By Anthony Deyal
Life, especially growing up, is not an exact science or, like a hard-boiled egg, all it is cracked up to be. It is more egg-sact than exact and, in that sense, very much like the story of the bartender who came out of the back room and saw a chicken and an egg at the counter. Anxious to do the right thing, he asked, “Which of you came first?” Zygmunt Bauman, the Polish sociologist and philosopher, whose name in an English setting could itself be considered a mixed blessing, said, “In our world of rampant individualisation, relationships are mixed blessings.
They vacillate between a sweet dream and a nightmare, and there is no telling when one turns into the other.” This is why when I reached 21, I had a teaching job and was allowed by the older men to go with them to gamble in the club or to a Friday night “fete” in the city, I was unaware of the extent to which it was not all fun and games. As Pulitzer-prize winner, Joan Didion wrote, “One of the blessings of being 20 and 21 and even 23 is the conviction that nothing like this, all evidence to the contrary notwithstanding, has ever happened before.”
While I have been unable to get drunk regardless of how many mixed blessings I consume in a session, my friends inevitably succumbed, some quite quickly. This caused them to be forever on the lookout for what would help them consume vast quantities of alcohol without getting stoned out of their skulls. Rabbie, our leader, came up a Friday evening before we set out to a major event, featuring the top band at the time, The Dutchy Brothers, and said, “Ah hear cucumber good for you. If you eat enough and pave your stomach, the rum doesn’t get through and get you drunk.” He had brought a pen-knife and three pounds of cucumbers with him and we ate all. Whether chicken or egg, the nausea came first and was quickly followed by vomiting. The next day was the worst I ever had and the sad thing is that we didn’t learn from the experience.
The next Friday, it was another major band, “Pal” Joey Lewis and his Orchestra, brass-like bush and John came up with a be-all, end-all and cure-all for inebriation. “Cooking oil, boy! That is the secret. It does really cover your stomach so the rum can’t penetrate it at all and you remain sober regardless of how much you drink!”
Five of us jumped into a taxi and on the way to the city stopped at a shop in a village on our route, told the driver to wait, and rushed to the counter demanding a half-bottle of cooking oil. In those days, if you wanted to buy oil you had to take an empty bottle with you and so we were asked, “You bring a bottle?” Rabbie answered, “No, put it in a glass. We drinking it right here.” Scrunter, the calypsonian, much later sang “Oil In The Coil” because he had no idea what it did to us. A lot of it, mixed with whatever we had eaten, drank and, we were certain, bits of our intestines were left in the soil outside the dancehall. The rest remained inside us for several days of agony coiled up in bed.
You would think we had learnt our lesson by then. No sir! In those days before Viagra, young men seeking pleasure with young ladies, had as their advisors the older, experienced men who came up with various supposed aphrodisiacs which they claimed were “good for you.” Rabbie would say, “Boy, you see fish broth with pepper and dasheen. It good for you.” Suddenly, the rage was raw eggs. I still cannot understand what possessed one of our cave-dwelling ancestors to work out that eggs were not just food but “good for you”.
Given the part of the huge creatures from which the object (among other things and substances) emerged, to even contemplate putting into your mouth something that saw the light of day from that passage and delivery system, took more courage than trying to kill a Tyrannosaurus Rex with a big stone. You had to be egged on by indescribable and indiscriminate hunger, and clearly possessed stones that were too huge to throw.
So, one Friday evening after work and football, we ended up in the Cozy Corner Bar and Grocery, ready to take a drink before heading out to the club, the cinema or other ports of call. Jimmy had been boasting all week about this “gyul” (girl) he had met and had a date with that night. He told Seebachan, the owner, “Ah want six eggs.” Seebachan asked, “You want it in a box or wrap it up?” His answer was less like “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens and more like “Great Eggspecations” by Charles Chickens. “No,” Jimmy replied, “Put it in a glass. Ah drinking it right here!”
I am not sure how Jimmy fared that night because he never said, but his subsequent refusal to eat any eggs at all, cooked or uncooked, made me realise that eggs were not as “good for you” as we thought or he found out for himself. As I said to Jimmy in the presence of Rabbie and the rest (and then had to run for my life), “The worst thing about being an egg or drinking six of them is that you only get laid once.”
I thought of those distant days a few nights ago when I sat with my wife Indranie enjoying a BBC television series based on the shrewd Sicilian policeman, Salvo Montalbano (Inspector Montalbano), created by one of the greatest of all detective story writers, the Italian master, Andrea Camilleri, who died on July 17, 2019. Montalbano, like Sparrow’s “Congo Man”, ate his raw. My problem, when it comes to eggs, is that I can fry them, flip them, poach and sunny-side them, stir and mix them, omelette and meringue them, coddle, devil and flan them, but I have real problems cracking them.
I can crack a chicken joke at the drop of a feather, or an egg, but have never been able to crack a yolk without getting egg on my hands, on the floor, on the outside of the frying pan and with bits of shell left in my egg.
In fact, I figure it would be easier for me to crack the age-old question about which came first, the chicken or the egg, than crack the egg itself. Actually, I solved that problem a long time ago. As Inspector Montalbano would have said in his “denouement” or summation, “A third party was involved. It was the rooster that did it.”
*Tony Deyal was last seen telling the sad story of the piece of toast and hard-boiled egg who walked into a bar. The bartender said, “Sorry, we don’t serve breakfast here.”