“Is he REALLY gonna keep talking about bagels???

downtown atlanta 3

By Kenneth Justice

Is he really going to keep talking about bagels?” She whispered. I looked at the time and he had been talking about bagels for more than forty five minutes.

~ This past weekend I was sitting at a coffee house in Atlanta and met a fellow blogger who loves bagels. Back in the 1970’s the man hitchhiked to New York from Atlanta to stay with a friend in Brooklyn; and it was there where he first met the bagel;

I’d of course eaten bagels in Atlanta as a child, but I didn’t know that those weren’t really bagels” he said, “It was in Brooklyn where I found bagel shops on every corner and I learned that there was a difference between real bagels….and all the imitation ones they sell at grocery stores

For the better part of the next hour the man talked about bagels;

—) he talked about coming back to Atlanta and searching for the perfect bagel

—) he shared his frustrations regarding the lack of good bagels in Atlanta

—) he talked about how he began cooking bagels out of his mom’s kitchen

Garlic bagels, onion bagels; bagels, bagels, bagels

At one point in the conversation my traveling mate leaned over to me and whispered in my ear, “Is he really going to keep talking about bagels?” she asked, and I can only imagine what the other people in the coffee house were thinking; ‘that bagel guy is a nut and is clearly out of his mind

Yet as I sat there quietly, listening to him educate me on all things bagel…..I felt at peace. I was down there in Atlanta to meet with people, to connect with readers and fellow bloggers and I wasn’t in a hurry to get anywhere; I had a couple more coffee houses to visit but I wasn’t pressed for time.

So much of my life is busy; deadlines, appointments; rush, rush, rush. Had I run into the bagel guy during my normal working hours back home, I might not have given him the time of day. And so it was nice not having to be anywhere; I didn’t mind listening to him talk about bagels……because even though I’m clearly not THAT into bagels; I appreciated the passion which exuded from him regarding the subject. Passionate people always impress me.

And then a funny thing happened, at about the 50 minute mark of the bagel conversation he suddenly switched gears and began talking about spirituality, “I normally wouldn’t talk about this subject with a stranger” he said, “but I feel comfortable enough to tell you this

And then for the next forty five minutes we talked about topics that really interested me; eastern mysticism, Christianity, religion, philosophy, and more. We talked about his experiences and frustrations with different religious groups and he shared with me stories about the community of people that have always been there for him throughout his life…….but the conversation would have never occurred if not for bagels.

I could be wrong; but I believe there is a tendency within Western Culture to pre-judge people; we look at someone and if they don’t fit into a particular model of someone that interests us than we tend to pass them by,

—-) If someone is dressed funny than we turn our eyes away

—-) If someone looks like a ‘nerd’ than we search for ‘cool’ people to hang out with

—-) If someone talks funny or doesn’t fit in; then we tend to ignore them

Whether we are in grammar school, high school, college, at work, or hanging out at Church on Sunday morning……the popular and ‘cool’ people always get surrounded by the masses……and the bagel guy gets left in the corner all alone.

Everyone wants to sit at the head of the table with the President….and nobody wants to sit at the foot of the table with the janitor. It’s kind of like during those State of the Union speeches that Presidents give every so often; the cameras pan the crowd and show everyone trying to rush up to the President to shake his/her hand or pat them on the back as they walk by…….everyone wants to be around the popular people……..and the bagel guy gets left in the corner all alone.

I’ve sat with a lot of people who were bullied during their youth; the stories are always tragic and I almost always inevitably get really pissed off at the injustice in the world that allows bullying to still occur at schools and in school yards. And as much as I want to hold principals and parents accountable (and they should be held accountable) there’s actually a really simple solution to end bullying that is staring at us all in the face; the ‘popular’ kids could stop leaving the bagel guy in the corner all alone.

Instead of huddling together in little packs of popularity; the athletes and ‘popular’ kids could stop showing so much partiality in who they allow into their little click, and instead, start inviting the bagel guy to hang out with them.

A friend of mine and I visited a church many years ago and the senior pastor of the church learning of who I was instantly invited me out to lunch later in the week…….but ignored my friend altogether. My friend didn’t fit into the mold of what that particular church considered to be ‘cool’. And while I’m not trying to pick on that particular senior pastor……I couldn’t help but think how that kind of attitude would definitely turn a lot of people off from that church.

Just a few thoughts as I was sipping my coffee this morning, and if you happen to enjoy discussing bagels and you live in Chicago or Pittsburgh, I will be coming to coffee houses in your cities this month! Although, it won’t bother me at all if you don’t want to talk about bagels; I don’t really know very much about them other than that they taste good with cream cheese.


Categories: Culture & Society

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66 replies

  1. Great post, Kenneth, but I couldn’t believe how much you had to say about cream cheese.

  2. As weird as it may sound I can relate to the guys bagel fascination as even moving a few hour saway from the Northern New Jersey/NY area and it is indeed hard to find a legit bagel.

    • Chad, what is it about bagels? I’ll be honest; in all that I listed to the bagel guy; I couldn’t figure out from him what made one bagel good and another bagel bad……

    • There are a variety of factors in my opinion. From my bagel experiences, it comes down how they are made/ ingredients used, as when you go to a “legit” bagel outfit everything from the smell to the flavors down to the texture when you chew on a fresh bagel (not to mention the size difference- certain bagel shops give you much larger bagels). I think freshness and ingredients is a huge part, as in some shops you get something like a Marble Rye Bagel the flavors are so strong. The concept is a lot like eating/buying pierogis as well as getting kielbasi (In my short 27 years the Polishness of the family played a role in holiday meals). Yes you can go to the store and buy stuff like Mrs. T’s, Hillshire Farm, etc. etc. but it is so much different then when you make your own pierogis or go to small Polish shops which sell fresh smoked kielbasi. The freshness, ingredients used and how they are made, it is much different from the commercialized versions. Then of course theres the breakfast sandwich concept and well the taylor ham/pork roll debate with egg and cheese on a fresh bagel…but thats a whole other story in itself.

    • Okay, but keep it under an hour, eh? 😛

    • Hmm . . . Supposed to be smilies there . . .

    • Oh, the smilies *are* there . . . just not on the mobile version.

    • I think the best thing is to just have a taste test 🙂

    • Many of us notice the difference and we can talk about bagels in a spiritual way. The baker input of his loving energy can affect the flavor? Ingredients of course a lot to do with outcome.

  3. I remember using a private plane (our company beanfest trip – very indulgent – and only ever time). The staff doing “the job” had tins of beans to discretely spill of the “high and mighty” that passed through regularly. All anecdotes of when there were no cameras or public to impress – quite an eye opener!! Let’s hear it for janitors!! Great post today KJ!!

  4. A good reminder to look for the treasure in every person.

  5. A good reminder to look for the treasure in every person.

  6. I’m a ‘bagel’ person.
    I’m that nerd who was often left on a seat on her own.
    I’m the boring person who goes on & on about a particular subject.

    I was always shy and felt uncomfortable at social occasions.

    I’ve solved the problem.

    In my last job (of 16 1/2 years duration), I made a point of going up to the ‘other bagel person’ in the room on social occasions, and asking if I could get them a drink, a cup of coffee or handing around the biscuits or nibbles to them first.

    That sensitivity and kindness towards others made me quite a few friends and I felt a warm glow every single time I made a ‘bagel’ person feel like a worthwhile and genuinely welcome guest.

    Readers of Kenneth’s blog, please try to remember that that ‘bagel’ person is probably shy, lacking confidence and self esteem, and it might well take only one conversation to unleash their true nature (and possibly, a truly unique character and fascinating conversationalist).

    But if he/her continues to talk about only ‘bagels’ on many consecutive encounters, please give him/her the phone or contact details of the local ‘Bagel’ Association and encourage the Bagel Association President to take him/her under their wing.

    incidently, I’ve only actually tasted bagels 2-3 times in my life.

    • “But if he/her continues to talk about only ‘bagels’ on many consecutive encounters, please give him/her the phone or contact details of the local ‘Bagel’ Association and encourage the Bagel Association President to take him/her under their wing.”

      I love that!

      In what little spare time I have, I’ve been trying to do research on Eastern countries and also Africa in an attempt to learn whether or not they have the same rate of ‘lonely’ people as we do in the western world (north America, Europe, Australia, etc) because my hypothesis is that non-western countries don’t have as many people who struggle with loneliness or social awkwardness…..I think the reason we have higher rates is that the way we’ve designed our culture is entirely based on propping up people that look and act a certain way; and it ends up alienating so many people who don’t fit into to that particular mode.

      So perhaps, if places like Africa and Asia don’t have as high a rate; then maybe there is hope that we could change things here in the West

    • I don’t know about Africa, but Asians would probably not be so lonely as they don’t have the same family structure. Most Asians countries that I know off have their extended family (i.e. elderly parents) living with the younger folk. I don’t think they have Govt unemployment and pension payments like we do in Australia and other modern western societies(?). There’s often 6-10 people living under the same roof. I believe some Asian countries might even have the smaller village communities care for single elderly folk who have no family.

      I read a very interesting (and thick – lol) book on The Okinawa Way – on how to improve your health and longevity dramatically. Apparently one of the reasons one of the longest-lived populations are happy, healthy and live to over 100 (apart from diet, exercise and spiritual outlook), is that there is their respected role in society. “Elderly women in Okinawa are typically described as genki (lively) and are objects of pride within their extended families.”

      They keep very busy “meeting their long-time friends at moai (mutual support group) and attending religious functions.” They have a great sense of community and respect and revered. They work and are involved in the community well into old age.

      Some 25-30 years ago when I first began studying alternative therapies and the diets of the oldest living peoples in the world, I came across many cultures that had a supreme faith in their spirits, shamans and religious elders. There was a respect for the elders in the community and they lived and were cared for my their families and in turn entrusted their babies and young to their care while they worked in the fields or villages. I got the impressions there was little or no crime and indeed, a general trust in, and respect for, each other (not just the elderly)

      I can’t remember much of it now (my memory is poor so I had to look up the book on my shelf just now).

      The same with my study of the indigenous people of the Amazon jungle. The original native Americans also had such a community structure.

      Perhaps there is the same faith, spiritual outlook and respect within the community in African communities? Obviously I’m talking about small towns and villages (not big modern cities, which are altered by contact with the western world).

      My Mother used to work in old age nursing homes during the latter part of her working career and she often commented how sad it was that so many elderly (in Australia) were lonely and their families never came to visit them. There was one lady who would get excited every Thursday because “her daughter was coming to visit”. Her daughter never DID visit this elderly lady in all the years my Mother worked in this nursing home. In fact, this was my Mother’s dread in old age – she never wanted to live in a nursing home due to the lack of care and respect the elderly had. Luckily my Mother passed away at age 88 living at home with my Father.

      If you ever have the time, a study of the lifestyles of these people who live to be over 100, and their culture is well worth while.

    • What I reflected on as far as lonely is a cultural expectation to be independent as if showing a need is a weakness. Also the respect for individuality makes people think it’s none of my business. We may have a distorted idea of what it is to be human.
      The mechanical view of humans of last century was an influence on behavior and loss of meaning since human being spirit did not resonate with the theory.
      Collective societies fare better because they believe in the interdependence of human beings at all levels, mind, body, soul.
      The simple thing anyone can do everyday is give smiles. To those who look different, shy, funny, poor, disabled or sad , happy, little crazy, talking to themselves or muttering.
      A smile with open heart can melt an iceberg. At times you get a stern look…then you know you are looking at a FBI agent or other.

      I have great success with smiles and most people I engage for short time, the occasion becomes a synchronicity event, they need some information I have and I always learn something new.
      My goal was to go out everyday and meet a new person and give them a gift based on what they needed. I let the universe bring us together…it’s been an amazing experience.

  7. At one point saturday, I turned my back on the main group to listen to the “homeless guy”. It was interesting, and I felt that I learned something. On the other hand, I wanted to rejoin the conversation with you and Mollytopia. Sometime you have to make a choice. You cannot record life on a machine, and play it back later.

  8. People are just like the books; we don’t read them, we don’t understand that each chapter has a special story(besides bagels..lol)
    When a friend of mine talks about same topic over and over, I joke about it: switch that tape pls! 😀
    Bullying it’s very discomfort and risky behavior that parents and teachers should educate kids differently .
    Bagel with cream cheese sounds good 😃

  9. This reminded me of Chauncy Gardener in “Being There”. He had one passion in his life, gardening. He knew all about how to trim the limbs of a fruit tree to bear the most fruit. The people that heard him go on and on about this “mundane” topic, began to “read into” it the philosophy of life. I love the idea that just listening to people sometimes is a spiritual experience. When I was going through chemotherapy, I went to a therapist. After awhile I started to think he was “crazy”. He wanted me to read the Tao of Pooh and told me to watch certain movies. By the end I kind of “got” it. He wanted me to just be. Live through it.

  10. It’s as if your willingness to listen to what he had to say about bagels, though it was a lot, made him feel comfortable talking about something real…something he was truly passionate about…and it isn’t bagels.

    You broke through his social veneer.

    We are in such a rush all the time, we expect to size up a person within thirty seconds of meeting them. Trying to decide if someone should be a business partner, friend for life, social acquaintance…all within a few seconds of meeting them.

    In reality, people have had their communications interrupted, ignored and even completed for them for such a long time that some are quite inhibited about sharing them. Those people require time – time, to drop the shield that separates them from the rest of the world. When they do realize they are actually allowed to express their ideas completely, they get delighted and quite animated. It is really something to see this take place.

    Good for you…making it safe enough for him to be himself.

    • “You broke through his social veneer”

      Man, i read the comments every day and I always get so jealous with the awesome phrases and terms people use, ‘social veneer’ dude I SO love that sentence.

  11. Passionate people can give or take away in my experience. I’ve known some, like the bagel guy, who wanted to share the love and joy they felt in their area of passion. Then I’ve known others who use their passion to attack or alienate. I’m thinking of the stupid Mommy Wars where women must validate their decisions by tearing down those of others, but people of faith/unfaith do it as well.

    But it is important to hear them out in some capacity, I believe. The question then comes around to when are we alright to stop listening?

    • “The question then comes around to when are we alright to stop listening?”

      Gosh, I don’t even know how to begin answering that question cause is simply don’t know; some people can be really draining if we’re not careful.

    • I think for me the line is when someone is recommending I try something and changes to judging me if I don’t. For example, “Oh, you might like this kind of bagel” is fine. “Oh, you don’t eat this kind of bagel?” That sounds condescending. It’s the nature of the passion for me. Is it an attempt to exalt or exclude?

    • So I’m not making this up; someone once got into an argument with me (a HUGE LOTR fan) and was trying to convince me I was wrong about Tom Bombadil being boring lol…. must have talked to me for two hours and they gave me a headache….. they were OBSESSED with LOTR and while I of course had read the series a couple times, I wasn’t as big of a fan as them…. and they would fit the model of what you just typed; they were clearly judging me for not thinking Tom Bombadil was the bee’s knee’s

  12. Love this post and the message that you shared out of your meeting!

  13. I like your idea better than holding parents and administrators responsible for bullying in school. I was bullied and ignored myself, so I know how it feels and I hope my kids will never have to deal with that depth of adversity – but just blaming people doesn’t help; you have to put forth a potential solution. I really like yours. But how could that be implemented?

    • Rob, I really don’t know how it could be implemented. Perhaps grabbing the ‘popular’ kids and showing them a movie about reaching out to the people at the bottom? Honestly I’m not sure on the application.

    • That’s why I brought it up. It’s like so many really good solutions – simple and elegant, but so tough in the implementation that it’s more often avoided than not. If they could crack the implementation, it’d be all over, we win.

  14. I have a photo of me and two girls in grade school. It was shot by my “best friend” the janitor. He was such a cool guy. 🙂

  15. I am generally content to remain in the corner eating my bagel. Now and then, another person will stop by with a bagel of their own. Then, we have makings for a party.

  16. Ha! I’m a little like the bagel guy. Which is one reason I write a blog. The mind is sometimes like one of those old spindle record players, where you don’t get to listen to the next record until the first one is through playing.

  17. I’ve never understood why people would want to be in the popular crowd. The popular folks, in my opinion, have always been the most shallow and judgmental of them all. Not all, but many. Plus, who wants to be like everyone else? In my opinion, it’s better to be different. Good for the bagel guy for being unique.

  18. It is indeed rare to find a GOOD bagel outside of Brooklyn & the immediate vicinity (has to do with the long dough prep process – allowing the gluten proteins to form and the cooking process – boil first, then bake to finish)….

    Like with ‘bagel guy,’ people (especially ‘strangers’) seem much more willing to delve into weightier conversations AFTER they feel like they will be listened to. In our fast-paced life, we’re often too rushed to allow people the time they need to feel safe enough to open up and engage at a deeper, more vulnerable level.

  19. My dad was born and raised in New York so perhaps that is why I understood where the bagel guy was coming from; according to my dad there is no such thing as ‘good’ pizza or bagels unless you are getting them in New York 😉

  20. There are still many people who still don’t understand, “You can’t judge a book by its cover.” By the way, I grew up in NYC and your blogger friend is correct that you can’t find a better bagel anywhere!

  21. A bagel fanboy. I’ve never known them to exist, myself, but it doesn’t surprise me. Bagel’s are awesome!

    On the topic of bullying, I think part of it comes down to being a child. What is it about humans where we must always cast out that which is different or out of the norm. Is it that we see fault in differences, or does our misunderstanding make us fear those differences? When I think of the bullies in my past, I consider the fact that they were all just children. None of them had any idea of the emotional or long term damage they were causing. Hell, they may not have even understood that their actions were bullying. Perhaps, if children were more comfortable with things that are different, they wouldn’t feel the need to pick on the kids that don’t fit the mold.

    • “Perhaps, if children were more comfortable with things that are different, they wouldn’t feel the need to pick on the kids that don’t fit the mold”

      I wonder if there is any way we could teach/educate children in this area and try to put an end to bullying once and for all.

  22. “but the conversation would have never occurred if not for bagels.”

    Everyone needs a good conversation starter. In my case, I made a friend by talking about potatoes.

  23. Bagels are delicious, period! But I did go to Montreal last summer and had a Montreal smoked meat sandwich on a Montreal-style bagel. That was some next-level deliciousness!

  24. Yep we can be condescending and its not western culture only; that’s how folks are in general worldwide. What you gonna do? Be the one who looks the stranger in the eye and say hello. W

  25. Bagels, not a common food here, but the bagel guy made me laugh. It’s like you had to pass his bagel test first before he would talk about something else. 😛

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