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Columbia Market

Bartleby Snopes 2016

December 5, 2016

Columbia Market

I stood next to Burt, his Old Spice scent filling my nostrils as I watched him saw two steaks coated with mold and then had me bring the rest of the beef back into the cooler and put it on a hook. It was a heavy load for a thirteen year old kid. Once back out he was scraping the mold off the steaks into the barrel filled with fat that would be going to the fat renderer on Friday.


"Nothing is as tender as these steaks will be," he said. "Maybe I'll call you upstairs and let you taste a piece."


He told me to scrub the block. I held the wood brush with the solid metal teeth and pushed back and forth until there was no more sign of blood or meat on the butcher block which was worn down in the middle from years of metal brush cleaning.


Burt and Betty had an apartment in the back and the kitchen overlooked the entrance and a good part of the narrow store.


"Bring me up garlic and a small onion," he yelled down and I did and saw that the table was set for two with nice China and two glasses of white wine. The steaks were in a fry pan on the gas range and Burt said, "All you need to cook these perfect is salt on the pan bottom, and then top it off with butter, grilled onions and garlic. Smells incredible, doesn't it?"


I heard the bell and went down to the store and sold a loaf of Wonder bread, a pack of Pall Malls and the lady wanted two pork chops. I went into the cooler took out the rack and sliced two down to the bone and then with the cleaver chopped through for two one inch thick chops and weighed them atop a piece of butcher paper. She watched to see that I didn't have my thumb on the scale and I didn't—I had it on the draped butcher paper adding about twenty five cents to her chops. She added a can of green beans to her order and I added it up on her paper bag and then wrote it on her running tub.


She left and I returned the rack to the cooler, scrubbed the butcher block down again and went out from behind the counter where Burt and Betty could see me and straightened some cans and then began sweeping the floor.


"Reuven, come up here before the steak is all gone."


I didn't want their lousy steak but I was hungry and weak-willed so I climbed the stairs to their apartment and Burt cut off a nickel sized piece of steak and said, "Try a piece of the best." I chewed it and made the right mm mmm sounds and wanted to run down and make myself a bologna sandwich I was so hungry. "Next time I'll cut a bigger piece so you can have more," he said.


The phone rang and Betty got up to take the call and I went back downstairs trying to figure out what I could steal and get away with when Betty called me back. "That was your mother—she wants you to bring three hot dogs and a can of vegetarian beans home for supper tonight."


I only lived around the corner in the projects and we ate mostly casseroles because that's what my mother could afford supporting three boys. I weighed the hot dogs and put their exact weight and cost along with the beans on my mother's tab.


I loaded the garbage can of fat back into the cooler after reaching up and taking the fat from the corner of the chopped meat tray. We always added some extra fat to the chuck steak when someone wanted hamburger. I swept behind the counter and Burt and Betty came down. Burt checked my mother's bag and her tab and Betty gave me a hug and told me to go home to my family. She thought she was making me feel cared for with the hug but I knew she was really frisking me—I could see it in her eyes as she approached me each evening before I left work.


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