Was there a decade that Bagels really got popular with gentiles? I don’t know these things. I’m 25 after all and thus not inclined to actually reasearch things to flesh out my narrative into something cohesive. I can only talk about the bagel timeline as it applies to me and the first time they showed up was during the exiled years of St Louis when I was struggling out of the greasy chrysalis of puberty.
“We are going out to eat. Your father and I found this… place…” My mothers eyes looked slightly glassy from where they peered into my basement room from around the jamb. Her voice was dreamy as if she spoke not of mid range restaurant but of catching a glimpse of some vast elder god. “Clean up, get your coat.” She vanished down the hall.
“COME ON!” My father bellowed from upstairs. “Come on, come on, come on! I’m just waiting on women!”
My mothers distant voice “Chris, just let Leia run a brush through her hair…”
“NO TIME. LEIA.”
I scuttled through the atrium and up the stairs. Joke was on them anyway, I wouldn’t be relied on to brush my hair with out the threat of force until about 2003.
As we drove to our mystery destination my father drummed his finger on the steering wheel and my mother leaned forward in her seat. “Maybe it’s actually drugs!” I thought. Growing up in the late 90’s in St. Louis meant every school day was a new D.A.R.E program. “This is textbook! The fidgeting! The Unfocused eyes! The secrecy! We must be going to a drug deal! We are going to meet gangsters!” I chewed my fist and hoped that when it happened there was a shoot out like the ones in Escape From L.A. because that movie was awesome.
I was elaborating on my families new life of bad ass fantasy crime when we pulled into the parking lot. My parents bolted out of the car at the same time and skidded through the establishment door. I rolled out of the back like a down wrapped rolly polly and stared up at the sign. Two jolly looking cartoon men held up bagels and peered through them like monocle. One was balding and had little spectacles and the other had a bowler hat and handlebar moustache.
EINSTEIN BROS BAGELS, the sign read. the inside was clean and pleasantly lit with the soothing colors of the chain restaurant.
Well this didn’t look like the dens of ill repute that Officer Friendly talked about in class at all. Did this mean we couldn’t get leather jackets now and trash talk authority? I thought we were turning to a life of crime. I thought there would be posse’s and we would hang chains all over ourselves because that was the dress code for doing crime! Mom was going to smoke cigars and dad was going to grow a beard and tattoo his neck! I thought we had plans.
I joined my parents inside to find them surveying an over head menu board.
“What kind of sandwich do you want?” My mother asked.
“I don’t know if I really want…” I started.
“The sandwiches are very good here.” My mother ushered me forward “Try the turkey on an everything bagel!”
At the counter my father had already ordered. “Come on, what do you want?”
“Uhh, what mom told me to get.” I said.
Orders placed we sat at in a booth. My parents fiddled with their order numbers and didn’t take their eyes from the pick up counter. When the numbers were called I began to rise but in a blur of movement they had dashed to the counter and returned bearing these holy yum stacks. They placed my turkey and swiss in front of me reverently and then tore into their own sandwiches with the same fury of participants in an ancient Greek Bacchanalia would tear into the flesh of state donated virgins.
I stared at mine. “There is a hole in the middle of my bread.” I said “I can see the innards of my sammich.”
My mother swatted my arm with one free hand. I picked up my sandwich and attempted the first bite. All of the filling immediately squirted out of the bottom and landed with a plop on the wax paper covering my plate. It was as if my bagel was a frightened prey animal who, finding itself caught in my jaws, shat itself in an effort to escape.
Don’t get me wrong I grew to love the bagel or rather I learned how to hunt it. I learned how to eat it by engulfing it with both hands and biting in such a way that I was not wearing a shame apron of escaped mustard all over the fly of my jeans. However no matter how much I enjoyed a bagel for my parents it was fanatic. if it could be feasibly spread or wedged into a bagel they would do so and for all the years I lived under their roof the box of bagels from the local cafe was always on the countertop.
So you can imagine how overwhelmingly pissed they were to move to New Orleans and discover that for some unfathomable reason there were no bagels to be found. Anywhere.
“No bagel shops at all?” I asked my mother on the phone during my walk to class one day while eating a sausage, egg and cheese on an onion bagel.
“None.” My mother wailed. “And we’ve looked. You’re father and I are dying.”
“God, that must be rough.” I said with my mouth full. “I can’t throw a rock without hitting a baglery. It’s like non stop bagels here. They make a really good Artichoke shmear at this one place on Sutter…”
“I’m sorry” I took another bite.
“Are you eating a bagel right now?”
The last thing I heard before the click of the receiver hitting the cradle was a strangled sound somewhere between a sob and a death rattle. Then the dial tone.
The one thing saving them is the monthly trips to visit my grandparents in Montgomery, Alabama. Along the road into kudzu state is a Panera Bakery one of the few places that apparently exist in the south where a decent bagel can be purchased. The formula is this: Get in the car, stop at the Panera in Mobile for lunch, Visit Grandparents, get in the car, stop at Panera in Mobile again, Purchase as many bagels as can fit in the back of a mustang, return home.
And apparently a new part of the equation I was not aware of was that my parents have been smuggling bagels back to my fathers work place. Some people smuggle oxycodone across state lines, my parents are shipping Cinnamon Crusted to feening people in the Crescent city. Every time word got around that Dad was off to sweet home Alabama people in the lab would creep up to him and clap a hand on his shoulder, “Listen, I understand you are going to be driving by a Panera…” and they would trail off meaningfully.
“The back seat is full of bagels” My mother texted me last week.
“Half for you, half for the lab?” I texted back.
“Listen if you are going to keep doing this Daddy may as well get some blood sport out of it. Build an arena in the parking lot and have people fight to the death for them.”
You know she laughed at me but I was completely serious. In a place where a baked good demand is high I’m relatively sure people would engage in gladiatorial combat for a decent Sesame Seed bagel. circling each other in freshly baked sourdough chariots with glazed muffin top wheels, swinging at one another with hardened biscotti cudgels, hoping against hope to strike this killing blow and earn the approval of their yeasty emperor, my father.
Clad in silks with challah laurels adorning his temples he would rise austerely at the end of a battle to bestow either a reprieve to the victor in the form of a dozen bagels feast or, should he be displeased by the spectacle, a slow death by drowning in a vat of warm chives cream cheese.
A few weeks ago I enthused to my mother before a scheduled visit to San Francisco. “There is this place that does beer battered tempura green beans. I can’t wait to take you! It comes with the Meyer lemon aoli…”
“Sounds good.” My mother said distantly. all of a sudden she perked up. “Say that Star Bagels place we went to last time Daddy and I were out, is that open on Sundays…?”
“But this place has an amazing cocktail menu…”
“Tell her I don’t want to eat deep fried panda toes or whatever the thing is.” My father called over into the receiver. I could hear him snap open his newspaper. “We are going for Bagels and Indian food. If I want endangered deep sea animals braised in sanctimony I can do that down here.”
“Tell daddy they are open everyday of the week at 6 AM.”
“Ok, good.” he sounded more relaxed. “Gwen, make sure you set your alarm for 5:30 in the morning. I like it when they’re warm.”