A Fed Bear is a Dead Bear.”

My visits to Jamestown always include adventures like: Pancake festivals where Dad serves as Chief Pancake Flipper, hunting rifle standoffs with reclusive neighbors and watching a faithful band of volunteer firemen/pyromaniacs light fireworks in a dry field surrounded by trees on the Fourth of July.

On one visit with my brother, David, Dad whisked us off the plane despite our jet lag and immediately enlisted our participation in the “Annual Jamestown Pancake Festival” in the Community Center with strangers. My brother mixed pancake batter in the back of the Merc in a giant bucket with a jackhammer, while I collected money for the pancakes from hundreds of bikers, hikers and locals who attend the festival each year. Dad was in the background covered in flour, tossing giant greasy, floppy pancakes in the air with a spatula wearing an apron and a chef hat.

Locking car doors in bear country is normally advised. Bears can be adept at getting into cars, but rarely getting out without destroying the interior. Bears have also been known to have streaks of breaking into people’s homes and helping themselves to the content of refrigerators and cabinets. Against conventional wisdom, the people of Jamestown leave their car doors unlocked at night so if a bear gets in there is the hope that it can open the car door latch with the remote key left in the ignition. Dad may someday come home to a bear having coffee in his living room, as the house is never locked either.

Our Eastern European ancestors were immigrants who arrived in America over a hundred years ago via Ellis Island bringing what we now know as Jewish Delicatessen foods with them. Deli food has been an obsession in our family for generations. Colorado is NOT known for its authentic New York style deli.

I was once waiting for a train from New York City back to New Jersey. I craved a traditional square potato knish. This Jewish delicacy served in delis and as street food is a dumpling filled with a puffy, pile of potatoey goodness encased in a crispy, fried crust. The first bite reveals a soft, pleasant, mildly spicy mashed potato reminiscent of a warm hug from an ancestor, familiar and comforting. I stopped at my usual place inside Penn Station to get one. They only had round ones so I crossed the street to a nearby deli and then a hot dog stand. No square knishes. The man working the cart said what I heard as, “The knish maker got fired.” I ran off just in time to catch my train.

I posted my discovery on social media that you could no longer buy a square knish in New York City because the knish maker got fired. How could they fire the knish maker?” I ranted in my head. It sounded unjust. A friend in the restaurant industry later corrected me.

I misunderstood the man’s heavy accent. There was a FIRE in the Coney Island factory of the largest distributor of square knishes in the country. Knish manufacturing could not resume until the machine that squishes the potato filling into a square got fixed. Round knishes are made by a different manufacturer and were still available, although in my opinion are not as tasty. Mystery solved.

The knish factory resumed production after five months. On the phone with my father I mentioned that I had a knish from the infamous distributor from Coney Island. Dad said he wanted one and asked if I thought the distributor shipped to Colorado. An email exchange with the subject line, “The Knish Caper” transpired over the next several hours.

Dad did some research while he was working from his home office.

“Spoke to someone at the factory. Orders are $50 for bulk knishes with an added $75 for shipping. They sell directly to distributors so he can’t say specifically where they are sold, he didn’t think in Colorado. I’m on the case.”

I read the email several hours later.

“That sounds like a lot of knishes.”

Time passed.

“Yes. I don’t want my freezer full of knishes. They are sold in Austin so I’ve put out an APB on social media for anyone going there to bring some back.”

I did a quick internet search.

“You could try a local supermarket. Lots of New Yorkers immigrated to Boulder. I am sure they would enjoy a knish. The website lists a store in Longmont that is close to you.”

Another hour went by.

“Bingo! The knishes are sold at the Brooklyn style deli in Longmont. Just got off the phone. They get large boxes of 36 but sell them individually.”

My response time gets faster.

“Enjoy. Worth half a day of research?”

I saw an email in my inbox an hour and a half later.

“Most productive thing I did today.”

I replied:

“Are you driving down the mountain now?”

Dad replied:

“Sadly, no. It’s snowing and the roads are slick. There are huge fires around the house due to a ‘controlled burn.’ They can get out of control so better stick around until there are no visible flames.”

I sighed heavily while I typed,

“I am sure the knishes will be there tomorrow.”

It makes me wonder if there had been deli comfort foods during the gold rush, if the Colorado Wild Frontier would have been a little less wild. Never mind, there would still be bears. The bears in Jamestown have taken to ransacking the unlocked cars again. One can assume that this is in an effort to drive down to Longmont to get a knish.

POSTSCRIPT

Laura shared her first draft of this with me on February 25, 2017. This was our email exchange:

FROM: Laura Greenstone Sat, Feb 25, 2017 at 12:50 PM
TO: Steve

Dad:

After our dialogue yesterday I got inspired to work on some creative writing. I have been working on bits and pieces of it for many years. It is a collection of autobiographical short stories that feature friends and family throughout my life. It is primarily a satire with some poignancy thrown in.

For years I have been trying to thread snippets of you in living in Jamestown in a story called, The White Stone Cowboy. I took a lot of artistic license. I am reluctantly sharing this draft with you, which I just completed. I hope you take it as endearing rather than offensive in any way. I do poke fun at Jamestown, weaving stories I have heard from you over the years. I hope you don’t’ hate it.

Laura Greenstone, M.S., LPC, ATR-BC, ACS
Licensed Professional Counselor and Board-Certified Art Therapist
NJ Certified Disaster Response Crisis Counselor
Approved Counselor Supervisor
FROM: Steve Sat, Feb 25, 2017 at 3:16 PM
TO: Laura Greenstone

Thanks for letting me read it Laura. I’m very touched. It was a fun read.

Love,
Dad

9 thoughts on “The Knish Caper

    1. Thank you Paul. It’s so good to hear from you Professor.

      Take a look at the Shebang menu item for the stories I have so far in their chronological order.

      Best Regards from your eternally grateful student,

      Steve

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