By Michael Golub (EE72)

Chapter XII: Three's

Dessert quality varied. It depended on which baker was passing through the Boiberik limelight. The changing of the baker was an annual affair, and the many specialists in pastry fare have coalesced in my memory into one overstuffed popover. I see him in the baker's corner, rotund and sluggish, his cap, face, glasses, apron, hands, pants and shoes caked and coated with flour and confectioner's sugar.

They were ghosts in whiteface, hovering in relative seclusion in a distant region of the kitchen. I recall "the baker" as generally benevolent, but vitriolic when chastising us for stealing their better efforts or cursing us for criticizing their duds.

The blueberry tarts were a bona fide delicacy. I pitied those unlucky few, like Mrs. Greenberg, whose sweet tooth was eternally deprived by doctors orders. They had to settle, instead, for sugarless, "diabetic," cookies, a lackluster assortment of cardboard-flavored nuggets from Ben's well-guarded tin.

The tarts were arranged in an orderly array covering the first table in the kitchen. When serving this type of dessert, the waiter first grabbed a stack of "threes" off the dairy crockery shelf. The next step: spread the minute plates across your tray. Finally, allot one tart per plate per customer.

"Three's," were so named for the diameter of the flat portion of the dish. I suspect they actually were "fives" when their entire circumference was taken into account. They came in white, pink, and pale blue. They were my favorite plates.

Favorite plates? Yes. We all develop attachments to some inanimate objects, no? Threes were solid, substantial, and seemingly wieghty, yet small enough to carry fifty at a time.

What was this affinity all about? Can't say for sure. After all, they were plates. Nothing more, nothing less. Perhaps it was because, with ingenuity, you could carry a dozen or so food-laden threes in your bare hand, provided your hands were large enough and your digits strong enough.

Or maybe the appeal was nostalgic... When I was a camper, fried eggs were served on these very plates. Sunnyside-up eggs was the only campside meal served in individual portions, and it was one of the few breakfasts that I considered palatable.

Alas, "threes," were a dying breed. When I was a peshkie, the stacks of this diminutive earthenware stretched on endlessly. They covered the shelves like buffalo on the plains. Not even the casualties of a toppled busbox made a noticeable dent in their numbers.

Over the years, however, they became an endangered species. College pantries across the northeast were (illicitly) stocked with these versatile flats. As it turns out, they were too expensive to replace, and attrition gradually reduced what was once a limitless supply to a precious few. Plasticware was the wave of the future. The new dishes were light as a feather and nearly unbreakable. But they were bland, without charm or personality.

In retrospect, I would have to say that the extinction of the, "threes," was one of many harbingers of Boiberik's demise.

I reached into a dark corner of the crockery shelf and grabbed the last two pink "threes" which huddled together for dear life behind menacing towers of tan plastics. Scooping up an extra dozen of the modern dishes as well, I returned to the dessert table, then raced with Kenny and Danny to claim the remaining tarts.

I believe a shortage was intentionally calculated (by Miser Duboff), for the baker's output always came up two or three less than the necessary amount. This may have been because dozens of tarts were being sequestered by the waiters and busboys in the nooks and crannies of the building, to be enjoyed with a chocolate milk or cup of coffee, after the last guest left. Whatever the reason for the shortage, no waiter cherished the idea of explaining to one of his customers why they were the only (non-diabetic) person in the dining room from whom this dulcet delight was withheld.

Danny's and my hands met on the final tart. I squeezed a bit, unintentionally forcing blueberry filling to squirt onto his forearm.

"Take it," he said with an accomodating sneer.

"Thanks," I replied in a neutral tone, hiding my gratitude.

What did this mean? Was this his way of confessing guilt for the previous night's controversial play? Or did he already have an adequate stash to feed all of his guests as well as Harris and himself? I resolved to spy on Station Four during dessert, and decided I would offer Danny the tart that I had reserved for my busboy if his any of his patrons were forced to go hungry.

Daits was pouring hot water for Deena's Sanka as I passed him by table eight. I deposited my tray on the server, grabbed five desserts, and then scooted over to join Billy.

"A blueberry tart, Mr Zig?" I asked, hoping to inspire a glimmer of enthusiam.

"Neh," he said, shooing me away. Maybe he had one of those rare diseases in which the body attacks its own tastebuds.

"Deena?" I asked next, holding a pastry low for her inspection.

The battle of desire was raging. She inhaled deeply and pressed her eyelids together as she rolled her head back to savor a moment of ectasy. Will-power prevailed, however. She waved me off, "No thank you, darlink, too rich."

"Mr. Blank?" "Como no!" he said, as he turned both hands palms up and leaned back to allow me easy access to his place setting.

I then had four tarts for the remaining two guests at the table. This would mean a surplus that I could share with Station Four, if need be.

But my estimations were premature.

Mina and Ben eyed the tarts in a lewd and avaricious fashion. Then they simultaneously broke into song, complete with the zesty bouncing rhythm and coy exchanges that had made them the darlings of the Yiddish theatre for so many years.

As usual, Jacob responded with a paroxysm of glee. Deena snapped her fingers in time to the tune. Fred Richman stifled a laugh as he trudged by lugging a busbox. Irwin Mervis and his wife looked over from the adjacent table and smiled politely. Tsip Waletsky also shot the Bonuses a momentaty glance. She turned away quickly, in the fashion of a parent whose rambunctious child is demanding too much attention.

The song ended. Billy, ever cunning and disingenuous, applauded appreciatively. Under his breath and for my benifit, he imitated Ed Sullivan, saying, "C'mon ladies and gentleman, let's have a really big hand, a really big hand, for Ben and Mina. Ben and Mina, c'mon out and take a bow. Aren't they wonderful folks?"

The performance over, they were ready for their reward. They asked if they could take the two extra tarts with them on their long trip to the Nevele.

How could I say no?

I returned to the server empty-handed.

I proceeded to table six. Squeaky bravely offered to give one a try. Fisher pointed to the spot in front of him as if requesting a "hit" in a game of Blackjack. Even Mr. Friedman accepted one, grudgingly, doing me a favor. I expected the Abrahams to go for this dessert in a big way, and they did, though, refined as they were, they didn't ask for an extra two helpings.

Mrs. Greenberg accepted the diabetic cookies (that I had the foresight to bring her) joylessly. Her husband quickly accepted the proffered tart. He took it out of my hand before I could lay in down in front of him, nervous, I suppose, that I might drop it in his lap.

I had stolen a single dessert for Billy, and this remained, plump and inviting, on the center of my tray. I looked over to Station Four. As far as I could see, everyone was engrossed in their fruit-filled treats. I placed the tart on the shelf beneath my server, next to the coffee burner, where Billy would expect to find it.

Chapter XIII: Squeaky
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