Cracking and Peeling Class Distinctions

GROWING up, I was accustomed to a soft-boiled egg for breakfast, served with the shell on in an egg cup. I was a Little-endian, and decapitated my egg to puddle bits of toast in the soft yolk. Eggs other style didn't get the egg cup and that was the difference. My mother was influenced by Down East, Tory customs, and we Mainers were brought up to vote like our fathers and eat eggs like our mothers. I was pretty well grown up before I knew some folks ate their boiled eggs shucked to the buff, spooning from a glass or teacup. The first time the counterman in a one-arm restaurant excoriated my boiled eggs and shoved them at me in a nappy, I hardly knew how to proceed.

When my favorite wife and I were in Europe in 1966, we went for breakfast at an Italian service-station lunchroom, and a couple at the next table were having boiled eggs, in egg cups. Lady-love said, ``Oh - that's what I want! A nice boiled egg I have to peel!'' The waitress accordingly listened to my effort at communication - I speak no Italian whatever - and I prevailed only by pointing at the couple eating eggs at the next table, and going through the dramatic motions of cracking and peeling. She nodded, and went to the kitchen.

We waited and waited. The couple across the way leisurely finished their breakfast, lingered over their espresso, and took their own good time deciding on a tip. Instantly after their departure, the waitress bounded in from the kitchen, grabbed the two egg cups, retreated, and appeared schnell-schnell with our two boiled eggs. The restaurant had but the two egg cups.

Speaking of eggs, I was interested in the way the ocean liner United States tried to soften the indignities of ``class.'' I was aboard that craft on her roughest crossing - in September of 1953 when Hurricane Edna clobbered her all the way to France.

The United States had First Class, all right, and that was the way to go. But there was no ``second'' class - instead, there was a Cabin Class. Nor was there any ``third'' class - that was Tourist Class. However, there were doors along the passageways, and by opening or shutting doors the management could make more First-Class accommodations if needed, or more Cabin Class. The cabin I shared was right by one of those doors, and it was comforting to realize that if I'd spent a mite more money the purser would have shifted the door and I'd be First Class. But I found out the difference between First and Cabin Class at breakfast on the second day at sea.

Hurricane Edna persisted, and attendance at meals dropped off. A good sailor, I rather enjoyed the storm, and the experience wasn't much worse than handlining for fun on a pleasant Sunday outing off Halfway Rock when the Fundy tide makes a change with a sou'wester offshore. Bumpy, but Mainers tend to be good crew. My cabinmates seemed disinclined to stir, so I sea-legged along to the dining saloon by myself. I small-talked with the waiter, and as he wasn't at all enhurried we covered the hurricane in detail. At last I said a couple of poached eggs on toast should encourage me to tackle the day ahead, and he said, ``Yes, sir.''

He passed into the kitchen, and without the elapse of a quarter-second he came back with my two eggs, poached magnificently, and all ready to eat.

``Now, wait just a minute!'' I said. ``I know how long it takes to poach an egg and make toast. How did you do that?''

``No mystery, no miracle!'' he said. ``You see, I have a friend who's cook in First Class, and just as I went into the kitchen he set those eggs up to go to the First Class dining room. I winked at him and took 'em, and they're yours with compliments of First Class!''

``Oh,'' I said.

``Yes, my friend is now doing two more eggs for First Class.''

Already aware that the difference between First and Cabin amounted to a door in the corridor, I now asked what I thought was a reasonable question. ``So what's the difference between a First-Class egg and a Cabin-Class egg?''

``Parsley, sir.''

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