Thursday, March 5, 2009
The Omelet Eludes Me
I’m a good cook, but the omelet eludes me. It’s not the ingredients. I use all kinds of cheeses, beans, onions, oils, vegetables, celeries, fishes, spices, salsas, mushrooms, and tomatoes. I put my eggs into a big bowl and whip them with a fork, and then gently pour them onto the warming oil in my pan; which is wide enough, with edges low enough to allow easy access to my spatula, but high enough to keep the oil from dripping over the side. I am patient with my omelets. I am thoughtful about their intentions.
All of that goes fine, according to plan. It’s when I go to close up the omelet that the anxiety comes: This has all happened before. As I move to seal up this morning’s omelet (shredded cheddar, fresh pico de gallo, and chopped steak mushrooms), Epictetus is standing by elbow. “The omelet is beyond your control Spencer. If it tears when you fold it, it tears when you fold it. Turn it into scrambled eggs."
I see Sisyphus, rolling his boulder up and down the mountainside for all of eternity. There I am, at the foot of the mountain, cooking omelets for him, for a breakfast that he will never come to. The oil pops on my arms, and the mutilated omelets pile up behind me. A mountain of omelets. Maybe someday we will roll a giant kidney bean up and down it’s surface. Maybe someone will plant a plastic fork at it’s peak.
Ray Bradbury’s famous advice comes to mind. “Jump off the cliff and build your omelet on the way down.”
I think of the French count trying to blend in with the rabble during the years of upheaval. When asked by an innkeeper how many eggs he wanted in his omelet, his privileged mind—not used to thinking about such things--came up with the answer Douze. Except in this scenario, it’s not the Count that is guillotined, it’s me: The cook’s assistant. I had been turning omelets into scrambled eggs all day long, and here comes the rabble (the Count among them) with pitchforks and torches.
I believe I am a good cook, but the omelet eludes me.
I also believe in the strenuous life. Even if the promise of heaven is uncertain, make your hands useful. Find something to believe in, and pursue it with vigor. I believe in the omelet, Epictetus. I don’t want to make scrambled eggs anymore.
‘You can’t control the omelet.’ Epictetus says. I nod in understanding, but still (with fear and trembling), I descend my spatula into the bubbling oil.