The first day back to the bench following a blissful holiday guarantees a front row seat on the struggle bus. Sensing storm clouds swirling around my bandana, the friendly barista crew attempted to ply me with caffeine. Two shots over ice with a wide berth of steamed milk beckoned from its recyclable cup. I was grateful but unmoved. The shift from upstate back to the Garden State was sobering. A recent image of sweeping cornfields beneath sapphire skies was rapidly fading. Fluorescent lighting overhead and checkered linoleum underfoot was disquieting; the steady punctuation of Motown on Sonos was enough to push me over the edge.
In my Happy Place, I was revisiting the meandering hills of western Massachusetts and the no-name county roads of the Hudson Valley. Local produce had been a highlight of the weekend, neat green corrugated boxes of berries and cherries lined up to resemble a patchwork quilt. Wicker baskets held short pyramids of purple skinned plums and early apples. Fresh onions the color of cream, overspilled blue-edged enamel bins. “Salt & Pepper” cucumbers and “Lemon Cukes” tumbled across burlap tucked within deep wooden crates. Carrots were staged as dramatically as a Rockette kickline. Holding on to that image, I pried open the heavy door of the bakery’s walk-in refrigerator.
Glaring plastic clamshells of melancholy blueberries were stacked high atop Metro shelving. Leaning against the corner, to the right of the cold brew coffee, horse-sized carrots were crammed into a food-service plastic bag with a drawstring neck. Unripe peaches sequestered in plastic lined boxes, were as fragrant as the cardboard in which they slept. Pausing to consider the week’s pie options, I armed myself with a few lemons. Digging through a ceramic crock overflowing with rubber scrapers and squeeze-handle cookie scoops, I unearthed a microplane.
Replying to an email, one of the management team asked me to weigh in on a cake order. Rolling out pie shells, half-listening, I heard something about dairy free or maybe it was gluten free. “What about the butter?” the manager asked. “What about the butter?” I replied, accent on ‘about.’
“The customer wants to know if our butter is grass fed. Is our butter grass fed?”
I crossed the brown and yellow floor to where a case of room temperature butter was wedged against a Cambro tub of semi-sweet chocolate chips. The information on the wrapper indicated many things, but particulars concerning the cow’s eating habits were not revealed on the red and blue wrapper.
“Sorry,” I replied. Without provocation I found myself mouthing the words, “Not sorry.” I checked my watch; it was barely 9 o'clock.
A few days prior, my sneakered feet happily cruised alongside fields of proud cornstalks and casually sprawling wild flowers. On the opposite side of the road, dairy cows ambled within a grassy field edged by a split white fence. Why did the runner cross the road? To get to the other side so she could ask the cows what they prefer to eat.