By Greg Sheer, Chicago Correspondent
[Fig. 1] Use a paring knife. Even the generic, plastic handled, easily dulled blade will do. A 1.5” pocket knife is an effective alternative. I am left handed, and will describe the instructions as such, so adjust accordingly. With the left hand, grip the plane of the blade itself, not the handle, so that the upper side of the index finger makes contact with the fruit’s surface; gripping the strawberry in the right hand, with the thumb over the leaves, slowly insert the tip of the blade at the closest point possible to the stem; you will feel slight resistance if you come too closely to the stem, but avoid straying too low into the flesh. Maneuver the blade such that it never breaks the stem’s barrier, but also never falls into the frictionless meat of the berry. If you concentrate, you will be able to feel the course with the blade. Once the very tip of the blade has reached the center of the strawberry, dead center of the green top, use the blade as a lever, and, clutching the green top between the right thumb and the left-handed blade, remove the green. This should occur very easily, at this point.
When I was 13, I got my first job. I worked in a bakery in Cincinnati, Ohio; the bulk of my work was janitorial, and, as history considers the matter, being mere months away from my first blowjob, and also somewhere deep in my cerebellum just for sure knowing it, I was considerably preoccupied. The baker was called Jean-Baptiste Addison, and his bakery was called “Jean-Baptiste’s Pleasures.” A middle-school math teacher, whose name conjures images of sausage, would later ask whether or not I was employed by a “dirty bakery.”
Jean-Baptiste was Swiss, but the kind of Swiss person who is assumed to be French, because, aside from speaking French and having a French-ish accent when speaking English, he was the purveyor of the finest croissant anyone in Anderson Township had, likely, ever tasted this side of the Seine. Jean-Baptiste had a good heart, and it was in the right place, having opened a bakery (baking is a solemn profession, requiring that its adherents rise at absurdly before-hours hours w/r/t dawn, and often continue their days until shortly before said absurd hours recur). His dealings with humanity constitute the only detraction, from that otherwise spotless heart.
Between the ages of 13 and one half and 15, I watched the staff of his bakery turn over, in full, at least three times, excepting his middle-aged American girlfriend, Janet. Janet had little patience. For, like, anything. But I’ve gotten ahead of myself.
I came to work at “Jean-Baptiste’s Pleasures,” because of my father, Michel. Not Micheal, Michel. Like the First Lady, Mrs. Obama, or that jacked black man associated with Ben Stiller’s character, in “Dodgeball.” My dad is French, and, as such, leant a certain sympathy toward the bakery. So sympathetic was he, that he got me a job there, so that I could start working a mere three years before what “child-labor laws” would consider acceptable. I hold no grudges on this issue, whatsoever; on the contrary, and God-willing, my children too will labor in a shitty bakery, at an outrageously pubescent age.
But to the point: Janet, not wanting to wait around, like, her whole fucking life, for a man who could take care of her, saw the same potential in Jean-Baptiste’s business that my father, and a lot of folks in Anderson Township, did: a true gem, a diamond in the rough, a gateway to the leisurely European life-style, that, deep-down, we all, probably, crave. But not knowing how to get there, really, she assumed Jean-Baptiste did.
So she pushed him. She urged him to realize that this was not a bakery, but a business. Not a passion, but a profession. And, somewhere along the line, he did.
Jean-Baptiste pushed hard. If I was performing a task, it could be expected that a middle-of-performing-of-task demonstration of that particular task’s procedural essentials would be abruptly imposed. Picture this: I am scrubbing the inside of a refrigerator door. I have not yet moved to an area that is obviously stained by what is probably blackberry puree, or something more bright red when fresh, that has just been ignored for a really long time, and oxidized to a nearly chocolate hue. As I am working towards that spot, eagerly awaiting the moment when my warm and potent scouring brush reaches its filthy presence (oh the praise I’ll receive, for such a job well done!), Jean-Baptiste enters frame, and scolds: “no, this is how we do it, I will show you old Swiss trick [rolls eyes at Janet],” (he actually, and often, used the phrase ‘old Swiss trick’ in reference to common sense things) and proceeds to repeat exact motions of narrator’s previous janitorial efforts on blackberry (or whatever) stains.
All exit, stage darkens, and eventually again illuminates; bakery’s prep kitchen, three figures around the main table:
Greg: Jean-Baptiste wants me to cut these strawberries, for the fruit tarts.
A Chef Who Will Be Known Henceforth As Phil: Here let me show you. [takes single fruit and knife in hands, and explains (see Figure 1)].
JB: What are you doing, no, it’s like this (slices fruit a half centimeter below stem, and proceeds).
Phil: This is why the old ways are dying, we aren’t teaching them.
JB: What you talking about? It’s fine this way.
Phil: [righteous indignation]
Greg: [I was instructed to cut fruit so…]
Shortly thereafter the chef known as Phil (which is his name, as far as I can remember, though I am, with 98.12% certainty, wrong) was fired. And not long after that, I quit the bakery, for some other shitty job, at some other shitty place. I can’t really tell you why that incident, that exchange has stayed with me. Maybe it was the first sighting of two independent adults in true conflict. Maybe it really was the honor of being passed a traditional method, to have and to hold, til’ death do us part. Either way, I was at work recently, at some shitty place or another, and I was charged with teaching another employee one of the newer cocktails on the menu, which requires the use of strawberries. I began, by instructing him to find a paring knife.