I managed to stay invisible during my next two classes, political science and biology, which was very good since I hadn’t done the reading for those classes. When my school day was over about noon, I went to the Sugar Bowl Luncheonette just off campus on Albemarle Rd. and had a chocolate malted. I needed energy, my morning adventure had knocked me out. I was glad my new job did not start until tomorrow. I went back on campus to the library, caught up on my readings and studied commonly used phrases for my French class on Thursday. Ou est la salle de bain means Where is the bathroom? Avez –vous quelque poissson means do you have some fish?
I did not get back to Manhattan until five. When I opened the door to my new apartment I was greeted by a smell I had not noticed before, a sour smell, a mixture of dust, dirty sweaty clothes and vinegar. My apartment door opened into a small room rectangular room which led rail road sytle into my kitchen. The kitchen consisted of a refrigerator, sink and a stove set against the wall plus my bathtub. The tub had a white enameled top so it could be used as a table and it was set on the horizontal to create another room, my living room. The only furniture in the living room was the battered green studio couch I was using as my bed. Two windows at the end of the room looked out on the fireescape and the backs of other tenements. The cardboard cartons holding my belongings were yet to be unpacked and were piled in a dismal clump in the center of the room.
I sank down on the studio couch and immediately an errant spring poked into my bottom. I fell asleep the night before without making the bed up with the sheets I had brought from my family home. A vision of my mother and father standing outside our house as I drove away in Eddies car floated into my mind. (My brother had refused to come outside to see me off. When I went into his room to kiss him goodbye, he yelled “Traitor,” and buried his head in his pillow.) My parents were standing at least two feet apart, my mother was looking at the receding car with an anguished expression on her face, my father was looking at his wristwatch. If I stayed with Eddie we could end up like them, a scarey prospect. The weird smell was even stronger in this room, maybe it was a ghost, the residue of someone who had lived their life alone here. Suddenly I was hugging myself and rocking back and forth. What had I done? What would happen to me now? I felt cold and empty. My stomach was growling. I was very hungry. If I was home my mother could make me cinnamon toast or a cream cheese omelette. In planning my adult life I had not realized I would have to cook for myself. I didn’t know how to cook.
My mother did all the housekeeping, all the cooking. If I offered to help she chased me away, told me to go study. She had to keep herself so busy to keep from falling apart. Hortense was not my father’s first mistress.
I could get a slice from the pizzeria on the corner of Bleecker and W.3rd. but I had to start to take care of myself. Now or never! I had an idea, I would boil an egg. I had seen my mother do it plenty of times.
I looked in the cupboard above the sink. There was some silverware, an old white enameled sauce pan with rust on the bottom and a few dishes in the blue willow pattern. I would boil the egg in the saucepan and eat it on buttered bread on one of the dishes. I took the small roll of bills in my book bag and went out, being careful to lock the door with my new key.
I walked down McDougal street passing Ali’s Souvlaki and the Café Wha with a sign outside that said “Dave Van Ronk Mondays, Open Mike Tuesdays.” Next to Café Wha was a small grocery with a blue neon sign in the window that said Emilio’s. I went in and brought a dozen eggs, a loaf of Wonder Bread, a stick of butter and a quart of milk from the woman behind the counter. She was very fat with three chins but she still managed to smile as she put my purchases into a brown paper bag and gave me a quarter for change.
On my way back up the stairs the bag ripped open between the second and third floor. At least only four of the eggs were broken.
Once back inside my apartment, I discovered that no matter what faucet I turned, the water ran only cold. I scrubbed and scrubbed the saucepan in the cold water using the bar of soap I had brought with me from my family home. I was trying to get the rust spots out. Finally I realized the eggs would be protected by their shells. I filled the saucepan nearly to the brim with water, set it on one of the burners on the stove and dropped the egg in gently so as not to break it. I turned the burner on and went to sit on the couch wait for the egg to boil. Soon a noxious smell filled the room. It was gas. I had not thought to buy matches. I opened both windows and went back out to Emilio’s. With my quarter I brought a box of 300 wooden matches.
Back upstairs I turned on the burner and struck a match under the pot but there was still no flame and the gas stink spread out into the room again. I had turned the wrong knob. I tried again and got it right. I watched the egg in the water until the water was boiling merrily and the egg was bouncing from side to side. When I went to sit down on the couch, I noticed a big crack on the ceiling right above my head that looked like hammer. If the plaster cracked it could fall down on my head and kill me while I was sleeping. I could sleep with the pillow over my head but then maybe I would suffocate. I got up, moved the cartons out of the way, pushed the couch to the opposite wall so I would be safe when I was sleeping. As I was pushing it, I noticed some little black beads rolling across the wooden floor. I looked closer and saw they were ugly black bugs. I realized they were the famous New York City cockroaches that all apartments in Manhattan were supposed to have.
Then I went over and checked the egg again. The shell had cracked open and the egg had oozed out into the water making a white and yellow mess. Boiling an egg was quite complicated, a very big deal as Holden Caulfield would say. I took care to turn off the flame, picked up the saucepan and went out into the hall to dump the contents in the toilet.
The toilet was filled with such a thick coil of brown feces , maybe the last creature in there was a horse I dumped the egg mess on top and gingerly pulled the handle. To my relief a loud gurgle came from somewhere inside the plumbing and it began to flush. I went back into my apartment, rinsed out the pan and started all over again.
My stomach was growling like a starving dog. This time I kept the flame lower and I stood over the pot watching as the egg boiled in the water so if it started to crack I would take it off the flame. I recited the Jabberwocky poem five times. It was the only poem I knew by heart, to make sure the egg boiled at least three minutes because I knew hard boiled eggs were also called three minute eggs.
Then I turned the flame off and dumped the water out in the sink. There was my egg, whole, perfect. When I picked it up to peel, it was so hot it burned my fingers. I remembered seeing my mother peel eggs under running water in the sink. I picked up the egg, cracked it on the side of the sink and started to peel it. My fingers were clumsy and whole sections of the egg came away with a shell. In the end, the egg wasn’t oval any more but a kind of mis-shapen square.
I took down one of the plates and a tarnished spoon from the cabinet. I washed and dried them on my sweater. I used the spoon to butter a slice of the Wonder Bread and put the bread on the plate. I put the egg on the bread and mashed it with the spoon to make an open faced egg sandwich. I sat down on the couch to eat my dinner. From my vantage point against this wall I could see more sky out the window. It was twilight. I could see clotheslines strung from the fire escapes of the other tenements. I could see towels, shirts, aprons and bloomers waving gently like welcoming flags. I balanced the plate on my knees, picked up bread and took a bite. I had never tasted anything so good.