Time to Make the Bagels

by Grey Gingrow, SUNY Cortland, October 7, 2009

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Each and ever day I work, I wake at 3:30 a.m. to make the bagels. Just before I wake, I sometimes hear the shrill voice of Battle Axe, my supervisor, in my dreams. It's no wonder I often wake up in a cold sweat yelling,

"I'm making the bagels as fast as I can, Battle Axe!"

On the days I don't wake up this way, I have to motivate myself otherwise, usually just by chanting in a deep baritone voice,

"It's time...It's time...It's time to make the bagels!"

I usually don't shower in the abyssal morning of my workday. Instead, I gallivant straight toward the coffee maker and drink a hot brew post-haste. Coffee wipes the early morning residue from my brain, so I can function properly at work. About forty per cent of the time, I spill some coffee, either on myself or on the floor. Spilling on myself is no big deal; I'm just making bagels for eight hours (not a fashion show). Spilling on the floor just gives my dog a head rush. Everyone's happy when I spill a little on the floor.

I do mean everyone. Until about 6 a.m., when the first cashiers arrive at the bakery, only the dog and I exist in my world. The four-mile drive is a lonely one. I glance at the clock and fantasize about noon, when I'll be allowed home for my auxiliary sleeping time. (It's not really a nap if it's over two hours long.) Before I delve into this fantasy too deeply to return, I pull into the bakery parking lot.

"Glory, Glory, Hallelujah! Any spot I desire!"

I approach the entrance with a caffeinated mind and body, eagerly seeking the door's gracious approval.

"Let's see, insert key here, turn counter-clockwise, listen for mechanized beauty, push the door open and revel in the splendor of human ingenuity!" (Can you tell it's 4:00 a.m.?)
I push straight past the counter, into the back room, where my state of the art bagel kettle lay dormant.

"Rise and shine, you magnificent bastard!"

She cooks 4800 bagels an hour. After they're kettle cooked, I move them into the oven--where they get baked! It's fast paced work when the bagels are done simmering in the kettle. The most crucial aspect of my job comes in bagel transport; kettle cooked dough en route to oven is at first daunting, then challenging, and after some time acknowledged as tricky. The bagel-man must move gingerly if he wishes to keep his job. I feel like Keller Williams, the one-man band, trying to orchestrate bagel production with rhythmic elegance, while consciously planning my every next move. This chaos constitutes the entirety of my eight-hour workday, but the human drama unfolding between the workers and customers provides me with at least some comic relief.

My first day was rough. Old Battle Axe nearly fired me on the spot for "not wearing appropriate attire". Battle Axe's real name is Dorcas, but that's far too lusty for the likes of her. My nickname fits her well. She comes down hard on everyone. She looked at me as though I were a menace, so I subtly became one. Immediately upon making her acquaintance, I began to burn with mischievous intent. I felt like Problem Child in the presence of Mr. Peabody. You see, I couldn't openly assault her as I would have liked, but I instead felt strong vindication to do and say what I thought was right (and have a little fun), while working my ass off as a sort of job insurance. After all, good help is hard to find, and the counter girl Anna had already told me the last two or three bakers had caved in and stormed out because of the pressure. They even left bagels in the oven. I had resolved not to do the same.

"Will you show me how to do it," I asked.

"What?" she replied.

"Make the bagels swiftly."

"Well yeah, I guess." And with that she danced around the tiny kitchen, motioning with choreographed hand gestures around the equipment I would be using. She showed me without really showing me. Still, her dance was hilarious, to the point of which I would have called her "Fancy Feet," were it not for everything else about her that screamed to me "Bloodthirsty Battle Axe". I always have this reoccurring image of her real job at the bakery--how, instead of management, she's really in charge of slicing the bagels with a battle axe for the entertainment of the crowd. She'd do exceptional work at it, I'm sure. It's also fitting she'd be obliged to wear the black hood for the sake of the theatrical performance. (She's ugly, to boot.)

Once an argumentative couple came traipsing along and quickly became an obnoxious annoyance. Battle Axe quickly confronted the two idiots:

"Excuse me, what are you two doing," she asked like an elementary school teacher separating class clowns.

They both shot her a quizzical look as if to say, "Excuse us but what are you doing?" But Battle Axe had already sized them up and seized control of the scenario. Next came her non-negotiable rhetoric:

"Yeah, you two. Your negative energy is: a.) causing a scene in my bakery, b.) driving away the other customers, and c.) interfering with my FUCKING flow! GET OUT!"

"Whatever happened to the customer is always right?" the man asked.

"Listen guy, you're messing with the wrong bagel bitch today."

And then they both left--quickly. I stood awestruck at Battle Axe's behavior, but Anna took no notice, which told me this conduct was normal.

Battle Axe stormed past me, but time seemed to slow down as she turned her head and looked at the obscene coffee stain right down the front of my white shirt.

"Can't you wear a clean shirt? Jesus!"

"What's the difference?" I asked.

"If you look good, you feel good, and do your job better."

"That's an odd way of looking at it. How do you manage yours?"

Before she could respond, I disappeared into the back room and began to make bagels swiftly.


Another time, a dispute between Anna and I developed into a tussle. Let it suffice to say she had half of a blueberry bagel with strawberry cream cheese and I desired it. We each had one end of the bagel and tore it in half before we expected. Anna's half ruffled some man's hair and left a hearty slab of pink cream cheese on his temple. My half shot across the room and hit Battle Axe dead center on the left tit. It looked like a pink smiley. I could see the malevolence raging within her, only visible to me through her eyes (which have at other times revealed she has no soul at all). She chased me into the consumption arena and caught me, but not before I had managed to grab a plastic fork for my defense. I held it close, and threatened her life. She pushed me off and said, "Shape up!" Then she went on her lunch break and vanished through the front door like a gorilla retreating deep into the jungle. I looked at Anna and said, "My shift's over."


After this encounter, I considered myself fed up with the job. I went out drinking late one night before work, and was wasted by three o'clock. My friend Dan managed to drop me off at work by four o'clock, though, and I stumbled in triumphantly. I made it to the back room and started mixing bagel ingredients for Blueberry.

"Okay," I thought. "I've got flour, yeast, blueberries a..." VOMIT, all in the bagel mix.

These were going to be Pukeberry bagels. I had to cook them for want of time in undertaking any other course of action. The horror of what I'd just done sobered me up a bit, and by the time I saw any other workers, I looked right as rain. The only person who seemed to notice anything was amiss was Anna. She asked what I'd done and I knew I couldn't hide it, so I confided in her. She, least of all, wanted to see me get fired. She covered for me, and told Battle Axe the blueberries had gone bad. The rest of the day went rather smoothly--that is, until my ex-girlfriend walked in.

Anna knew Samantha and I used to date, and hadn't taken a particular liking to her in the first place. So when Samantha said,

"Can I get a blueberry bagel with plain cream cheese?"

Anna glanced at me through a slit in the wall and I knew her mind immediately. I grabbed one of the Pukeberry bagels and handed it to her. From that point on, my scheming in the matter was over. I peered at the unfolding drama before me and cringed when after Samantha had chewed and swallowed her first bite she asked,

"This is good. What's in it?"

I took off my apron and walked out the back door, with bagels still in the oven. What more could I have reaped from my meaningless job at the bakery? It had already given me all I could possibly handle.

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