Tuesday, March 29, 2011


I found cheap bagels a couple weeks ago. I think bagels must be a relatively new thing in Asia. I remember visiting korea as a kid; the only thing one of my aunts would ask for was 1 pack of bagels, which she would freeze and savor over a couple months. It was too bad we couldn't bring over cream cheese, she said she would dream about it.
When my grandmother came to stay with us for a couple months, she was very disconcerted about the bread with the hole in it. She looked at it like it was deformed, I suppose since she's so frugal she could reuse the same piece of aluminum foil for years. I told her the bread was supposed to be like that. "You pay for a hole in your bread?" and she shook her head, upset that we would let ourselves be cheated this way. We also took her to a dunkin donuts - which only led to more head shaking.

But bagels remind me most of the woman I worked for in college. I was her "personal assistant". The quotations make it sound shady, but I only mean it in that personal assistant doesn't really seem to fully cover my responsibilities. She hired me my first week in New York, the official job description was something like "letter writer", although the small print would have said 'laundry deliverer, personal shopper, courier, housekeeper.' I qualified for two reasons, good handwriting and naivety. Good handwriting because I wrote letters for her, and naivety because I never questioned anything she asked of me.

She was a single lady in her 60s living the wealthy life in New York, she was concerned with upkeep and playing the dating field.
The first time I'd ever heard of the concept of bikini waxing was from her. She wanted me to book her an appointment, "Brazilian" she said. "And ask them what Swarovski crystal designs they have.. or maybe well ask them if it interferes if I decide to go for a bit of a runway instead."

On my notepad, I'd written "Brazil? Swar crystal? being on a runway?" I thought she meant interfering with airplane travel.
It was a fun and instructive phone conversation.

She was on a very strict eating plan, which involved a detailed grocery itinerary. Diet Chocolate soda cans from a shop on the lower east side, vegan muffins from Avenue B, a 'small' portion of tasti delite in a 'large' cup. (I suppose that's psychological). I once came home with a medium size portion of tasti delite in the large cup because a worker had tried to be generous with me. I thought it was a nice gesture too, but apparently I had brought chaos into her day's food plan.
"What am I supposed to do? My GAWD what am I supposed to do? What can I possibly do?!"
thinking: "um... just don't eat all of it?" such a genius solution deserves a raise.

The lady had very specific directions that were also extremely vague. She would have made an excellent politician. Every day was a scavenger hunt, the shopping list she would leave on the desk for me would have descriptions like

"rice cereal puff, green and pink label, a bunny or a small child's face on it."
"lean cuisine meal - 135 calories, beef or lamb label with cream? fusilli?"
"currant jam french or italian brand, purple sticker label, picture of seeded fruit."
"salad dressing. swirly with seeds in it."

And every other week or so, she would buy a dozen bagels. I would get them fresh from a shop in the east village, these huge bagels the size of a face. When I got to her home I would carefully scrape out the filling with a sharp grapefruit spoon until all that was left was the rind. And on the counter when I left would be stack of autopsied bagels.

Of all the things, that was the thing I felt was so bizarre.

At the beginning I'd attempt to eat the inside part because I hated leaving it to waste, but it seemed kind of demeaning, and I couldn't ever finish 12 bagel fillings.

My grandmother would have shaken her head.