Then there was the time I fell in love with a guy who sold bagels.
I moved to New York twice. The second time, I stayed. The first time, I retreated home, hungover in a dirty shirt with a dollop of grease staining the place where my third boob would be if I had one. The first time I moved to New York, I did it because of Eric Bogosian.
That’s right, in my heart it was still the late ’80s and early ’90s and the odds of making it big as a solo performance artist seemed astronomically high. I was sure if I made just the right quip to just the right stranger on the train that I’d have it made: Black boxes would be overflowing with folks demanding to pay $50 to hear what I had to say about modern life -- maybe I would even sing a song, but ironically! The possibilities were endless, really.
Instead what happened is I hunkered down in an old friend’s one bedroom apartment in Brooklyn and watched hours of the seminal classic "Bridezilla." When I did get up and leave, I made a beeline directly for Union Square. Not sure why. Though I’d put money on it being the only place I knew how to successfully get to by train. Once there, I’d wander through the park briefly wondering whether or not I should attempt some solo performance for cash right there (thankfully, I did not) and eventually make a beeline for the Strand where I would sniff books and wander the aisles hoping I’d take a wrong turn and stumble into some sort of Narnia-hole. This did not occur.
I’d buy cheap novels and go over to the Whole Foods, where I’d put together the saddest plate of cafeteria food and weep over it while pretending to read. Nobody asked me if I was okay. I don’t think that speaks to the callous nature of New York. I just think it probably goes without saying that if some chubby girl is crying into her saag paneer, shit is probably not okay.
I had no idea what I was doing. I didn’t have a reason to be in New York. I didn’t have a reason to be anywhere, really. I had the money I’d saved from my temp job in Rhode Island, but if I kept frittering it away on heat-lit lunches and books it was clear I’d be broke in no time. For the first time in my life I’d jumped without a net and instead of making the leap successfully, or even falling flat on my face, I’d gotten caught in the scaffolding on my way down. I was somewhere between the ground and the sky, in an awkward and painful angle and I didn’t see a way out.
This first attempt happened in 2005 or thereabouts. Today in New York it’s not uncommon to find people making stuff like artisanal hams or bespoke vinyl, organic flannel po’ boys (my god how I wish any of those were real things). In 2005 the tidal of wave of indie hipster business hadn’t fully struck. That’s why the guy who sold homemade bagels was such a big deal. That’s probably why I remember him: He wasn’t like anyone else. Also, he was a sexy man selling bagels. Feed me and look good, that’s all it takes: I am as shallow as they come. I mean, I’m not, but I am.
One day, leaving my salt-laden green bowl of slop behind me and heading back to Brooklyn, I got off the train and there he was. The bagel-seller was exceptionally tall. He was also exceptionally thin in the legs and not-thin from the waist up. He was shaped like an upside down pineapple. If this had been Dickensian era England, I would have wept for the dude, sartorially speaking -- how the hell do you dress that? Stovepipe pants: The gift that never stops not giving.
He had a giant beard. Again, now, this wouldn’t be anything all too out of place, but back then the people I most associated with beards were Civil War generals and sexual predators. I have changed my mind about this now by at least 35% (I don’t like beards, that’s the joke I’m going for there). The beard, like his hair, was strawberry blond like Nancy Drew's (why is THAT a thing I have retained and yet I still panic over figuring out the check at restaurants?). He was sitting on a crumbling concrete wall just to side of the subway entrance. He was in the way, something that now would cause me to sneer and possibly spit, but then seemed bold: Here was a person who believed he had a right to take up space in the universe.
He saw me staring at him, probably with eyes the size of Whole Foods cafeteria plates because I have, you know, sizeable eyes. “Hey!” He yelled, jumping up. “You look like you enjoy bagels!”
Because I am both deeply insecure and desperate to be loved I felt at once devastated that he suspected I ate carbs regularly and deeply flattered that he was paying any attention to me at all. I don’t know what I said in response to him, but no doubt it was something charming and self-deprecating that endeared me to him forever (lololol). I do know that whatever combination of words of noises I managed to get out, they resulted in him selling me three of his homemade jalapeño bagels.
In hindsight, it is completely horrifying that I bought stranger-bagels from a man who looked like an extra from "Gangs of New York." It is more horrifying that I ate all three of the bagels while watching more bridal-themed television.
This was not an encounter with a magical hipster who helped me get my life back on track. If anything, it was kind of the opposite. While explaining his business model to me (which apparently included waiting to accost people getting off the train with low self-esteem) I was quietly enthralled with the level of passion this dude had. He had passion...about bagels. That’s just boiled bread, yo. But he felt for it so keenly, he was hustling on the corner (literally) bursting with energy and enthusiasm, too small to fail!
As he gesticulated wildly and I stared into his dreamy, dreamy green eyes breathing in his yeasty scent I imagined what our life together would be like. Him getting up in the small hours of the morning, preparing to leave the windowless, furnace room we shared. “Time to make the bagels?” I’d say wryly, and he’d kiss me and chuckle indulgently before going to do just that.
I’m not Eric Bogosian, I’m not a ride-or-die bagel entrepreneur. There wasn’t anything in life I wanted so badly that I’d accost strangers in a big, scary, new city. Isn’t there anything other than loving and being loved that I wanted? I ate the last bagel and scoured my guts looking for a passion of my own. I finished it and felt uneasy, probably because I’d eaten three bagels, and probably because I was very busy trying to hide from myself. I took a bus home not long thereafter. When I figured out what I wanted and moved back, the bagel guy was gone, and in his place were a million other boys with a million other dreams. Probably 15% of those dreams involved food.