Donald The Egg Man

Photo Credit: Rob Roth

Photo Credit: Rob Roth

When Michael told me we were going to see The Egg Man, I didn’t know who or what to expect. Rooster said “Don’t go unless you have, like, a day to burn, man. Once Donald gets you in there it’s tough to get out. Man, that dude’s a museum.”

It might have been six months from the time the conversation started: “Hey, you know what would be fun? Taking Jaye to Donald’s.”

“Oh, yeah, them two would get along great.”

There were the permission slips that had to be signed, steps that had to be taken, security issues to define. Of course, all the secrecy made me just want to go more. All I knew is that he had a collection of sequins-sequins that I had to see.

Donald The Egg Man had a prize-winning world renown collection of hand-made, hand-decorated eggs. International Egg Art Guild stuff, although we didn’t yet know there was such a thing.

I myself was not yet into crafting, but I did have an obsession with tiny things. Miniature versions of things still amuse me, like those tiny guitars they sell at rock concerts. Anything to do with babies. Newborns at the zoo, and of course, anything in an incubator. A baby lemur at the Philadelphia Zoo had me all misty eyed a couple of weeks ago.


I was surprised how friendly he was towards me for someone I perceived as keeping me away for at least six months. He offered beverages all around, to me, Michael, two Spanish guys who spoke no English, and a blind Golden Retriever. The dog stayed by Donald’s side like some sort of backwards seeing-eye dog-human team, the sighted Egg Man leading his aging friend all around the house.

The first batch I spotted were the Ukrainian eggs. They were a good icebreaker for the nervous group, a crowd of awkward geeks who were out for a free art show and perhaps some discounted beer. Diane Swaim, my 8th grade Social Studies teacher, had introduced us to the wax-relief method of creating these particular eggs and as the only talker in the group, was glad to get things rolling.

The next thing that caught my eye was the Santa Blimp. This was a two-egg affair, a hot-air balloon in the form of a vertical egg attached by tiny ribbons to an oblong egg hanging below. The designs looked like they were perhaps painted with eyeliner brushes but after I asked, I found out that those would be too fat. Santa had a jovial appearance, to give you an idea of the scale and detail, his rosy cheeks were comprised of 4 sequins each.

Shelves lined the 3 rooms that comprised the “studio” portion of the small cape. There were a few hundred finished eggs, some that had just come back from juried egg shows. One wall displayed the ribbons Donald had won from egg competitions. I stood there, fascinated  that there was such a thing.

Donald was a very private, very busy man and I only went to his house twice. In the late 70s, Donald, always a robust man (we used to wondered how he got his giant fingers around the delicate ribbons and sequins) began a rapid weight loss program later to be named AIDS. He was alive when I went to London, gone when I returned.

I saw the two Spanish guys a few more times, they were gradually learning English and were not shy about public displays of affection. I ran into Rooster on the boardwalk in Atlantic City shortly before I met my husband. He gave me a New Testament, and said “I’m sorry about your friend.” I assumed he was talking about Donald and tried to be gracious and compassionate. It was awkward because we so barely knew each other. A year later, I would find out exactly what friend he meant.

The story about the animal-print shower curtain guy – Spring Break -1979

It begins in Daytona Beach, Fl, where my grandparents were wintering in neighboring Port Orange and breakfast hung from a tree outside the window. It was the end of the 70’s and, although we didn’t know it, the end of lots of other things, too.

My little Nana made pancakes for everyone. It seemed like dozens and to this day I don’t know how she shelled them out so quickly. She never seemed in a rush and kept the kitchen clean and shiny as she went. Then we said our goodbyes and left for the beach. We had 4 free days ahead of us, and someone said “Let’s go to Philadelphia!”

I remember my mixed feelings at this idea. I was sure we would be arrested or worse. I was fairly confident we would end up missing classes upon our expectantly tardy return. Actually, the more thought I gave the idea, the more I could not come up with one good reason to embark on this journey, so of course, in the car we I got.

Our driver, who I will just refer to as Audrey, loved to drive, loved to be in charge and seemed to know where we were headed. She did not want to share the navigating responsibility, which was OK with the rest of us. We pooled some funds for gas and made very few stops. We were four in all, piled in the sort of white wood-paneled wagon a parent would own. We had one shy, quiet unlikely (but pleasant) passenger and the three of us who never shut up. I was hoping to see the Liberty Bell.

Even the simple details were exciting, after being in school for so many months it was fun being on the open road. We were an eclectic mix of humans, and each passing mile made me happier to be long for the ride. As the city bridges started to pop up over the horizon, famine and fatigue began grab a hold of us, the three of us dozing in and out and the quiet girl sleeping soundly.

When we parked and got situated, we stopped and got a pizza, you know, like ya do. We walked up a few flights of stairs, happily stretching out our kinky muscles.

Finally we reached the threshold of the door of Audrey’s friend and knocked.

We knocked again. I’m not sure I’d seen an apartment before but the place was something to see….animal print on every surface, before I even knew what animal print was.

Cheetah adorned the furry shower curtain. We took turns in the bathroom while our welcoming host explained, over and over to each one exiting the loo, that Audrey no longer lived there and would we care to order another pizza so that there would be plenty for everyone?   (It was around this time we all started saying “loo” at every opportunity, cause we were going to London the next year). He as very apologetic regarding her absence, as if it was his fault.  I felt curiously safe which was a good thing, because the next morning we all woke up there.

Nobody wanted to do anything touristy but they did indulge me by allowing a side trip to the Liberty Bell.  I am especially glad for this memory and for getting to see the bell a last time before it was shuttled to an interior location and ensconced in layers of security post 9/11.  We had an exceptional, well-trained docent and one or two liberal arts majors re-affirmed their love for history.

This bi-coastal Florida- to-Philly adventure provided a badly needed diversion and a shot of adrenaline to get me through the rest of the semester. I got home and changed my major, and started writing his love letter to you. Happy Valentine’s Day.

All (shopping) carts are not created equally

See lots more art like this at OaktownArt (CA)

Thanks to

Sometimes the pieces come bit by bit, warm gooey marshmallows just a little crisp on the outside, roasted over an open flame. Inspired by dreams, or imaginary WordPress challenges: “Write about a time you felt too heterosexual.”

Most times I know how the pieces are going to fit together, and sometimes it is like so much confetti after a particularly rowdy political win.

This is one of those confetti times. I need to tell you this so I can tell another part of the story later.

I was sleeping here and there and living out of a shopping cart. I had a little housing mishap and little money, but I did have a few things most homeless people aren’t privy to, key things like showers. I was able to obtain showers at the dorm because the guards at the gate didn’t know I was no longer a student, also because they didn’t actually guard anything but stood their post to impress the rare visiting parent.

My roommate situation went to crap overnight. In typical “take this job and shove it” fashion, I grabbed my most important possessions together. How telling is this? My guitar and no, no practical survival stuff, but the sentimental: hand-made items from the two French girls and my make-up kit. You gotta look good if you expect to survive, right?

I thought I would make peace with the roommate and get my stuff back but that never happened. I looked at the shopping cart as freedom, freedom from an anal-retentive roommate telling me what kind of kitchen sponge I was allowed to buy, freedom from a man that wouldn’t kill the spiders for me.

(Later I would only remember the good times, staying up learning to sip scotch while listening to his massive album collection and yes, even some 45’s. Or waking up to a pair of men’s shoes strewn about the living room, shoes that were not his and realizing that he took to bed a a guy who did not know how to put his shoes away. Egads!).

Folks offered to help me during this time. But it was Michael who was always there, with no strings attached, just unconditional love. Michael who would choose being with me over a one night stand, Michael who would stand somebody up for me.

So I parked my sentiment-filled shopping cart, loaded with the hand-made wool cape that kept me warm through a London winter, into a hot Florida dormitory hallway alcove. My stuff took up half his closet and I suppose, helped him come out of one, all at the same time.

Guy on the Train: London 1980

English: Gower Street sign, Camden, London WC1

English: Gower Street sign, Camden, London WC1 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Daily Prompt: Come Fly with Me

Share a story about the furthest you’ve ever traveled from home.

The guy on the train.

I had been schooled: “In America, people say ‘come on over’ or ‘I’ll meet you next week’, but they don’t mean it.”

Even the book “Let’s Go–England” (a 70’s copy found in a Laundromat) told me that if  invited somewhat casually, with no follow up plan, to a location, it would be considered rude not to show up.  This would be the farthest from home I had ever traveled, and the last thing I wanted to be was rude.

The other thing that I failed to learn by reading the travel books was the train ticket advice…you will need your ticket to get off the train. Simple enough, right? It wasn’t as if I was accustomed to train travel (at least not yet, anyway), so I didn’t have any bad habits to break.

On a train from Gatwick  (ultimate destination, Gower Street via the Goodge street station) I had the weariness and exhilaration that accompanies the completion of a long trek.  I wouldn’t have needed this next-to-final leg of the journey had I flown into Heathrow, but I saved hundreds of dollars, and I met ‘the poet.’

He sits across from me and says ‘hello’ with an English accent so thick I had no idea what in God’s name he was saying. Since the plane was full of Americans, this was my first sip of the UK and I intended to drink deeply.

It was all that I expected. It sounded beautiful and I listened intently, picking up a bit here and there. He seemed fascinated that I was American, and I was fascinated at his fascination, among other things.

He told me he was a poet and I said I kinda was too.  We dug through our belongings. In a moment he came up with a journal out of a worn, cotton messenger bag. I pawed through  my luggage to get mine. I was also packing a Martin guitar in a massive hard shell case, an over-sized soft sided suitcase that said “parental property” all over it, and a purse. Nothing had wheels and I checked my passport (purse) and guitar every eight minutes.

We shared a few poems, and had that non-verbal agreement that writers sometimes have: Yes, these are poems.  It is so embarrassing when someone hands you something that doesn’t seem like a poem to you. I was glad I didn’t have to manufacture some kind of reaction, I was way too tired for that. I had been awake for 19 hours, in the air for 9 of them, and I was having alcohol while severely dehydrated. I wasn’t buzzed, drunk or stoned. I was crazy, but I didn’t yet know it.

The ride was less than an hour and we exchanged numbers, mine, the student number for the house at 35 Gower street.  I spoke to him on the phone a few times but this caused some issues with a boyfriend or two…ahh, the jealousies of youth!

When the train stopped, I went to hop out and the conductor asked for my ticket.  I was wearing my cape and had no pockets, and I was so struck by the ride and my new poet friend that I was flustered and near tears while searching my purse and the bag that held the poems.

A hand reached out behind me holding a pale yellow ticket. The sans-serif font explained my destination to the conductor and to the world. It was as if I was freed from incarceration, the endorphin release brought the tears the rest of the way.

The hand belonged, of course, to my new literary cohort, who had come to the front of the train to see what the commotion was about. We had already said our goodbyes, simple and sincere. Now came an awkward moment and a final glance that I was sure revealed my craziness in full bloom. The last look I saw from him can only be described by the word poignant. I probably looked a little desperate, that would be the kindest word for the moment.

Map of Gower Street

Map of Gower Street (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We had a few phone times, me on the Gower street phone where the whole house could hear even the slightest whisper; he on a pay phone in a little red booth that I got to see in a Polaroid photo he later sent me.

He sent me a few love poems but it was not “like that”; he wanted to share critiques and, while we were close in age, I believe he felt a little fatherly towards me, writing-wise. If this girl couldn’t get off the train by herself…

After a few phone calls and failed meeting attempts and new, exciting adventures supplanting this one, we stopped talking.  But he that was the boy who helped me validate myself me as a writer, by way of my first European peer review.

Weeks after we met I realized he must have paid a hefty few pounds for me to exit the train (what the delay hoopla was about). In a pocket in my sweater was the pale yellow ticket with the sans-serif font.

International Phone At A London Post Office

london bt post office tower

London Post Office Tower-Just outside my window at Gower Street. Photo: Wikkepedia

In 1980 I wrote a poem that struck me. It didn’t strike me as the best thing I ever wrote (at the time, nor now). It just struck me. I am not sure if you should read this post forward, or backward, from the bottom up. It makes sense either way; the sad part is in the center.

As I shared it (in a writer’s workshop) the blank stares and lack of input from the room might have been a clue to an ordinary wanna-be that this poem was not my best work.  Never the less, I tucked it away but thought about it, visited it, and shared it here and there. I read it publicly twice, both times to quiet rooms.

I don’t know when is a good time to mention it, I guess now’s as good as any. This poem caused my boyfriend to break up with me. He would tell you it was the other way around, whatever.

It went down like this:

I wrote the poem.

I left it on my desk while I showered. (A good writing effort often requires a shower afterwards).

My boyfriend read it. Thought it was about us.

Words flew. Some words, once spoken, cannot be put back.

He came to understand that the poem was not about us, but I could never understand how he could have thought, for one moment, that it was.  I had not yet learned of the fragile nature of relationships, much less of poems.

Since I was in England when I wrote it, a short tutorial is in order. I was literally in a London post office. The signs were literally there.  I did overhear most of this conversation (plus a whole lot more). Even then, I was Berniecing. The part that seemed like poetry to me was the passion that exploded between the people having the conversation.

Little things seem to matter-sitting in the back row of the theater was preferable to the front row to the Brits.  The cost of stamps. Details like that, some which are lost, even to me now.

Having been typed on the manual Underwood typewriter shared by the collective, this poem exists on paper that is nearly transparent and a carries a slight mildewy fragrance . The letters are both light and dark  reflecting the various pressures applied to the keys…the woman’s quotes are the darker indications of a heavy hand at times.

Creativity had to wait it’s turn.  The carriage on that thing was fast, when you hit the return you felt like the typewriter might take flight  until you got the hang of it. We didn’t write our poems and then type them, we typed them as we wrote them. Most of us worked  too close to deadlines rendered impossible by a delicious pint of Guinness looming so close in the nearby pub.

One of the things I didn’t like about poetry readings back in the day was the way the writers  would go on and on about a poem. Just read the damned poem already!  A poem should speak for itself!.  Here’s evidence  I’ve softened over the years, or at least, given up some of my earliest convictions.

International Phone At A London Post Office

A poet shouldn’t speak

of these unfinished things-

“Are you a man? A man

would tell her now.”

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“Will you tell her tonight? Are

You going to be free?”

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“Do you have the guts to tell her?

Do you know what this is doing to my family?”

It’s cheaper to pay for your health care all at once.

“Damn it! Just tell me. I need to know.

I can’t eat, can’t sleep. Cannot go on like this!”

Who needs Women Drivers?

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“But do you have the guts to say it?”

At last, you can sit in the back row again.

Highlights by Clairol.

“Do you have the guts to say I love you?”

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