Besides the obvious holes left by the passing of my mother and aunt there's not much I can really claim to be lacking in my world.
I'm happy to be single. There may come a time when I find the right person to share more than what anyone can have from me. That said, my present process feels like the most productive and mature route that I could have taken: meticulously completing myself from the inside out alone. I see too many people who fall for our collectively agreed upon patterns of behavior--mate, reproduce, instruct--who could have stood a little more time in the water before their shell was peeled. It produces a lot of runny eggs, though there is, thankfully, a clientele for almost anything in this world.
Where I come from we didn't have baguettes. Baguettes was not even a word in Massachusetts in the 1970's. That word was thrust upon my home state around the same time that Izod became more than a seemingly incomprehensible combinations of letters. Baguettes--if you had asked a seven year old Frederick Johnson back then--would have been smirkily described as "a collection of small bags." And there would have been a whole lot of people shrugging their shoulders and agreeing with the kid with the cowlick and freckles.
No. We had stick bread.
And in Fall River (and more importantly on Bedford St. in Fall River) we had some of the best stick bread you could ever imagine. It was unequivocally of the Italian style: soft, long, thin, ever so slightly sweet, and covered in a powder that was essentially flour but in the grasp of the light brown crust of the stick bread it became more or less another layer of flavor.
Marcucci's was the place to go for grinders. Grinders are what crazy people call subs. I would thusly have to consider myself a little crazy because I have--after almost twenty years in Western Mass--developed a slight proclivity for using the word "sub" to describe a long, thin sandwich.
Marcucci's may have had the best grinders in Fall River, but Marzilli's--right down the street--had the best stick bread. It was a strange phenomena, but it could not be denied, at least not by the Johnson family.
Well, it was my job to go for the stick bread for our dinners. We didn't always have it with our meals, though. Sometimes we got rye bread from the Jewish bakery which burned down a few years ago. But if it was a spaghetti kind of night, or maybe soup and salad, I was given a dollar and a quarter and asked by my mother to go get a stick bread from Marzilli's.
I would take that dollar and a quarter and ball it up in my hand, stuff it in the pocket of my overalls, smile a big smile and look at my mom and say, "Okay, Mom. I'll be right back." And she'd look at me and say--without fail-- "Well I hope so," in that playful lilting tone that only a mother's vocal cords can produce.
And off I'd run.
I suppose a full grown adult's stride is twice the span of a seven year old, but in the child's world he will always have gone farther in the same amount of time. We move at a frightening pace, us supposed adults. We scrape and scrap with sweaty brow in an all out effort to catch up with whatever opaque goal we have flung far ahead of us. We do this as the little ones--for what is and what has always seemed like an ever shortening amount of time--glide dreamily along as if the world were a never ending department store toy aisle. And if it does end we don't want to know; it isn't important. More than likely the adult will make us have to leave and go with them on their next stupid adult chore before we can even see what kinds of toys are on one side, let alone all the way to the end. Thank goodness they have to be there at all, doing their own boring thing, or we wouldn't even have gotten to see as much as we had.
"One stick bread please."
"Here you go. That's a dollar twenty-five, Fred."
And I would have it. It wasn't as long as I was tall but it wasn't shy by much. Put it this way, with one end touching my brow I couldn't hold the other end of it with my outstretched hand. It beat me by a good four inches. But there it would be: long, thin, moist, and protected in a plastic bag. This was then put in a white bag of the same shape. This was all supposed to be enough protection for the short walk home.
But it was no match for ... "The Mouse."
The Mouse was--of course--me, and The Mouse was always hungry. But The Mouse was never as hungry as when he was in the company of a fresh Marzilli's stick bread.
I'd hold it at the halfway point feeling it crease ever so slightly; it was an impressive loaf. Depending on how fresh it was this was the point where I had to be very gentle. For warm bread in any form does not take kindly to excessive force. I would grab the white twist tie and turn, counterclockwise, the three or four rotations necessary to free the precious cargo. With the twist tie still in my right hand, and the bread in my left, I would plump open the plastic bag and stuff my snout right in and sink my teeth in. I'd bite off a big hunk with my fat little mouth and rip it from its host with a joy reserved only for this outdoor activity. You have to remember that the walk home wasn't long--about long enough for me to chew the contraband thoroughly, replace the twist tie, and wipe the flour off of my face, hands, and clothes.
I would meet the dogs at the gate. Barking, they allowed me in. There was no gentle entrance almost ever. And through the back door I would go, up the two flights of rubber covered stairs with an eight or twelve legged escort, fur flying, tongues wagging, and white paper crackling under my fingers. The smell of the outdoors met the smell of the dogs in the hallway, but all of that disappeared when the big, white door opened over the medium pile green carpet to the house and my mother's cooking aromas ambushed my already overstimulated senses.
"Mom! Momma! You'll never guess what happened," I'd say as she turned towards me in her cooking hat and apron.
"Well then I'm not even going to try," she'd say.
"The Mouse came!"
"The Mouse? That little bugger."
"Yeah, Mom. He was right in the bag when the guy handed me the stick bread ... and he was nibbling on the end of it ... and when I yelled, he took a big bite and ran away. Honest!"
And I'd lift out the long, albeit slightly shortened, loaf of bread and show the most wonderful woman in the world my evidence.
"Well I'll be," she'd say. "That mouse sure was hungry. Look at what big teeth he must have."
"Yeah. Well, I did my best, Mom."
"Thank you my son. Just for that ... "
And she'd take the loaf of bread from me and cut off an inch of it, which included the part that had been visibly gnawed off, and she'd hand it to me ...
... and I'd pop that sucker in my mouth and run off to the living room and put on the TV toot sweet.
"That little mouse," she'd say with a chuckle. "... that stinker."
I have been enjoying buying fresh French bread at a place in Northampton called the Hungry Ghost Bakery. It's good--real good. It's no stick bread, it's not even close. But that's okay, it's a different kind of loaf with different ingredients and a different purpose in the world. But it does have a very tempting snout on either end. Needless to say The Mouse knows no bounds. He has travelled with me over the last twenty five or so years keeping a low profile. He's been with me as I've bought generic store-made loaves and even the crappy garlic bread that the supermarkets try to pawn off on the public.
And like I said at the beginning of this entry, I rarely long for much. But someday it would be nice to play this little game with someone who knows me as well as I knew my mom. Such a simple little ruse. We both got a bit out of it. My mom got her bread delivered, and I got the first bite, and certainly not the last. It was teamwork. It was symmetry. And it even included a silent partner.
... that little stinker.
Thanks for reading,