Monday, February 14, 2011

BEA: Bagel Eaters Anonymous

You know the last paragraph of Norman MacLean’s A River Runs Through It? It’s the one that’s like, “Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut…blah, blah, blah…basement of time…yadda, yadda, yadda…timeless raindrops….” It ends with this little nugget: “I am haunted by waters.”

If I could rewrite that last line to apply to my life, it would look like this:

“I am haunted by bagels.”

Why bagels, you might wonder. How could a chewy, baked ring of dough possibly cause such spiritual torment?

I’ll tell you how.

It starts innocently enough. You are a time-pressed college student with a limited food budget (because geeze, beer is expensive and you can’t drink Keystone all the time). You need a quick, cheap, satisfying lunch. You are also a long-distance runner with a sensitive stomach and a punishing afternoon workout to complete.

As you peruse the aisles of the market in the student union, you grow frustrated with the lack of options. Unless you want to spend $6.50 on an organic peanut butter and jelly sandwich, you’re pretty much S.O.L. Then, out of the corner of your eye, you spot it: the bagel tower.

You marvel at the sheer quantity and variety of bagels. You get even more excited when you realize that you can purchase a bagel and cream cheese for just over one dollar. It seems too good to be true. I don’t want to burst your bubble—scratch that, I actually do want to burst your bubble, obliterate your bubble, in fact, into tiny pink bubble smithereens—but hear me now: it is too good to be true.

After consuming that first bagel—the gateway bagel, as I like to call it—you feel full and energized. Your stomach has accepted the task of digesting the bagel with little protest. At practice, you feel fit, fast and light on your feet, plagued by neither the pangs of hunger nor the bloat of overindulgence.

You have a bagel for lunch the next day, and the day after that. Three weeks later, you can’t remember the last time you didn’t have a bagel for lunch. So what, you think. It’s not like I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. I could stop eating bagels any day of the week.

You don’t know why you’ve suddenly become so defensive about your bagel habit. A few weeks later, on your way to the market to buy a bagel, you pass by a pizza fundraiser. Three dollars for two slices. By this time, you’ve become a little bored with your usual lunchtime fare, and hey, you don’t have practice today, so why not? You scarf your slices of meat lover’s with gusto.

Your stomach totally rejects the cheesy, saucy, meaty meal you’ve offered it. As your stomach churns, you swear you hear it mutter the word “bagel” amidst the bubbling and gurgling. All you can manage to keep down for the rest of the day is a bottle of apple juice and 12 Rolaids. You go to bed hoping the worst is over, but your sleep is constantly interrupted by night sweats and involuntary muscle spasms.

Concerned for your health, you log on to WebMD to research your symptoms. You scroll through the list of possible causes: menopause, AIDS, cancer…withdrawal. Bingo. This is your moment of revelation. Suddenly, it’s as if the clouds have parted and the sun has risen from the depths of eternal darkness. You realize that you, a perfectly sane and rational person, are an addict. A bagel addict.

Okay, it is possible that this story contains traces of embellishment for dramatic effect, but the take-home message is 100% true. Runners tend to be creatures of habit. Once we find something that works, we stick with it. That’s why I’ve owned 47 pairs of Asics Cumulus(es?). That’s why I’ve worn my lucky underwear for every race since ninth grade. And that’s why I’ve eaten a bagel for lunch almost every day since the beginning of my college running career.

Which is why, after turning in my uniform and sweats for the last time, I marched straight to the market to buy…a cinnamon-nut croissant. Yes, I realize that a croissant is basically a French bagel. But it had cinnamon. And nuts.

Since then, I’ve slowly integrated more food groups into my lunchtime diet. Fruits. Vegetables. Poultry. As I check off more and more bricks in the food pyramid, I feel, for the first time in a long time, hopeful that I can free myself from my bagel dependency once and for all.

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