At the bakery, I would take an espresso with a splash of steamed milk and several heaps of foam at lunch in the back office. We usually got somewhat freshly baked pullman bread with some sliced and slimy cuts of cold ham or salami and day-old reheated onion parmesan pizza. There was one stool by the cubbies in the office — under the shelf stacked to the ceiling with aprons. I would sit on that stool to eat my sandwich and salty potato chips on a plate made from an old industrial-sized sour cream lid, across from the wall padded with coats competing for hooks. Or as others often did, I would make a table top out of the metal trashcan stuffed like a hamper with dirty aprons.
The back office was otherwise crammed with paper: unfolded boxes in all sizes for any number of cookies you can imagine, plastic straws in their individual paper wrappers, reams of thin white paper napkins, paper towels. Printer paper. Receipt paper on their rolls. Then, there were the boxes of blue ribbon for the cookie boxes, and trashbags for coffee grounds and coffeecake crumbs. There were boxes of bottled Poland Spring stacked with crushing heaviness and boxes with rows and rows of seltzer flavored with grapefruit and lime juice. There were a few unboxed things that were naked on the wire shelves: Ziploc bags of coffee beans, honey, Pam, seedless raspberry jam for buttered baguettes.
When I could, I would stand in the back with Mon Ami while he washed the dishes. I would fold boxes beside him with his sudsy calloused hands and looming belly. The boxes flew off the shelves on weekends as quickly as we could peel pieces of deli waxed paper from their cartons. Mon Ami would sing Adele with the broken sounds of English words in a kind of French that was always booming and friendly and bright. There was an order to creasing the boxes. First fold all of the flaps and then, bend all of the seams like an accordion. Finally, tuck the flaps. I remember in my first week, being challenged to a boxing match. This freshly-graduated boy with dirty blonde curls tucked into his bandana showed me how to get the rhythm of it. It wasn’t long before the methodical box-folding became that moment of calm between each hour that held steady piling slowly against my impatience.
I stacked piles of boxes, ordered by size, until there was no more room on the shelves and the boxes themselves overflowed from their rows so that we had to stock the extras on the other side of the counter, between the window and the eating space sparse with benches where customers crouched to unwrap cookies.
Still, somehow, even with all of the overflowing, there never seemed to be enough boxes… or there would be cookies that were slumped and gooey and falling a part because they were too hot to be placed standing up in the normal boxes, so we had to fold up the wide-thin “flat boxes” to lay them all out to cool side-by-side in a cumbersome puddle of melting chips.
These, flat-pizza-boxes, were boxes for the worst case scenario, at the bottom of the boxing food chain and the boxes I least enjoyed folding.