Saturday, March 11, 2006

Bread and Circuses

Two former work adversaries turned sociable lunch partners are munching on sandwiches and reminiscing at Amy's Breads, Hell's Kitchen branch. They sit at a small table in the very back of the store, right next to the rustic wood and glass kitchen door. The door is constantly in use and open, despite a hand-lettered sign that says "Please keep this door closed! Thank you!"

A rich tapestry of bakery aromas fills the air as the sounds of customers, clerks, and the cash register form a soft hubbub. Suddenly, a cataclysmic noise -- loud and wrong and horrible -- brings all other sound to an abrupt stop. One of the lunch partners leans to the right and sees, through the glass door, a very embarrassed kitchen worker standing above the very shattered remains of three glass gallon jugs of apple cider. He slumps in white clothes, the bushy mustache wilting above a shit-eating grin. At his feet, the jug tops still cluster together on the tiles, nothing left of them but white steel caps, chunky fingerholes, and funnel-shaped broken shoulders huddled together in a jumble of glass.

A tide of apple cider rushes across the tiled kitchen floor and spills into the wood-floored retail space, exhausting itself just inches from the lunchers. For the next 20-30 minutes, the mishap drives all kitchen activity. A frowning woman in high heels -- Amy? -- steps carefully through the mess to issue directives, then leaves, radiating annoyance like lines off a cartoon character. The guilty party and a blameless co-worker mop and sweep up gallons of juice and pounds of glass as a taller guy drops several freshly laundered white cotton aprons onto the floor, where they turn first the color of cider and then the color of dirt. Sheets of new cardboard flop down atop the sticky kitchen tiles as someone restacks enormous sacks of flour out of cider's way. Droplets dry on the door panes, ignored in the melee.

Back in the retail area, the ambient noise has returned to normal, but the sweet smell of apple juice is overpowering. The two lunchers speculate in their ringside seats about how the vermin will respond to this abbondanza. They agree that vermin would be a major concern at a bakery, but one avers that ammonia cures all ills. The other nods, wondering how to distribute enough ammonia to negate three gallons of splashing cider.

Meanwhile, eleven blocks away and six floors up, a woman attempts to reduce a stale baguette to bread crumbs using only a plastic bag and a hammer. Stymied by errant crumbs, she imagines cockroaches lined up in rows and cheering as her efforts go awry.

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