This morning, I burned the oatmeal. By the time I noticed it had burnt (the scorched smell seeping into my sleep-fogged brain while I dreamily ironed a shirt), it was too late to salvage any of it, and too late to start cooking more. I went to work without breakfast.
Fortunately, I had to run an errand at about 9:30. On the way back to the office, I stopped in at the new bagel place, which is in the same location as the old bagel place, but with new decor and a new owner.
“Hi,” said the young woman behind the counter, putting down a sandwich and smiling. “What can I get you?”
“Are those all the bagels you have left?” I said, pointing to the glass case under the counter.
“No, no,” she said, reaching down, and talking quickly. “I just haven’t had time to put anything out. It doesn’t look it now, but it was crazy in here just a few minutes ago. I just now was getting to my breakfast, and I’ve been here since five a.m. I’ve got spinach back here, and whole wheat and cinnamon raisin and… I guess that’s it, but I might have more out back.”
“Could I please have two whole wheat bagels with cream cheese?” I said.
Just then, a man walked up. He was about fifty-five, pencil-thin moustache, bit of a paunch. He looked like the tradesmen I used to see when I worked at the lumberyard.
“Hi Charlie,” said the woman behind the counter. “The usual?”
“Yeah,” he said, putting a travel mug down on the counter.
“You still sick?” she said.
“Yeah,” he said. “I feel tired.”
“You got that bug that’s going around?” I said.
“That’s right,” he said. “Don’t get too close to me, I’m contagious!” He had a twinkle in his blue eyes.
“No, I already had it,” I said.
“I’ve gotten sick a lot this winter,” said Charlie. “Most winters, nothing. This winter, I’ve been sick three times,” holding up three fingers.
“Me too,” I said.
“Me too,” said the woman behind the counter, fixing Charlie’s coffee and slicing my bagels and spreading cream cheese and talking, all at a fast pace. “I’ve been sick a lot. I think it’s because it’s been so warm this winter, so you get sick more often. Last week, I had this feeling in my head, my head was pounding, right here behind the eyes. Someone said it’s allergies, but I knew it wasn’t allergies. But I couldn’t take time off to be sick, I just opened this business. So I had to come into work anyway.”
She gave Charlie his coffee, and he slowly stirred it. “Thanks,” he said.
“Plus, I’ve been eating like crazy, nervous eating, you know?” said the woman. “Starting this business has been really stressful, I eat all the time. I get nervous, I grab something to eat. I’ve put on twenty pounds since I opened up.”
“You gotta watch what you eat,” said Charlie. “Me, now I eat only organic vegetables, and I feel healthier. It helps you keep up your resistance. I get the organic milk, too.” (The thought flashed through my head: Boy, he’s not your stereotypical buyer of organic food.)
“Milk, bleah,” said the woman while she wrapped my bagels. “I don’t like milk. I just don’t drink it any more.”
“We eat organic, too,” I said to Charlie. “I don’t like milk either,” I said to the woman.
“Well, I might put some skim milk on my cereal in the morning,” said the woman, equivocating a little. “That’s a dollar ninety-four. Maybe skim milk on my cereal, but I don’t drink milk. I haven’t had a glass of milk to drink in years.”
I gave her two dollars, and put a dollar in the tip jar. Charlie told us how good organic milk tastes, nice and foamy like it just came out of the cow. I exchanged a glance with the woman behind the counter — he was a nice guy, but neither one of us was going to drink milk, organic or not.
Burning my oatmeal cost me three dollars and ninety-four cents, money I would have preferred not to spend. I guess the conversation was worth it, though.