By: Reynard Hodges
I have to assume that MS Donuts, a short yellow building in a small Echo Park plaza where Glendale and Alvarado fork, is open during the daytime. But on any given night, seven days a week, if I step around to the right of its locked parking lot entrance doors and peek through a small side window between the hours of midnight and 4 am, I’ll see the shop’s sole baker hard at work. I like to take a minute to watch him, maybe pulling and stretching the raw dough into its familiar shape, or delicately and precisely flipping each donut floating in hot oil with long tapered wooden sticks. Eventually I will rap several times on the thin glass pane, and he will slip on a pair of flour bleached sandals, slide the window open and greet me with an enormous smile.
“Hello! Hello, my friend,” he says, with a thick Khmer accent. “How are you tonight? Coming from work?”
He laughs as he speaks, and I have long thought of him as an unusually good natured person. But through many late night talks—I’ve been going weekly for six years—I’ve learned that he still laughs when he isn’t happy. He will laugh as he tells me how tired he is, as he explains that he works seven days of the week, as he tells me that he only can get a few days off during the entire year.
The first batch is ready at midnight. There are seemingly hundreds of options: Twisted French Crullers, Yeasted Jelly donuts, Boston Creme, Blueberry Cake, etc, but almost every donut can be sorted into one of two broad categories: yeast or cake. Yeast donuts tend to be light and less sweet, whereas cake donuts skew denser, muffin-like and crumbly (Preston). I am a creature of habit and my order will be the same it has always been. The baker places two old-fashioned donuts on dry wax paper and drips a warm sugary glaze onto each of them, then puts one in a bag and hands the other directly to me. Old-fashioned donuts are a cake subset, with extra leavening in the dough splaying the edges, producing its distinct petalled-crown shape (Preston). I grab the donut, hot to the touch, and take the first bite. The exterior is crispy and sweet, and it collapses into small pieces that quickly disappear, melt, evaporate in my mouth. The donut is impossibly good.
Last Tuesday after work, I knocked on the window in between two batches. I decided to wait. While I waited, the baker told me that he was taking time off.
“Look at you,” I said. “A vacation!”
“Maybe not exactly a vacation.” His smile was gone. “My father, he’s gone. He passed away. I’ll go to Cambodia for a few weeks.”
“I am so sorry to hear that.” I looked up. “Was he sick?”
“Yes, very sick. Diabetes.” His smile returned. “He loved donuts,” he said, gesturing towards the shop’s pastry racks. “But it’s okay. That’s life. You’re born, you grow up, get sick, then-” he paused, then shrugged, then laughed. “Nobody escapes that.” A timer went off, and he went inside to finish the last batch.
PRESTON, MARGUERITE. “You're Either A Cake Doughnut Person Or A Yeast One.” Bon Appétit, 26 Apr. 2016, https://www.bonappetit.com/entertaining-style/trends-news/article/difference-between-cake-yeast-doughnut.
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