1997: The Opera

Rap at the door. Don’t open it. Peek through the blinds. As if the Crypt Keeper’s out there. Nope. Just our neighbor, Jim.

 I call upstairs, “Dad! Jim’s knocking. Do you want me to let him in?”

His voice reverberates downstairs. “Yes. Tell him that I’ll be right there.”

After Dad gives me permission, I open the door and greet Jim. He’s a tall man. Dark brown hair and scraggly beard. The densely flecked pockmarks on his cheeks trigger me me to touch my own face. Dad said you get those from having pimples. Does that mean you’ll have them too?

 I inform Jim, “Dad will be right down.”

He laughs mischievously, “Okay.”

“Jim! Hey-a buddy. You want a cup of coffee?”

“Always!” Mischievous grin again.

 “I’ve got some Swedish meatballs, too!”

Amused, Jim says, “Sounds great.” You never get offered Swedish meatballs. Not that you’d want them, but shit.

 While I watch dad load a plate full of sweaty mystery-meatballs, I grab a mug and pour myself a cup of coffee. I don’t have to ask permission anymore, though I see Dad glance in my direction. He nods a little, as if to say, Getting bold are you, now? Okay for today, kid. But don’t let it go to your head.

 “Tom. These meatballs are fantastic!”

“Thanks. The secret is in the spices. And of course not letting them dry out. I always buy a ground 80/20. Just the right amount of fat.”

After Jim finishes sucking another one down, he offers Dad a gig. “Hey Tom, I’ve got a fantastic opportunity for you.” Oh Lord. What now?

 Dad interrupts Jim as he notices his empty mug. “Jim you want a some more coffee?”

“That’d be great.”

“Jenny, go get Jim some fresh coffee, would you honey?” How about you go and get it for him yourself? I thought you didn’t want me retrieving ‘no man’s beer’ someday! Jerk.

I listen carefully to Jim’s scheme as I serve his coffee with a polite smile.

“Well, Tom. They need a baker for the opera festival. The other guy pulled out at the last minute.”

“Oh Jeez, Jim. I don’t know. That’s quite an undertaking. How many days? How many people are we talking here?”

Jim shakes his head, “Nah. There’s plenty of time. It’s this weekend. About five-hundred people.”

Fifteen hundred cookies! For fuck sakes. Jim better be the one staying here and helping him bake.

 Dad glances at his wrist where his watch left a toasted outline, “Jesus. That’s a lot of people. So I’ve got three days to get all the shit and bake fifteen hundred cookies.”

Please say no. For once in your life, please.

 “Ah shit, Jim. Looks like Jenny and I are going to be busy motherfuckers for the next few days.”

Contort hand into gun shape. Point at temple and shoot.

 Jim leaves on a full belly and Dad’s promise.

Meanwhile Dad plots the menu. “Jenny, I’ve got to make my brownies, and my famous chocolate chips. I think I better make the nut and date bars, too. And of course my Greek butter cookies.”

I shrink at the mention of Dad’s butter cookies. The worst. Well no, the baklava is the worst. Because the ‘fucking phyllo dough.’ But four different colored glazes, plus a dark chocolate glaze, plus shredded coconut, plus ground nuts….

 “Hey, Goddamn! What’s wrong with your Father? I almost forgot my award-winning baklava.”

Reeling with rage, I abandon my usual guarded post and stare at him through beady eyes.

“Oh, and I think we’ll make whoopee pies. And snicker doodles too.”

What the fuck is a snicker doodle?

 For the next three days, we mix, we fold, we spread, we layer, we brush, we dip, we cut, and we rinse. Repeat.

During tasks, Dad swears. Sometimes at inanimate objects. Sometimes at me. They blur together.

Can the neighbors hear him through the walls? “Jenny, Jenny, Jenny. Open your fucking eyes. You have to dip those cookies faster. You’re not making out with your boyfriend!” I blush at Dad’s allusion. I don’t have a boyfriend.

 “Jesus, Mother Fucker. I knew this brand of flour wasn’t going to be any good.”

Or maybe you’re no good? Do all bakers swear like this?

Despite Dad’s tantrums, everything turns out perfect.

“Jenny, come here. I want to show you your Father’s secret.”

You know that I know this already, right? Since about 1988. But please, continue on…

“See, most people, when they make baklava, they water the honey way down. No! Cheap bastards. The real secret is half honey to water. That way it’s thick.”

Dad demonstrates the magic as he brushes the honey mixture on top of the painfully constructed baklava.

“Daddy’s got all this in his special recipe book. You know, the grey one that was my father’s. And you’re going to get all that after Daddy’s dead. It will make you rich one day.”

While he brushes another layer on for good measure, I try to imagine not hearing Dad’s voice one day. Yeah, right.

 Even though we’re done baking, loading the car and setting up prove to be just as daunting.

At intermission, our first customer approaches.

He points, “What are those cookies, there?”

Before I can answer, Dad interjects, “They’re snicker doodles. Excellent choice. Very delicious.”

Instead of ordering the man stands quizzically for a moment. “I’m sorry, but those aren’t snicker doodles.”

“What do you mean, they’re not snicker doodles? I’m a world-class chef and baker. I ought to know what a snicker doodle is!”

“Well, sir, I’m sorry, but my grandmother and I used to make snicker doodles when I was growing up. And these are most certainly not those.”

One day, when you’re gone, you’ll never be weird again. Snicker doodles will always be snicker doodles.

 But Dad pushes back. “Sir, I’ll make you a deal: if you buy one of my snicker doodles and don’t tell me that their the best you’ve ever had in your life, then I’ll refund your money myself.”

The man buys two. I watch his eyes as the first bite melts in his mouth. He grins oddly at my father. “Well, they’re still not snicker doodles, but they are the best cookies I’ve ever eaten in my life.”

Dad grins from ear to ear, nearly forgetting his absent top teeth.

As the customer walks away, I stand motionless with an odd sense of confusion. So should I be something other than a common snicker doodle?

 Stay Weird.

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