Bernstein’s Big Day

I can’t find my hat.

It’s the brown one with the navy feather in it. I just had it yesterday and I’m already running late. Shit. The hat’s important – I’d been thinking about wearing it today for quite some time, longer than I’d care to mention. Perhaps you’re wondering, where are all the places that you typically put your hats? Well, it’s not on the kitchen table – this much I’m certain of. Not in the hallway closet either. Not on (or in) my dresser. Bedroom looks like a crazed cat got to it. One of these days I’ll clean up the place.

I never should’ve planned my outfit. Planning only sets you up for disappointment because things never work out how you want them to. I don’t know why they chose me for the event anyway. I’m just a local baker who happened to win a contest. I’ve never won anything before – well, aside from the hearts of the Parisian breakfast-seekers of this town. Make no mistake – I bake a mean pastry. But that’s besides the point.

Where the fuck is my hat.

I wonder if I’m disorganized or my memory is going to shit. I’m leaning toward disorganized, at least you can fix that one (theoretically). The more I think about it, the more lost the hat becomes.

It’s OK – I confidently tell myself – in three minutes I have to leave or I’ll officially be late. I haven’t forgotten how long it takes to get to the school from here: thirteen minutes if everything lines up perfectly. At this point I’m banking on perfection, which I know is an impossibility, but it’s all that I’ve got. Realistically, the students are going to have to wait a few minutes.

You always hear this talk of people striving for perfection. Will they ever be satisfied? Or always running about their homes, hanging on the cusp of a black-hole-dream? I’m usually striving to do my best – it’s the best I can do, right?

Three minutes are up. Shit. My hair’s a godforsaken mess. Didn’t bother combing it this morning… hat. Gotta go. I barged out the door in a tornadiacal fury.

Sixteen minutes later and I’m standing backstage with a cold sweat under my arms and hair like Einstein’s after an afternoon run. The staff person told me I’d be on in two minutes; the principal just had to finish his piece. “… and all the while you’ll continue learning and growing, making new friends, etc. But remember, time is as valuable as it is illusive…”

What’s so illusive about it? This nonsense makes my brain vomit. Why not just tell the crowd they’re all gonna die someday?

I don’t know, I probably shouldn’t be here. People are clapping.

“One minute left. You ready?” “Yeah I’m good.”

The clapping stopped and the principal came backstage; a balding man who looked like he’d eaten a few too many donuts. He extended a hand my way, “knock em’ dead out there.”

Thanks? I was confused by his choice of words, so I chose not to say anything. What a peculiar image to fuel me with before I walk into an auditorium full of high school graduates with a microphone.

I stepped out onto the stage and gazed into a sea of uninterested, restless faces. Could I really expect this room full of teenagers to be interested in what their local baker had to say? Hardly. I didn’t even sit at my own graduation. These ceremonies are about as boring as a snail in an obstacle course. I wish I had my damn hat, the moment doesn’t feel right. And now some old hoot is introducing yours truly at the podium.

“As you know, we held a special contest this year to allow one local business owner to offer some advice to you with a short speech. I’m delighted to introduce you to the winner, owner of the town staple Miriam’s Bakery, Leonard Bernstein.”

The unenthusiastic smattering of applause did a good number on the stale air hanging in the auditorium. I’ll admit, it’s quite nice to hear applause after your name is announced; even if the applause is expected, not genuine.

Now came my time to shine. Here’s what I said to this auditorium:

Hi, I’m a baker making pastries, sometimes flaky but never lazy. These times we’re in, they’re kinda crazy, so walk and talk and pick a daisy. Life is full of many things, so wander, ponder, let it ring, and when you find what you desire, feed it wood like wildfire. For me the pastries called my name, just after my wife passed away. I felt more lost than I could take, sitting next to Osmond lake. Somehow the croissant in my hand, helped me feel life’s warmth again. I bought some flour and bought some yeast, and made a goddamn pastry feast. I made them each and every day, and made my belly big and gay. So now I’m standing here today, a baker each and every way. And whenever I go by that lake, I think about that fateful day.
You never know what life will bring, so be ready for anything. Godspeed in your lives young ones, I hope they’re full of dandy fun.

It wasn’t my best work. Still, I got a good bit of enjoyment out it – more than anyone who heard it live or heard about it since. I like to pride myself in thinking it was the first and last poem ever read aloud by a baker at a graduation. I don’t know why I’m proud of this hopeful possibility. Sometimes I bring it up at the local bar and the bartender reminds me of what he’s going to etch into my gravestone.

Here lies Bernstein, a poem writing machine, who baked croissants, and wouldn’t let it be.

You know, it’s the tiny moments that mean the most. For me, stepping outside the lines a bit that day was enough to bring a smile to my face for years. Was it selfish to write a stupid poem like that for my own satisfaction? Methinks yes. It doesn’t matter what anyone thought of it. In fact, it never matters what anyone thinks. As long as I find that spark of satisfaction I’ll be damned if I don’t hold onto it.

One kid did tell me how he thought about it that day. He ran up to me in a fervor as I was about to get into my car.

“Hey mister! Hey! I liked your poem at the graduation. It was so boring before you talked… can I make pastries with you someday?”

He couldn’t have been older than 10. A younger sibling of one of the students crossing the bridge to adulthood, or something like it.

“What makes you think you’re ready?”

“I like croissants a lot. My mom makes them sometimes, and whenever she does, I eat all of them before my sister comes home. I don’t know why, but I do. So my mom stopped making them until I say that I’ll stop doing that, but I don’t plan to stop. My sister’s face is too funny.”

I laughed at the thought. Then I opened my car door and saw the goddamn hat in the back seat. That’s what you get for running around like a madman.

“Come talk to me in a few years kid, I might have something for you.”

I never saw that kid again, but I think about him sometimes. I wonder if I crushed his first real dream in life. Or maybe I gave him his first hard life lesson.

Yeah, that makes me feel better.

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