Fifty years ago, my father Allen Tarses and his brother Sol owned a furniture store in Baltimore, Maryland called the North Company. Most of the furniture they sold was of low quality. I remember that my father used to tell people: “The only really good piece of furniture that most people ever buy in their lifetime is a coffin. Then they bury it in the ground a few days later.” That sounds funny, but it’s true! None of the furniture in most people’s homes is made as well as the average coffin.  Coffins are usually made out of wood or metal. Coffins that are made out of wood are usually made out of solid hardwood, like oak or maple, not like Ikea furniture, much of which is just veneer over particle board. The joinery in coffins is typically of the very best quality as well, with dovetail joints. Coffins that are made out of metal are usually made out of brass or stainless steel. The finishes, paint, and varnishes are also top quality, and the inside of coffins are lined with silk. Now tell me, is the furniture in your house made as well as the coffins I just described? Probably not. You see, my father was right. It was true about coffins back then, and is still true today. There is nothing in the home of the average American that is made as well as the coffins they buy. Then they bury these coffins in the ground 1 or 2 days later, never be seen again. Doesn’t it seem that there is something odd about that? It wasn’t always this way. Until the 20th Century, only rich and famous people were buried in expensive or professionally made coffins. Nearly everybody else was buried in simple pine boxes or just put in the ground wrapped in a simple piece of cloth.

Greek Restaurants


souvlakiIf you are looking for a meal that is a somewhat cheaper than Chez Panisse, try Souvlaki Greek Traditional Foods at 2518 Durant (between Telegraph and Bowdich) near Sproul Plaza. They have the best Greek roasted chicken anywhere. The chicken is encrusted with Mediterranean herbs and then flame roasted until the skin of the chicken and the herbs are almost black. It is the best Greek roasted chicken anywhere. I get the 1/4 chicken plate, which is enough for me. They use large chickens. It comes with lemon sauce, salad, and french fries. The meal is very underpriced at just $4.00. I don’t know how they stay in business. The 1/2 chicken plate is $6.99. The lamb gyro plate is also very good. If you want dessert or a lighter meal, try the Greek yogurt, which comes with fresh strawberries, raspberries, and honey. My only complaint with this restaurant is the uncomfortable, flimsy seating. Souvlaki Greek doesn’t have a web site, but you can see their menu on their Facebook page at Souvlaki Greek.


I ate a lot of Greek food when I was a kid growing up in Baltimore. My grandparents came to America from Odessa over 100 years ago. Odessa is on the Black Sea, and there is a strong Greek influence in the food and culture of the city. Tarses is a common name in northern Greece. My father used to take me and my sister Judy to Greek restaurants all the time. There were a lot of small, family-run Greek restaurants in downtown Baltimore in those days. Unfortunately, the sanitary conditions at these restaurants was often substandard. My father and I were willing to overlook that if the food was good, but my sister was not. She complained constantly about the unsanitary conditions at these greasy-spoon restaurants. Judy would say things like: ‘This table is sticky and smells bad’, ‘There are rat traps in the bathroom’,  and ‘I don’t want to eat at restaurants where you have to shoo away the flies while you’re eating.’ Eventually, my father wound up leaving Judy at home when he and I went to restaurants that we both knew she would complain about. My sister still won’t eat at restaurants with rat traps in them, and now, neither will I.