Tag Archives: eggs

Forced birdwatching with my uncle

One time when I was in high school my mom made me go on a bird watching trip with one of my uncles. He was a member of some ornithological club, and every time I’d see him, he’d be like, “Rob! What’s up buddy? You’ve got to come bird watching with me and the boys this weekend. Come on, it’ll be fun! It’s always good to pick up a new hobby, what do you say?”


And what was I going to say? I couldn’t be like, “No, I don’t want to go bird watching, that sounds boring, all I want to do is stay inside and play Nintendo 64,” because you can’t talk to adults that way, especially not your uncle, my mom would have been pissed. So I did what probably any other teenager in my situation would have done, I gave a really unenthusiastic non-committing response, a, “Yeah, maybe, that sounds cool,” and then I’d just answer every follow up question with simply a yes or a no, making sure to pause at least two or three seconds in between each answer, trying really hard to make it look like I was just barely paying attention.

But I guess my uncle either couldn’t take the hint, or he took it and he said to himself, nah, I’m not going to take that hint. He probably thought, sure Rob doesn’t want to go bird watching, but that’s because he doesn’t realize how much fun it is. I know, I’ll go behind his back to his mother and make plans for next weekend.

And you know, being fourteen is probably the worst age any human can be. You have pretty much all of the mental faculties that you have as an adult, like, I can remember all of my high school years as if they happened last year. You think for yourself, you have your own opinions. In any other time in human history, fourteen year olds were not only expected to be completely independent, but they were most likely already parents themselves. But when I was fourteen, for some reason it was totally acceptable for my mom to shout up to my room on Friday night, “Robbie, you better get to sleep, your uncle’s picking you up for a bird watching trip early tomorrow morning.”

My fate was sealed. “What?” I could scream and protest for as long as I could sustain my pleading, “You made plans for me to go on a bird watching trip?” it wasn’t going to change anything. And sure enough, before I knew it, seven o’clock rolled around and I was being forcibly dragged out of my bed to take a drive up to some remote bird sanctuary near Tarrytown, NY.

I had expected my uncle and all of his friends to be this bunch of nerdy looking doofs, but I got in the car, there was my uncle and two guys that, I don’t know how to describe them exactly, but they didn’t fit the description of what I had imagined a birdwatcher to look like. One guy had a black leather jacket, the other guy was wearing a knit cap, it wasn’t even that cold out.

And then, once we got going, nobody talked, there was no chit-chat. I’m thinking about my life right now, if I went on some sort of a trip with a bunch of my friends, and one of them brought along his fourteen year old nephew, I’d at least try to make conversation, “What’s up champ? How’s high school? You play any sports?” basic small talk, it’s not that hard. But this was awkward, no radio, the guy riding shotgun was chain smoking cigarettes with his right arm resting on the open window.

Finally we got to this wooded area, I’m not sure if it was a bird sanctuary, I didn’t see any signs, and what happened next always made me doubt if we were where I was told we would be. We hiked around for a while, my uncle had a map but wouldn’t say where we were headed, after about an hour or so we came upon this big tree.

“All right boys, this is it,” my uncle said as the other two guys started unloading a bunch supplies. Grappling hooks, lots of rope, some weird manual drill looking thing, besides the binoculars, none of this stuff looked like anything I’d associate with bird watching. “Don’t you guys usually carry giant books with drawings of birds and stuff?” I asked nobody in particular.

“Can it, kid,” did that guy just tell me to can it? “You’re the lookout.” I asked, “The lookout for what, aren’t we all lookouts? Aren’t we looking out for birds or something?” The other guy said, “Don’t be a wise guy, now just keep your eyes open.” I looked toward my uncle for something, I don’t know, reassurance, maybe a little information as to what was going on, but he just handed me a small backpack, he said, “Just hold onto this for a second.”

And then they all put on these harnesses and started climbing up the tree. I had no idea what was going on, but like half an hour later this park ranger shows up. The guys had pulled up their ropes so, unless you were looking straight up, you’d have no idea what was going on. “What are you doing out here?” the ranger said, “This is protected land. What’s in that backpack?”

I didn’t know what to say. I only hoped that my uncle had prepared me for this, that that’s why I was holding this backpack. I handed it over and the ranger undid the zipper. He fished inside for a few seconds and came out with a small pipe, a lighter, and a dime-sized bag of pot. “All right buddy, you’re coming with me.”

I should have said something, I should have told the ranger to look up, but I froze, I didn’t know what my uncle was doing with those guys up in that tree. Years later I read some article about egg-snatchers, how in the United Kingdom there was this weird secret society dedicated to collecting various types of eggs.

But I never got to connect the dots. The ranger called my parents, they had to drive north to pick me up, my uncle played dumb, giving my mom some bullshit like, “Well, we were all watching birds but Rob said he had to use the bathroom. We looked everywhere for him but he disappeared. Thanks for ruining our trip!” and then when my mom turned to yell at me, he kind of gave me a wink, but not a nice wink, like a threatening wink, like you ever tell your mom about this, a misdemeanor marijuana charge will be the least of your problems.

So you know what I did?

The other day I was driving in my car when this guy totally cut me off in an exit ramp on the Grand Central Parkway. Traffic wasn’t even that bad. I was maybe ten, eleven cars back, waiting for my turn to get off. And yes, of course I considered coasting along the left side of all of the other waiting cars, cutting in front right at the last second. There was plenty of room, and cops never pull drivers over on the Grand Central Parkway. But I waited my turn. And right when I was on deck, this guy comes out of nowhere and noses in front of me, very aggressively, looking back at me to make eye contact, like saying, “What are you going to do about it, huh?”

grand central parkway

So you know what I did? I gave him a big smile and waved him through, as if to say, “Go for it, friend. Please, help yourself to my spot.” Because, who am I to get angry? Maybe this guy just got fired from his job. Maybe he was a professional driver, but his boss called him in to the office today, he was like, “Listen, you’re a nice guy and everything, but this isn’t working out. You’re too soft on the road. We need someone a little more assertive. Sorry, but you’re fired.” And this guy’s driving home, he’s thinking, I’m not soft behind the wheel, I’m very assertive, aggressive even. And then he cuts me off and he looks at me and, what? What is he expecting?

So that’s me, giving him a thumbs up, I’m telling him through my body language, “Yeah man. You tell ‘em. I can’t believe your boss incorrectly pegged you as the passive type. You. You, my friend, are most certainly one of the stronger drivers I’ve encountered on the road. And that’s saying something, because I’m driving a lot. Let me tell you something, the way you saw that six inch gap open up in front of me, the attitude expressed as you inched your front bumper into a position that I was in no way capable of arguing with, that my amigo, that was some ballsy driving. In a good way.”

And then later in the evening I went to the grocery store to get something for dinner. I had a craving for Mexican food, and I always make this great sauce, you need smoked jalapenos canned in adobo, whatever that means, I found this recipe a while ago that called for smoked jalapenos in adobo. Anyway, this grocery store had just one can left. What luck, right? So I threw it in my cart and headed down the dairy aisle to pick up some eggs and milk and stuff.

chiles adobo

But I was looking at expiration dates, making sure everything was fresh, when I noticed this lady kind of shadowing behind me. It was weird enough that I was definitely picking up some strange vibes, but not entirely noticeable that I’d necessarily call her out. Besides, I had no idea of her intentions, if anything, it was my fault that I’d automatically assume something negative going on. But unfortunately, my instincts proved correct, because while I was opening up a carton of eggs to test the strength of each shell, I caught this lady in the corner of my eye reach into my basket and snatch my can of peppers.

By the time my mind registered what was actually happening, she had already shuffled half an aisle down, her head turned back just enough so I could make eye contact with her left eye, and without saying anything, I could read her, she was telling me, “Go ahead and say something. You want to make a scene? Let’s make a scene. I’m crazy enough to steal groceries out of your cart. You think I won’t scream? Or throw stuff? Try me.”

You know what I did? I flashed her a big smile, almost like I was in the middle of a good natured, sincere laugh. I opened my hands and raised them in the air while I shrugged my shoulders, almost like saying, “You got me! Yep, you certainly got me, you devil you,” and then I made a mock-squinty face, wagging my finger at her, like, “Oh you, I see you, but you got me!” because, why am I going to get so upset? Over peppers? She obviously needed those peppers, or at least wanted them more enough than I did, because I’d never steal groceries out of someone else’s basket, not unless I had a really good reason. Maybe she had a really good reason. Maybe her dad grew those peppers. Maybe those peppers were his most prized peppers, out of all of the other peppers he’d ever grown. And maybe when he wasn’t looking, the farm owners came over and harvested everything and put them in cans with adobo sauce, and he came running home to his daughter and was like, “Honey, you saved the big ones, right? My prized peppers? When they came for the harvest, tell me you saved my favorite peppers!” and she didn’t know what to say, she knew how much her dad loved those peppers, and seeing the pain it caused him, watching this once proud man fall to his knees, weeping like a child, she had no other choice than to follow the chain of production, to buy back every single can of peppers that she could get her hand on. Surely if she could present her father with all of those cans, he’d see how sorry she was, that maybe one of those peppers was in one of those cans, somewhere, somehow.

And that’s why I stood there in the aisle, still fake laughing at that lady, like I was telling her, “No need to be so sneaky, I’m not mad at all. Please, help yourself to anything you need. Can I help you with anything else? Maybe I have some old cans tucked away in the back of my pantry. Might those be of any help? Can I help you carry your bags to the car? Do you need me to find other cans of peppers in different groceries? I could ask the manager if they have any stocked away in the back.”

But she still looked really suspicious, still shuffling toward the register, still with that one left eye trained on my general vicinity. I couldn’t possibly know what she was going through, no more than she could know about me, about how while I was doing my best to let her know that I was OK, I lost the grip in my left hand, that carton of eggs, it slipped just a little bit, and I caught it, but the carton jolted slightly, and one egg fell out, it was open after all, I was checking all of the eggs, I don’t know why, it’s something my mother taught me as a little kid that you’re supposed to do when you buy eggs, and so this one egg fell right at my feet, egg everywhere, on both shoes, on my left pant leg, and I was just standing there shrugging and grinning and throwing my other hand in the air, like, “Whoops! What a klutz! Right? I can’t believe I dropped that egg on my shoe. Clean up on aisle six! Please, I’m fine, I can handle this. Give me the mop. I’d like to be the one to take care of this mess. No it’s fine, I insist. If this is the worst thing that happens to me today, then I’ll be A-OK, I’ll be in great shape, just terrific!”

Nobody appreciates the magic of a good omelet

One thing I’ve been trying to perfect for a while now is a really good omelet. A couple of years ago I was reading the New Yorker, and there was this cartoon. It was a magician on stage and he had this portable little stove, on top of which he was operating a frying pan and a spatula. The caption read something like, “Nobody appreciates the magic of a good omelet.”

And that kind of stuck with me, because I can never make a good omelet. I’m a pretty decent cook. When I was living in Ecuador with the Peace Corps I prepared almost every single meal. I learned how to make everything from scratch: bread, pizza, bagels, pasta, ice cream. But omelets. It’s like I have a block in my brain that makes it impossible for me to make a good omelet.

It’s not like it’s a hard thing to do. You can go to any diner in the country and order an omelet, because every single short order cook in the country knows how to make an omelet. Eggs. A little milk. Some butter. Frying pan. Bam. Omelet.

Mine usually come out too well done on one side. And then I’ll try to flip the whole thing over and it falls apart. Recently I did some omelet reading, one cookbook said that you really don’t have to flip the omelet. Or maybe that’s just a personal preference? I don’t know. Flipping or not flipping, it all comes out the same, like shit.

And then I have to sit there and eat my disgusting omelet, the whole time thinking about the diner down the block from my house, and how probably at that exact moment, there are people sitting there at their tables, drinking their cups of coffee and their large glasses of orange juice, and they see the waiter come out of the kitchen holding like four plates, and they get excited, like maybe this is it, maybe this is my omelet, and so they pick up their utensils, getting ready to just dive in as soon as the plate hits the table. But the waiter passes right by. Not their omelets, it’s the other table’s omelets. And those people are so happy, because they did the same thing, they got faked out like three or four times, watching omelets go to every other table but theirs, theirs and that first table I was describing, still waiting. But everything’s coming out sooner or later. Everybody’s going to have a professional omelet eventually.

Everybody except for me. And I deserve it more. I actually sauté the mushrooms separately, making sure they’re perfectly seasoned. And the same thing with the peppers and the onions. I’ve grated out just the right amount of cheese. And then I blow it. The eggs won’t hold their form as I try to transfer everything to the plate, and so now I’ve got a poor-man’s version of an egg-scramble, but unlike good scrambled eggs, there’s nothing creamy about mine, nothing soft and velvety. Just these kind-of chunks of hard egg pieces, the filling just spilling out from the inside, wanting nothing to do with the egg massacre I’ve unleashed upon my kitchen.

And I look back at the stove and the pan is going to be impossible to clean, egg flaps dripping off the side, blackened, fused the metal. And the stovetop isn’t any better. It’s a mess. But it’s too hot for me to do anything about now. I’m going to have to choke down my breakfast first, try to imagine each bite to be something that it’s not, something palatable, something edible, I’m holding back the gag reflex as I try to swallow the unswallowable.

It takes forever. A good omelet always disappears off the plate, like you don’t know where the time went, where breakfast went. But trying to eat a bad omelet is what I imagine being stuck in purgatory must feel like. From a distance everything looks like breakfast. And just as you move in, hoping to get something to eat, you notice that burnt egg smell, you see the disaster in the kitchen, and you realize all too late that it’s not somebody’s else’s breakfast, but it’s all yours, and you have to sit there and eat every last bite.

The other day I was at a pretty nice restaurant and they had a spinach and goat cheese omelet on the menu. Of course I ordered it, and of course it was the nicest omelet I’ve ever seen in my life. I read an article in the newspaper one time about omelets like this, really professional omelets, “prepared in the French style.” To look at it almost makes you doubt that your eyes are working at all. First of all, the texture is absolutely flawless, smooth, like a yokey piece of glass. Every single spot is cooked uniformly, without any browning whatsoever. And as I cut into the middle, the goat cheese was barely starting to melt, blending perfectly with the still runny eggy interior. I wanted to cry. I wanted to get angry. I wanted to destroy that omelet. I wanted to be that omelet.

After I read that article I tried to replicate the chef’s instructions. Something about the perfect amount of butter, the perfect wrist action to keep the omelet from sticking to the bottom of the pan. I did everything I was told. And the results? Worse than you can imagine. Infinitely worse than all of what I’ve already told you, combined. It was my worst omelet yet.

I’m at this fancy restaurant staring at omelet nirvana on my plate. It was delicious, smooth, fluffy, moist. I started to cry. My tears fell into the omelet and added the perfect brine of salt. I looked around and everybody was doing the same. This was all part of the show, part of the omelet. Part of me is still crying inside. I’ll never be able to make an omelet like that. Never.