. . . The Bagel Shop

Author: Erin Buckley ’08

I hated my first job about as much as my younger brothers loved it.

The summer before my sophomore year of high school I worked at a bagel shop. There I learned the meaning of a baker’s dozen. I learned that advertising “muffins baked fresh daily” does not preclude selling muffins baked the day before. Mostly I learned to detest bagel egg sandwiches.

Sunday mornings, once sacrosanct and slow, became a mad rush desecrated by burning fake egg. The shop stored its egg substitute in shallow Styrofoam cups capped with plastic lids. Our thin food-handling gloves were supposedly one-size-fits-all, but they flopped two inches off my fingers. Because of the positioning of the microwave, I had to extract the cups from above. The steam exiting the lid would melt my glove while scalding my hand.

That summer I forswore bagel egg sandwiches. This was one of two nota-ble childhood promises I made myself — the other one I made in the clutches of a dental hygienist who was cranking a too-small band off my molar. That day, with the hygienist’s squeaking blue hand filling my mouth, I told myself I would never express gratitude for braces. I have reneged on both promises, which causes me a twinge of guilt toward my former self.

One thing I would tell that younger self is that there is a better way to fill a crate of bagels than by lowering the tray to the crate. One day, nearing their target, a dozen bagels slid off my tray. They bounced and tottered in all directions, rolling as far as those doughy wheels could go. I would like to say this mishap was my biggest botch of the summer, but that honor goes to my mix-up of horseradish sauce and Caesar dressing. The latter mistake was caught and the errant cups thrown out — or so we thought. Then my manager called me to the front counter. There stood a customer presenting her salad as if in offering. Apparently one cup had escaped the purge. If the woman’s arm formed the hook of a question mark, her face was the final dot of shock. To this day, besides as an add-in to cocktail sauce, I have no idea what horseradish is good for.

My brothers liked my job because whenever I worked the evening shift I’d bring home a bag of bagels. Bagels do not keep, so as employees we’d get dibs before they were tossed into the Dumpster. My brothers enjoyed the bagels just as they likely enjoyed that whole summer before they entered their fourth- and eighth-grade years, when summertime still consisted of sunscreen and library visits and bliss.

Erin Buckley lives in Richmond, Virginia, where she works as an occupational therapist. Occasionally she assesses her patients’ safety as they cook real eggs on a stovetop.