The Day the Egg Stood Still

In the future, just a few years from now, egg salad sandwiches will be illegal, and anyone caught with possession of one will be sentenced to two years of hard labor and torture, including being locked in a small five by five foot cement block cell with an insurance salesman for an unspecified time.

At first, the public will be uncertain as to the intent of this law, if the newly elected president, Chester B. Chester, intends to seriously enforce it, until during his first press conference Chester detects a dab of egg salad on CNN reporter Wolf Blitzer’s beard. He aggressively interrogates Blitzer, calling him up to the podium where he sticks his nose in Blitzer’s chin and loudly sniffs, finally exclaiming “That’s Hellmans!  I’d know Hellman’s anywhere!  You thought you could slip a little bit of Hellman’s past Chester B. Chester!  Ha!  That’ll be he day!”  He then announces that he is mobilizing the twelfth division of the U.S. Army on a reconnaissance mission to overtake and occupy Blitzer’s beard. ”It’s my prerogative as commander in chief,” he added, before he announced that the rest of the press conference would continue as planned but that he would only take questions about egg salad. “By the way,” he added, “if anybody knows what the word reconnaissance means, please let me know.”

Three hours later, after fielding fifty seven questions about egg salad, Chester returned to what used to be referred to as the oval office.  Chester had renamed the room the Egg Salad Emporium, and in the hallway, he’d replaced all of the portraits of past presidents with tasteful artistic renditions of egg salad. They were tasteful because the canvases were actually made from egg salad, and Chester had already taken bites out of several of them.

“Where’s my secretary of Egg Salad?” Chester barked into the intercom on his desk.

“He’s just arrived,” his receptionist, Alice Tinkerton responded.  It wasn’t common knowledge but in her previous career Alice TInkerton was an engineer who had developed one of Chester’s favorite egg salad recipes.  “I’ll send him in.”

Egg Salad Edwards, as Chester had renamed the man, entered the Egg Salad Emporium and took a seat in the chair across the desk from Chester. In his hands he was holding a portfolio filled with important documents.

“Is that the report?”  Chester asked.

“Yes. Do you care to read it?” Edwards replied.

“Just give me the highlights,” Chester said.

“Well, sir, I am pleased to announce that all egg salad manufacturing plants across the country have been shut down.”

“What?”  Chester’s voice thundered with rage. “Why on earth would you do such a thing?”

“But I assumed,” Edwards replied, “that when you signed the executive order banning all consumption of egg salad, that you also meant to halt all egg salad production, too.”

“Edwards, you fool!  Can’t you see?   And to think I picked you to be my secretary of Egg Salad.”

“Sir, I’m sorry …” Edwards studied his shoes, his head down in shame.

“And to think I even renamed you Egg Salad Edwards.  What was your name before again?

“Um, Joe.  Joe Malone.  From Dubuque Iowa.”

“And what did you do?”

I was a shoelace salesman.”

“Well, I’ll give you 24 hours to get all the manufacturing plants in operation again.  And I expect to double, no triple, their production level. We need a healthy GDESP. ”


“Gross Domestic Egg Salad Product.  For a guy named Egg Salad Edwards, you sure don’t know much about egg salad, do you?”

“I guess not. May I ask, sir, if the consumption of egg salad is illegal, why do we need to increase production?”

“Oh, Edwards, Edwards, you are an idiot, aren’t you?”

“I suppose I am, sir.”

“It’s for me!”

“What’s for you, sir?”

“All of the egg salad. All the egg salad in these United  States will be mine and mine alone.  Then we’ll expand until I have all of the egg salad in the western hemisphere.  ‘Ensalada de huevo’ as they say in the Spanish speaking countries. Then …. the world!”

So it begins, the most glorious period in the history of the world.  After declaring martial law, Chester will continue to rule the United States, consuming nothing but egg salad for the next twenty seven years , making the U.S.Egg Salad (as Chester eventually renames the country) the undisputed dominant superpower in the sandwich salad race. Russia will make major advances in chicken salad, and China in tuna salad, but neither will come close to Chester B. Chester and his vast Egg Salad empire.



A Bun Named Amy

Last night, the writing group I belong to, the Kenosha Writer’s Guild, had one of its regularly scheduled extended critique meetings.  I submitted an excerpt from the novel I’ve been working on.  In the excerpt, there’s an early morning scene in a hospital where the main character encounters a new, minor character that I introduce with the following sentence:

At that point, one of the nurses, a thirtyish woman with thick glasses and black hair all tied up in a bun named Amy, walked past in the hallway.

Forget for a moment that the sentence’s first clause, “At that point,” adds nothing and serves no purpose.  The main problem with the sentence is that I named the bun, and not the woman.

This was pointed out to me by one of my fellow writer’s group members at last night’s meeting. We had a good laugh at my expense, and although I was slightly embarrassed, I wasn’t surprised.

I’d read through the piece many times before the meeting, and made a lot of corrections.  But for some reason, glaring as it might be, I never saw the bun named Amy.  This is consistent with my experience, that no matter how diligent I might think I am in self-editing, I always miss things.  This hasn’t been true for only my creative writing, it was also true when years ago, in a previous life as a computer programmer, I’d always miss bugs in the code I was writing or testing.  There is a natural inclination in both forms of writing to glance over what you aren’t worried about, those little pieces of housework that are simple and unambiguous, and focus on the more complex content, the parts where you put in more work.

For what it’s worth, given that it’s coming from the author of a bun named Amy, my advice to other amateur writers out there is to join a writing group as soon as possible. Not only does a writing group provide you with a mechanism to have your work reviewed by fresh eyes, more importantly, it gets you away from your desk and out with people who share your passion, who understand what it is to be driven to tell stories.

A couple of years ago, I was at a big weekend writers’ conference in a hotel in downtown Madison.  One night, I was in the hotel bar, where I met a couple of other writers.  One was a quiet young guy in jeans and a black t-shirt, in about his mid-twenties, who’d written a sci-fi/fantasy novel.  The other guy was a sharply dressed lawyer by day who’d self-published three crime novels by night.  The lawyer asked us what we thought about writing groups.   The young guy responded that he had no opinion, that he’d never belonged to one.  I started to explain that I found mine to be extremely valuable, when he interrupted me.

“I think they’re a complete waste of time,” he said.

“Why’s that?” I asked, as if I had any reason to believe he wouldn’t tell me if I didn’t.

“Because all they do,” he said, “is tell you how great you are. I need more than that.”  He then proceeded to spend the next two hours telling me how great he is, pontificating on everything writerly, from rules about dialogue to why the big time agencies and publishing houses were too screwed up to recognize his greatness.  At some point, the younger guy somehow escaped, as I looked up from my beer to his empty chair, while lawyer-writer guy droned on and on and on.

Finally, the guy shut his mouth long enough to take a sip from his goblet of wine, and I was able to excuse myself and go back to my room. The guy was a pompous ass and a fatuous bore, but a part of me understood what he said about writing groups.  They can be too nice. They can be too busy being supportive when what you might need is some harsh and blunt criticism.

But then I thought about it, and I realized how wrong the douchebag was.  The thing with writing groups, at least my writing group, is that you get different levels of writers writing in wide and diverse genres and styles, not to mention skill levels. You get so many different perspectives.  The only common denominator is a love of and shared passion for writing.  It’s people who have full lives with work and family, but are still driven by the need to express themselves, to put something down.

Critiques tend to be respectful because most of the members respect one another, and respect the investment of time and emotion that goes into creation of each piece. It’s the creation of art at its most basic and pure level:  nobody is getting paid for their work, and each member is driven to write what they write by something that’s moved them. They may be inspired by a specific artist or genre, or by events in their lives, or any number of things. The point is, nobody forced them to write what they choose to write, or to even write in the first place.  The quality of their output is secondary – that they’ve been moved to put something down is worthy of admiration and respect.

Learning to understand this is the main reason to join a writing group.  Once understood, you realize that you are not alone, that maybe this strange thing you have inside isn’t as unusual as you thought it was.  Once you learn to respect these things in others, you start to respect it in yourself. This is after all why we write – to better understand not only the world around us, but to better understand ourselves, who we are.  This not only helps us make sense of the world, it makes us better – better readers, better writers, better people.