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When we were kids, we’d take a bunch of cookies — preferably Oreos — and mash them in a full glass of milk. We called it "zoopadell."

The origins of zoopadell escape me (my mom tells me she called the concoction the same thing when she was a kid). Zoopadell was probably the forerunner to cookies and cream ice cream. Let the ice cream melt and what else would you have but zoopadell? Sadly, given the cholesterol and sodium content, not to mention my lactose intolerance, like so many things zoopadell has become a delight to be savored only in memory.

The French novelist, Marcel Proust, had his madeleines (small tea cookies) and I have my zoopadell. Proust wrote seven novels — The Remembrance of Things Past — just from taking a small bite of a delicate madeleine. Imagine how much he could have written after a 12-ounce glass of milk saturated with a bunch of Oreos.

By studying the past, we can sometimes make sense of what is happening in the present. I stir my imaginary glass of zoopadell. I sip and taste the sweetness of the cookies as they dissolve into the milk and I dissolve into the past …

I am walking the streets of South Philadelphia. They are not the clean streets of common myth. The horses made sure of that. Horses are magnificent creatures, but what a steaming mess they make. It is impossible to keep the streets clean, even with the absence of double-parked cars. The smell wafts into the summer night and mixes with the ripeness of garbage that was placed on the sidewalk with the trash. People sit on the front steps of their homes — the men, though well groomed, give off a heavy musky smell untouched by deodorant, which after all is considered less than manly. The odor lingers long after the scene fades. Where is Councilman Frank DiCicco when you really need a scapegoat?

My next taste of zoopadell takes me forward to just over a decade ago. The first George Bush — number 41 as he is called by the in-crowd — is trying to cobble support together to answer Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait. The cries of the opposition are clear. If we get involved there will be great loss of life, Saddam’s troops will fight to the death, Kuwait isn’t worth the loss of one American life, there will be angry Arab mobs in the streets, etc., etc.

Another stir of the zoopadell and I flash forward once again, and now the danger is in Eastern Europe and Bill Clinton is hearing the same refrain from his opposition: We can’t stop the genocide, it’s been going on for centuries, we can never get rid of Milosevic because his troops are wondrous warriors unlike the Iraqis (the Royal Guard has fallen into disrepute), air strikes can’t work, we should ignore the whole mess, etc., etc.

I slug down some more of the cookies and milk and fade back to the early ’80s. Ronald Reagan has just called Soviet Russia the "Evil Empire" and is shocked, just absolutely shocked. Reagan is a lightweight. He just isn’t terribly smart. Tends to see things in black and white, not in sophisticated shades of gray. Next thing you know, he’ll think the Russian people are going to rise up and overthrow communism — chuckle, chuckle. Much better for us to disarm and take and our chances, etc., etc.

The zoopadell is disappearing rapidly. A little more milk and a couple of cookies will help that. I see a city block in smoking ruins. I hear the wailing and angry shrieks over the death and destruction. I hear bewildered city officials trying to explain the decision to drop a bomb on the MOVE house. No one seems to understand how it happened — least of all the survivors of MOVE, who blame the establishment for the confrontation they sought and brought upon themselves. Ramona Africa is shouting, etc., etc.

Another stir of the spoon in the glass and I hear Ramona Africa angrily berating me on a Sunday morning call-in show. She has "proof" that Mumia didn’t do it. He was framed by the establishment, etc., etc.

The zoopadell is all gone. I wipe the remains of milk and cookie crumbs off my face. I’m in the present, and somehow it all seems clear that the past and the present are connected — our quality of life, the challenge to face the clear and present danger from evil in the world, the revolutionaries who want nothing better than confrontation and then blame others when it happens.

The zoopadell of life.

Tom Cardella can be heard before and after the Eagles-Jaguars game Sunday on 94-FM WYSP.

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