Monday, September 30, 2013

The Man We Called Cream Donut

I don’t exactly know what made me think of the man we once called “Cream Donut” today. I think it happened when I passed by a Dunkin’ Donuts and thought about how expensive their products have become, and how they seem to be getting smaller and airier as the days pass. Cream Donut owned and operated a place called Twin Donut in the Bronx’s Kingsbridge during the 1970s. It was a franchise, I believe, because there were Twin Donuts scattered about the city back then. Actually, there still are handful around, although their numbers have dwindled considerably through the years.

Twin Donut had a large variety of donuts, which was quite impressive in its day. Several stores to its east was a Baskin-Robbins ice cream parlor, known to many of as "31 Flavors." I guess what Baskin-Robbins was to ice cream, Twin Donut was to donuts. Where else could you purchase a butternut crunch donut or one with apple filling? My favorites, though, were the more traditional vanilla cream and chocolate cream kinds. Adding to their appeal, I think, was how the shop’s proprietor, an older Greek man, pronounced them—and always in the loudest of tones. “Shaw-Co-Lot cream and Vah-Nella cream!” he’d bellow. As far as my younger brother and I were concerned, his rather unique pronunciations, coupled with the extremely high volume, struck a funny bone.

The pre-caller ID 1970s was also the era of the funny phone call. I know we called Twin Donut a time or two and asked Cream Donut if he had any cream donuts on hand. Of course, we knew the answer was yes. And when he’d answer in the affirmative, we’d ask him what kinds of cream donuts he had. “Shaw-Co-Lot cream and Vah-Nella cream!” he’d roar, even over the telephone. He couldn’t whisper those two words if his life depended on it.

The one thing we never bargained for was an in-the-donut-shop negative experience with Cream Donut himself. One afternoon, my brother and I had ordered several cream donuts—chocolate and vanilla, naturally—and Cream Donut, like a well-schooled Mynah bird, repeated our order just to make certain he got it right. But that enunciation of the two flavors of cream donuts—and decibel level—caused the two of us to temporarily lose it. And while we were desperately trying to get a grip on ourselves, Cream Donut took notice and didn’t like what he saw.

True, Cream Donut had given us a bravura performance that day—we couldn’t have asked for more—but he was an intimidating sort of guy that we really didn’t want to cross. The last thing a couple of innocent youth wanted to do was incur the wrath of this man. But incur his wrath we did. “YOU LAUGHING AT ME?” he angrily queried. We were indeed, but sheepishly said we weren’t. He didn’t believe us but sold us the cream donuts anyway. Under the circumstances, I wouldn’t have blamed the man for pulling a Soup Nazi and saying, “No donuts for you!” Cream Donut was an imposing presence for sure, but a businessman above all else. 

A postscript: Twin Donut served tasty enough donuts but they left an aftertaste that repeated on you throughout the day. And Cream Donut’s little shop at the intersection of Kingsbridge Avenue and W231st Street was notorious for hosting a mice fest every night after lights out.

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