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Gingerbread Houses for the Needy

December 20, 1987|DICK RORABACK

As gingerbread houses go, Vince Delmonico's are state-of-the-art: Necco Wafer roof shingles, white-chocolate bells, gumdrop trees, red "poinsettias" growing out of marshmallow snowbanks. . . . Each hand-made, each different, each posing the same problem: to eat it or to take out a second mortgage.

For five years, chief architect Delmonico, wife Jan and children Angela and John David have made them in their Manhattan Beach home. They sell for $25, but don't call: The 1987 tract has already sold out.

Everyone agrees the gingerbread houses are extraordinary. Even more extraordinary: Every penny of proceeds goes for gifts--for strangers.

Delmonico, who drives an armored truck and is a reserve officer with the Manhattan Beach Police Department, made his first batch in 1983--10 houses at $20. "Thank the dear Lord, we didn't need the money," he says, "so we just took some names off the local Sugarplum Tree (where underprivileged kids leave their Christmas wishes). After that, it just mushroomed."

Last year, the Delmonicos spread their largesse--about $1,400 worth--among Para los Ninos, elderly indigents, a Catholic church, a hospital. . . . "We don't care if you're black, white, yellow or green."

Why? "It sounds corny as hell," Vince said, "but God gave me the talent to make gingerbread houses, and there's all these kids out there who need help. We've been blessed--everything always seemed to fall in place for us--but a lot aren't so lucky. We're probably not even denting the can, but at least we're giving it a shot."

This Baleen Was a Whale of a Find

Would you know a baleen if you saw one? A buff-colored, 10-million-year-old baleen? Sure you would. Don Gage did, and the world is just a little bit better for it.

Gage, 24, who graduated in earth sciences last week from Cal State Dominguez Hills, was on a field trip to observe landslide formations in the Portuguese Bend area of the Palos Verdes Peninsula. The class had already left and Gage was in his car when he noticed something unusual on a nearby outcropping of rock. "There were several (fossilized) bones, about three inches in diameter, and some odd structures hanging down between the bones," he said.

Gage, gifted with serendipity from youth, and something of a fossil freak, got his paleontologist tools from the car and started working on the specimen. At home in his campus apartment, he pondered it for a few days, then showed it to two professors, who in turn referred him to Dr. Lawrence G. Barnes at the Los Angeles Museum of Natural History. Barnes, "ecstatic," identified the find as the oldest and best-preserved baleen specimen in the world. A baleen, of course, is a whale's food-strainer mechanism, and after Gage returned to the site and came up with an additional 250 related fossils, the resulting jawbone (with baleen) was assembled at the museum.

The whale, they estimate, was 23 to 30 feet long, weighed seven tons and breathed its last at the bottom of an ancient ocean. Its baleen was found 1,000 feet above sea level. Which is another story. . . .

Honoring a Long-Lasting Shoe Salesman

Born on Manhattan's Lower East Side, he lived behind his father's shoe store on Stanton Street. Ran his own store too in Brooklyn, until they dug up the sidewalk "to put in the subway." Hard times drove him to Frank Bros. on Fifth Avenue, where he ran the shoe department. ("Very exclusive haberdasher," recalls Phil Saretsky, now of Sherman Oaks. "I served the Rockefellers, the Firestones. . . . Sold Prince Rainier his wedding shoes. Delivered 'em to his penthouse. They searched me four times.")

At 65, Saretsky retired, came to live in the San Fernando Valley, where his three daughters had settled. "I looked forward to it," he says: "Buy a little home, putter with the flowers--you know, like you dream." Retirement lasted all of three weeks. "I told my wife I couldn't take it." Back to work, at a shoe company, then on to Mr. Guy, now a prestigious men's store on Rodeo Drive, where Saretsky has worked for 23 years.

He still puts in a full four-day week, selling "on the floor." "He's fabulous," Mr. Guy says. "He runs circles around some of my people half his age. Phil can sell. Not small sales, either."

"What can I tell you," Saretsky says. "I enjoy it, that's all. I'll retire when I get old enough."

On Christmas Eve, Mr. Guy is throwing a little birthday party for Phil Saretsky. His 90th.

The Hanukkah Celebration Simplified

Ever hear "The Candle and the Night"? How about "Hanukkah Pancake Time," or "The Dreidle Top"? OK, they haven't exactly cracked the Top Ten. Not yet.

Dora Krakower knows the songs, by heart. Call her in Santa Monica and she'll hum a few bars. With a little encouragement, she'll sing the songs all the way through. Pretty, too.

Krakower, in fact, has just come up with a package entitled "The Children's Original Hanukkah Music and Coloring Book," which comes with a cassette of her four original holiday ditties, plus the lyrics and illustrations to crayon in. She herself sings the songs, in a "Singing Lady" voice just perfect for the nursery-rhyme-type material. ("I was a pioneer woman cantor for Reformed Judaism," she explains. "The first.")

"It's always struck me," she continues, "how little understanding of Hanukkah there's been at the Christmas-Hanukkah school programs. This (the cassette package) simplifies the celebration for children. I hope it makes them more aware--non-Jews and Jews alike."

Already she's shed at least a little light: A visitor to the recording studio asked Krakower just what these Hanukkah pancakes were. Given the recipe, the visitor nodded knowingly: "Back in Oklahoma," she said, "we call 'em tater cakes."

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