“When I came up for air, it was as if there was no water. Only a sea of bubbles, waves of bubbles. I heard the sounds of the sea, the lapping of waves on a beach, gulls calling, the shadows of gulls coursing across the surface of bubbles. My mouth was dry. Was this a dream, was I dreaming of the sea? I walked for days, and found no end, found no water.”
“It’s a good job, union and all that. But people don’t want to sit next to me on the subway when I go home.”
“When my grandparents came to Ellis Island from the old country, they were only allowed one box of cookies each. My grandmother smuggled schnecken– not technically a cookie – under her hat, and my grandfather brought these chocolate creame sandwich cookies that his father used to make. Back in those days, cookies were few and far between. And there was not much innovation going on in the American baked goods scene. Schnecken was nothing new, although my grandmother’s schnecken was considered a radical tour de force. But those chocolate creame sandwich cookies, no one has ever seen anything like them before. My grandfather started making them on the wood stove in his New York apartment, they hosted house parties where those things quickly became all the rage, the talk of the town. You’d go into jazz clubs and basement speakeasies, and all anybody was asking about was my grandfather’s sandwich cookies. He called them “All Leos”, after his father Leo. Within a couple of years my grandfather had built quite a little empire for himself in the city. The story goes that he had chased a couple of Mafia wise guys out of his kitchen when they tried to extort protection money. My father carried on the family tradition, and improved on the recipe, inventing a little press that would put with these little patterns in the cookie as it was baking. Then one day some bigshot from a West Coast cookie syndicate came out and made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
The rest I guess is history. My grandparents retired in luxury, on a big estate on Long Island. My father went on to invent other cookies – a round graham cracker with a dollop of marshmallow cream on top, all covered in milk chocolate – what later got famous as the Mallowmar. There were failures too – he tried making those thin raisin cookies, we always called them “squashed fly biscuits,” with actual flies. Not so good. Anyway, my father sold whole business to those West Coast people, and he and my mother bought suite on a cruise ship, and never came home again. I still like to keep my hand in, working in the warehouse, cleaning up and stacking All Leos, and keeping an eye on things. Nothing beats the smell of a fresh batch rolling in off the line.
I got a letter the other day from my mother, with a picture of her at a café in the village they emigrated from, her with a cup of coffee and a schnecken and a big grin on her face. I recognized my father’s thumb half covering the lens of the camera.”
When I was sick, my mom used to bring me tea and dry toast, to make me feel better. I miss that.
“Who was that guy who kept pushing the rock up the hill? Yeah, it’s like that.”