YOUNG BOY LEANING OVER BAKERY COUNTER
Maybe it would have helped if I had raised my hand some decades ago and told my story. “My name is Jeremy and I’m a sugar addict. I’ve come tonight seeking help.” But I didn’t. Nor did I look to psychoanalysis to help me. My father had raised us to distrust “those meddling brainpickers.” In fact, even before dementia riveted him to the same sound-byte loops in which repetition ruled at the slightest provocation, Father was well on his way with a favorite shrink line of his. When he told it, he held his rotund belly, then in raucous laughter his beach ball belly would jiggle and bob as if it had a life of its own. “Anybody who goes to a psychiatrist oughta have his head examined!”
It was no surprise in his last years one had only to say “shrink” or even “doctor” and there he’d go shouting out that absurd retort he’d manage not to drop down the grating of memory. He’d held onto it, a harmless chatter to break up the routine of senseless, often violent episodes. It broke my heart to visit him. I would ask the nursing home attendants to page me to a phone call, the main desk, the parking lot––anything to free me from this man who had been my father, this man who’d now stare at me, ask my name again, then confide in me there was a conspiracy against him. The nurses. Attendants. Doctors. Then I imagined a light bulb flashing in his head, a smile twisted now, and then, “Anybody who goes to a psychiatrist oughta have his head examined!” I nodded and escaped.
So you’re asking now what’s Father got to do with my sweet addiction. Am I blaming him. Yes and no. In my early growing-up days, he was the pastry chef at De Luca’s Italian House of Fine Desserts where he baked or supervised the baking of Almond flavored Italian "S" Cookies, Anginetti Lemon Drop Cookies, Cuccidati Sicilian fig-stuffed cookies, Ossi di Morto (Bones of the Dead) cookies, éclairs, cannoli, sfogliatelli, sfingi, panettone, and about another 250 more delicacies. Did I mention Napoleons? Italian bread varieties? He baked them, he ate more than his share, and he brought home a large white bakery box of samples everyday at 4 o’clock, which my brother Daniel, my sister Rita, our mother, and I––and Father––were quick to empty.
Yet, despite all the above mentioned and not mentioned, at about eight years old I fell madly in love with Charlotte Russe. “Don’t tell anybody that,” said Mother. “They’re gonna think we got a love-crazy boy that can’t live without his Charlotte Russe!” The family’s running gag for years: Jeremy loves Charlotte.
Father had taught us well, though Daniel and Rita grew up and embraced the regimen of Weight Watchers™ and managed to shed over a hundred pounds apiece. Mother wasn’t so lucky. In the end she could hardly move a few steps without gasping for breath. And Father? As mentioned, he spent his last days in a nursing home, still fat as a Macy’s float, swearing at everyone in sight. “Ya buncha cream puffs! Get the hell away from me!“
If I hadn’t been a shrinkophobe all those years, perhaps I would’ve crossed the threshold of a psychiatrist’s office and placed my sorry life in his hands. But Father was right. What could they offer me? Monosyllabic pause fillers like “Go on.” “How did you feel?” “And then?” I’d seen movies like The Snake Pit where Olivia De Havilland is driven mad in a madhouse. And what about the cukoos flying over in the mental-ward nest? No thank you. I’d take my chances making bathroom scales groan and cruel onlookers gawk as I waddled by.
Charlotte Russe. It was as if my left hand was made to curl around the white cup that held the angel-food-cake bottom, the whipped cream (Bavarian?), the maraschino cherry on top, while my right hand, quite adept with a spoon, ate away. Slowly, of course. Make it last, I’d tell myself. Dimes are hard to come by, and Father who hated Charlotte Russe with the same intensity that I loved it, hardly ever brought any home for me. I shined shoes in local taverns, shoveled snow for elderly neighbors, delivered newspapers––anything to earn enough money to keep myself in Charlotte Russe. Some days I’d buy four or five. And on more affluent days, I’d hand the Messina Bakery saleslady a crispy buck to reserve another five Charlottes for me to pick up later in the day.
Did I realize what such a love was capable of eventually doing to me? Of course, I saw my weight climb. My high-school classmates said I was too fat to run a basketball or the bases or the yards. And the girls were even crueler. In my entire four years I dated only once. She and I both were later elected “Most Timid Couple” in our graduating class. I took Samantha to a movie. The Fly. She screamed through most of it, which saved me some coins on the popcorn I didn’t buy. Later I offered to take her to Messina’s for some Italian pastry (I wouldn’t dare take her to De Luca’s where Father might see me and then make a spectacle of himself and me). I’d hoped to buy myself a Charlotte Russe for me and something for Samantha, but she said no, take me home and I did.
Does this story have a happy ending? Did I succumb to my siblings’ Weight Watchers™ surrender? Did I marry a woman named Charlotte so I could transfer my affections from dessert to requited love? Did I lose my weight and my heart? Dream on, brother. Dream on, sister.
After high school I attended Star Career Academy in Syosset, New York, where I learned the trade of my unschooled father. While for him it was a living, for me it was a fulfilled dream. No surprise that I excelled or that no one at Star Career found my obesity an object of ridicule. I was a pastry star! As for marriage, I’m dating a reformed anorexic named Dixie who looked at her first Charlotte Russe, half-eaten, whipped cream puffing up her lower lip, and said, “Charlotte, where have you been all my life!”
If you’re ever in Brooklyn, stop by DeLuca’s Italian House of Fine Desserts. Visit awhile. I’ll be in the back. Order a Charlotte Russe or two on the house!
Salvatore Buttaci’s two collections of flash fiction 200 Shorts and Flashing My Shorts are both published by All Things That Matter Press and are available in book and Kindle editions at http://www.kindlegraph.com/authors/sambpoet
His new book If Roosters Don’t Crow, It Is Still Morning: Haiku and Other Poems http://tinyurl.com/76akl73
Buttaci lives in West Virginia with Sharon, the love of his life.