Toasted Cheese at Tootsies

One of my favourite memories from my teenage years is going with my mom to this little coffee shop in a local mall, called ‘Tootsies’. The decor was simple, as was the menu, but to us it was a real outing and a little slice of heaven. My mom battled with a fear of driving for most of her life and we were restricted to the coffee shops and restaurants in the area if we wanted to go out. There was not that much on offer in those days - one of our regular spots was even the canteen at the local hospital! Our favourite place to go to though, was Tootsies, as the waitresses were lovely (they knew our routine and order and would have our coffees virtually on the table before we sat down) and the food was tasty and consistent. It mainly consisted of cafe-style food like burgers and good old fashioned South African toasted sarmies. I always had a toasted cheese and tomato sandwich on white bread. Their bread, toasted with just the right amount of butter, appeared golden in colour. It came with a side order of crispy chips and I usually added salt, pepper and tomato sauce to the meal. Their tomato sauce tasted better then any other I had, and still have ever tasted. It was most likely a cheaper variety and full of all kinds of preservatives with scary names starting with E, but memories of that flavour combination still elicits within me cravings, along with a deep nostalgic yearning. Only when you get older, do you realise the moments that seemed so insignificant, were actually pure gold and we, unlikely kings were unaware of the treasure we held in our hands.

What made our visits to Tootsies even the more special, was that it was an opportunity for my mom and I to talk. In a world not yet tainted by smartphones, it gave us quality time to sit, focused on each other and just chat. And chat we did - about everything and anything. In fact now, looking back I can’t help wonder how we never ran out of things to talk about, how each outing (and we did this sometimes more then once a week), seemed equally special and interesting. As a sign of my love for my mom and the opportunity to just talk and talk, without any rushing on with the day, I would agree to sit in the smoking section. If my mom had a cigarette and a coffee she would happily sit for ages and I have never been good at any sort of ending, including those that occur after having a good time, so this arrangement, as unhealthy as it was, suited us both. Even when I turned 18 and got my driver’s license, we would still go to Tootsies, as by then it had become our own special ritual. I remember with fondness how, when I was attending art college, how my mom would occasionally convince me to bunk class and go out instead for brunch at Tootsies. Friday’s schedule at college consisted only of one fine art class - life drawing - and she felt it was fine for me to miss it! Life Drawing went on for around two hours, where we got to sketch(often in charcoal), or paint nude bodies of men or the occasional women, who would come and pose for us. My life drawing teacher was an inconspicuous, quiet little man with mousy hair and thick glasses, who hardly said a word the whole class. You knew what you had produced was no good when he would come around to look at your work and start to giggle. It wasn’t a mocking sort of sound - more a nervous type of laugh, as if he was afraid to tell you that a particular angle was wrong or a limb lacked proportion. Needless to say, no one really took this class seriously and more often than not our class would get up to mischief during this time. Our minds were already on the weekend and staring at naked bodies, without much guidance or supervision, did not help to dull the playful (and at times slightly hysterical) atmosphere. One memorable time I was standing in-front of my large wooden easel busy painting the seriously pierced naked man in front of me, while chatting to my close friend, Louis who was telling me a story with his usual camp enthusiasm. He was gesticulating expressively and waving his paintbrush around. To get the whole picture, you have to imagine the scene. The room we did this class in was a long barn like studio, predominantly used by the fine art students (we were graphic design students) whose large, detailed clay sculptures were on display and busy drying on shelves all around the walls of the room. So Louis, ever so excited over the punch line of his story, accidentally let the paintbrush fly out of his hand. It flew past me and crashed into a clay sculpture of a naked man drying on the shelf behind me, swiftly castrating him. The expression on Louis’ face said it all and I found this scene ridiculously funny and was hysterical with laughter. We then had to try and stick the penis back on the sculpture without anyone noticing (I think he may have used gum in the end!). I can only imagine what the poor artist felt when he discovered our hack-job! Anyway it was just these sorts of shenanigans I was missing and not any serious creativity, when I bunked Life Drawing in favour of toasted cheese with my mom at Tootsies.

These days I watch my carb intake and seldom eat sandwiches, but a good toasted cheese sandwich will forever be my ultimate comfort food.