Monday, September 21, 2009

I am the Eggman

I conceived an idea. Like most conceptions, it began with an egg. This egg was with a bunch of its friends at a gas station.

“Say,” I thought, “you, Quinn, would never eat a jar-egg. You should eat a jar-egg.”

If you’ve ever been in a dusty bar on an abandoned highway, you’ve seen jar-eggs. If you’ve been in a gas-station in an unincorporated part of your city, you’ve seen jar-eggs. They are hard-boiled eggs, bobbing around in an unwholesome way in a cloudy vat of brine. Sometimes there’s a lid on the jar, but as often as not the lid is rakishly tipped to the side, a lid-beret welcoming all insects, some of whom lie dead on the top egg. A jar of eggs lets you know you can get a Quik-Pik Lotto ticket at this place and that hope snuck out the back door without paying the check many years ago. I had never known a single person to eat a jar-egg. True, I had never heard of a person dying of eating a jar-egg, but that might be because no one had ever eaten one. Or, the kind of person who ate a jar-egg tended to die down next to the river and wasn’t found until spring.

But here’s the thing; I spend what sometimes feels like all my waking hours telling my daughter to be brave about trying new foods and the reality is that I haven’t eaten a single new food in the last decade. A woman who is nearly 70% bean-and-cheese burrito by volume isn’t in the position to convince her daughter to try kale. I suspect a woman who has eaten a jar-egg will have a knowing glint in her eye that her daughter cannot ignore. She might also have an IV tube in her arm, but that was a risk I was willing to take, if it meant the kid would eat another vegetable besides broccoli and green beans.

I denied myself those particular gas station jar-eggs, but the idea kept floating around, as unattractive and compelling as the actual eggs. I called my friend Mary, because she eats nearly everything and what she doesn’t eat, she knows someone who does. Without much fanfare, I suggested I might, possibly, eat a jar-egg. She gasped.

“I have never known anyone who ate a jar-egg.”

This was worrisome.

“Do you think it could kill me?” I asked.

She thought. “No…I-well, it probably doesn’t have anything in it that could kill you…the brine should help.”

We sat in silence, each contemplating how much brine could be reasonably expected to do.

“Ooh,” Mary said suddenly, “If you’re going to do it, you know where you have to get the jar-egg? Phillipe’s, downtown. I’ve been going there since I was a baby, my parents went there since they were kids, and none of us have ever seen someone eat a Phillipe’s jar-egg. The brine is purple.”

And here I thought it only came in a cloudy and unsightly green.

“Do we know why it’s purple?”

“Beets, I guess.”

Oh, this was getting good. I despise beets in any form. Canned, baked, precious little heirloom ones on a fancy salad, they all taste like iron filings to me. I’d sooner lick a handrail; same flavor and you’re done faster. But beets are very good for you and I’ve always felt badly that I hadn’t given them more of a chance, when I wasn’t shooing them off to the corner of my plate. I’d eat a jar-egg and it would taste in some way of beets and even if I never did another brave thing in my life, I’d have that. If Daughter flinches at the sight of a Brussels sprout, I can lean over to her and say knowingly, “At least it’s not marinated in beets.”

I invited friends to come watch me eat the Phillipe’s jar-egg, both for the support and for the corroboration. If I was going to eat a jar-egg, I wanted to make sure someone could stand beside me in years to come and say, “Yes, she indeed ate a jar-egg,” because I suspected I wasn’t doing it again. Or maybe I was entering a new phase in my life, the jar-egg-eating phase, I mused as I called accomplices. Maybe I’d take to driving all over the West Coast, comparing brine-styles. Perhaps my friends would chuckle when I wasn’t around and say things like “That Quinn and her eggs.” Maybe this was just the beginning of finding out the world had endless treats and surprises and some of them lived in jars filled with unhealthy-looking fluid. Perhaps I shouldn’t have bandied the phrase “Unhealthy-looking fluid” around when inviting my friends, because no one wanted to go. Couldn’t take the kid, because she’d never eat outside the Frito-Lay food group if I started gagging and clutching at my throat. As with being born and dying, I was to eat my jar-egg alone.

It was lunchtime; the lines at Phillipe’s were long but efficient, a function of it being the restaurant of choice for employees at City Hall and the courts. I had a few minutes to contemplate the purple jars at the head of each line. No one else was acknowledging them. I dithered about my order. Should I just order an egg, gazing directly at the counterwoman, reveling in my own iconoclastic jar-egg-ness, letting my egg freak-flag fly? That seemed a little extreme. Maybe I should order a whole lunch, just letting the egg participate. But then I’d always have the chance to cover whatever egg-flavor there was in the rest of my lunch, winning on technical points but knowing forever that I hadn’t really fully experienced the jar-egg.

Or maybe I should just get a sandwich and let the jar-egg remain mythic and unknown, the Yeti of side-dishes.

I got to the front and said to the fiftyish counterwoman, “A cheese sandwich, a Diet Coke and…an egg.” This felt like buying an emery board and a road map to make the porn magazine look less unseemly.

She squinted. “An egg-salad sandwich?”

Oh, she was going to make me beg for it. “No, I…want a egg. From the jar.” I jerked my thumb towards the jar. The eggs bobbed, happy to be noticed. The counterwoman grabbed a square of wax-paper and fished out an egg; it was sort of a light bluish gray, the color I associate with people who have drowned. I noticed the counterwoman next to mine stuck her arm in and grabbed another egg; unbelievably, the woman next to me had ordered one as well. The other jar-egg aficionado smiled at me and I noticed she was easily ninety and was missing several of the more critical teeth. These were my new people. The egg was sliced in half and put next to my sandwich. A bit of fluid leaked from the egg and contaminated my cheese. I tried not to scream.

The egg itself was kind of lovely, if you weren’t expecting it to look like an egg. The cutaway side had a dot of yellow in the middle, which then became orange, then florescent purple, and then pink. It was an airbrushed picture of a sunset on the side of a van, it was a Big Stick popsicle, but it wasn’t an egg. It was especially not an egg because whatever other things the brine had contributed during their possibly years-long life together, it had changed the texture of the part which had once been the yolk. The entire thing was an undifferentiated mass of solidity. I touched the egg; it bent and then sprung back.

Quickly, before I could manage to drop it on the ground and race for the door, I shoved half the egg into my mouth and started chewing. While driving down to the restaurant, I had tried out a few adjectives in advance. Disgusting? Was it going to be disgusting? Vile? Rancid? Somehow, would it turn out to be delicious? Wouldn’t it be fun if it turned out to be oddly delicious? This wasn’t completely out of the range of possibility. In certain restaurants in Los Angeles, there are jars of what appears to be a jar of used dishwashing water with a ladle in it. Anyone with a sense of survival would tell you the only possible use for that liquid would be to shine up your pennies and quarters. But that liquid is, in fact, a traditional Mexican beverage called horchata and it can be really delicious and those who drink it just learn to ignore the color, which is an unwholesome beige. Perhaps the jar-egg was just terribly misunderstood.

Here’s what you need to know about Phillipe’s jar-eggs: they taste like a beet-infused eraser. I chewed that first half for about three minutes before it broke down into small enough bits so that I could swallow it. I felt it fight its way down my esophagus and settle into my stomach, which recoiled in confusion. Fine, be like that. One half jar-egg down, one half jar-egg to go. I popped the eraser in my mouth, had a nice long chew and went to swallow, only to find that my throat simply refused to let down chewed beety jar-egg. I argued with my throat, but my throat was steadfast; this wasn’t food and we weren’t swallowing it.

In desperation, I finally offered, “Tell you what. Swallow the jar-egg and before it even bounces hideously off our stomach-lining I’ll drink the Diet Coke and make the flavor go away. And I’d take this offer if I were you, throat, because in order to get this egg away from my tongue I am fully prepared to start massaging you like I do to get the cat to take her pills.”

I wasn’t bluffing. I never bluff when it comes to get the flavor of beet out of my mouth. Resentfully, my throat allowed the egg to pass. Quickly, I followed it with Diet Coke and then a slightly beet-scented cheese sandwich. All told, eating the egg had taken no more than seven minutes. I was exhausted. But I was also pleased. I had done something I suspected I would dislike, I had stared it down and I had prevailed. If I could do a small, disgusting, brave thing, maybe I could do another brave thing. I wasn’t going to run my own sheep farm in Australia, but maybe if I did enough of these small brave acts, someone might describe me as being “Fun and up for stuff” as opposed to “ Timid and usually eating a burrito.”

I cleaned up my table. A woman, searching for a seat in this peak hour, rushed to my side, her tray in her hand. I noted she had no jar-egg.

“Are you finished?” she asked. I said, “Oh, yes” and smiled a private smile. I then burped egg and beets and thought, this modeling good behavior is no place for amateurs.


Blogger Sara J. Henry said...

All your reasons for trying a jar-egg are valid - but, dear Quinn, why on earth did you feel compelled to finish it? (So that if Daughter asked, you could nod and say virtuously, Yes, I ate all of it?)

I also cannot quite comprehend why you stacked the deck by choosing eggs floating in beet juice, which you were sure to loathe (and I share your disdain for beets - I object strenuously to both texture and color).

Because your experiment is not quite complete unless you try a non-beet jar egg. Clearly.

And of course update us on any gastrointestinal consequences. Or not.

11:45 AM  
Anonymous Deb said...

You are one brave woman, Quinn Cummings. I gagged a bit just reading about the beet-infused eraser in your mouth. I'm gagging again just writing about it. Please, don't ever do that again.

11:48 AM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Yes, Sara, I felt as if half a jar-egg was just dabbling my toe in the water. If the kid has to try okra, I have to eat the whole egg. Also, my rationale for the beet business was you know how to negatives equal a positive? I thought maybe two things I suspected were digusting would mix and create something wildly not-disgusting.

It appears I was mistaken.

12:02 PM  
Blogger said...

Great entry. You have a great way of writing where one feels she is there experiencing it, too. Not that I wanted to experience this particular thing, but it was very well-written. :)

Daughter should be thankful for what you are willing to brave for her. I am still in awe over the heart adventure from the book. I am not willing to do that for anybody. hehe

12:41 PM  
Anonymous tibby said...

Oh Quinn! I LOVE jar eggs. I just don't eat from anyone elses jar. Buy my own and keep in my fridge. They are an acquired taste, to be sure. Much like pickled okra. ;o)

12:45 PM  
Blogger Leta said...

People try to convince that I would like beets - the only vegetable that I refuse to eat - if I had them prepared the right way. I've had them lots of ways. None of them are right. Beets are awful. I am impressed that you went for the Extra Point of a beet-marinated jar egg. The kid owes you some okra eating one day.

12:51 PM  
Blogger Char said...

brave, brave quinn - you are indeed a better woman than me.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Thumper said...

I love beets. I love eggs. I could rock the jar-egg...sadly, I'm in No. CA where jar-eggs seem to be conspicuously absent, so I'll never know... ;)

1:03 PM  
Anonymous Margie said...

Actually, I love hard-boiled eggs and have always wanted to buy an egg from the baskets in Wisconsin dive bars. They're not even in a brine juice jar. I don't believe they're even refrigerated until the bars close. (And even then, who's to know?) But still, I'm tempted. And now you've set the bar so high I simply must try.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Unknown said...

Quinn, you are so very Fear Factor...good for you.

I hope you are well :)

Peace - Rene

1:41 PM  
Blogger StaceyEsq said...

Ewwww. Can't stop thinking of you chewing the jar-egg. Just threw up in my mouth a little.

1:57 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You went to the best roast beef
sandwich place in S.Cal., and you
ordered an egg?

People drive for miles and miles
to taste these sandwiches, and have
for many many years, and you ordered an egg?

There is no logic to that at all

2:24 PM  
Blogger Debbie St.Amand said...

How I wish we had a picture of that egg!

Debbie in Florida

2:30 PM  
Blogger Dodi said...

OMG, did you ever see "Dances with Wolves" where the guy that drove the wagon ate those gross pickled eggs all the way across the prarie? This story? Was more gross than that!

2:52 PM  
Blogger Sara J. Henry said...

Dear Anon:

Quinn = vegetarian.
Hence, no roast beef.

But her logic was perhaps specious in deciding to eat a jar-egg in the first place.

6:55 AM  
Blogger Claire said...

All of my uncles, and my father and grandfather used to hang out in an old man bar in Philadelphia called Peck Miller's (still there, I think), and they had a jar of marinated purple eggs behind the bar, so I knew immediately what "jar-egg" meant. I don't think any of Mr. Miller's patrons ever ate one of those eggs. And I'm with Sara J. Henry; I'd have given you credit just for half of the egg. Let me know if you get the hoped-for results. If so, I'll eat one, too.

7:51 AM  
Blogger Delightfully Healthy said...

This was thoroughly entertaining as well as educational. I need to go brush my teeth now.

8:01 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every day do something that frightens you. (Eleanor Roosevelt)

8:06 AM  
Blogger Judy said...

Getting ready to leave for the nursing home to visit my mom...

Forgot about lunch...

Made toast...

Had the though - "I'll eat lunch while reading Quinn!" Because, well, toast = thinking about Quinn?

NEVER again.


And it NEVER smells good at the nusing home in the middle of the afternoon.

Sort of smells like pickled eggs.

11:12 AM  
Anonymous MidLifeMama said...

I think I am slightly nauseated just from reading that description. I too hate the beet in all its forms. The WORST has to be canned. GAK. I appreciate a good hard boiled egg, but under no circumstances aside from maybe actual survival after the world has been destroyed by invading aliens and all that has survived are cockroaches, twinkies and jar eggs, and the twinkies have all been eaten, would I eat a jar egg. I might eat a cockroach first.

12:38 PM  
Anonymous FurBabyMom said...

While I commend your bravery and your dedication to being a good role model for your daughter, I'm with "MidLifeMama" in that I too got slightly nauseated from reading your description of that "delicacy."

My cure? A bowl of Butterfinger flavored ice cream - it was the *furthest* thing I could think of from a jar-egg. It helped. :)


4:58 PM  
Blogger clemsongirlandthecoach said...

Want to know something funny?? I love a jar egg! Of course, I don't call them that, I call them pickled eggs. I grew up eating them and my mother even had some sort of Tupperware container that you set the eggs on and then lowered them into the pickled beet juice. When you lifted it up, it drained the liquid. Coach and I adore them...

I think it's awesome that you tried it!


5:00 PM  
Blogger justme said...

Thanks for making me laugh out loud on a day when I didn't think anything could even make me smile.

5:27 PM  
Anonymous Ckoei said...

"Via" olla-"ovicipitum dura est."

11:47 PM  
Anonymous Amy said...

Frankly, you've traumatized me. I'm going now to bake a nice chocolate cake, and then I will enjoy a piece once its done. In the meantime, I'm going to attempt to file your latest entry into the "Things I Really Wish I Had Never Seen or Heard Of" portion of my brain.

I'll check back in a week or two, once I've gotten my courage up :)

10:41 AM  
Blogger Cat Connor said...

As much as I love beets (I am fully aware that you and Sara don't understand that at all!!) there is no way I'd eat jar-eggs, even if they were pretty and in beet water/juice/brine/muck!

Although I have eaten something truly gross... pickled pears. I have no idea why anyone would want to pickle a perfectly innocent pear and try and pass it off as food but someone did and I have eaten one.

I can hold my head high and announce to the children Brussel sprouts are delicious. Pickled pears, however, are where disgusting goes to vacation.

6:03 PM  
Blogger Miss Cavendish said...

Oh my--I could bear neither hard-boiled egg, nor brine. But I do adore beets.

7:27 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Once again, my horizons have been broadened just a tad by reading this blog as I have never in my life paid attention to, not to mention even thinking of eating, a jar-egg. However, I go on long motorcycle trips with my husband and stop at divey bars along the way so am thinking that I am now on a quest to actually FIND a jar-egg which I can dare my husband to eat because, well, he just does stuff like that.

10:47 AM  
Anonymous scarlet said...

Oh thank you for sharing this experience with us. It was just what I needed to read.

3:26 PM  
Anonymous jess said...


I'm a new reader, and I'm completely hooked. You makes me laugh! And this is probably annoying, but I fucking LOVED you in Good bye Girl and identified with your character completely. Old victories. Hope its not rubbin' your guff - your blog is perfect.


4:33 PM  
Blogger Hot Stuff said...

The moment you said "jar-egg" I pictured the purple Phillipe's phenomenon. We moved to Pasadena 5 yrs ago and when my FIL came to visit (a displaced LA native) we went to Phillipe's where he ordered the roast beef/swiss dip and TWO of those eggs. Why two? Because he had been describing how he LOVED those eggs as a kid and was so excited to have one again. I asked if I could have a bite, so he ordered me one of my own. When it was cut in half I was mesmerized -- it's exactly as pretty as you described. Disappointingly, it was also as HORRIFIC as you described. I took one bite. My FIL at the rest.

9:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

sara, thank you for the reminder of quinn's vegetarianism, but Phillipes has THE best french dip sandwich in the world! My dad is coming to visit me this weekend from LA and says he's bringing me something as a gift I'll really enjoy. I'm too crestfallen to ask if he's packed a french dip into his luggage. So for you carnivores in LA, do partake! And when I was young, I worked in a little country/roadside store in southern VT. We had a jar of those pickled eggs. I can not remember ANYONE ever asking for one! Kudos to you Quinn for gagging it down.

11:40 AM  
Blogger Spenser said...


I LOVE Jar Eggs. Which I call pickled eggs. I even make my own. WITH beets! :)

Yes, yes, we all know that I am a sick puppy....


7:13 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

loved your jar egg story..

7:14 PM  

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