Puzzled Over


“An academic definition of Lynchian might be that the term “refers to a particular kind of irony where the very macabre and the very mundane combine in such a way as to reveal the former’s perpetual containment within the latter.” But like postmodern or pornographic, Lynchian is one of those Potter Stewart-type words that’s definable only ostensively – i.e., we know it when we see it. Ted Bundy wasn’t particularly Lynchian, but good old Jeffrey Dahmer, with his victim’s various anatomies neatly separated and stored in his fridge alongside his chocolate milk and Shedd Spread, was thoroughgoingly Lynchian. A recent homicide in Boston, where the deacon of a South Shore church gave chase to a vehicle that had cut him off, forced the car off the road, and shot the driver with a high-powered crossbow, was borderline-Lynchian.

A domestic-type homicide, on the other hand, could fall on various points along the continuum of Lynchianism. Some guy killing his wife in and of itself doesn’t have much of a Lynchian tang to it, though if it turns out the guy killed his wife over something like a persistent failure to refill the ice-cube tray after taking the last ice cube or an obdurate refusal to buy the particular brand of peanut butter the guy was devoted to, the homicide could be described as having Lynchian elements. And if the guy, sitting over the mutilated corpse of his wife (whose retrograde ’50s bouffant is, however, weirdly unmussed) with the first cops on the scene as they all wait for the boys from Homicide and the M.E.’s office, begins defending his actions by giving an involved analysis of the comparative merits of Jif and Skippy, and if the beat cops, however repelled by the carnage on the floor, have to admit that the guy’s got a point, that if you’ve developed a sophisticated peanut-butter palate and that palate prefers Jif there’s simply no way Skippy’s going to be anything like an acceptable facsimile, and that a wife who fails repeatedly to grasp the importance of Jif is making some very significant and troubling statements about her empathy for and commitment to the sacrament of marriage as a bond between two bodies, minds, spirits, and palates…you get the idea.”

(from David Foster Wallace’s fantastic 1997 compilation A Supposedly Fun Thing I’ll Never Do Again)

I discovered something strange today, and it’s made me curious.

Best Of Puzzled Over

On The Existence Of Bagels

Since moving to NYC, one of the minor changes I’ve gone through is the change in bagel preference. Living in Ithaca, one gets very used to the Upstate-style bagel; thick, heavy, doughy, fairly chewy. New York City bagels, of course, are thinner, wider, lighter, and a little less doughy. Everyone sells bagels, and they are cheap and filling.

When we place a Fresh Direct order for groceries, we always tend to order a six-pack of bagels and some cream cheese, for the occasional time I want to eat breakfast. The ones that are delivered meet all of the above criteria for a NYC bagel, and also keep very well in the freezer. Strangely, though, it is impossible for me to prepare myself one without having a minor aneurism.

Why this intense pain in the head? On the packaging, the slogan and product name meld together one of the most mind-boggling sentences in human history since “If it weren’t for my horse, I never would have spent that extra year on college.”

The pitch reads:


Just Bagels, of course, is the name of the product. Still, even knowing this, I am forced to read this as: Instances of object X aren’t instance of object X unless they’re simply instances of object X.

Is this a blow against fancy things, maybe? Are they implying that were a bagel all spruced up with fancy seeds and flavorings, that it would stop being a bagel and turn into some other sort of bread foodstuff, such as a bialy? But they sell six varieties, including Just Bagels Everything. Surely that’s not just a bagel, as the combination of poppy and sesame and onion and garlic disqualifies one from saying it’s just a bagel.

Perhaps they’re speaking to the moral sense of the bagels – a sort of superhero bagel, upholding the standards and beliefs of our fair city. I would find this hard to believe, as they do not seem to have any superpowers to resist my desire to eat them, nor do I gain the ability to fly by eating them.

(At this point in the entry, I’m looking at the dictionary definitions for just in hopes of deciphering further. I would appreciate it if someone called for professional help.)

How about “by a narrow margin, barely”? That doesn’t speak well to the product, though, if it only squeaks by the qualification charts for what constitutes a bagel. Ignoring the disqualification of bagels conforming better to the specification, this throws us into even more mental anguish as we are judging the conformance of a bagel on whether or not it conforms to the state of the bagel.

One final possibility is that they are using “just” as a variant on joust. Perhaps these bagels ride into battle and try to knock each other over when…

Needless to say, this is why I often just go out to eat.