HIGH HOPES - Sue Baldassano & Her Time Release Love Potion

Interview by Dale Kaplan
Images by Sue Baldassano

I love Susan Baldassano and  her stories about New York in the 1980’s, This Valentine’s Day, I was lucky enough to sit  down with the chef, artist and native New Yorker, as she recalled her wild adventures in unrequited love and the circumstances that inspired the invention and preparation of her exclusive love potion that worked. See recipe here

WHAT WERE YOU DOING WHEN YOU CREATED YOUR LOVE POTION?

It  was 1988 and I was working at Angelica Kitchen as a cook.  Angelica was one of the first macrobiotic restaurants in Manhattan located on St, Marks and 1st Ave. Believe me, In those days there was nothing cool about working in a restaurant,  This was before the concept of celebrity chefs and artisanal brussel sprouts You were either some type of loser or hopefully on your way to doing something else. The staff included an eclectic mix of opera singers, drag queens, ex cons, artists etc.   When my Sicilian grandmother found out that I was working as a cook she was not happy. She would say “I did not come over on a boat from Sicily so my granddaughter could work in a kitchen” . Dressed in her tomato stained flowered apron cooking a gravy, she would shrug and exclaim in her Italian accent  “But if your like it, what can I say?” But I knew that she was mortified.

DESCRIBE THE LOWER EAST SIDE  IN THE LATE 1980’s?

The neighborhood was dicey. It was not the hipster hood of today. I started my day when the drunks, drug addicts and prostitutes were wrapping things up for the evening.  My shift started at 5:00 a.m. and ended at 9:00 a.m. I lived on 1st Avenue and 1st Street. My commute to work involved impersonating a human speed bullet as I ran down 1st ave to St. Mark’s Place fearing for my safety.  When I moved to Long Island City my commute changed. I took a car service to my job and would offer the driver an extra tip if he would wait for me to open up the restaurant’s heavy metal gate.   Once a driver complained that the car service had under charged me . He went into a rage and kicked me out of the car at 4:45 am. It was scary and crazy. The cab ride cost $10.00 and I only earned $40.00 a day as the cook. Even more remarkable is the fact that I I was able to support myself making $200.00 a week in N.Y.C. After my shift I would go to AA, not Alcoholics Anonymous but Artists Anonymous, a support group for struggling artists. It was quite a crew of kvetchers and characters.

HOW DID YOU MEET THE OBJECT OF YOUR AFFECTION?

I was a painter at the time and was obsessed with German Expressionism. Before I started my cooking job I had spent a month traveling around Germany studying art and visiting museums. On my return to New York, I spotted a flyer advertising private German lessons. In those days, everybody had some type of gig or object that they were peddling. This was how the neighborhood residents communicated. It worked well and it lent character and personality to the streets. Anyway, I called the number on the flyer. Those were the days when people actually answered the phone and unbeknownst to me, the person on the other end was to become my future object of affection, my muse, and my inspiration for developing a love potion.

SO, WHO WAS HE?

His name was Walter Kuhr. He was 35, handsome, charming and had an amazing twinkle in his eye. That twinkle really got to me. He had just come over from Germany to study jazz piano in Harlem. He intended to stay in New York for 6 months.

HOW DID YOU PURSUE WALTER?

I signed up for private German lessons and after 15 minutes I naively thought that Walter was interested in me. I was basically delusional.  We developed a comfortable rapport and I decided to take the plunge and invite him to a concert. At that time, I still dressed like a hippie. My uniform included old jeans, a shmata on my head, a peasant shirt and a spritz of pachouli oil.  was still stuck in Woodstock. However, for the “date” I applied deep red lipstick, which was strikingly uncharacteristic of my personal style. I even sprung for control top pantyhose. Looking back, the lipstick must have tipped him off to the fact that I was interested in him and he gently informed me that he had a girlfriend back in Germany. My pantyhose stayed up but my heart sunk.

WHAT HAPPENED NEXT?

Walter and I continued to hang out. He introduced me to the German concept of Gemulich, which is the art of enjoying a cozy evening at home. I remember cooking octopus with him and watching movies. It was friendly but no action whatsoever, not even a kiss. Eventually I got Walter a job at Angelica’s. I also found him an apartment in Queens. Looking back I helped him a lot which women in love often do. He was new to New York and I helped him feel at home and make friends. The restaurant became his New York family. Walter thought Angelica was weird,  he was a totally bratwurst guy and he referred to barbecue as grilling events. His job was to ride a rickety bike to deliver rice, beans and seaweed to the neighborhood.

DID YOU EVER MAKE AN OVERT MOVE?

Yes, it was New Years Eve 1989. We went to the iconic sleazy Mars Bar on the Lower East Side. It was a watering hole for Europeans. The nickname for the Mars Bar was daycare for alcoholics. Walter was not interested in high brow culture. He was fascinated in the down,dirty and authentic. He longed to experience the underbelly of cultures. He liked L.I.C. before it was developed because it reminded him of the seedy neighborhoods of Warsaw, Poland.

That night I almost kissed him as we sat squeezed together on a single bar stool. However, he retreated gracefully a millisecond before our lips touched. I remember walking home alone that cold New Year’s Eve feeling sad, dejected and lonely. BUT NOT DEFEATED. This Baldassano never gives up.

HOW DID YOU PROCEED?

My next step was to charm Walter with my creative skills implementing the disciplines of German poetry, drawing and photography which I developed into a book. I possessed talent in the two former mediums, however my German was that of a 2 year old. Basically, a German Shepherd dog could speak and understand the language better than I. The book was artfully designed and bound. I hired my graphic designer friend, Kate Bevington, to help me with the layout. Kate consistently supported me in my wild schemes and adventures and always did so with love and a smile. All the poems were in both English and German and the subject was unrequited love. When I presented it to Walter he was extremely embarrassed for me as well as himself. But even that moment of shame, did not deter my resolve to win Walter’s heart.

AT THAT POINT, HOW DID YOU REMAIN OPTIMISTIC AND IGNORE REALITY?

Walter’s visa originally was due to expire on Valentine’s Day but he extended it for an additional 6 months. This gave me time to continue scheming. I never lost hope and even under the most dire circumstances I remained optimistic. I refused to give up in the name of love. I even presented a Plan B just in case Walter’s  visa would not have been extended. The plan involved marrying one of my lesbian friends who wanted to have a baby.

“The nickname for the Mars Bar was daycare for alcoholics. Walter was not interested in high brow culture. He was fascinated in the down,dirty and authentic. He longed to experience the underbelly of cultures. He liked L.I.C. before it was developed because it reminded him of the seedy neighborhoods of Warsaw, Poland.."

WHAT DID YOUR NEXT SCHEME INVOLVE?

One day I found myself in a witchcraft /herb apothecary next door to a tarot card shop which is now a Blue Bottle cafe where a small coffee costs $4.00.  I consulted with the witches and we came up with what we imagined was the the perfect love potion recipe. My next challenge was how to get Walter to drink it. After visualizing several scenarios wearing my vintage silk tiger striped  pajamas while listening to cassette tapes of torch songs and singing along with the Barbra Streisand and Gloria Gaynor on my fire escape, I came up with what I thought was the perfect plan. I would get myself so worked up imagining a successful outcome that I needed something strong to relax. I smoked a few joints, and would wrap up the evening  by drawing myself a bubble bath infused with the scent of rosemary in the hope of smelling like the Black Forest in Germany and enticing my beloved.

HOW DID YOU GET WALTER TO DRINK THE POTION?

Every day before our lunch customers arrived, the staff at Angelica’s sat down for a family style meal of brown rice, beans and  seaweed also known as the Dragon Bowl. When the regular macrobiotic foodies ordered this signature tasteless dish it was customary to ask them how they were enjoying their meal. The hardliners would proceed to take a crystal out of their pocket swing it over their plate and exclaim “The food is pretty good today”. That particular day happened to be Valentine’s Day. When we all sat down to eat I served the love potion to everyone at the table, including my object of affection, who looked especially handsome on that particular afternoon.  A few hours went by and my shift was over. Nothing was happening so I left the restaurant and continued on with my daily routine of attending Artists Anonymous. I figured that the love potion had failed. I went home and cried in my lentil soup with a side order of tofu kabobs which I had cooked the previous evening. I was feeling so low that I added a big splash of tamari for a cheer up.

SO NOTHING HAPPENED?

Yes and no.

The next day when I went to work, my favorite waitress ran over to me and asked  “What the hell was in that drink? Apparently, that night the waiters and waitresses were in dark corners fooling around and the staff was making out. Immediately I felt a  sharp pain in my chest that vibrated within my 34BB padded brassiere, which i bought in the underwear King on Hester Street for a 30% discount. I thought oh no, where is Walter and where was he last night? I came to the painful realization that my love potion worked but it was time released and took about 6 hours to kick in. I should have texted, I mean called the restaurant after I had left the previous evening just to check in.

Walter was a musician, he played piano and accordion. The night of the love potion consumption he had a gig.  While performing on stage he spotted a rather large boned, buxom woman, heavily made-up most likely wearing red platform shoes on the dance floor and her name was Claire. Years later it was revealed to me that Claire  and her friend both noticed Walter at the exact same moment. Claire, who was no delicate creature, pushed her friend out of the way and exclaimed with passion and resolve “Get out of my way girlfriend, the blonde is mine.” Clare’s prediction was uncannily accurate and a few months later  Walter and his buxom bride were betrothed in a lovely wedding ceremony on Allen Street.

WERE YOU INVITED TO THE WEDDING?

I was either a sport or a putz  or maybe both but I did go to Walter’s wedding. I received condolences from everyone at the affair including the entire Angelica staff and especially from Walter’s mom. I guess it’s a maternal instinct to recognize when someone truly loves their son.

EPILOGUE

Ten years later, Susan fell in love with her husband Jeff, a  good looking jewish guy from the Bronx. Cupid hit on their second date in the Brooklyn Botanical Gardens. As they say “Change your borough, change your luck.” Walter’s band, “The Last of the International Playboys” played at her wedding for free. It was Walter’s way of thanking Susan for helping him get settled in New York and pay back for all the love sickness and heartbreak that she had endured as a well for the money she spent on the love potion which turned out to be time released. She found him a job, an apartment, a wife, a plan B for citizenship and most of all a friend who created a magical New York love story set in the 1980’s.

It has been said that the effects of the love potion lingered for years.  His band “The Main Squeeze” consisted of 18 accordion players, all women and they all loved Walter.

See Sue’s Love Potion recipe here

Sue Baldassano – Private Chef

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