Call it the Case of The Infuriating Bagel.
I’m in New Orleans, visiting my daughter Samantha. I love it here. Graveyards are magnetic charm chargers. If that’s the phrase I’m after. People are almost human here. It is a city of uninhibited wonder. You can’t go into a coffee shop without seeing a glossy photo of two Barbie dolls having lesbian sex in the grass, or a painting of an elderly nude woman/skeleton hybrid. Well, you can’t go into Z’otz coffee shop without seeing that, at least.
I do that to everything. Constantly. I make things absolute.
If I break a shoelace, I immediately conclude that every single time I ever tie my laces, they break. Because we are falling apart faster than cotton candy dissipates from cute pink cloud into sugary damage in your mouth. Because we have found the way to pray without cessation: we worship money. Everything is in advanced decay, and we are all gonna die. It’s just like that with me. A clerk dismisses me, and everything falls apart that was ever created; I was dismissed because God is on vacation. Again. And she is on this vacation because we were being assholes. Again.
It’s amusing as hell, this mild psychosis, when you can laugh at it. And there is this cool other side too, of being occasionally elated. But right now, let’s keep the focus on that damned bagel. And having said this, let me mention that while I may be just some guy let loose on a keyboard, hardly a legit writer, I am nonetheless pretty thoroughly unqualified for other stuff too. I promise you that I will never let the fact that I may have very little to say stop me from talking.
New Orleans is teeming all around me today, the guy bringing in the hand truck loaded with four milk crates, pouring forth their contents into the walk-in, says: “See you next week” with something akin to affection.
This is so foreign, but here, it’s the way life works. Yesterday, walking through “Pigeon Town” to Zotz, three people I don’t know said good morning as if they were actually wishing for me to have a morning that would be good. After the second one, I stopped looking behind me to see who they were talking to. People treat each other like human beings here, it takes getting used to.
But the bagel. Infuriating. It happened yesterday. Samantha and I were sitting on the porch at Forbidden Tattoo, where she works as an apprentice. We were early. It was that brief time in your life when everything catches up to you, no when you catch up to everything, sorry. There is a little window of peace, and you decide to fill it with a bagel.
She sent me, her pregnant state allowing her to call the shots. I walked to a cafe called “Cafe” or something similar. It was flying a sign that said, and this will be important later, “Coffee. Bagels.” I sauntered right in there, confident in my condition, which was guy with enough real cash money to pay for a bagel.
I asked for an onion bagel, toasted, with extra cream cheese.
The guy had everything bagels, which include onion, and yes, I agreed, that would suffice for my purposes. It tipped me over into wondering about the many things that everything bagels couldn’t possibly have, like kale or banana or fire-hose couplings, but I just let that go. Off Bagel Guy to his work, and there was me, left with time enough to explore the bathroom. I check the bathrooms out everywhere, whether I need to go or not. Maybe I crave solitude. Maybe I like bathrooms. I certainly like the word “bathroom.” There is comfort there. It’s the only room for letting go. Except maybe a bedroom. I wish they made public bedrooms, I would check those, too.
There were these really stunning images in this bathroom, portraits with coffee featured. Models, their gig this day, making coffee more sexy. More amazing. Less simply brown magic beverage, more answer to secret longings you didn’t even know you had. One was a Japanese woman. It was raining in that photo. She wore a clear plastic raincoat, with a little umbrella over her cup of coffee. She was vulnerable and protected at the same time. It was magic. Her lips were redder than Crayola’s “Sunburnt Cyclops.” But that’s not what I’m here to talk to you about. Not really. But she was, may I say, a one-image mystery on wheels. With chrome handlebars.
But to this damned bagel, before whatever is next asserts itself.
I emerged from the bathroom innocent, all happy, ready to bring my daughter her awesome snack. Bagel Guy handed me a brown paper bag and the juice, and I left the place. I mean really, our business was finished, what else would I do? You order something “to go” not so you can hang around all day. I made tracks. Hit the tattoo parlor porch, delivered said bagel.
She took it out of the bag, little wheel, tiny tire in wheat and yeast. But there was no cream cheese on the thing. The toasted bagel surface, I would put it at either Raw Sienna or Off Road brown, was flat as the line that describes when a heart is no longer beating. My pregnant daughter looked in the bag, and took out a plastic tub, with a plastic lid. There was even an accompanying plastic knife.
Apparently, she was expected to perform this culinary operation herself, as it was slightly beyond the interests or capabilities of the shop that is in the business of selling bagels. That is what they do, but who has the time anymore to actually do anything? Better to leave that bit of business to the customer.
But what about the single-use plastic? Does something as pure, as clean and potentially benevolent, as scoring a bagel from a small local independent bagel shop need to be dragged down into this morass of plastic consumption?
Why are we shoving this snack into the maw of petrochemical distribution? What are these bagelslingers saving themselves from? Is there such a race to get the damned bagel into my hand, that taking, let me see, four seconds or seven, to smear the cream cheese on it is going to kill the project? Is there a secret speed race and nobody told me it started?
The unwritten message was
“You want a bagel with cream cheese? Fuck you, put it on yourself. What do we look like, we’re made of time here? Do you think just throwing a few bucks at us across the counter is gonna buy you some kind of special concern? Who are you to try to tell us what to do with our lives? How dare you?”
Which is what it is, I mean, I’m not so controlling that I want to see long lines of impoverished New Orleans service industry workers in dingy uniforms, chained to counter-tops, smearing cream cheese on bagels 24/7 365. I don’t roll that way. So fine.
You are free. I unchain you from any obligation to put the cream cheese on the bagel. It’s just that not putting the cream cheese on the bagel is the same as killing puppies when you are PETA. It’s the same as Exxon cleaning up 150,000 gallons of oil with 12 or 15 rolls of paper towels. It is part of this lockstep we are all frogmarched into dancing. It is like death’s heel on our throats, but less friendly. Handing someone a plastic knife is knifing them.
If you must remain free from the drudgery of smearing, would you then please just let me borrow a real, metal knife for a minute, and point out the tin-foiled block of Philadelphia CC, or more likely, the industrial bucket full of the white milk fat product, and let me at least get the Baby Powder White-smeared wheel together without consuming another little batch of petroleum product?
Am I some mildly neurotic whack job, tweaking and twitching here at an annoyance so first world, so irrelevant, so uninteresting that the god’s themselves are rolling their eyes? No. No, I would not say “mildly.” I’m just a soon-to-be grandfather, exploring the fringes of crotchetiness, and looking for a petroleum-free snack experience.
Next time, I’ll have to talk her into a croissant.
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Ed: Kate Bartolotta