Chapter 1: Don't Suffer With Cold Eggs
For ten years – I won't call them agonizing years, but I will draw your attention to the word – I faithfully supported my ex-wife through all her flowery efforts to fell the man in mankind. I met her after protests, throwing wilted anti-war picket signs into the back of my sedan – signs that protested a war she was neither affected by nor understood. I was an ally at her women's liberation meetings though she barely acted like a woman and treated me like a dog. I stood by her during her voter rights nonsense, demonstrations that held her attention for about an hour and a half in the summer of '65. I read silently to myself as I sat with her at a myriad of sit-ins which accomplished nothing but getting her off her soft, uncalloused feet. She flopped between causes like a landed fish, and I stood by her like the dutiful husband I was assigned to be. She, on the other hand, treated me like I was just another cog in the wheel of injustices lashing against her and her fellow sisters. I was the problem, she said. I was the reason she was unhappy, she declared. I was what was wrong with the world, and she made sure I knew it.
And maybe I was. Maybe I am. Maybe that's what this story is about.
Because of this "inequity" between her and I, I ended up paying good money so she could make her mock pilgrimages to Washington to join the marches. I had a penance to pay, and she was going to claim every damn dime she could carry.
This was all fine and good for a while – it's only money and I didn't care – but suddenly she started to care and turned on me. I wasn't sweet enough for her taste anymore, or friendly enough to mingle with her obnoxious friends. I did what she asked of me, and in the end, she ditched me for a talentless hack – a street performer who sang perpetually off-key and was missing both his thumbs.
Before I was replaced by the organ grinding monkey, I had a decent, respectable job as a sculptor of young minds – something normal women would have appreciated. Normal women would have been happy to have a house over their head and a refrigerator full of food. I wasn't cruel or demanding. I was willing to do whatever she wanted just to keep her happy, but what she wanted turned out to be anything and anybody that wasn’t me.
When she'd had her fill, she sent her drugged-up brother to give me the divorce papers, and he laughed at me. I poured him a cup of coffee, sat him down at my goddamn kitchen table, and that cocksucker cackled in my face. He knew his sister was a whore, and he knew I was a pushover – hell, he’d been telling me that for years. But I had no reason to listen to that asshole. He was a jobless freeloader and always had been.
Before the wedding, the three of us had gone camping together in the mountains of northern Virginia. Her brother dicked around the whole time, setting shit on fire and getting high. There was nothing that asshole wouldn’t do if you dared him to do it. His sister bet him half a six-pack that he couldn’t drink the rest of a bottle of lighter fluid and he did it without question, even though he’s the jackass who brought all the beer.
At dawn each morning of the trip, I would pick up all their empties and charred trash and bag it up, only to have the garbage gutted each night and spread across the dirt by raccoons. It was an endless cycle of death and destruction, and I was the idiot tidying up.
By day three, I’d lost my girlfriend. She’d run off with a bunch of hippies to do God knows what in the woods. I found her on day six, just before we were supposed to leave. She had leaves in her hair and was riding some guy in a tent.
For some sadistic reason, I married that woman the following June. Her brother was my best man and laughed behind me at the altar. Just before he gave me her hand, her alcoholic dad called me the stupidest dumbass he’d ever met and that probably should have tipped me off. I may not have been the best judge of character at that time in my life.
As far as I’m concerned, that can all stay in the past where it belongs. Right now, I’m just outside Detroit, about to get on I-94. The greasy air of the shitty diner I’m sitting in is already permeating my clothes, and the thought of walking out of this place smelling like a dirty fish fryer has me regretting at least eight of the last ten years of my life.
I honestly don’t know how people live like this. I was a goddamn fool to think I could just walk out on my life and never think about it again. It had been a toxic decade that had left me weak and belittled and buying a semi-truck from a paranoid schizophrenic in Ellicott City. The silver lining? That crazy bastard kept the cab immaculate.
If I’m being honest with myself, which rarely happens anymore, it wasn’t my life I was abandoning out here. I didn’t want the filthy house. I didn’t want her goddamn cats shitting all over my laundry. I didn’t want to bicker with my illiterate students anymore either.
I needed to hit the road and get as far from Baltimore as I could, but when reality set in, I realized this was the most asinine thing I had ever done, aside from marrying a blonde with a taste for other men’s cocks. I didn’t know how to drive or maintain a truck, though I learned eventually. But what I did discover was how isolating the open road is. My days are spent blissfully alone in the spotless cab of my truck which is far more satisfying to me than being in some asshole’s backyard having a summer barbecue with all our perverted neighbors. I had no idea how much I needed to be alone, and now I can finally breathe again.
A plate is dropped to the table throwing my toast into the booth seat across from me. I didn’t want it anyway, so I don’t bother to grab it, but the rest of my breakfast is unacceptable.
“Excuse me, ma’am!”
The waitress is walking away, but she stops, her shoulders tensing and slowly turns to me.
“These eggs,” I say, pointing at my plate, “are they supposed to be ice cold?”
Her face reflects every minute of the last twelve hours of her overextended shift. “Yes, sir. Ice cold – says so on the menu.”
I know how grueling her job must be. You can see it in her bloodshot eyes and the way she keeps shifting on her aching feet.
“Okay then ... Uh, thank you.” I straighten my glasses and scan the restaurant for any potential eavesdroppers. I’ve been trying to change myself lately, be more dominant and forceful with my opinions since that’s what society loves so much. I’ve been written off my whole life by people that claim that I’m a weak, useless man. I get overwhelmed and the world sees this as my greatest defect – I show emotions other than rage, so I must not have any balls.
I remember crying at my wedding and the whole damn room scoffed at me. They called me a woman because I couldn’t contain my joy, but in hindsight, I wasn’t crying for joy. I was grieving the loss of my freedom because only I could confuse happiness with profound agony.
When I’m satisfied that my exchange with the waitress has gone unnoticed, I cut up the rubbery eggs slipping around my plate. I hate cold eggs. It was the only request I ever made of my wife: please only serve hot eggs. She never served any eggs, cold or otherwise, because I did all the cooking – yet another red flag that went ignored.
The waitress wanders away and now leans behind the counter, rolling her eyes and whispering to other diners about the crazy man in her section. Their stares are nothing new to me. I was always the milquetoast stumbling down the sidewalk, loaded with all my wife’s shit and apologizing for being run into. I was the deadbeat haggling with cashiers to try to afford whatever garbage she wanted that day. I was the idiot sending back my wife’s food because it wasn’t exactly what she ordered. She was a woman and women had been oppressed for centuries. I was a man and I owed her my servitude as restitution.
The problem was that she was right. I understand systemic oppression. The world had spent the last fifty years fighting amongst itself about these things. Everything was changing and we all saw it, but I resented my wife for it. Maybe I was just too opposed to change.
She resented me because she thought she married an actual man and certain expectations had been placed on me. I was supposed to fuck her. I was supposed to make her feel good and satisfied. I was supposed to give her a couple kids, but God the pervert had other ideas. He must be one sadistic bastard, because every time I tried to get it up, he was right there, pointing at my junk and laughing, just like my wife. She took every opportunity to undermine me and for the last five years we were married, she only ever called me Softie. She told our friends it was because I was like a big, cuddly teddy bear, but she was a shitty liar, so it only took one drunken block party for our whole neighborhood to figure it out.
The irony is that she’s the one who wanted the divorce. I just wanted her home before nine and to stop flirting with other men in front of me. I was content with our loveless, sexless marriage because being married meant my neighbors assumed I was normal and everyone would stop questioning me.
Of course, none of this changes the fact that I still hate cold eggs.
“Ice cold,” I mumble to myself because who else am I going to talk to? “Supposed to be ice cold. Menu says so.” I can tell that my voice is elevating as I speak, but I’m not going to stop it.
Sometimes a cold egg is just a cold egg – you eat it and move on. But sometimes a cold egg is the embodiment of all that has gone wrong in your worthless, insignificant life.
“You should have just saved yourself the trouble and given me an egg right out of the goddamn fridge!” Several other diners look up from their oatmeal and pancakes to gawk at me. I’m a man at the end of my rope, and they all want to see how far I’m going to drop. “What are you looking at?!” I snap at the room. They all need to mind their own damn business.
Women are whispering and glancing away and the men are ignoring my outburst – save one. He’s staring at me like I’m a sideshow at a circus. I’m The Amazing Red-Faced Man. Watch me burst into tears as I talk to a Vietnam vet and then start screaming in a restaurant over a fried egg! I pay to see that show every goddamn day. Maybe I should start selling tickets.
I’m not normally confrontational, but this jackass is flat-out staring at me. He’s at the far end of the counter, bearded and gruff, looking like a Hell’s Angel minus the leather jacket. He’s sucking on his cigarette like he just got laid and boring holes through my skull with his black eyes. I’ve always found eye contact to be too invasive to maintain, so my mind buckles under the pressure and I go back to my rubbery breakfast.
Why cold eggs? Maybe this is the magical question that needs answering to make all my life’s problems go away. I can’t answer it, of course, so my fork clatters to the table and I push away the plate because I literally cannot eat this shit. I don’t have time to reorder, either. I should have flown out of this stop twenty minutes ago, but I haven’t built up my tolerance to the endless road noise yet. I still feel like my head’s about to implode.
Without any warning, that gruff face is suddenly staring at me again, only this time it’s plunked down across from me in my booth. The man is holding up my toast in the same hand that cradles his post-sex smoke. It looks like a tiny gingerbread house with a puffing chimney.
“Drop this?” he asks in a strange, garbled voice.
I don’t respond. I’ve never liked invasions of my privacy, but I can't expect to go unnoticed when I start yelling about eggs in a restaurant. He tosses the toast and it lands with a hard tap on my plate. If this asshole wants something, I don't know what the hell it would be.
He pulls a toothpick out of nowhere and slowly works it between his teeth as he cocks his head, still staring like a creep.
“Can I help you?” I finally ask. I don’t feel like I’m exuding hospitality at the moment.
He points at me with his cigarette. “You’re a rude little man,” he mumbles.
I used to teach English to brats in high school. Using clear and proper words was something I was obsessed with. I worked hard to get rid of my own Louisiana accent and try to enunciate clearly. This man, however, speaks like he has a mouth full of marbles. I want to reach across the table and pry it open to find out. Does he have a wad of peanut butter in there or is he just so lazy that he can’t be bothered to move his goddamn tongue?
“Is it not also rude to be served shitty eggs?” I say. “I’m paying money for hot eggs, just like everyone else.”
He smiles at me, and I realize how high his cheekbones are. Between that and his pronounced canines, he looks like Dracula – if Dracula was a long-hauler.
“No one else here has hot eggs and you’re the only one bitching about it,” he says, chewing the toothpick. “I wonder why.”
I realize now it’s not a laziness to his speech, it’s an accent. I’ve never heard it before. It’s not really guttural; in fact, it sounds weirdly soft and he doesn’t pronounce his Rs.
I’m still reeling from the invasion of my booth by this foreigner when he pipes up again, “You’re twitchy,” he snickers.
“And you’re dirty,” I retort. Why I’m resorting to name calling, I don’t know. I lean back and cross my arms. This is ridiculous. “And who’s rude now? You just called me twitchy.”
He’s still smiling at me and I feel like I’m under a microscope. His eyes comb through my messy brown hair and mustache. They circle my glasses and occasionally dart between my pupils.
“Where’re you headed?” he asks.
I’m not on the road to make friends. I’m not here to meet new and “exciting” people. I’m here to get away from all that shit. Society can go fuck itself raw. I ignore him and take a sip of my coffee, only to discover it now matches my eggs in temperature. This man has robbed me of the only thing I had been enjoying.
“I’m not discussing anything with you.”
“Why not?” he wonders. He is still quiet and placid. His eyes have softened, like my disinterest in talking to him actually hurt his poor little feelings.
“Do I seem interested in talking to anyone?”
“Not particularly. ”
I throw myself back in my seat with a scoff. “Then why are you continuing to bother me?”
“I’m curious,” he says, flicking his chewed toothpick on the table. Between drags off his smoke, he clicks his tongue, which makes me feel like I’m under some sort of time constraint and he’s counting down the seconds until I lose.
He’s clearly not going to finish his thought, so I ask, “Curious about what? About me?” I don’t like where this conversation is going. “Buddy, I’m not into whatever freaky shit you’re looking for, so you can just move along.”
The man chuckles at my assumption which just pisses me off even more. “I think you’re exactly what I’m looking for,” he says with a shit-eating grin plastered across his face.
If I was a more violent man, I think I’d deck him. “Is that so?” I say. “And what the hell are you looking for?”
He leans over the table and drops his cigarette in my cold coffee like a rude son of a bitch as he laughs. “I’m looking for a man with nothing to lose.”