The Particular Joy of the Office Bagel
There is only one correct way to eat a Nature Valley Oats ’n Honey granola bar. Before opening, you must crack its sugarcoated spine twice, and then carefully peel back the cellophane so crumbs don’t fly everywhere. I should know—these bars were my breakfast every day for four years. Granola bars, Pirate’s Booty, and Twix bars were part of the free snack smorgasbord at the Daily Beast, the news website headquartered in Barry Diller’s IAC building in New York. Free food equals happy employees equals increased productivity equals more money for… well, that doesn’t matter.
Anyway, after getting hired as the Beast’s culture intern in 2008, I’d roll into the office, grab a bar, pop in a Keurig, and call that a power breakfast. But I soon learned a few things. Not about writing headlines or scouring the news, although that came later. The most transformative moment was when I heard about Bagel Friday.
Picture this: You wake up after a long week, slog to work, take the elevator to the ninth floor—the lounge, the top of Diller’s Frank Gehry glass masterpiece. Clouds part. You’re in heaven. Or, well, you’re in the presence of dozens of bagels and an assortment of cream cheeses, more than you ever knew existed. You see, Barry Diller provides employees with this bagel banquet every Friday. A conveyor-belt toaster is wheeled out for the occasion. And so once a week, my breakfast became bagels. (Yes, plural. Oh, to be 22 again.)
This treat was a highlight of my early years in New York, which reveals more about my work addiction than the quality of bagels. (They were from Murray’s, which I would later determine, after eating my way through multiple boroughs, falls into the “pretty good” camp on the city’s bagel hierarchy.)
But back then, bagels were a luxury good. I was making $10 an hour. I grew up in California, where bagel options were supermarket Thomas’s or the shrunken, frozen, bastard children known as Bagel Bites. The catering platters heaped with doughy ziggurats symbolized abundance, wealth, lunch, and dinner.
Months passed. Bagel Friday became prime socialization time. Friendships were cemented by sneaking away from our desks. We brought our BlackBerrys and worked while gossiping, frothing milk for lattes, and waiting for our bagels to toast. We’d obsess over workplace minutiae that I couldn’t recall now even if you paid me. Up on the ninth floor, I ate lox for the first time. I became friendly with pumpernickel. I learned no one likes bran muffins.
Bagel Friday was important. According to my Gchats, my coworkers and I chatted about bagels 38 times. Compare that to “Deepwater Horizon” (eight mentions), “swine flu” (nine), and “WikiLeaks” (14). Somehow we still got work done in between this:
“Is it bagel friday yet?”
“oh man one day until bagel friday”
“at least it’s bagel friday”
“what kind of bagel did u get”
“they charge me for bagel fridays bc i eat so many”
Years passed. When the Daily Beast merged with Newsweek magazine, days crept into midnight magazine closes with Chinese food or pizza devoured at our desks, followed by post-work drinks. Fridays, rather than being a joyous, carb-filled occasion, were death. I couldn’t get to work at a decent hour, and when I did slink upstairs, bagel pickings were slim and stale, swiped by punctual newbies. There was no lox. Whatever, I thought. I’m not an intern anymore. I can afford my own bagels.
Eventually, each Bagel Friday rolled around like a grotesque reminder. Another week gone and I was still working there, stuck in a hyperloop of bitterness. Where was my youthful enthusiasm? My turbo metabolism? My everything-with-plain-cream-cheese love?
That’s when I knew I had to leave. I pulled up my calendar to December 31, 2012, and wrote: “Must have new job by today.” Really inspirational stuff.
Well, ask and ye shall receive—massive layoffs. On December 5, 2012, I was fired. I love saying that for dramatic purposes. But in reality, the magazine was turning digital and I was one of many writers and editors let go. (I should note that our #lastprintissue spoke too soon, and Newsweek, that glorious immortal zombie, continues to publish good stuff with renewed vigor.)
One perk of layoffs is the company really fattens you up after the slaughter. Free food practically fell from the sky. We had weekly farewell toasts, though there is something uniquely crushing about bidding goodbye to colleagues around a conference table with champagne and cupcakes. You’re supposed to be celebrating, but I could only think that this group of silly, brilliant, inspiring souls will never be recreated, and nothing will ever be quite the same. So, of course, I started to love Bagel Friday again. What better sponge for last night’s booze than a crunchy, springy, circular life raft?
My last day of work ended up being December 31, 2012, but my final digital record of Bagel Friday came weeks later. I was freelancing from home and Gchatted my former coworker, also newly unemployed: “It’s bagel friday! Incentive to go to office?”
He never responded.
Thanks for the bagels, Barry. They were delicious.