Volume 80, Number 48 | April 28 - May 4, 2011
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

Notebook

An egg not given: A hard-boiled Easter/Passover tale

By Kathryn Adisman

“Boiled egg. I need a boiled egg.” The repulsive face was just inches from my own. I didn’t want to turn and see it.

“Get going,” said the clerk, who was ringing up my purchases. The man didn’t move. He had his eyes fixed on me, sights set.

My three items were sprawled on the deli counter in front of us — Poland Spring bottled water, a lemon and a pint of Tropicana orange-and-pineapple juice — like luxuries.

“I’d like a bag,” I said to the clerk at the cash register, ignoring the man. The man kept standing there; he wasn’t going away. I stared at the clerk, like, “Can’t you make him disappear?” I could feel the man’s alcoholic breath on my face. I turned slightly toward him, just enough to see his mouth full of broken teeth, to get a close-up of the stubble on his face. I didn’t see his eyes.

The clerk repeated, “Go on, get out of here.”

“I’m talking to my sister,” said the man, referring to me. He wasn’t going anywhere. He was waiting to hear what I would say.

“I’m not giving you a boiled egg,” I said, finally, not knowing whether the deli even served such an item, “because you’re drinking.”

The man instantly vanished out the door, without a word. He was my brother, and I’d let him down. For all I know, he could have been Jesus in disguise — it was the beginning of Holy Week.

I could have been at my aunt’s Passover dinner that night on the Upper East Side. Instead I was standing at a Downtown deli counter, denying a beggar a boiled egg. Isn’t a boiled egg one of the symbolic things on the Seder plate? There goes my chance for redemption. Unfortunately, I think like this. When it’s too late.

Now that he was gone, I wished I’d asked the clerk, “Do you have a boiled egg?” or “How much is a boiled egg?” or “Give the man a boiled egg, for God’s sake! Is that too much to ask?” Why did I feel I had the right to deprive him of something to eat just because he drinks? Who am I to decide who is worthy of a boiled egg?

But all I could think of as I was leaving the all-night deli on Astor Place was: Will that repulsive drunk be outside, lying in wait for me?

“Do you want to go out the back?” The clerk read my mind.

“I have to go across the street,” I replied.

Suddenly, The Writers Room, which I’d planned to sidestep, beckoned like salvation. Oddly, the thought of the man lurking on the corner in the dark decided it for me. I didn’t want him to see me hailing a cab: I had the money for a cab, but not a boiled egg?

I’d been feeling sorry for myself, as usual, because of the way I’ve been walking. It felt like everybody in the neighborhood was noting my deterioration. Every geezer on his last legs thought I was fair game to be his girlfriend. Now a drunk had called me his sister.

If it hadn’t been for the stranger, I would have given in to my self-pity, hailed a cab home, and collapsed on the unopened sofa bed, watching TV.

Instead, I wrote down this story.

It’s worth a boiled egg.

 

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