Sunday, March 30, 2014

Welcome back to the Steinberg Bakery


     "Welcome to the Steinberg Bakery. May I help you?"
     "Yes, some rye bread please..."
     "Seeds or no seeds?"
     "We use only the finest Hungarian caraway seeds. You can't buy them in this country. A friend's nephew is with the Hungarian consulate. He brings them over in the diplomatic pouch. Rich, pungent, meridan fennel seeds..."
     "Okay, seeds then..."
     "Sliced or unsliced? The unsliced loaf stays fresh longer. But we offer sliced as a convenience for the customer."
     "Sliced please ... "
     "Of course. Always with the easy way. The convenience. Good for sandwiches. Planning a to serve sandwiches at a special gathering, are you?"
     "Isn't Gabby here today? I thought she works on Sundays."
     "Normally yes. But today she has her ... little visitor."
     "Her little visitor?"
     "Yes, you know, her ... ah ... time of the month."
     "Her period?"
     "Shhh, yes. If you insist, but please, I've got angel food cake rising."
     "What does that matter? Does it make her too ill? Tell her Mrs. Mendelssohn was in and asked about her and hopes she feels better."
     "No, not that. Not ill. She feels fine. The intru...visitor. It renders her unclean."
     "Unclean. Leviticus 15, verse 19: 'Whenever a woman has her m-m-menstrual period, she will be ceremonially unclean for seven days.'"
      "I don't see how that..."
     "''If you touch her during that time, you will be defiled until evening. Anything on which she lies or sits during that time will be defiled...'"
     "But isn't that..."
     "Look around you, Mrs. Mendelssohn. Look at the Steinberg Bakery. What do you see? Everything is clean. Everything. Clean. Do you think that is by accident? No. It is not an accident. The floors, swept twice a day. The coolers, the racks, the shelves. We pride ourselves in that."
     "Couldn't she..."
     "Now yes, the actual Biblical passages do not technically forbid a woman who is in that way from working in a bakery...oh, here's your rye bread, with seeds, sliced. Anything else?"
      "Oh thank you. Yes. You have kolatchke?"
      "Raspberry, apricot, strawberry..."
      "Let me have ..."
      "Apple, blueberry, cherry..."
      "A half dozen cherry please."
      "Lemon, cinnamon, cheese..." 
      "Six cherry. Please."
      "... and prune. Six cherry it is. Anyway, it not being specifically forbidden. I tried to be accommodating. But look how narrow it is behind the counter. People bump into each other. One touch and I am defiled, Mrs. Mendelssohn. So many rules, with the women, and it falls to the man to enforce them; hiring them hardly seems worthwhile sometimes. Still, I told Gabby she could work if she didn't sit down.  But it's a long shift, and she kept sneaking rests on the chair."
     "Is that so..."
     "The chair had to be burned, in the Biblical fashion. It got expensive. Have you ever tried to find acacia wood? It isn't easy, and not cheap, I'll tell you that. So now she just doesn't work those days. A week a month I lose her. I keep track on this chart here."
     "That doesn't strike me as fair to her."
     "Not fair? What is not fair to her? She has a job. Nobody put a gun to her head and forced her to work in the Steinberg Bakery. Our reputation is pristine. People line up to work here. Men anyway. Women, not so much. Still, what about fair to me? Why is it the religious for whom fairness is always forgotten? Why do the men always suffer? Should I pay good money, pay a woman good money, so she can pollute and poison the Steinberg Bakery in the eyes of God once a month? Why should I pay for anything that undermines my sincere religious beliefs? The folks at Hobby Lobby certainly don't do that. The Hobby Lobby machers don't feel the need to pay for things that go against their faith. If Hobby Lobby, a store that sells pipe cleaners and glitter and styrofoam balls can withdraw from the government insurance program, can sue the United States of America, the country that we all love, claiming that some crazy contraception device that only a kurveh would use and that doesn't even affect a fertilized egg, not really, if they can decide it is in fact abortion, if they can play around with the health care of thousands of employees based on their own farkochta religious beliefs, why should my sincere and actually-endorsed-by-the-Lord-God-Almighty-instead-of-cooked-up-later-by-frauds beliefs be held in any less regard?"
    "Well, I should be going now..."
     "I mean, God forbid they should pay for anything of which they don't approve. God forbid that one penny of their money earned selling pots of paste should go to anything that doesn't reflect their own whims happily back so they can nod and smile, admiring them. Because they're special, Mrs. Mendelssohn, they're the one true religion that the entire nation was designed to coddle and flatter. They are they stars of the show. The rest of us, we're nobody. We're the scenery. The chorus. Even though the government certainly asks the rest of us to pay for things we don't necessarily like. Oh ho, yes! Churches pay no tax. But the grips and the stage hands and the supernumeraries, we pay the freight. The Steinberg Bakery, we pay tax — plenty of tax. Am I not then, in a very real sense, underwriting those churches? With my cash money? My taxes also pay for the schools, schools which teach kids all sorts of nonsense that I do not subscribe to—schools that serve their kids Chips Ahoy Cookies at lunch time. I have seen it with my own eyes! That serve them white bread puffed full of air. Bread that tastes like nothing. A slander on the word 'bread...'"
     "If I could just..."     
     "Yet I support that. It seems this Lobby Hobby wants it both ways: part of society, when it serves them, when it comes to having their streets plowed so that more big trucks full of stickers and glass beads and woodburning sets can get to their enormous warehouses full of crap. But when government policy strays against their reproductive whims, they sue." 
     "Ah yes, well, I had better be going. That's all today." 
      "Of course, Mrs. Mendelssohn. Right away. The bread, $3.99, the kolatchke, $5 for the half dozen and I put in an extra one.  That's $8.99, plus 80 cents tax to buy public school lunches made of bread I wouldn't use to wipe the counters at the Steinberg Bakery. That'll be nine dollars and seventy-nine cents, please. Out of ten."
     "Well tell Gabby that I said hello."
     "I will, when she returns, five days from now. Twenty-one cents is your change. And believe me, Mrs. Mendelssohn, I'm not happy about this either. I have things to do today. But faith is faith, and either we honor it or we don't. I am the true victim here, being forced to handle both the front of the shop and to mind the ovens in back. Last month, I lost eight pies—blueberry pies, the best, made from the choicest Michigan blueberries, grown especially for the Steinberg Bakery at sun-kissed blueberry patches outside of Ludington. These pies burned to cinders because Mr. Helmholtz came by for his weekly order, and we got into a conversation, a fascinating conversation about Psalm 119 and the need to constantly be mindful of God's law. I will be honest with you: I forgot about the pies. If Gabby had been here, she would have whisked those pies out of the oven at the precise moment of golden crusted perfection. Very good, she is, about timing the pies. But when she is not here, she is not so good. I should have garnished the cost of the lost pies from her wages. But I try to be a considerate boss. Though in matters of faith, there are no considerations to be made. God is very clear about that. I really should not hire a woman at all. You lose one week out of four, at least until they reach a certain age. But I try to run the Steinberg Bakery in the progressive fashion."
     "Umm, yes, right. Well goodbye then."
     "Yes, goodbye. And you'll see what I mean about those caraway seeds. Such seeds you have never seen."



  1. Nice one zinging the religious loons!

  2. Where is this bakery, I must visit! Fictional Chicago, like Mr. Dooley's Saloon, but too real, really.

    1. Corner of Devon and Elston (And yes, I know they don't intersect).

    2. 406 Clybourn doesn't exist either, but that didn't stop Loraine Hainsberry.

  3. What no pumpernickel? Hope the babka is good. . I like the chocolate.

  4. Revisited the bakery today, and it's just as good as before.

  5. Reminds me of Division Street near Ashland in the 50's. Yes, the good old days. Excellent story Mr. Steinberg.

  6. What..., it would kill them to have a couple of marble rye's in stock!


Comments are vetted and posted at the discretion of the proprietor.