When I was about five or six, I remember quite distinctly playing in my Dad’s backyard. We were playing lawn darts earlier that day, something I wish I had kept up because I really think I could have gone pro. My sister and my Dad had gone inside but I lingered in the yard. Not for any reason, I simply move at a different pace. While I milled about I happened upon a small pale blue egg in the tall grass. This has always been my gift. I can find crap on the ground. My sister used to say I was like a raccoon, attracted to junk most people would either overlook or immediately process as trash. For me, they were treasures. I loved finding shiny bits of metal, or an odd shaped mushroom, and this little egg of mine was probably the most exciting find of my young life. After inspecting it by crouching over it, I determined it was not any sort of insect that might move or bite or fly or god knows what. I decided it was indeed a harmless egg. Then I tried to pick it up. That’s where it all went wrong.
I thought I was careful. I was careful. I took it very slowly, but as my small fingers curled around the egg, it broke. I was disappointed, gooey, and a bit surprised. I had certainly learned how fragile a robins egg was, but I was perplexed as to how it could have arrived at this spot without having broken already. I thought about it a while, and later told the story often to anyone that would listen. “Gather around and let me spin the yarn about the day I spotted a robins egg” I would say. Or something like that. It wasn’t my best story, but I was young and life still had a lot in store for me. Some of my best stories didn’t come until at least two years later. My first joke came a year after the incident.
My mother, Susan, is a funny woman. My uncle Ricky is hysterical. If you go back even further Granddad was one of the funniest people I’d ever met. They call him Dickybird. That’s just how funny he is. For me, there was nothing like being able to make people laugh, like Mom and Granddad. He’d sit at the table, clap his hands, and ask, “who wants some apple pie?” Well, of course I want some apple pie. Apple pie is delicious. But the punch line was, there never was any apple pie. Riotous. Classic. Once he left me on top of a ladder in a dark tool shed crying my eyes out unable to get down. For an hour. For a laugh. You just don’t find that kind of comedy anymore. At the tender age of seven, I decided to try my hand at comedy in our kitchen. Granny had made breakfast for my sister and me. Just some toast and tea and a couple of eggs “sunny side up”. I stirred a couple of heaps of sugar into my tea. The sound of the spoon hitting the side of a cup still makes me think of her. I studied the eggs. Now, I had never been a fan of eggs particularly, but I was suddenly inspired by the memory of the egg from a few years back.
“Too bad I broke that egg a little while ago,” They all knew the story, so it wasn’t necessary to go into it. “I could have had that for breakfast”. I don’t know if anyone laughed. I didn’t. I thought it was funny in my head but the moment I said it, a wave of grief with an undertow of shame overcame me. First my body trembled, then I became like the sunny part of my egg, all jiggly, wet, and ready to burst all over my toast. This was the first time I cried about this egg, mind you. I don’t remember being sad about it before, but my apparent insensitivity had unleashed a torrent of tears for I knew I had killed a bird. I remember drooling over my toast and sliding off my chair wanting to disappear from the world. Tears and snot covered my face occasionally bubbles formed in my nostrils, expanding and contracting with my heaving breath. My sister didn’t know what to make of me, so she ate her eggs and watched in silence supping at her hot tea from time to time while my world disintegrated. Two big yellow eyes stared back from my plate and into my soul. “Pretty funny yolk, killer” they said. Pretty funny yolk. From then on I had only to think about the egg for a moment and I would lose it again for hours.
On many occasions throughout my life my mother would try and explain that the egg was probably never going to hatch anyway, since it was already laying on the ground away from its mother and the nest. This nothing to appease me, as it only made the birds tragic little life that much more brutal. Now I had teased a motherless bird. I was a monster, which was clearly why I had no friends. This became my schoolboy mantra. I would come home from a harrowing day in grade three and cry to my mother, “I have no friends…. And I killed a bird!” And sob inconsolably.
Time marches on and very little has changed about me. The same damn things eat me up. Tragic tales ruin me. People who struggle against all kinds of adversity and never get anywhere. This is the most gut wrenching fate I can imagine. I watched a woman on this television program once. She was trying to show the smug host a few of her inventions and then a panel of “experts” would tell her whether or not they were any good in front of a studio audience. It was like the Dragon’s Den, but long before it’s inception, when people were nice to each other on TV. This woman had spent all kinds of time and money, invested her life and passion into these little doodads she thought were the bees knees. She was visibly nervous and trembled when she spoke. I imagine her sons who sat with her in the studio were probably excited for her, her husband, beaming and full of pride by her side. She was on TV and going to show the world she was an inventor. She had created a couple of different things. The one that stuck out to me was a little box that sounded like running water. You could use it to drown out the sound of anything else that was happening in the bathroom, eliminating any embarrassment, without wasting that most precious of resources, water.
It wasn’t the wheel part 2, or anything particularly earth shattering, but she came up with it and was pleased as punch. Already, I was nervous. They had lambasted her previous two inventions and this was no coup de gras. Indeed they were not receptive and this woman, this housewife from Columbus or some place, was told in no uncertain terms that her invention had no practical application and that she was wasting her time. On TV. They told her this while her neighbours watched. They told her this while her mother and father watched. She thought it was special. I thought it was special. Not great, but she put her heart into it, damn it, and they tore it out of her chest, showed it to the audience at home and moved on to the next guest. She was left to pick up the pieces of her shattered dreams on her own time and looked confused beaten and embarrassed when they cut away from her. She’d drive home feeling stupid for ever trying. Sure, you can say I’m projecting, that I’m inventing this story, like she invented the water box, but I’m telling you, you could see it in her eyes. All the hurt. The years leading up to it and how it had instantly transformed her from an inventor, back into a housewife, all to a soundtrack of invisible water flushing down a digital drain .
I wept and cried out to the television. I was angry. I was so mad at how unfair the whole set up was. Nobody there wanted her to succeed. She was doomed before she hit the stage. I wept as much for her as for myself and for my bird. It’s true I’m a little soft. I’m not ashamed of it. Some part of that egg became part of me and I have become a runny, sloppy mess. It does come out at the oddest times though.
I went to Mexico when I was twenty. It was a honeymoon after my first marriage to Krista. We stayed at a nice all-inclusive resort on the Mayan Riviera. We drank pina coladas and pretended our marriage would last. The over-under at the wedding was two years which we handily beat by three days. Anyway, apart from enjoying blended drinks, the beach and lies, we had the unique opportunity to visit Chichen-itza, a Mayan city, over five hundred years old. Now, like most people, I have a tremendous interest in Mesoamerican culture so I was not about to pass it up. We piled onto a crowded double decker bus that was far to big for the road. The drive was two terrifying hours. We watched videos and tried to ignore the tree branches smacking the windows as we swerved to avoid oncoming traffic. We arrived at a clearing and before long, stood at the foot of the Temple of Kukulkan. You’ve probably seen pictures of it but it’s really quite awesome to behold it in person. And hot as balls.
A group of about eight of us were assigned a tour guide. I don’t remember his name, but he was stout, brown, had a moustache, spoke little English and reminded me a lot of my Dad, for most of those same reasons. My Dad’s name is Don, so I’ll refer to my guide as Juan. He brought us through the ancient city and pointed out everything thing he thought was interesting. It was all wrong. People in the group would ask questions. His answers were all wrong. I knew a little bit about the Mayans, and the site, but you didn’t need to. Anybody could tell, he knew very little about what was going on there. “Why are there skulls carved into this rock?” Asked one frustrated tourist, sweating hard on his companion. “Oh… Well you see the… eh.. The Mayans have like skulls all over de place for to… Eh like the spirits of the…” Oh please. No one spoke about our disappointment, but it was apparent on everyone s face. We had gotten the dud. Juan was likely paid a pittance to shepherd around tourists and no one gave a damn if he knew anything about Chichen-itza, much less if we were happy with the experience. We weren’t. This was pretty much our only chance to learn about this stuff first hand. What do they sacrifice to Choc-Mool, and when, and for the love of the reclining god, why? How deep is the cenote, are there still any virgins down there? Is there a bloody water fountain anywhere in the vicinity? The grass is always greener and even here where the grass was a scorched brown everywhere you looked, it was hard not to resent the other groups “oohhing” and “aahhhing” over this feature or the next.
At one point we sat on a sooty pile of rubble and rocks by a long dead grove and Juan pulled out a tattered photo album from his back pocket. Inside it was a postcard of the temple of Kulkulkan, that we could plainly see over his shoulder, and a handful of photos of himself and an archeologist excavating a new section of the city. He was all smiles as he showed us the photos. I tried to smile back, feigning interest, enjoying the little shade a nearby dead tree pretended to provide. They reminded me of each other, both ineptly performing the only task asked of them on the day, dry limbs stretching, like shoulders shrugging in the hazy heat. His experience with the archeologist and subsequent snapshots were perhaps the closest he’d felt to greatness, but most of us had already lost interest. I tried to listen to the story but one by one, people started leaving. Someone would get up to stretch and wander away and then another until it was painful to watch. I stayed put, crouching over a sharp boulder until my shins ached, but I wouldn’t leave him. Again I saw that look same look in his eyes. He looked like the Columbus housewife. Surprisingly like her. He was disappointed in himself, confused that we didn’t all feel informed and entertained. He seemed less a person then when we arrived. He had lost his gusto. I saw it. It wore me out.
On the bus back we were given little questionnaires to fill out. You know the type I mean. Rate their courtesy 1-5, their punctuality 1-5 (for whatever reason), and the guide had his own section, questioning how informative he was. I was already a little broken hearted for the guy, but I was tired sweaty and felt a little cheated having come all this way and learning nothing. I just couldn’t say he had done a good job, so I gave him a 2. This is the part I have had difficulty with ever since. I handed it to him. I smiled, he smiled his I know an archeologist smile, and I handed him his report card. A failing grade. He’d shared his photos. His little treasures, and I in turn judged them perhaps more harshly than I ought to have. I was a monster again. I cried about Juan many times since. I could have done better by him. I could have done better by a lot of people, man and bird alike.
I heard some years ago that they have these space age toilets in Japan that simulate the sound of running water without wasting water. I hope the woman from the show knows this and feels vindicated even if she had nothing to do with it. I hope it makes her life a little brighter. As for Juan. I wish I gave him a 4. That’s my cross to bear. I’m sure he’s found a way to move on from that day, and perhaps I will too. I accept that the egg would never have been a bird even left unmolested. I still am and always will be the kind of guy that cries too often, but you know what? We could all just be a little nicer to each other. A slightly softer touch might help when dealing with things as delicate as people and robin’s eggs.
You know those movies where the down and out loser or underdog overcomes seemingly impossible odds, and in one exalted moment is hoisted on to the crowd’s shoulders and they all chant, “Rudy, Rudy, Rudy” or “Rocky, Rocky, Rocky” and then everything they’ve endured, the abuse, the loneliness, the embarrassment and shame, it all disappears and they become kings? Well that makes me cry too. Every time. I just can’t wait to experience that, and for all of us to experience it. It’s there, that moment, for all us losers. Redemption!