It was late January and I’d been in Portland for all of two weeks. We do odd things to get ourselves where we need to be, especially when love has gelatinized the mind into a quivering blob of pure acquiescence. In this, my own state of fevered madness, I had inserted myself voluntarily into a room with free rent above a canine hotel in yon Southeast. Well, ‘free’ isn’t quite the term, as there was an exchange of labor for my housing: It was I who let the dogs out, and also apportioned them their morning kibble. Room service. In a sense, feeding dogs is a knuckle hair more gratifying than feeding people. Dogs don’t send food back to the kitchen. They also manage to restrain themselves from blogging their review of the meal, despite secretly wishing for mashed potatoes and gravy that will never come (I overheard a few conversations).

This was life for the first two months in Portland, this symbiotic co-habitation with hounds. In the mornings, after I’d served breakfast, I’d write away the hours at the coffee house a block away, a suitably funky Southeast Portland concern with a suitably funky patronage and staff. On this late January morning, after procuring a cup from the well-inked barista, I served myself a cup of Stumptown from the press pot and wondered aloud, “Could I get a toasted bagel and cream cheese too?”

On his gesture of compliance, I paid for the roll, made camp at a picnic table on the patio and set about the morning correspondence. Five minutes later the barista spat, “Here’s your bagel, dude.” And as I picked up the plate, he was on his heels and gone in a poof. I peered down at the two halves of a doughnut’s cousin. These were lacquered with a transparent, vaguely luminescent film of cream cheese.

The piss froze inside me.

Whatever happened to putting cream cheese on bagels? Was it the 90’s? The Bottom Line? I remember when bagels were chewy, and spackled with a good half to three-quarter’s inch of firm, cold, full fat cream cheese. Or chopped liver and onions. Or both, and then some smoked fish to boot. Now, a bagel is soft enough to be a marmoset’s gazebo cushion, and cream cheese is whipped and aerated into a “convenient spread” that can be applied as thinly as a coat of the whitewash that it is. I’ve considered toting my own cheese around in a special pouch, because asking for more can be like asking for the barista’s liver, roasted on a skewer. Everywhere in this softening nation, they’ll give you the doodoo eye before giving you another coat of dairy.

I do not own a fat ass. If I was a 400-pound man asking for a pound of cream cheese on a trowel, I’d expect some resistance.

“Sir, you probably shouldn’t.”

But it should be apparent from my nimble manner that I consume cream cheese responsibly. In fact, wads of cream cheese on a carbohydrate grenade give me my nimble manner.

In Croatia, breakfast can be a mere shot of brandy to stimulate the circulation, a demitasse of espresso or maybe a sweet roll or lump of cheese… But it’s not a meal. I appreciate this restrained approach to morning comestibles. I’ll pound a few hundred calories in wee pastry, bar or smoothie format in the misty morgen and get mine ass skipping along down the mossy lane. Certainly, a big breakfast can be the poodle’s noodles. But on GO days, it is a gastrointestinal traffic jam, and a general bring-down on physical fluidity and mental poise. It constitutes an albatross. Calorie coma, food stoned… However one wishes to term the state of post-feast stupidity, it is not the way to start a day of work. If I’m going to experience that stupidity, I want to enjoy it with my back or ass haunches on a gazebo pillow, giggling like a marmoset. But since I’m usually only looking for a jolt of fuel to burn until lunch, concentrated fat calories atop a toasted bagel are adequate breakfastizing for me. That means, however, that I will want well more than a gram of cream cheese on that bagel, and there’s nothing funny or weird about that.

So quit smirking and put more cream cheese on the goddamn bagel.