"What's the world for you if you can't make it up the way you want."

-Jazz, Toni Morrison

Peeling An Egg

Peeling An Egg

Every time I peel a hard-boiled egg, I remember 1971. I was a hot young playwright who had had a play produced at a classy off-off Broadway house and another accepted by the O'Neill Theatre in Connecticut - where August Wilson had started, also Meryl Streep, Swoozie Kurtz,  John Guare.  

The competition to get in is intense. Out of fourteen hundred scripts, twelve are selected to be done by a cast of up and coming actors. Agents, producers, casting directors, Hollywood VIPs come to take a look and the buzz was that my play would be going places. People were seeking me out. Actors were listening when I spoke. Hunky stagehands laughed at my jokes.  

One morning, I was seated in the communal dining room at the table with the hottest talents: Marsha Mason who, with her pretty good looks and infectious giggle, was destined for stardom, we all knew it; Stephen, a sullen Actor's Studio member who had just signed to play the lead in a TV biopic of James Dean which everybody said would put him over the top; and Bobby Christian, a sleek black actor with a habit of ripping off his shirt and doing push-ups during rehearsal breaks so I could never look anywhere else.

These were the people who sat at the center table, who were always having a grand time and you didn't join them unless they sought you out. I don't remember how I got there, probably just the accident of finding myself next in line at the buffet but they had a way of excluding you if they wished and, this morning, they hadn't. Instead, I was enveloped in their sparkling company; watched and envied by every other writer in the room.

I had ordered hard-boiled eggs for breakfast and was having difficulty peeling one. The thin skin beneath the shell had not broken so I was picking at it in little pieces; making a mess, mauling chunks of egg with the slivers, anxious to get every word of the conversation.

Bobby scoffed seductively, "Will you please peel that egg right?" My heart went into overdrive. Marsha giggled and asked what was wrong.

"He hasn't broken the skin on that egg and it's going to drive me crazy!"

Bobby winked. Marsha collapsed in laughter. Even Stephen deigned to smile. Everybody in the room leaned toward our table to find out what was funny and I understood that it did not matter; these golden people would have laughed at anything.    

So, I laughed along, feeling delightfully desired and, most of all, embraced by the future. The three others watched while I tried to peel my egg and, the more I mangled it, the more they laughed and then they glowed with satisfaction when I had finally finished.

So did everybody at the other tables. My achievement rippled through the room. The walls seemed to bow in celebration. The windows curled toward me and outside the sun shined brightly. That’s what it’s like to be young and talented and thrilled with the beauty that life holds in store. My play went nowhere. It is no longer important why. Marsha married Neil Simon but that fizzled and her career turned cold. I see Stephen on T.V. sometimes, but the sexy defiance is gone. Bobby Christian became the first person I knew to die of Aids.  

Life was not meant to stay the way it was that sunny morning. Still, every time I peel a hard-boiled egg, I remember.

Edward M. Cohen’s novel "$250,000," was published by Putnam; his non-fiction books by Prima, Prentice-Hall, Limelight Editions, SUNY Press. He has been published by Cosmopolitan, Child, Parenting, American Woman, and others.

Cover photo by REVOLT on Unsplash

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