I’ve had a boatload of jobs over the years. One of those jobs was for about six to eight months in my early twenties. There was a Jewish delicatessen in the area called Bagel Haul Deli that had absolutely fantastic bagels! Of course, they also had other goodies like muffins, cookies and croissants to tempt the taste buds. I was looking for a different job at the time and saw one day that they were hiring for a baker. Thus begins our tale….
I lived about twenty minutes away from the deli–assuming traffic was good–so it wasn’t just around the corner. My hours as a baker were 2:30a.m. to approximately 10:30-11:30a.m. My first four hours were spent baking everything up and my last four hours were consumed with delivering everything I had just baked (minus the stash kept at the deli to sell there) and cleaning everything up once I got back.
A second baker would come in somewhere around 3:30a.m. to assist, namely with the bagels. Why? This style of bagel was known as “Chicago-style bagels” (this is what I was told, although I understand that they are actually known as “Montreal-style” bagels). This style is more dense than the other style, known as “New York-style” bagels, which are puffier and more airy than their counter-part. Either style, though, gets boiled before being baked. So at this particular deli, the boiling was done in a huge circular vat of boiling water that stood about four feet high and was about two feet in diameter. Once these were boiled for a specific amount of time, they were put back on the trays where toppings such as garlic, poppy seeds, sesame seeds and salt were put on. Once this was done, they were wheeled over to the oven where the other baker took over.
This wasn’t your Grandma’s oven, by the way. The oven itself was a room about six feet wide, ten feet long and eight feet high. It had at least six metal racks that were a good three feet deep and ten feet long, all rotating like a drum around the inside of the oven. The oven baker accessed those racks by opening an oven door that exposed an opening about two feet high and eight feet long. So between these two bakers, everything got baked up and ready to deliver by 6:30a.m.
The more pleasant of the two jobs was manning the oven. Since I was the new guy, I usually got stuck with the first job. To this day I cannot eat an onion bagel. Go ahead…ask me. “Why is that??” Well, imagine yourself getting up at 2:00a.m. in order to get the baking process started by 2:30. Now imagine yourself an hour later, standing over a vat of boiling water with all kinds of steam getting all up in your face. Then imagine yourself dumping tray after tray of onion bagels into that boiling water and steam that is now saturated with onion-stench enveloping your sinus cavities and overwhelming your olfactory senses. It about made me want to have a puke bucket nearby. That wasn’t the only one either: Cheese bagels gave off some rather obnoxious fumes and rye bagels had a weird and nasty smell when put in boiling water. On the bright side, blueberry bagels gave off a rather pleasant boiled aroma, while cinnamon-raisin bagels just about made you want to crawl into the water with them.
One thing you didn’t want to do was be late! If you started late, you never got caught up–and that also meant that you had to call the owners and have one of them meet you there to help you. That happened to me twice while I worked there. The anxiety of that possibility, coupled with a habit I had at the time of reading in bed by lamplight, resulted in the culmination of my quitting that job. I know, I know…how does reading in bed add to a person’s stress level? It’s supposed to be relaxing, right?
To answer that question, I should probably tell you that I had another habit. This one involved my alarm. When it would go off, I would sometimes hit the snooze button and turn the lamp on that was by my bed. Mind you….sometimes. Not all the time. And sometimes I would find myself falling asleep while reading. Which meant that my lamp never got turned off. So I would stir in my sleep just enough to realize that the lamp was on and then fly up and out of bed, standing in the middle of the room hyperventilating with adrenaline, because I had no idea whether I had dozed off from reading or if I had hit the snooze button and was now late for work!! Usually I had just dozed off, but how do you recover from that and just go back to sleep? I remember many times just sitting on the edge of my bed, rubbing my temples and trying to get over that “post-adrenaline-rush” headache that always followed.