“Did you hear, the winning ticket was bought right here, in town.”
“Where’d you hear that,” JJ asked.
JJ and Carl were in back of the bagel bakery looking across a scrubby lot at kids skateboarding in a little park. It was dusk and the skateboarders were becoming shadows. Their boards banged against the railings and concrete steps as the kids did their moves in that not-trying way of theirs. They wore wool hats in the summer, left on from the winter, six months previous. Carl smoked a cigarette and JJ sat on an overturned bucket. Inside, the oven was warming and the huge kettle getting close to a boil. Almost time to bake 194 dozen bagels.
“I bought a ticket,” JJ said to the sky. The bright orange of a sunset was just visible over the trees beyond the park. Like an explosion, right over there, JJ thought.
“Dude, did you check it?”
“No,” JJ said. “When was the drawing?”
“I never do the lottery. It was a whim.”
“Do you even still have the ticket?”
“It’s on the fridge.”
“The drawing was two days ago.”
They heard a buzzer go off as the oven reached 550 degrees and they both sighed. Carl flicked his cigarette away and they cast one more look at the darkening park with the rolling and clattering skateboards before heading into the steamy cave of a kitchen. They donned aprons, soon to be soaked with sweat and kettle water infused with the cornmeal from 97 boards of bagels. The cornmeal is sprinkled on the boards so the bagels don’t stick and it gives the bagels that awesome gritty bottom. The bagels are dumped into the kettle for boiling along with the cornmeal that will turn the water into yellowish gruel over the next few hours. The bagels are boiled, or polished as JJ imagines, in the water until they float and are fished out with a huge strainer on a stick. They are dumped, steaming and floppy onto rows of four-inch wide planks and arranged, bottoms up, in lines of six. Then they are put into a monster oven with five rotating shelves, each holding six dozen bagels. Half way through the shelves are stopped and the bagels flipped by grasping the ends of the planks, one at a time, and deftly rotating them so the bagels land bottoms down for finishing. This takes practice and needs to be done quickly. Carl can do it all bare-handed but JJ, newer to bagel baking, uses two pairs of latex gloves. The latex irritates his fingers, leaving a flaky rash behind. But it’s better than the heat and he can move quicker.
Carl said, “Dude, I’ll get started if you want to run home and check the ticket.”
“You’re a good man,” JJ said. “But let’s do this then we’ll go together.”
“If you win, you’ll take care of me, right. I got you this awesome job.
JJ smiled. “For a little while.” He pulled a rack close and grabbed the top board with two dozen raw bagels. He pivoted, smacked the board on the rim of the kettle to loosen the bagels, and dumped the first 24 into the rolling water. The smack reminded JJ of the skateboards slapping outside. “But then I’ll have to cut you loose,” he said.