Monday, January 31, 2011

Last Man Standing - Malcom X Bifocals


How wig was today?

After 47 years of life, after 30 years of baking in the show, I started off my morning with a voicemail from the optical department saying....

"Hey this is Cynthia from Vision World, your glasses are in and they are awesome!"

Typically sales people like to lie if it helps them make money, but by the tone in Cynthia's voice, I think she was actually serious. You see, several weeks ago I just couldn't see anymore, and my head hurt from staring at monitors and Droid all day.

It was as if my eyeballs simply fried on the spur of the moment.

It may be that I neglected them too long, or perhaps trying to read Moby Dick on a cell phone was the final straw (thanks Quee Queg), either way I had to shove vanity and street cred out of reach and hoist the white flag of surrender.

Now I know some of you people who read this blog, and the first thing you'll say is "Klecko, are you an Idiot? glasses are more than fashionable, they are bad a**!"

For most people, I would agree, but the only problem is.....Danny Klecko is a mongoloid. I kid you not, in fitted caps I wear 8 1/4 - 8 1/2. See what kind of frame options you get with that melon.

As a kid (back before we were raised P.C., my peers lovingly referred to me a either TARDHEAD or BOBBLEHEAD.

So I canvased the Twin Cities finer optical scene, and after much duress It was brought to my attention that if I didn't want to look like John Lennon or Richard Dreyfuss, I would need to get sun glass frames with bifocal lenses inserted.

Cynthia was proud to alert me that technology has come up with a new lens where the bi focal line is invisible....I interrupted her right there.

"Cynthia, - if you are too old to be glam, you gotta rock tribal leader, since my frames are black plastic, if I keep the line, I'm totally throwing down Malcolm X!"

At that moment we were soul mates, she went on to tell me all about her frame ideologies, but my mind drifted quickly.

So off to work, back in the shop and I pick up the frames. I'm starting to kinda feel old so I decided to try them out. Next I walk into my office, pull up e-mails, and to my delight I get one from Peter Nowicki. Mr. Nowicki is the last Bread Masters that I have that is still in the industry.

Master Galloway vanished, Master Kiwus died, Master Zolick has been retired for over 10 years, Master Ludke became a government accountant, and now when I read through Master Nowicki's e-mail....he announced that as of March 2nd he is retiring from SuperMoms.

OMG, at first I felt sick to my stomach, just like I did the day I heard President Reagan died, or the morning I was told Johnny Cash passed away. I'm a reasonable guy, but there are certain people, and certain experiences that transcend time.

I swear to Caesar I thought the "MAN in BLACK" would be like Melchizedek and live forever, but people shedding their mortal coil is a whole different thing than having your support base gradually dissipate.

It's not like I visited Master Nowicki more than twice a year, but every time I drove through Washington County, or every time I drove by a Super America gas station I felt.....I don't even know what to call it, but I know it always reminded me that there was not just a business, or a system out there that I plugged into, but there have been people who couldn't be any more different than me in their personal lives, but they were willing to put religion,politics and the overall knowledge of what a "F" up I've been earlier in life, and still they mentored me.

Why? Because (now I'm getting all New Age - sorry G.O.P.) because we both had a reverence for how holy baking can be,you hear people say "it's in my blood." I believe that about my commitment, and even more so I know my teachers felt the same way,but I also believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that I rose to the top of my field because I i didn't merely accept training, I begged to be an indentured servant.

It's the only way to achieve greatness. You can never-ever-ever have (or even desire to have) equal footing with a Master. If you did, your growth would cease to exist.

I've called this blog LAST AMERICAN BAKER for many reasons, some of them I'll go on to tell, and others I won't be at liberty to, but one thing is for's society and standards would forbid the training I received.

The days of working 50 12-16 days in a row are over. The days of not reporting fist fights, gun pulled, the days of shift leaders leaving "controlled items" in locker #43, the days of building unions, and breaking unions simply are not allowed anymore.

Instead they become memory's to old men who argue as to which perceptions are valid and which ones are nothing more than bull****.

All those hours,& recipes and strategies. The opportunity to watch people promoted and kings deposed, after awhile they are nothing more than memory's that float through our memory just as static flour drifts upward into OSHA required ventilation systems.

For the first time in my career.....I'm alone. sure there are others in my guild who have played as long, but none of them were Klecko mentors.

For the first time in my career - I am on my own. I'm not sure I like this at all.

Saturday, January 29, 2011


About 15 years ago, when I was at about the 1/2 way point of my career, I ended up working with a guy named Minnow. Minnow was 5 years older than me but had zero experience in "the show." He was a hot headed Italian, but one of those guys you just knew would take a bullet for ya.

When he first started, he was dirt poor, had no money and stared at peoples take out sandwhiches from Hot City Pizza. One day Helmutt said to me "I think that "F"ing new guy is starving, his eyes practically fall out of his head each time he walks into the cooler and sees the pepperonis. Check this out."

And, then Helmutt dumped a bag of salt vinegar potato chips on the breakroom floor and proceeded to send Minnow on break. Minnow sat in the breakroom for 5 or 6 minutes, then he stepped outside to have a cigarette. When he did.....yeah, you guessed it, we ran into the breakroom to make sure the chips were still on the floor. They weren't! He even ate the crumbs.

I felt bad and ordered a couple of subs, but lied and said they gave me an extra and gave that alleged extra to Minnow, I think he knew what was going on and was grateful. After time Minnow got his fiscal life in order, but he was still kind of a trip.

Minnow had some mental deal where he couldn't void in public restrooms, he had to "do his business" at home. We'd work 12 hours and dude wouldn't so much as take a pee....ever.

Long before Chef Andrew Zimmerern hit the Food Network, Minnow was famous for eating or drinking a dixie cup of anything for $5. I saw him drink piwdered egg wash, slime scraped off the proof box floors, and once some of our Hmong packers had remnant fish heads and Minnow made all these items dissapear.

One Saturday when the bakery was shut down, some of us headed over to the Thunderbird hotel for a baseball card show, after walking the showroom floor we went in their "BROKEN ARROW" cafe, and our server "DEB" introduced us to the daily specials.

Now when I tell you this, you're going to say "Sure'd like to think that" but it's straight up true. This Deb chick....well she was into me. She seemed nice enough. Tall-thin, kinda tossing out a Sissy Spacek vibe, but I was on the verge of marrying my longtime girl friend Sue McGleno, so I said to her.....

"I get it that you are into me, but my boy Minnow here is your real trophey, then I wrote down his phone number (he got all embaressed) and handed it to her. She ended up calling him and the 2 of them married within a month. She had 4 kids from previous life, Minnow had 2, so they started this thing out just like Mike and Carol Brady.

Deb was Pentacostal as well. This cracked me up since Minnow was a Catholic. At work when we were working on hamburger dough we'd give him a hard time by speaking in tongues "Ishyaddabeeshaljeshua thank you Jesus-thank you....Minnow will you go to the grocery store?" He thought we were mocking his wife, but actually we were making fun of his lack of confidence in her. In a bakery....if your armor even has the slightest chink, it gonna get exploited all day long.

Minnow would get so pissed.When I got married to Sue McGleno, even Sue McGleno didn't know it was gonna happen until a week before hand. I called her work, told them to put her on vacation, talked with Pastor Phil and told him we'd get married during Sunday service if he cut me a deal (which included the woman of the church baking my wedding cake). all of us were young and building our families. I didn't do invites untill 24 hours before the wedding, some reletives fumed over this, but I didn't care. Improptu wedding means nobody has time to destroy your day. The only thing that mattered to me was that Sue Mcgleno would say "YES".

When I made my was down the list I still remember how touched Deb was to get an invite. Minnow had got a job repairing automatic doors, you know, like the ones at the grocery store. The bakery had been shutdown by the IRS 2 weeks prior. So anyways, there was maybe 100 people there, talk was circulating as to what a loser I was for giving such little notice.

I've had a job since I was 10, and in 37 years there has maybe been 4 weeks were I have been unemployed, but I remember meeting new reletives and having them ask me "what do you do for a living son?" and I just decided to answer "Right now I'm watching a lot of TV and following the O.J. trial." As you can imagine....most of them were impressed.

When the preacher was preaching (note it was not a priest - sometmes Catholic weddings are tough when you're broke, divorced and marrying a Jew) and getting the crowd all warmed up, Deb stood up and began speaking in tongues. Minnow turned beet red and started to get either angy or embaressed, but I was walking down the aisle and I stopped, detoured and hugged her. everybody in the church began to smile.

I only saw minnow once after that day, we were on West 7th at Coopers grocery. I asked him if he came to fix the doors, a forelorn look overcame him. He said Deb made him quit because she was jealous over a friendship he had with the dispatch chick were he worked. He also mentioned that they had 2 more kids of their own (bringing the total to 8).

In closing, I would be remiss if I didn't mention how he got his nickname. Between 1992-1997 all the bakers were gettening tatted up. Minnow's body was a blank canvas, and some of the guys rode him pretty hard. He would always respond buy saying that he was saving up to get a big a** shark. After a year of this banter, he made an appoinment, strutted around the production area like the alpha gorillia. The day after his appointment he came into the shop, spun around and slowly started to pull off his shirt like I imagine they might in "adult films" and we were all waiting for this aquatic monster to cover his back, or at least be the size of a toaster, but in all actuality, it was no bigger than an American quarter.

I miss minnow.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Batman & the Superbowl

I don't remember what year it was because I don't know how to read Roman numerals, and I guess I could Google it, but when Klecko blogs....he likes it to flow like it would from a conversation does from a bar stool or a church pew. All I remember is that the only time that the Superbowl was held in my city was the year that the Redskins beat the Bills.
That was a fun week, the city was buzzing, I was young. I took my fashionable girlfriend to all the "hot spots" that a non V.I.P. could attend.
The bakery ran around the clock. Peeps partying at a Tundra Superbowl had to swap out there beach time for something else, something like eating.
Anyways, on my work crew was a guy named Carcass. Carcass was a Mexican / American guy that stood 5' 4" tall and weighed easily 280.
Carcass was straight as far as most of us knew, but he totally had a man crush on Minnesota Native and Tour De France winner Greg Lamond. So Carcass tucked away money each month and one day his thrift paid off as he pulled into the shop on a real life "I'm a professional bike racer" kinda bike. I'm not kidding you, I'd be wiling to bet you a dollar to a monkey that bike cost more than most of the cars he had - had.
So I asked him why he rode it in January, and he replied that the streets were in good shape, so he might as well start his training so he would be bad a** by summer.
I don't want to sound mean, but Carcass looked like a hippo on a trike. Have you ever met "that guy"? You know...the guy who has never done anything mean, but yet you feel compelled to pick on him? Being as fat as Carcass was he ALWAYS carried around a container of baby powder. Carcass worked the ovens a lot, and I guess there is no way of saying this tactfully, but when you are an oven man.......your groin junk gets sweaty and needs to be powdered down there often throughout an oven shift. In a bakery, this is common knowledge so even the savages you work with don't even use this as a humor platform.
However.....often times guys would steal Carcasse's baby powder container, remove the contents and replace it with corn starch. LOL, dude, this is so unkind. basically the result is equivilent to chewing 4 packs of Trident gum and pressing it against your goodies, even a hot shower won't remedy this assault.
But, all and all Carcass was loved.
So a day before the Superbowl, Carcass doesn't show up. Nobody has heard from him, there are no voice messages, this basically is unprecedented.
After a couple hours, just when we were so worried we were about to send a runner to his house, the task was aborted, because the bakery door opened and we saw Carcass's 2 million dollar bike slide into the building. The front rim was pretzel bent, and our tubby little friend seemed disoriented.
Everybody who was in a position to help stopped what they were doing and ran to assist him. After securing the bike, and sitting Carcass down we stood in a semi circle and asked what happened.
For the first and only time in the many years I would know Carcass, he became mad. I mean really pissed.
"I was coming down West 7th and I was making good time, but a car pulled up behind me and a guy leaned out the window and hit me in the back of the head with a Louisville slugger. It knocked me off my bike and I hit the curb real hard. As I laid on the ground, I felt like I might be passing out, and I wanted revenge, but there was like 4 guys in the car, so even if I didn't experience the head shot, I'm not sure what I could have accomplished,. But, I was pissed, and the "F"ers drove to the end of the block, far enough that they were out of reach, but close enough that they could yell at me. Just as I started to get up, the prick with the Louisville slugger got out of the car and screamed out Na-Na-Na-Na Na-Na-Na-Na BATMAN!!!!! Like from the TV show. I could have killed him, but I passed out. I must of laid on the curb for, oh I don't know, like a 1/2 hour, and nobody pulled over or helped me."
Most of us were terrified, but at the same time, in a weird way, in a morbid way, we couldn't help but start to laugh. The laughter started as a spark, and Carcass sensing this became agitated, but when the levy broke and everyone in the shop sang the Batman theme in unison, even Carcass joined in, he was a swell guy.
In 9 days the Steelers line up against the Packers. being a Vikings fan, all rooting interests go to Pittsburgh! but while the rest of the world spends this next week reliving highluights of Joe Nameth, the Dallas Cowboys or Refridgerator Perry, Danny Klecko will recall the one winter he got to bake for the greatest event on Earth.....and how Carcass took a shot to the head. Go Steelers!

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Purple Vespa-Pink Panther & Mexicans on the HWY

On my last post I talked about my history, or relationship with HWY 61, and I think the reason I enjoy sharing my stories is because living in the present can often times spark a "Greatest Hits" track from my misguided youth LOL.

An old adage to sum up Food Service Workers has been (New Jobs & Used Cars). Let me tell ya brah, most people in the Food Show simply don't show up to work driving a Lexus.

If you work in the biz long enough, you'll hear stories that will blow your mind. seriously if your restaurants dishwasher showed up in a rickshaw or on the back of a Shetland pony it really wouldn't be all that surprising.

Now I don't want to get into the whole "Illegal" Food Service Worker thing right now (that's a whole separate post in itself) but let me tell you how things have changed since the Hispanic workforce has made it's presence in my city about 10-15 years ago.

I remember back when the Mexicans started working in the bakery, it was easier for them to get a drivers licenses back then than it is now, so most of these people drove. Many of the Illegals I worked with didn't have bank accounts so they usually carried every penny they owned in their wallets. Most of the bakers toted a couple grand on them every day.

Now you know Danny Klecko LOVES and support cops, but just like every group, there is always a few bad ones, but yeah....when my guys would go home at night, it wasn't unusual for the Heat to pull them over, approach the car and say "50."

The Mexicans would be so frightened of getting deported that they willingly hand the guy 50 bucks and let themselves continue to get extorted. Some of that has changed in the Capitol City over the last couple of years though.

Now remember....I'm not a Politician, and I can't verify this as fact, but many of the Mexicans started moving into Saint Paul because they claimed it was a "No Ask" city. Apparently when the cops pull them over, recognize their Mexican, they don't ask for a License, just the vehicles registration. For whatever reason they don't touch the inner city Mexicans, but in the suburbs....all bets are off. There is no sanctuary allowed.

If they don't have it the registration......the driver is placed out onto the highway, allowed to make a phone call while watching their car get towed away. I can't tell you haw much time I have spent trolling for bakers on I-35 of HWY-94. 9 out of 10 times the driver is illegal, so their cars end up as auto orphans at the impound lot. somebody has got to be profiting on this hand over fist.

With that said, I have a story of my own. When I first moved to Saint Paul, and moved to Grand and Dale, I took a job at SuperMoms in Saint Paul Park. To get there you had to navigate across the inner city, hop on to Warner road (which runs parallel with the Mississippi River) then take that to HWY 61 and coast another...oh, maybe 12-15 miles.

The problem was I didn't always have a car. You could take a bus back after work. That sucked because you had to transfer a thousand times, and the commute took 2 hours, but no bus would get you there when your shift started at 3 a.m.

One August when I didn't have a ride, Heidi Holmes let me use her Vespa. I know in the title I said it was purple, but actually it was more of a pale lavender. Scooters are illegal on Highways if they can't maintain a minimum speed of 40 or 45 MPH, I think the Vespa topped 30 going downhill LOL.

One morning I had just completed a shift and stopped over to the Holiday gas station to get my daily cigarettes and pop and I proceeded to strike up a conversation with the girlio who rang the register. She asked me what my afternoon entailed, and I responded by explaining to her that I was going to the Minnesota State Fair.

She batted those baby blues at me and asked if I would win her a stuffed animal or cupey doll. I didn't commit, but I did end up hitting the Midway with both barrels pointed at successes. I don't think I had to drop too much coin before I sank 2 free throws into a hoop where the ball squeezed through like a plop a** slides into their Calvin Klein's on Thanksgiving night.

"WINNER - WINNER ....CHICKEN DINNER" the Carney screamed out as Danny Klecko surveyed the prize options. I ended up choosing a Pink Panther stuffed animal that was easily 5 feet tall, maybe 6.

Heidi Holmes told me to be straight and hand it over to some poor youth, what she didn't know was I wanted to handed it over to a slinky brunette.

It really sucked carrying that thing all day, and of course I didn't get home until 10 p.m. fell asleep at 10:45 and got up at 1:30 a.m. to head off to work. The first thing I did was claw at a pile of bakers whites that were strewn across the floor and tried to decide which was the cleanest-dirty uniform, but they all stank, they all had dough,sludge, sweat and blood ingrained into them, so I took the option that I often times had to employee, but recoiled each time I did.

I went for the white plastic jumpsuit. Heidi Holmes was in nurses training and worked at a hospital where they had disposable "one size fits all" white/plastic jump suits. Let me tell you, one size did not fit all, my arms shot out of the sleeve like Hermann Munster. Every time I used this option I'd catch crap from my co workers all day, but hey....I was tired, it was summer, and I did not want to stink.

So now I grab the Pink Panther, sit him on the floorboard of the purple Vespa (his head was place between my knees and his head was flush with my chest.

I'll bet I didn't get 1/2 way down HWY 61 before a State Trooper pulled me over. Dude just strolled, or better yet...ambled over to me. I really think he was freaked out.

Danny Klecko was driving illegal because one needed an actual motorcycle lincense to operate one of these sweet rides, and then he let me know in no uncertain term how illegal it was to take it down "the Ghost's Hwy" (another story for another time).

So after giving me the once over, Johnny Law called a tow truck, we stood on the side of the HWY for about 20 minutes until the hook arrived. The driver didn't even get out of the truck, him and the Trooper looked at each other, then me (in a white plastic jump suit) the Pink Panther.....and finally the purple Vespa. While the 2 remained professional, one could sense the highest level of inner laughter.

Guy in the truck says...."Hey kid, If I have to get out and put that (he paused)....ride onto my flatbed, I'll just launch it (the Tropper laughed out loud), but if you want to carefully place it on top, and bungie it down, I'll let you.

I did, but then the tow truck guy looks at the cop and asks "Hey Louis, who's taking the pink doll, you or me?"

I so wanted to die, but I did interject "It's not a doll, it's a panther. The cop snapped and told me to shut the "F" up. I did.

They put the Pink Panter in the squad car with me, they put him in the jail cell with me. People walked by and thought every bizarre thought they could.

My boss came and bailed me out, he was actually a shift supervisor, and a stoner. When I escorted my pink fuzzy date into his van, he didn't ask a single thing.

In case you are wondering, when my shift was over, I did bring the Pink Panther to the Holiday gas station to give it to my was her day off, I left it on the curb and hitch hiked home.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bob Dylan / Klecko and Wife #1

God said to Klecko - Bake me some buns
Klecko said - God you must be putting me on
God said - No
Klecko said what - You can do anything you want but
The next time you see me - You better run
So Klecko said - God where do you want this baking done
And, God said down on Highway 61

Yeah, me and Bob Dylan have tons in common, both of us have lived in Minnesota. Both of us are master poets, and both of us used Hwy 61 as a metaphoric thread to be pulled through the body of our careers.

Dylan was said to have drove a big a** furniture truck up and down the 61, as a young man, with a love for geography and history, I'm sure he realized that if he didn't veer from this course....eventually he would end up in his promise land, the gulf, the Big E-Z, where slow emotion and fast times ran rampant.

Danny Klecko came to this destination by other means, you guessed it, a woman. This might confuse some of you who have heard the romantic story of Danny Klecko meeting Sue McGleno at bible camp as children, and eventually getting married, but there was a "Dark" period in Danny Klecko's early life.

As he and Sue McGleno reached their late teens, she wanted to settle down, but Danny Klecko wanted to go into the world, like Brad Pitt did in Legends of the Fall. So when I went into the world. I was going out with a girl named Wina, I was going to take her to the movies to see Mad Max at Thunderdome, so I went over to house to pick her up. She lived with her parents, and when I crossed their threshold, they informed me that she was next door "House Watching" for the neighbors.

When Wina let me in, she was behind schedule and told me she had to go upstairs and take a shower, while she did this....I still remember Laurie Anderson's "Big Science" album was playing on her stereo.

I really loved the "Oh Superman" song, but when it was complete I got bored.

When you are at peoples house you don't know, it is impolite to dig through their stuff to entertain yourself, but Wina's purse was on the kitchen table so I decided to dig through that. I found a little telephone book with her friends phone numbers, it was really filled. I'll bet she had a friend under all 26 letters.

To alleviate my A.D.D. I decided I would find the chick with the coolest name and call her, and possibly ask her out.

A-B-C-D-E-F-G.....they all offered nothing, but H....that's a different story. The second I saw Heidi Holmes, I realized I had to call her. When I called, an older woman answered. It was her mother. I asked to talk to Heidi, but she told me that she was at work. I mentioned I would need the number, but she was uncertain. She said she didn't recall ever hearing about me, but I told her I was a friend from study hall, and I was now in the service and would be shipping out the following day.

She gave me the number.

So I called and told her how I had come about getting her digits, then I asked her if she was cute. Her response was "Trust me, I am, and I am way out of your league.

When girls "fight back" Danny Klecko is head over heals. I applied reverse tactics and said "Save your tip money so you can come over to my house and take me on a date, not a regular date, but a date that will impress me."

She did, we fell in love, and the rocky road began there. She lived in Newport, which is about 15 miles SE of the TC's, and I lived in the western suburbs of Mpls. When the drive got to be a pain, we decided we should get married. I rented an apartment on the SW corner of Grand and Dale and for the first time in my life..... I began to explore Saint Paul.

I wanted to be close, and was at the age where I never possessed a reliable vehicle, so I decide to quit Shermann's in Bloomington and got a position at SuperMoms in Saint Paul. SuperMoms is located in Saint Paul Park which is just next to Newport, so often times I stayed over with Heidi and her family. They were nice, but conservative and never approved of our love (ahhhhhhh).

Saint Paul Park is home to a huge trailer park and this community has the highest teenage pregnancy rate in Minnesota (per ca pita). The only thing people do in Washington county is "IT" and snort crank...LOL, I wish I were making that up.

We decided to get married like I said, but I ended up dumping Heidi because I just knew she wasn't strong enough to endure everything that come attached to "Klecko Love", and living with Klecko would simply kill her modest lifestyle. In many ways I think I dug her mostly because of her domestic qualities, she was sooo Ma Ingalls,

I dumped her right before Christmas, there was drama there, and then I had an epiphany....I was quitting baking and moving to Amsterdam. I had a job lined up with a Christian ministry and was all set. I sold everything, and I mean EVERYTHING I owned that didn't fit into my travel / duffel bag. But Polish Christ must be in control, a couple days before I was supposed to leave, I was stricken with chicken pox, what was I...22 years old?

So my plans got delayed, and I sat in my apartment, suffering, but even worse.....ALONE! Heidi Holmes caught wind of my affliction and came over unannounced, we hadn't seen one another. My resistance was down, and I was sad. I felt like crying, but I knew if I didn't kick her dreams of adventure would hit a road block.....

So there I am, an intersection of life moment, and you guessed it, knowing it was wrong, knowing their was 0% chance of success, I dove in head first. I didn't want to be alone with chicken pox LOL, 4 months later I was married.

So that's how Klecko was lured to the Capitol City, In a past post, I mention how on one fine day, on Saint Patrick's Day in fact, Heidi Holmes would hand me a Border Collie and leave for Saint Thomas.....for good. That was many years ago, in fact I wonder if I saw her today if I would even recognize her?

But, I guess it took Bob Dylan's HWY 61 and Blood on the Tracks to bring him to slow Train Coming and Infidels.

And w/o a brief marriage stint to HH, who knows, perhaps little Danny Klecko would have never become....the Last American Baker.

Monday, January 24, 2011

The busiest day of the year in the restaurant industry is ?

If you didn't guess Mothers Day, shame on you for being out of the loop. In fact, I'd be willing to bet a monkey verses a dollar that Mothers Day Table counts are close to the #2 and #3 holidays customers combined.

About a million years ago when Klecko was a young studly baker, he ran into a Mothers Day bake that was almost the end of him.

Most Wholesale bakeries run 6 days a week and shut down on Saturdays. This is a common practice, but as you can imagine Friday bakes are a marathon. Your production staff has to kick out enough product to pacify your accounts needs for the entire weekend.

I think I was either at Custom Breads or its sequel concept Custom Bakery when my employer instituted a new 1-Man Saturday shift.

This guy was responsible for pulling pastries from the freezer and baking off Kolaches, Danish, Snails, Croissants, Biscotti, Puff Pastery, Carmel and Cinnamon rolls and Quick breads to boot.

When this experiment started, I don't think anybody considered how involved this would become, especially during that weekend where we all pay tribute to that woman who brought us into the world.

On the Friday prior I went in to work my bread shift.....DUDE, we got slammed. I ended up doing dinner rolls and hamburger buns for 16 straight hours. It was 4 in the morning when I prepared to punch out. just before leaving I decided to smoke a cigarette and scan the clipboard for my following days pastry responsibilities. I almost choked on smoke when I realized the list just wouldn't end.

I remember flipping one page after another, just praying it would stop. It didn't. When I tried to guesstimate the hours it would take, I kinda felt like crying. For an instant I thought....

"Maybe I should ask someone for help." But, after thinking it over a little longer I just decided to "Man Up" and hop on the work load pronto like.

Like Christ praying.....I baked w/o ceasing. I finally punched out at 3 pm (27 hours after my shift had started)

I believe this was shortly after my first wife tossed me and I was living with Sue McGleno. Throughout this marathon we remained in contact. She would call every 8 hours or so and giggle as she told me how she was going to take all my overtime money and call it a Mothers Day gift for herself.

If you've ever worked a double shift straight through, or a shift that exceeded 24 hours, you know how surreal things can get. All I remember telling her was that I rode my bike to work, and I didn't want to peddle the 8 miles home, and it would be "Christ Like" if she would be able to pick me up.

Now for those of you who know Sue McGleno, you're laughing right. You know when Danny Klecko called home for that ride....there was nobody home.

At first I thought about killing myself, but then I just got pissed off, and I think that kept me alive LOL, so there goes little Danny Klecko peddling (uphill I might add) all the way home.

While climbing the hills I huffed, and puffed and practiced speeches of reproach that I would cast on my girlfriend, but you'll never guess what happened. After putting my bike in a cinder block basement that both my unit, and the unit upstairs (you know...the unit that was selling cocaine). I went back upstairs to scream for either sympathy, or retribution, but when I got to the door (dramatic pause inserted) I lost my keys!

Sweet Jesus of Warsaw, I banged on the door and thought of ways to get around telling Sue McGleno what a dumb a** I was for losing my keys, but as I kept knocking, she didn't answer.

You got to understand that this was a world that didn't have cell phones, a world where if you had been up for 32 hours and were locked out of your house, you were just screwed.

I wondered if I should head back to work to look for the keys, but I couldn't keep my eyes open. So....I just marched back down into the basement and decided to construct a make shift bread, but as I looked around, there wasn't a single blanket, sleeping bag or even a filthy painting tarp. The best I could muster up was folded cardboard boxes, with nothing to cover myself.

Eventually Sue McGleno came home, noticed I wasn't there and went to the bakery to look for me, when she arrived, it was locked and she couldn't fathom where I was. The whole sorted mess was straightened out around midnight when my coke head neighbors began fighting and resurrected me from my sleep. But when Sue McGleno came to the door, she wasn't worried anymore. She was pissed. so like Lucy......Danny Klecko had some splaining to do.

I hate Mothers Day

Friday, January 21, 2011

Which Mickeys do you like?

OK Twin Cities Foodies......whats the deal? If you've ever traveled down West 7th street through Saint Paul, have you ever noticed that there are 2 restaurants named Mickeys within a few miles of each other? Both are on the west side of the street, both are open 24 hours and I'd almost be willing to bet your soul that the tandem is not related to one another.
The more famous of the 2 would certainly be the "Dining Car" located at 36 West 7th. This building has been used for numerous movies, but none more prestigious than The Mighty Ducks. remember when Coach Bombay (Emilio Estavez) and Charlie sat in this space hashing out the meaning of life?
Without a doubt this place is not only a Saint Paul Icon, but a State Icon as well.
With that said........Mickeys on 1950 West 7th is really the better of the 2 places to go if you want good cafe food at a reasonable price. Mickeys #2, or Airport (because it isn't all that far from the Terminal #1 exit is awesome.
The place is owned I think (or at least run by, but I'm thinking owned) by an Egyptian guy named Khalid. The Egyptians have made a silent splash in some interesting food concepts that are not African in nature. Just down the street @ 1199 West 7th you'll find Ray's Mediterranean. Ray is from Cairo, and everytime I go in to get a Gyro, he and his wife are always darting around, multitasking. They have a cute baby that resides at the restaurant as well. the place is obviously blanketed with good karma.The only down side is when Ray first came to America, he set camp in NYC and now refuses to swap his Yankees cap for a Twins.
Then there is that Fire & Ice mini chain which is run by Mohammid. Dude is cool. He can barter with the best of them. Many people think I'm being cute when I say the only 2 peeps in the TC's I'll shut my pie hole to listen to are Mohammid and David Fhima, they are Masters at what they do, and I can learn a lot by just listening to them.
But....back to Mickeys #2.....Khalid has a full service Winnebago camper behind the restaurant that he practically lives out of. I still remember the first time i went to pay a call on him, the server at the counter directed me to go back to the camper. I kinda furrowed my brow and made my way around the back, only to see Khalid standing on the top step of his camper, about 3 feet higher than a U.S. Foods delivery guy, and the dude from the Coke (or was it Pepsi?) truck.
Because Klecko is such a fun loving guy, you'd think he laughs alot, but actually that simply isn't true. Klecko usually just cracks smart Alec grins or simply stares with approval, but as Khalid thrust his hands through the air barking instructions at these 2 guys as if he were Patton steering a battalion.....I actually laughed audibly, and I was soooo laughing with him, not against him.
And the coolest deal he's got going on is....if you are an industry person and need to make contact with him, he'll send you back from the camper and tell you to wait in the restaurant, where he will join you soon. Tick-Tock goes the clock.....5 minutes, 10 minutes, then a server will offer you a pop. 5 more minutes elapse, and then just when you head out the front door, you'll see Khalid bounce out of the camper. The first few times I could never figure out how no matter whether I waited 6 minutes or 35 minutes Khalid would always seem to use ESP to time his departure from the camper in unison with my departure from the restaurant, but finally one day one of the servers mumbled at me with stiff ventriquist lips. "Brah, he's got cameras thoughout this entire place. He loves to entertain himself by watching you on his monitors in the trailor.
Once again....Danny Klecko laughed out loud.
Peeps, Whether you are going to the X-Cel Center, Airport or Downtown.....I hope you will consider dropping a few bucks into the hands of these Egyptian friends.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Cutting Deals with God

As a child, the only time I got to go to Mass was when my step Father was "just" drunk enough to take us to the Saturday night edition, or sometimes when I slept over at a schoolmates home they'd let me tag along on Sunday morning.

I always loved church, and since I didn't get enough of it, I tried to make the most of each visit by having an exhausting list of questions answered.

During a particular Sunday school class I remember informing Sister "so and so" that I made it an everyday practice of cutting deals with God.

When she asked for an example I might have said something like "I hit a homerun today because I didn't bother my sister!"

The Nun responded by telling me that I was way off base, that God doesn't cut deals, God only does things on God's terms.

I'm sure her views are connected to some deep theology that was formed by some brilliant Austrian monk, or maybe some progressive Italian Cardinal....but I didn't believe it then, and I don't believe it now.

As mentioned in the past....Danny Klecko is a Pollack, and I think often times my peeps are a lot like those cats from Mizzou, if they are the "Show Me" state, Poland for sure has to be the "Show Me" country.

This morning when I went outside it felt significantly colder than other mornings this winter, you know....cold enough where you stand on the stoop and re evaluate if you need to get a hoodie, or if you need to get another layer of something.

As I was weighing my options on my front steps, I saw a cat dart across the street and I thought "Dude....isn't it a little cold to not be in a house?"

And then I had one of those Kwai-Chang-Kane moments, remember that show Kung Fu, where he would flash back to his childhood in that Shaolin temple?

Then his old-blind master would whoop his a** with those bamboo rods LOL?

Well when I saw that cat, my mind flashed back to January 1991 when I was working at a bakery on West 7th street. It was demonic cold outside, and when the sun went down a black cat was found screeching at our back door. We brought the frozen creature into the office and made a makeshift bed out of jackets and fed it some warm milk.

I worried out the undersized kitty all night long. Throughout the evening I tried to push the cat off on somebody, after all I had a girlfriend and 2 kids (one of them was only 4 months old).

As you can imagine, nobody wanted to take the furry orphan, so before leaving, I held her up in the air while standing on a stack of flour bags and exclaimed......

"Woe unto to you thoughtless bakers, today Danny Klecko will announce before you and God that he will take care of this cat, and by doing so will expect God to realize his helping spirit. I am going to name this cat LUCKY DUCK and just you wait and see what kind of blessing fall my way."

One of my co workers with a limited knowledge of the scriptures pointed out that I had just blown my heavenly rewards by bragging, but I countered by pointing out that-that was fine, I was still at point in life where I needed to cash in those blessings on Earth. Heavenly treassures would have to be collected sometime later.

When I got home everybody loved Lucky Duck, and I explained the covenant to my family. Sue McGleno just rolled her eyes, but my daughter smiled and mentioned she wasn't aware you could cut deals with God.

Danny Klecko grinned hard at that.

So now a couple days go by, and it is 10 below zero w/o wind chill. My family was a 1 car family. I always gave the car to Sue McGleno and walked-bussed or skateboarded where I was going for years.

At this juncture in our life we had a rickety old Renault, and just as I was getting home one morning I was told it was shot. Sue McGleno has a brother that is a mechanic at one of the airlines. he's one of those guys who is capable of building rocket ships from yogurt containers, and he said we'd be lucky to get 100 miles out of it even if we sunk $1000's into it.

I crawled into bed and felt sick to my stomach, Sue McGleno still had 1 year left of college, I had a baby that needed to get check ups monthly, and we were just on the brink of needing to go to the laundry mat. Our family bank account had less than $500 in it to top things off.

So before Danny Klecko slid into a dream state, he cried out to the Lord like David did when he was in one of his whiny moods........

"Father in Heaven, are you kidding me? Am I this big of a loser. I can't even provide the essentials for these people I live with, I really feel like a complete loser,I got people depending on me, infant dependents,, I won't be a quitter, but if you just want to kill me in my sleep....I would welcome that and wouldn't blame you!"

Seriously, I remember that prayer like it was issued yesterday. So I wake up that afternoon and don't say a word. I got dressed and I defied the elements by walking to work. Once my shift was about 1/2 way done, I had temporarily forgotten my strife.

But then the phone rang, and somebody from the packing department screamed out "Klecko - personal phonecall on line 2."

When I picked up the receiver I could hear Sue McGleno laughing.

And, if you know anything about Sue McGleno, you know that happens about as often as an eclipse takes place. In a way this tone made me even more annoyed, and I mentioned I didn't have time for such frivolity. But, she just told me the following......

" will never believe it. I had just put the kids to bed and all of a sudden I heard the most awful crash outside our house (at this time we lived @ 1601 James which was a quiet side street in Saint Paul) and when I looked out the window, I noticed some guy had plowed his SUV into our car and totaled it!!!"

So I grabbed Mike Tessmer who was a pro body builder who was working at the bakery to save money for computer school and the 2 of us ran over to my house.

The dude who hit our paralyzed auto was drunk, and he felt just awful. Then, with miraculous timing my neighbor pulled into his driveway, he saw the accordion shaped vehicles and French auto shrapnel strewn across our street so he came over to see if he could lend a hand.

When he got to my sidewalk, he knew the guy who hit me, and mentioned that he heard about the lay off he was recently subjected to.

Now I'm kinda feeling sorry for the drunk, and he says its getting cold so if I could, would I just call the Police and get it over with.

I looked Sue McGleno in the eyes and smiled, I turned to the other 2 guys and told them.....

"You'll never understand this, but you were used as a vessel of God to help my family tonight. It all started because I took in a freezing black cat. I think if I called the blue on you tonight, I might go to hell. So if you give me your license, and swear to God that you will be back tomorrow at 8 a.m., I'll save you from getting a DUI." My neighbor reiterated that if he didn't show, he'd help me break his legs.

Dude actually got there 10 minutes early, when the cop showed up, he seemed suspicious for some reason, He walked around measuring skid marks and asked questions with a stern voice, but we stuck to our story and everything worked out like just like the ending of a Disney movie.

Within a week I got a check and had the coolest Ford Escort you'd ever seen.

So even though its 20 years after the fact, I am glad to see cats in the snow. It will always keep me humble. It will always stir a gratitude in me that I am unable to measure.

So in closing, I will say that God probably doesn't negotiate, but God certainly cuts deals, and if you are smart, you might want to plug into that.

Thank You Lucky Duck.......RIP

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Klecko Fantasies

Over the years I have met many people who took time to reflect on their lives, and expressed desires to take on different pursuits of interest. With me.... I've always been happy if I had a dog, girlfriend and a job.

As my career began to flourish, I realized how fortunate I was to have obtained a level of status, but then I started meeting people like judges, lawyers, doctors and priests that took the time to share their secret ambitions with me.

I was surprised to find out that a lot of these people wanted to be poets, opera singers or some have even mentioned they wanted to be proficient bakers.

If you asked me one month ago I might have said that I would be content staying where I am, but after thinking about it, nah!

If Danny Klecko was 18 today, I think he would join the Navy and sail the seven seas. How cool would it be to storm exotic ports and live such a life of intrigue?

A merchant marine might be cool as well, all I'm saying is I think I want to be at sea and go Moby Dick on the world, but not as a spectator, not for a vacation.....I'd want to be a salt dog that navigated by the stars.

I'd want to be able to guide a bunch of whiny pirates back to civilization like Captain Bly did in the Bounty (Brando's version is the best).

Going old school is really the way to go isn't it? who wants to live in the future? I don't, if you are 1/2 way smart, you can see the writing on the wall. The future is boring, the future sucks LOL, there is just no romance in technology.

With all that going through my mind, and all that said, my pastry chef Debora Gilson told me that we were going to attach a theme to our next Retail sale. We haven't done that for the last couple of months, and our numbers were down a bit.

In the past we've had British, Australian, German, themes, but this month she said....."We're going to go Amish!"

I love it, who doesn't like the Amish huh? I've seen a few of them over the years, and usually they've kinda been jerks to me, but I still liked them because their uniforms are cool, and their girlio's.....c'mon! Amish chicks got their own special vibe,just saying.

But, then my kid decided to go to college in the middle of a corn field (literally) in Iowa, and every time I have picked him up or dropped him off, I've had to pass a slew of Amish buggy's.

When you pass an Amish buggy, I think it is pretty standard to gawk at them, and because of that, they seem to wear a morose mask at all times.

I saw that movie the Witness and remember how pissed off Kelly McGillis's dad, or grandfather used to get?

"Don'tcha go talking to the English now!"

I thought the movie would have played out a lot better had Harrison Ford dropped all the cop stuff and they just focused on a red blooded American boy falling hard for an Amish babe! That's the plot line, like American Gothic fusing with Romeo and Juliet right?

But people are stupid, every concept seems to need to be punctuated with a cop scene or car chase if it's going to sell in Hollywood.

But anyway....the last time I dropped off my kid, it was the day after New Years, my bell was still ringing cuz me and Sue McGleno were jet setting with all the pretty peeps that weekend right?

My son is like most 19 year olds, he loves his dad, but just not enough to keep him company as they drive cross country. The little freak plugs in his I Pod, passes out and wakes up 10 minutes before we pull up on campus (this gives him just enough time to criticize my driving.)

So as I trudged across south eastrn Minnesota, I passed dozens of buggy's, all of them gave me that "Amish Glance" which is a lot like the Sue McGleno stare (see Conflict on Aisle 8...A Super Target Tragedy - posted yesterday)

After the kid got out, I made my way back to the old main drag, while I searched up and down the dial to pick up reception for the Vikings game, another buggy came my way.

The second my eyes caught the drivers, dude gave me a vigorous wave. I couldn't believe it. It was awesome. I felt like I had just completed the last level of Mike Tyson's "Punch Out."

When the buggy finally fell off my rear view, I pulled over and updated my Facebook status with KLECKO JUST COPPED A WAVE OFF AN AMISH BUGGY GUY.

I think the responses on that thread went 30 or 40 deep.

Everybody seems to have an opinion on the Amish don't they?

And of course....anytime you mention the Amish, all the Mennonites will start crawling out of the woodwork, but c'mon - poser please. Klecko won't settle for a chick in a blue cape, it's gotta be black!

With that said, Gilson and I are busy preparing our Amish Tribute baking menu. If you kids have some thoughts.....shout at the Pollack.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Aisle 8 Conflict @ Super Target

Danny Klecko likes to view himself as an upbeat guy, a guy who not only sees the cup half full, but freshens up that drink while he's at it. But I guess even clowns are prone to experiencing hard days.

My afternoon started off pretty good. I went to the Highland Grill and exchanged Christmas gifts with Kim Ode (Food Critic StarTribune), and while we were doing our deal....Chef Joan Ida surfaced from the back and joined our table. Most of the times when food industry people get together, they don't spend a lot of time talking about food, today Ida and I discussed a campy detective series we've been reading called Bangkok 8. The detective is 1/2 Asian and 1/2 Caucasian. It's cool reading trashy stories and thoughts that are acted out on different parts of the globe.

After my "Elvis Burger" arrived I was glad to see that Kim Ode showed me her love through the gift of alcohol.

She gave me a bottle of Ginger Cognac, Pomegranate Juice (you mix 1 part of each) and then finally a bottle of prosecco which you use to top them off.

But on my way home the bread truck ran out of windshield wiper juice, and the roads were all slushy, and that's when the plates of the Klecko fault must have started their shifting.

Next I picked up Sue McGleno and asked her if she wanted to "date" at Super Target.

I had to go in and get my vision checked and pick up some product, while Sue McGleno had a list of cleaning supplies that had to be dealt with.

On the way there, I mentioned that not all dates had to be concluded with a "romantic liaison", and perhaps after we finished pouring Drano down our drains and Windexing every sheet of glass at 1311 Hartford, maybe we could just celebrate intimacy with silence.

"BAM" out of nowhere came "that" Sue McGleno made me laugh, which irritated her all the more.

So the cart is full, and we are selecting a check out lane. Sue McGleno is ahead of me pulling the cart. Now if you've ever been to a Super Target you know they have like 36 or 38 check outs. Sue McGleno picked aisle 8.

Of course this was the only aisle that had a one armed cashier.

The guy was acting robotic and asked her how she was doing today, but when he asked, he was looking down at the items and never bothered to look at her. It cracked me up, I mentioned that Sue McGleno was suffering from a disease, and it was called depression. Dude didn't have a clue,but even though I was attempting to lighten the tension with my boyish charm..... Sue McGleno came close and mumbled into my ear "you might want to be careful, even you can't negotiate against PMS!"

As I loaded the purchased items into the back of the bread truck I noticed that my huge bundle of paper towels didn't have that piece of "Target Tape" that they put across it so it's easier for you to carry.

I pointed this out to Sue McGleno and asked.....

"Do you think I should cut one arm slack for not Target taping a handle on my paper towels? I'm sure the guy deals with one arm issues, but come on, that's bull****, don't you think? If a guy can't Target Tape your paper towel bundle they should either fire him or send him to the glue factory."

As much as she didn't want to.....Sue McGleno laughed, she hates to encourage me when I say terrible things, but deep down I think she realizes that insanity reduces tension.

At that point I realized tension was defused so I decided to leave her alone. As we drove home I realized I wasn't as angry as I was feeling...oh I don't know, raw?

You see last week was pretty disturbing to me. One of the wholesale bakeries in the Twin Cities shut their doors last week. They didn't contact many of the accounts and throughout the last few days of the week I continued getting phone calls from panic strickened people who needed specific items to keep their concepts afloat.

You might say "Hey Klecko, isn't that good though, couldn't you pick up their accounts?"

Well....yeah I can, but first off, there just isn't many scratch bakeries left in town. Even when a "rival" closes their doors, it still weakens the baking guild. Even if I make a couple of bucks, it isn't glorious if it is at the cost of the next generation being able to have a corner retail shop.

The Twin Cities are small but yet big enough for each bakery to have a niche. Where I work, we are kinda like a Lexus, possibly the highest end of the middle of the road breads on our metro's market.

Then there is my friend Solveig Tofte (you know her as the Turtle Bread baker) who bakes Rolls Royce's. She appeals to concepts with the highest price point, but to a retail customer..

In all reality there are numerous levels of food consumption in any city, the shop that closed down was the Honda Accord (with dents and a rusty quarter panel) of the Twin City bakery scene.

Nobody was certain what went on, or if the struggling bakery was going to reopen. I called and left the owner a message to call me if I could help out, but he never did. The product that this place produced was fine, but conceptually it was antiquated.

To help some of these folks out, I had to dig through my baking formulas that were popular from the 1950's - 1970's. Much of what these people were using was enriched white breads, Italian loaves with huge percentages of shortening.

Breads that stale quickly.

For 72 hours my cell phone rang off the hook, our office staff became flummoxed because the people on the other end of their lines didn't know what kind of products they had been ordering. They didn't know the baking vernacular that was attached to it, the piece size or even the dimensions.

The problem fixing process was surreal, I ran over to one guys restaurant to see what his perception of a "torpedo" bun was, and when I got there, the first thing he did was show me a chart of how many sales that had walked off his site during the last 2 lunches because he didn't have his required bread.

Then out of frustration he said that he had heard a rumor that the FDA had forced the bakery in trouble to shut down and commence with a bleach bath.

If you haven't heard that phrase before, it is urban legend that the FDA or any food inspector can force you to dump all your products and all your ingredients into a huge dumpster, then they'll stand there and photograph you pouring jugs of bleach on the pile so you won't dumpster dive to reclaim your goods the moment they pull out of your driveway.

I've heard of bleach baths for years, but like I said......I have never talked to anybody who actually was present at one.

After spending a few days problem solving, I really began to feel blessed that. for the most part, most of the accounts that I deal with are framed with people who are knowledgeable.

Most of the people who were dealing with the "Honda Accord" of bakeries were a sub culture all to themselves.

Many of the people I talked to owned concepts but didn't have a clue about the products they ordered, others knew little about the products their concept produced.

Pizza Parlors,Gas Stations and Spaghetti Houses are just a few examples of concepts that are in this demographic I've just mentioned.

If you talk to their cooks (and you sometimes use that term loosely) most of the time these people were doing anything but culinary at their previous jobs.

Landscapers, construction workers, fresh out of drug get the idea.

If I sound like I am mocking this, I swear to Polish Jesus I'm not, these people were beautiful, they let you know how grateful they were.They work like dogs to scratch out a modest existence.

My roots came from environments like these, sure I went to baking school, but let's face it, Danny Klecko dropped on the scene designing gas station loaves for the Super America chain LOL, but as I digress.....I think that's why I have felt on edge lately.

I have been blessed. I have moved up the ladder, I have obtained knowledge. I am in a position to place my ear on the pulse of an entire cities dining needs.

So when you kids go to bed tonight, please say prayers for the little guys.

With this huge fricken monster which I like to call the GLOBAL FEEDING SYSTEM (U.S. Foods / Sysco etc) competing against them, crushing them, and I hate to say it.....humiliating them. I think a lot of options, tradition, and future memories are simply going to get flushed because they just don't have purchasing power to compete when producing the one thing that is dearest to all of!

Alright, that's it for now, I'm off to follow up on another rumor, some of the boys have told me that Kansas City Bob (dude who filled parfait cups at Kaufman Union for years) just got a Buffy the Vampire Tattoo on the opposite arm of his Hillary 08 tat. I am going on Facebook to verify this.

Thanks for checking in, I love most of you....Klecko

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Dead People at Work

When you are young, and people die, it doesn't impact you too hard. To be honest, sometimes it doesn't effect you at all, because after all.....the dead guy was old and you have more important things on your mind, things like, oh I don't know, like drinking potato vodka with that redheaded girlio from the the packing department after work

Or maybe your primary focus would be finding a way to get the other closing oven guy to switch nights off so you can go to the Guns & Roses concert.

When you are 20, death just doesn't happen to you. Stuff like that is reserved for your Grandfather, or I guess if you have a 300# Pollack for a father your options could multiply.

Any guy who has 5 wives, smokes 2 packs of Chesterfields daily, and spends rare moments of sobriety trying to break his weld to the bar stool.....yeah he's a candidate too.

But nobody else in your circle of consciousness ever dies. It's a rule of life.

Every once in awhile a 22 year old will die, but that cat lived in Arizona (or was it Arkansas?)

I'll never forget the first day of my 3rd baking job, when I walked into the shop I spotted Larry Winner. Winner was one of my best friends at Dunwoody where we went through baking school together.

So it's my first day, and the 2 of us went outside to smoke.

I've never been one of those guys to "catch up with" or "get in touch with" anybody, professionally or socially because once you are out of a Klecko chapter it might be time to find a new plot, don't wait for a sequel because Klecko moves forward.

I liked Winner a lot. We were both big, and we were both louts,

So I asked him if he had come directly to this bakery from school, but he just laughed and said....

"No, I was at that God-D Tastee Bread.It wasn't too bad, I was working graveyard shift, one night we are on the line and this fat old man starts clutching his chest. People started leaving their post to help the old guy, but our shift foreman started screaming - Hold the Line! Seriously, we couldn't even help the old bast***. So everybody is kinda watching him, and finally the guy slumped over and was dead!"

At this point I was waiting for a punchline.I asked what ended up happening, did they shut down the plant?

Winner smiled matter of factly while responding.

"F*** that, they just grabbed that guys fat a** by the collar, and I s*** you not, they dragged him over to a concrete wall and leaned him up against it. It took like 20 minutes before the ambulance guys showed up.That's why I came here, this place might be low key, but it's growing. I just didn't wanna work where people can gawk at my corpse!"

The 2 of us laughed, after all.....the guy who died might have been old, he might have had family that loved him, but we didn't know any of them, and it really wasn't our concern, and after was dudes fault for shedding his mortal coil,he was old.

A couple years passed by and the 2 of us were still working there. On a Friday in July I stopped by with my wife and daughter. I wanted to get my paycheck.My shift didn't start for 6 hours and the "fam" wanted to head to the municipal pool in the meantime.

But when I walked into the office Winner was sitting with the secretary and their eyes were red and moist, I started to wonder if there was a "thing" going on and perhaps I had walked in at an awkward moment, but Winner explained that Scooter (the bakeries owner) had died.

I thought it was some kind of a joke, after all Scooter was only in his late 30's. Sure, he put on a few pounds. We loved to give him grief about crossing over from Levi's to elastic waistband Dockers, but that couldn't kill a guy.

The element that makes this tragic is that Scooter had a wife and a 3 year old daughter.......and a bun in the oven(5 months worth)as well.

It turns out she was on the west coast visiting her parents while our boss was shooting "H", just enough to kill himself.

Within 2 months I had a hernia and Scooters wife (who now had to run the bakery until she found a buyer) wouldn't file it under workman's comp.

Klecko ended up taking her to court and for the next half a year I had to punch in to the giggling chant of "Klecko sues Widows!"

I never thought things could get worse, but there was that other incident a few years later, you know, the one which prompted my peers to gleefully chant in unison "Klecko slugs retards!" Of courseI didn't hear this until after the 2 day suspension.

But then a guy named Dale French came along, he popped up from a bakery that had recently folded, and he was accompanied by 2 cousins named Fat Richie and Rick Moss.
These guys were 5 years older than me, so they were 28ish, Dale French was the ring leader, and he pretty much thought he was going to knock Larry Winner off the throne and run our little empire.

Dale French was really bright. He knew a lot about a lot of things,

Unfortunately....baking wasn't one of them, but he spent hours talking about counting cards in Vegas. He rambled on about classes he taught to wealthy people and how he would need every other weekend off to go on these junkets to raise business capitol.

Our 2 tribes ended up going to war. The career bakers didn't like it, but French was generous and used high grade coke to buy the popularity votes of numerous bench hands.

Enter Tracey......Tracey worked on the bench with us, she was one of the few female bakers that lasted for a long while in production.

Her body was lean and athletic looking, and she was known to donate it to a lucky baker (or bakers) after work if there was booze involved, and rumor has it that the gentlemen suitor / suitors would have their dreams come true, but only if they promised to spend the entire night.

Well Tracey was totally swept up by French and the 2 of them started hanging out a bit.

French's crew started to crumble though, Fat Richie ended up getting caught moving crank and since he was a 3rd time loser he's still serving a mandatory 25 of 28 years.

So French had to find new hobbies. After a few months the power struggle was over.

French and his boys got nailed for doing shoddy work and taking short cuts, so even they realized they were in over their head baking wise.

For 3 or 4 days French didn't come to work, and most of us figured that he just quit, but on a Sunday night I went outside close to midnight to smoke cigs with Tracey and her hands shook alcoholic hard, when I asked what was wrong....she tried to be cool and bottle it in, but that just made it worse,so before she burst into tear, she ran back into the bakery.

The next day when I punched in, Winner was all pissed off. The FBI had come into the shop. Dale French was found dead. He was all naked and blue like wrapped in sheets on his living room floor.

The Feds were pissed because Dale owed deep into 6 figures on back taxes and they were just about to knab him,but Larry Winner was pissed for another reason...

"That F-ing idiot better be dead, I just co signed on a loan for him, he bought a couple motorcycles. God-D, how am I going to get a death certificate? I am so screwed!"

Then he stopped and our eyes locked. I reminded him "Dude - the guy is dead!"
I know it's horrible to say but, we both laughed......after all, people in their 20's just don't die!

The End

*P.S. Mist people deduced that Tracey was at the scene during the death / murder? But that was all scuttlebitt. Nothing was proven. She quir immedietly and went over to Baldinder where it was reported that she got caught "doing it" in the freezer with some guy, you never know how much gossip is true in the Bakers wire, but I heard she married the guy so the company wouldn't terminate her.


Monday, January 3, 2011

Food VS Eating

After 6 hours of driving through Iowa, I got back home yesterday just before dusk set in. Knowing that I would be wiped out the following morning, I decided to get an early jump on some of my morning rituals.

Along the side of my house is something I've created called the TREADWELL BIRD SANCTUARY.

This is a series of houses, feeding stations and watering options for the birds in my neighborhood. The "TBS" which I call it for short provides comfort for hundreds of birds, rabbits and squirrels.

I don't think anything on earth gets me as high as being able to feed any creature of Gods. With all my heart I believe it is the noblest thing I can do.

In addition to wrens, blue jays, downy woodpeckers and finches....we also get cardinals and blue jays.

Is there anything more majestic?

I really don't think so, but I got home, was tired and crabby and decided to restock suet blocks, fill seed containers and increase water levels when all of a sudden I noticed that about 6 feet in front of me on the ground was a female cardinal. I froze in my tracks and stood silent.

She hopped around a snow bank that was under a feeding station and ate the seed droppings of the days previous diners.

After 5 minutes this stunning creature just continued to amble, not skip or fly in spurts, but amble.

This made me nervous because when birds spend a prolonged time on the ground this often times means they are wounded or sick.

Just as little Klecko's sensitive heart began to sink.....behold.....the bird flew briskly into a near by pine tree.

At this point I went into my house to fill an empty plastic Kool Aid pitcher (you have to do this a total of 3 times) to increase the water level in the Treadwell Bird Sanctuary's heated bird bath, but when I came back out, there she was, the little cardinal had returned.

The bird bath was 15 yards away and my guest was directly between me and it, so once again I paused and waited for my friend to have an opportunity to finish her meal before I trudged through her feasting area.

10 minutes passed.....I stood silent, 20 minutes passed, and then the screaming monkey ring tone from my Droid went off. When I answered my phone I looked up and Sue McGleno was staring out of the kitchen window at me.

"What the "H" is wrong with you?" she asked. when I whispered that I was waiting on a young female cardinal she looked down and saw it too. We both hung up our phones and continued watching for around 15 more minutes before our guest finally left for the day.

When I got back inside Sue McGleno asked me if I felt like a dumb a** wasting over 1/2 hour on a bird. The question was fair, and I explained if I had to leave for work, or go to a little league game I might not have responded like that, but the beauty was I had nothing left to do, and on the few occasions in my life when time is idle......I love to watch creatures eat.

Often times people put their focus on food, this is good, however it is nothing without understanding the actual process of eating.

For most of my life I have taken mental notes on what happens when you take time to respect the process.

Why is it that the squirrels in metropolitan parks will eat sugar babies directly from pedestrians hands? Because the bond of trust has been completed, and that trust which binds humans and animals with food is amazing.

The same goes for ducks, geese, horses, Romanians, Nuns and politicians.

If a person takes time to understand the diners eating process, they in fact have lodged themselves into that creatures soul.

Now some of you foodies might not get what I am trying to describe here, but if you want to understand the secret....bare with me a second.

In a land of luxury (like America) most people have a preconceived notion that food is an entitlement, that an outcome is predicated by ingredients instead of the process,

But if you go to more established parts of the globe that boast a longer history, or more mature countries with places that have endured famine and hardship you'll see a totally different perspective.

In Moscow when you have an opportunity to take a meal - many of your colleagues will wish you Bon Appetit.

When they do this, you can see a look in their eyes, a look that says "Dude, I so wish I was you"

For most of them, they don't fret over whats on the plate, they are just grateful that the plate is in use.

The Russian government has declared bread an essential staple and attached price fixing to it, so if you want to open a bakery, it's hard to be creative over there because you'll lose money. Prices are set low so every person in the country will be able to afford several loaves.

How interesting it was to me to not hear people whining about "Gluten Free" or "Lactose Whatever" These peeps just ate and enjoyed it.

You know who else is cool? African People!

On the occasions when I've worked the Saint Agnes bread table at the farmers market or the State Fair, I always dug the Africans. Here is a country of people who simply love their food. Most of the guys don't walk directly up to the table, it starts off with them catching your product in their peripheral, and then they'll circle around like a vulture works a carcass.

On the second pass they pick up the loaf, bury their nose into the plastic bag and inhale with all their might. as they set the loaf down a delirious smile overtakes their face. sometimes that will be enough and they will go on their way, but many times they will come back and purchase multiple loaves on their 3rd or 4th pass.

The purchase of the product is a courtship. The act is as innocent, pure and delightful as anything I have ever witnessed.

Older people can be tougher, often times if they are a returning customer, they almost never mention flavor, instead they enjoy discussing ingredients (i.e. why did you start adding vinegar in this bread) and formulation. No matter how good your product is, it's never quite good enough because that honor is usually bestowed on a retail concept that they visited during their youth.

A time where it should be noted that their taste buds functioned at a much higher level.

Food might be glam up until your 50's, but it seems much more practical to my clients that have entered into their 60's!

Retarded (Mentally Challenged?) people can be really fun to feed as well. When I was a young teen I worked at Trevilla of Robinsdale, and the dietary aid chicks were kinda hot, so I'd smoke cigs with them and help them push their meal carts around.

I remember how intriguing it was that most of these retarded people would examine their food so closely, every single piece,and the ones that possessed clear communication skills would basically review what they were served every time. They really had this inner joy when food became a topic.

Then there was that day I went to Arlington High School to basically talk to gang banger's who were enrolled there. The thing that was unique about this class was none of the kids were American born. there was Mexicans, Hmongs, Somali girls, a dude from France, and some other cats from Central America.

The teacher gave me a list ahead of time, and I made each of these kids a loaf which was made from ingredients from their homelands.

I'll never forget what happened after I gave Somali girl a Peppadew boule.

After my discussion she came up and put her hand on my arm and told me how grateful she was to receive such a gift. You just had to be there, there was no bull**** in this statement. The bread splashed impact hard.

So Klecko....what exactly are you trying to say here?

Well, as many of you know......Danny Klecko is a man of the world. In a 1/2 century's time, he has seen many people search for answers.

Often times people will do this with booze, drugs, sex or even HBO, but I'm hear to tell you. Nothing cements a bond like trust! And, the strongest trust is forged in the meals you serve.

Now fly away little bird!

The Hypnotic Effects of Failure

As a kid, Danny Klecko's granddmother used to beat into his skull....

"Remember, you are a Pollack, so you are not that smart. To get ahead in this world you will have to work like a bull!"

When I repeat this statement can just see the tears starting to well up in the eyes of Klecko's Girlfriend Nation.

But, grandma was not trying to under value my intelligence. She was just trying to be practical. Often times it is best to look deep into the source. My Grandmother was a 100% Pollack who grew up during the American Depression in the 1930's. Most of her relatives and friends of the family were pure Pollacks as well. If we look back further from there....what was Poland's role in the world back then?

Answer - to serve as a doormat for Russia and Germany to fight on w/o destroying their own countries. Most of its inhabitants served as some form of indentured servants, and many more of them found worse...they became kitchen workers LOL.

The Pollacks in Europe were exactly like the Mexicans in America today. While some small fraction of Americans take credit for their nations culinary triumphs, it all rest on the shoulders of their Hispanic work force.

At 10 years old Danny Klecko hit the streets each morning at 4 a.m. and delivered newspapers, by 12 he was working at Golden Valley Super Valu as a bag boy.
In Junior High, I ended up getting on WE-CEP (the Work Program) and from 9-12th grade I only took mandatory classes and worked for my electives.

So in many ways having a job / career has always been a comfort zone for me. Its OK to be stupid as long as you have a constant paycheck.

10 days before marrying Sue McGleno, the bakery I worked for was shut down by the IRS. It was really cool at the reception when her relatives (many who I had never met) started off by asking me what I did for a living.

"At the moment I'm just watching a lot of television" was my pat response to the dismay of my new bride, but to be honest I just found it easier than hashing through the nightmare of going under on a sinking ship.

Checks weren't clearing, benefits were being taken away, and to make matters worse.....the ownership began renting out our production space to a local Hippie bakery whose bake staff was comprised of these 2 gay warlock dudes, who showed up wearing homemade uniforms that had pink pentagrams sewn on the chest.

Their fearless leader was a chick named "CAT" who was a running junkie, some have suggested that this chick might have been the first person ever to sport a negative body fat count. And she never talked. Her entire range of emotion was communicated with her facial gestures, and her face was kinda squirrel like. Ever pissed off a squirrel? Yikes!

OMG - they would come in too early and my closing guys would fight with them and every single evening had drama that would make Jersey Shore seem tame, but none the less.....I stayed.

Often times when any business concept starts moving backwards, the last people to react are the staff. I wonder if this is driven by ego (not wanting to be a failure) or if it is just too difficult to see the forest through the trees as they say.

This week, one of my girl friends is tossing in the towel from a concept that has splashed really hard, although it has not even been open a year, critics have raved about it, people blog about it, but the couple times I have stopped in....I witnessed a staff of 4 and 5 and a customary base of zero and 2.

That's not enough to pay the bills. Girlfriend shot me a Facebook message describing a new job she took, and while many people will speculate as to how or why she pulled the plug so quick, in my mind I applaud her.

Verily - Verily I say unto you......Everything-Everything-Everything starts at the dollar and you work back from that.

Wasn't it Cracker who said "What the world needs now, is another folk singer, like I need a hole in the head?"

The same can, or should be said about you culinary artists. Just because Amadeus died in a commoners grave for the love of art doesn't mean that bakers and chefs have to.

Just remember, intelligence is good, but clever is better.