Pinchik sat hunched over the kitchen table. He stared at his plate. He stared for several minutes. He said nothing. He stared at his plate.
Mrs. Pinchik sat opposite him. From long experience, she knew it would not be productive to ask him why he was staring at his plate. She did not ask him.
Minutes passed. Pinchik stared. Mrs. Pinchik did not ask him why he was staring.
Finally, knowing that she was unlikely to prevail in this situation, even to understand what the situation was, she got up from the table and started to leave the kitchen.
Pinchik, still staring at his plate, blurted, “What’s this?” “What’s what?” said Mrs. Pinchik.
This,” said Pinchik. “On my plate.”
“You know what it is. It’s a bagel.”
“This is a bagel?”
“That is a bagel.”
“Not a bagel,” said Pinchik. “Not a bagel.”
Mrs. Pinchik considered the possibility of simply agreeing with him and letting it go but knew that would be fruitless. This confrontation between Pinchik and what was on his plate would have to be played out. She plunged in, saying, “If it’s not a bagel, what is it?”
Pinchik raised himself upright in his chair, a position he assumed whenever he was going to announce something profound.
He said, “I’ll tell you what this is. It’s a big, puffy, round roll with a hole. You know what they would call it if I got it with cream cheese and showed it to someone who actually knew from a real bagel?”
Mrs. Pinchik, eyes rolling so far back in their sockets she was getting dizzy, said, “No. What would they call it, the bagel mavens?”
“They’d call it a big, puffy, round roll with a hole and a schmear.”
“I see,” said Mrs. Pinchik. “Can we go now? We were going to the gym.” Pinchik started talking before Mrs. Pinchik finished her sentence.
“And there’s a very scientific reason it’s not a real bagel. Has to do with its porosity.”
“Its porosity,” said Mrs. Pinchik. “I see. Are you going or staying?”
“Yeah. You could see through something, that means it’s porous. It’s got too much air and empty spaces, that means it’s porous. That’s common knowledge.”
“You know what Sobel told me? Sobel, he went to Stuyvesant, remember. He said one day in class the teacher ripped this kind of fake bagel apart and said, ‘What do you think of this so-called bagel, class?’ ”
“And the whole class calls out ‘Feh!’ And the teacher says, ‘Why feh? Anyone? Why feh?’ And Sobel gets his hand up before anyone and says, ‘It has too much porosity.’ Even then, he knew, that Sobel.”
“A regular Einstein,” said Mrs. Pinchik. “And the other geniuses, they think this isn’t a real bagel, too?”
“Well, Nones can’t be trusted. He’s from Philadelphia. He doesn’t know from bagels, only cheesesteaks. I saw him once, he was buying a blueberry bagel. I made believe I didn’t know him.”
“Bernstein, if it’s not moving too fast, eats anything, even this thing. But the really smart guys, like Sobel and Elman, know a real bagel.”
“So, by Elman also, this isn’t a real bagel,” said Mrs. Pinchik.
“Elman especially. He calls it an invalid bagel. He was going to start one of those class action suits against a bagel store because the bagels weren’t porous enough, but his wife made him stop. He said he was going all the way to the Supreme Court, especially if Ruth Bader Ginsburg is there, she probably knows real bagels. He wasn’t sure of Roberts.”
Mrs. Pinchik, figuring that they would never get to the gym anyway, decided to defend the big, puffy, round rolls with holes. “You and your gourmet friends can say what they want, it’s a bagel,” she said. “And not just a bagel, but the paper says it’s the best bagel in Manhattan.”
“They took a bagel poll?”
“They took a bagel poll. This bagel won the poll, what can I tell you?”
“Let me tell you about polls. They send some kid out and tell him ‘take a poll.’ And the kid, he wouldn’t know a bagel from a slice of Wonder Bread, goes to the Port Authority Terminal and he stands there until a bus from South Dakota comes in. And he holds up a bagel and he says, ‘Folks, this is a bagel. See, it has a hole in the middle. Looks like a doughnut, no, it’s a bagel. I got here bagels from three different bagel stores. Which is the best?’ ”
“And they always pick this one because it’s big and round and puffy and you can chew it, even if you had no teeth, it’s so soft, you can gum it.”
“Whatever you say,” said Mrs. Pinchik, starting to leave again, the bagel battle having been decided.
But before she got out of the doorway Pinchik said, “But I’ll tell you something else. Actually, probably I shouldn’t eat a real bagel on my diet.”
“You’re on a diet?”
“More than a diet. I’m in the middle of a fitness regime. That’s a professional-type diet. All the great actors are on regimes, no wonder they always look so terrific.”
“Fitness regimen,” said Mrs. Pinchik.
“Regimes, regimens, whatever. Experts put this together, your doctors, your trainers, people who know that scientific stuff. It’s a diet, it’s an exercise, I even have to say certain things while I’m exercising.”
“What do you say?”
“I forget. I have it written down in my bag. It’s a secret set of words you can never forget that keeps you going, keeps you going. Like those special words they’re always saying in the Himalayas, or somewhere like that, where everybody is skinny.”
“Anyway, that’s what I’ve been on.”
“Been on? I never noticed,” said Mrs. Pinchik. “How long have you been on your regimen?”
“Tuesday. No wait, Wednesday.”
“Wednesday was yesterday. You started your regimen yesterday? That’s one day.”
“Two. I’m still on it today. Wait, actually it was Monday. I remember I told the lady with the hairnet at the takeout place I wanted my sandwich on that whole grainy-type bread, it gets stuck in your teeth but it’s a good diet thing.”
“I saw. You got the one with lettuce and tomato, Russian dressing, and bacon, right?”
“Right. Right. I would only do that with whole grainy-type bread, it’s so good for you. And I work most of it off at the gym.”
“The gym? You sit on the bike and read the paper, that’s how you work it off? Sometimes you don’t even look like you’re pedaling. That’s your fitness program?”
“Doesn’t make any difference how fast, how slow, as long as you’re moving, you get fit. Especially if you eat whole grainy-type bread after.”
“Who gave you that expert advice, Sobel or Elman?”
“Podberesky tells you to just ride the bike?”
“Ride the bike, read the paper. Or if you don’t want to read the paper, stare at something that’s moving. That’s all you need. Plus you shouldn’t forget the secret saying. You know who else has the same secret saying that I have?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Absolutely no one. It’s just for me. I shouldn’t even go on a machine if I don’t say it.”
“You don’t use any of the machines.”
“You’re right, they found out that the machines don’t do any good. But some people still think they do. But the real experts know, only ride the bike.”
“So you ride the bike, it doesn’t move, you talk with your friends, you go home. . . .”
“Hold it, don’t forget the weights. You don’t see me lift those weights? You could rip a shoulder off sometimes they’re so heavy. Especially that 10-pound one, it’s made of very heavy stuff, I think it’s iron, maybe steel.”
“So your regimen is working? You weigh yourself every day?”
“Every day, every day. Sometimes twice a day if I have a lot of time. And how it’s working! I gained a pound and a half.”
“That’s good? You gained? What’s good about that?” asked Mrs. Pinchik.
“Hah! I didn’t tell you where I gained it. Where I gained it is good.”
“Which is where?” asked Mrs. Pinchik.
“I gained it in my biceps and also triceps and maybe some other things like that. The fat there, it’s turning to muscle. You can’t see it, but it’s definitely turning to muscle. Used to be fat, now it’s muscle.”
“And the thing is muscle weighs more than fat, you know that, right? It’s in all the magazines. So all the exercise I do turns fat into muscle. I can eat fat stuff, then I exercise — Zip! The fat turns into muscle. So the weight I gain is good weight. It’s healthy weight.”
“You believe that. I’m sure you believe that.”
“They’ve proven that a million times, “ said Pinchik.
“So you’re on this great diet and this fitness regimen but you’re not going to lose weight. Do I have that right?” said Mrs. Pinchik.
“Well, too much weight I could never lose no matter what kind of diet I went on, because a slight heaviness runs in my family, it’s generic.”
“Whatever, we tend to be a little heavy. That’s why whole grainy-type bread and working out is so important.”
“I understand. Are we going to the gym this morning?” asked Mrs. Pinchik, as she picked up her gym bag.
“As soon as I finish this,” he said, pointing to the big, round puffy roll with a hole.
“As soon as you finish the bagel that’s not a bagel?”
“You have to understand,” said Pinchik. “The only good thing about these pretend bagels is that they got so much air inside, there’s no calories in them. I could have two, probably three bagels I would still lose weight.”
“But what about that cream cheese you put on it, it’s not a schmear it’s a big glob.”
“That? That’s just the kind of stuff the gym turns into muscle.”
Peter Nord has written fiction for Playboy, Sports Illustrated, Tennis magazine, The Times, and The Star. He lives in Amagansett and Manhattan.