I’m in Connecticut, visiting my 91 year old mother.
I didn’t arrive until 1:30 AM, the flight was late because of weather in NYC and it took nearly an hour for my bag to descend and the pickup area needed to be overseen by FEMA. Why is it everybody in America feels entitled? Especially the richer they are? This one person with a Range Rover wouldn’t move, no matter what the “cops” said. Therefore, all pickup traffic was slowed-down and…
It was not like L.A. Where the gestapo reigns. Where it is not so humid. Where you can’t get a good bagel.
Now my father used to visit the deli every Sunday morning. After Sunday School we had family brunch. With whitefish and herring and other seafood I never touched, as well as bagels and lox and pastrami… That’s right, Jews never want to run out of food, if you don’t have leftovers, you bought too little. And there were the milkshakes, made in the ancient blender, my father loved to buy used curios. From a player piano to a meat-slicing machine, he got a “deal.”
But I never ate the lox.
And I didn’t think twice about the bagels.
Our rye bread came from Richelsoph’s, down on Black Rock Turnpike. We’d order and they’d run it through the slicing machine and I’d eat two or three slices before we got home, which was close nearby. My mother would always warn me that I would lose my appetite, but this never happened, an old wives’ tale like waiting an hour after you eat to resume swimming, not that my mother was so rigid on that, but it’s been recently debunked. But just wait another year and they’ll reinstate the doctrine, kinda like stretching, you should do it and then you shouldn’t. The science news is full of contradictions.
And the best part of the rye bread was the end, the heel. It’s all about the crust, especially after the inside cools off. My mother never bought Wonder Bread, although I envied those at school who ate it, we all want to fit in. Then again, my mother never ever made lunch for us, we ate the hot meal in the cafeteria.
So when I arrive in Connecticut I get freaked out. Because not only is it so different, I used to live here and I knew no better. Didn’t think twice about how green it was, about the rolling hills. The aforementioned humidity. And my mother’s condo is full of pictures. All of us younger and thinner, some of us no longer here. At first it creeps you out, reminds you of the passage of time, how we’re all just animals, here to reproduce. You’re young and you think you understand the game, then you grow old and you realize there is no game. If you’re trying to ascend the ladder, acquire possessions, the joke is on you, no one is really paying attention.
So it’s disorienting. You think you know what’s going on and then you don’t.
And after sleeping I woke up to converse with my mother at the kitchen table. It’s always at the kitchen table. And she asked me if I was hungry, after eating a coffee yogurt and taking my pills I said no, but then she said she needed a sandwich and I opened the fridge to find…
Now I don’t know when I started to like lox, maybe sometime in my twenties, when I was already living in Los Angeles. But that’s faux lox, relatively dry, relatively tasteless. But east coast lox… It’s oily and neither sharp nor tasteless, rather it’s satisfying, with a soft solidity and a subtle palate tang.
And then there’s the cream cheese. Sure, if you’re on the run you buy Philadelphia, but when you go to the deli you always get the handmade stuff, which is thicker.
And I’m sitting there eating the lox and cream cheese because I’m not supposed to be eating carbs, and then my mother has half of her bagel left, that she’s not gonna eat.
Now I toasted it for her. In the Black & Decker Toast-R-Oven. Remember when these were made by GE? When GE used to make everything? And bagels oftentimes did not fit in our regular toaster, the Toast-R-Oven was a breakthrough. But how do you get the browning right? Personally, I love a deep brown, my mother wanted a light brown, but you know how it is, the window is very short, and I didn’t want to overdo it.
But a watched bagel does not toast.
But there are pictures on the dial. I chose the one that was half & half, half light, half dark, and the two sides of the bagel did not remain the same, one was darker than the other. Worried about burning I popped the window, shmeared the results with cream cheese, put the lox on top.
Breaking the rules of my nutritionist, after getting a good report from the cardiologist, I ate the final half of bagel.
It was a REVELATION!
The bagel has been dumbed-down. Still round, still with a hole, but in most places it’s akin to bread. Used to be you could use them as car tires in a pinch, today’s bagels would just collapse. Certainly on the west coast. Even many east coast bagels, like the vaunted S&S, are too soft, a bagel’s skin should be so hard that you might break a tooth when you bite into it, your choppers should leave a mark, it should be crusty.
And this one was.
And the dough, the inside, it should be stiffer than soft, and it should have the consistency of nearly-cured cement. It should be chewy. You should need to roll it around in your mouth a few times before swallowing it.
And this one was.
And my mother took it for granted, but not me.
This lox and bagel was the elixir of youth.