The miller's wife had waited long,
The tea was cold, the fire was dead;
And there might yet be nothing wrong
In how he went and what he said:
"There are no millers any more,"
Was all that she had heard him say;
And he had lingered at the door
So long that it seemed yesterday.
("The Mill" by Edward Arlington Robinson)
* * *
I. Alvin Benstein, proprietor of Benstein's Bakery, was a fireplug of a man. He had played football at Abraham Clark High in Roselle along with New York Giant legend Roosevelt Grier. There were autographed photos of "Rosey" with his arm around Alvin on the walls of the bakery.
Alvin was a registered pharmacist and used to work part-time at the pharmacy of nearby Union Hospital on Galloping Hill Road. He loved to tell the story about a surgeon who worked in the hospital and who was a loyal customer of the bakery.
One day, Doctor K passed by the hospital pharmacy and was astonished to see Alvin behind the counter.
—Alvin—what the hell are you doing here? You're a baker!
—Shhh. Please don't tell anyone, Dr. K. I really need the money.
That's the end of the story. Alvin would leave the rest to the imagination.
Benstein's Bakery had the best pumpernickel, rye bread, hard rolls, and honey cake. The honey cake was only available during major Jewish holidays like Rosh Hashanah, Pesach, and Hanukkah. However, I would stop in during obscure holidays like Shavuot and Sukkot and ask Alvin why there was no honey cake available.
—Because not even the Mekubbal or the Hassids celebrate Shavuot any more. What do you do? Do you look up all these holidays on line?
—Alvin, we Honeycakists celebrate all the holidays—even Christmas and Ramadan.
Sometimes he would find a few frozen honey cakes in the bakery's huge freezer and sell them to me at a discount. Who knows how long they were in the freezer? But they tasted fine when I defrosted them.
Alvin and I would do schticks in front of other customers. All absolutely deadpan.
—Mr. Benstein: the pumpernickel you sold me yesterday was so hard that it broke several bones when I dropped it on my foot.
—Well if you can't eat it, you can use it as an anvil.
—Mr. Benstein. My cat ate a few crumbs of the streusel you sold me yesterday, then keeled over and died.
—If you throw it on the weeds in your garden, it will kill them too. It's triple purpose. That's why I charge so much.
Alvin died several years ago without even the courtesy of saying goodbye. A few months later, the bakery closed.
II. Carmen's bakery offers twists—crusty Italian bread that looks a little like a large pretzel. Carmen and Bobby—it's a family business, also have great Italian rolls and crescent shaped pecan cookies that are scrumptious. I used to eat an entire half-pound of them in one day—and then run three miles on three consecutive days to expunge the sin and the butterfat.
The twists dipped in olive oil are so good before meals, I have to assure that my guests and I don't fill up on the bread and forget about the meal.
—You know, Carmen, there's no Italian bread anywhere as good as yours.
—There's no reason for you to look for Italian bread anywhere else.
Carmen was never in the bakery on sunny mornings when the temperature was above 45º Fahrenheit: he was out on the golf course. Bobby or Bobby's daughters would run the place then. They are incredibly sweet natured women who call everyone "Honey" or "Sweetie" and mean it. I always throw a buck or two in the can for tips and they never fail to thank me.
You can call your order in and when you arrive it will be waiting for you, the brown paper bag emanating the aroma of freshly baked Italian bread.
Carmen retired about five years ago. His family tells me he's in Florida where he can play golf every day. Bobby and his family run the place now. There are still lines of people outside the bakery in the morning—especially on weekends and holidays.
Carmen's Bakery used to be closed on Mondays, but is now open seven days a week. Bobby has lost a ton of weight and looks great, but he's aging like everyone else. His daughters have their careers and their own families to worry about. When he closes the place, there won't be any more bakeries in my neighborhood except as departments in supermarkets.
I will miss Carmen's as much as I miss Benstein's.