FOUND OBJECTS #9:
There was a knock on the door of my dorm room, that day back in ‘82, and my roommate answered it.
Standing outside in the hall were three young men with bloodshot eyes and a demeanor of gentle pain. One wore a bathrobe, one wore a T-shirt and athletic shorts, and the third guy wore only his Fruit of the Loom white briefs. Without a word, they filed in and sat on Boris’ bed.
“Coffee,” said Izod, who wore a bathrobe. His eyes were not open. They hadn’t been since he walked into the room.
“Two egg scrambled, bacon, coffee,” said Zorro, who wore the shirt and shorts.
“Two egg scrambled, toast, orange juice.” said Wild Man.
I dumped four eggs into the popcorn popper, and slapped the dome on it, pushed the plunger on the toaster, and poured two mugs of coffee and a glass of OJ, before reopening the dome to whip the eggs. Prepster and Zorro took their cups wordlessly, and staggered over to the coffee station, over on my roommate’s desk, to add cream and sugar. Wild Man sat there for a minute, holding his glass of OJ while reality percolated into his brain. He drank it, blinked twice, and sat and waited for his eggs and toast. Meanwhile, across the room, sitting on MY bed, Mr. Zulu and the Creature discussed freshman English assignments and ate eggs on toast, while the Dewy Eyed Wonder, who always brought his own egg cup, knocked the top off his four minute egg and began cutting his toast into strips, the better to dip into said egg. And this was a fairly typical Sunday morning in my dorm room in the fall of ‘82.
It had begun back during the summer session. I’d started school STRAIGHT out of high school, because I didn’t want to spend another second in the little tiny cow town I’d grown up in; I was so eager to get to the Big City, I could taste it, and had signed up straightaway. And in doing, I had learned that when one is taking six or eight hours of school, one has a fair amount of free time on one’s hands.
And so I did what pretty much everyone at Southwest Texas State University did in the early eighties; I drank like a fish and partied like I was daring a timid fate to kill me in my sleep.
It helped that I did not have hangovers, per se, regardless of how much I drank, a talent that helped me considerably, and earned me some envy from my classmates. And on Sunday morning, I would awaken from the night’s entertainments, yawn, turn on the TV to catch the news, and endure the evil glare of whoever had passed out in the room the night before. I did turn the sound down; no need to be inconsiderate.
But there’s a thing about me: I’m a breakfast guy. I don’t NEED to eat breakfast, but I always feel better after having consumed something after getting up in the morning. Something reasonably substantial; a cup of coffee and a slice of toast doesn’t cut it. I learned how to make eggs when I was a kid, and had mastered all the ways of preparing them, and often kept a few eggs around; they do reasonably well without refrigeration for a few days.
Trouble is? You weren’t supposed to cook in the dorm. Against the rules. THESE days, in dorm rooms, I hear you’re allowed a microwave. Some rooms even come with one built in. But in 1982, while microwave ovens existed, they were expensive as all hell, big as a barn, and not well trusted. NO MICROWAVE IN THE DORMS! You were allowed a coffee percolator, which I had, and I also had a popcorn popper, which was also allowed; it was one of the old kind, the one that was basically a concave hot plate with a plastic snap on dome; you poured a tablespoon of oil in, added a quarter cup of popcorn, snapped the lid on, and waited for the popcorn to happen.
Y’know what? The popcorn popper worked just fine as an egg scrambler if you used a pat of margarine and two whipped eggs, rather than oil and popcorn. The popcorn popper did not care. And it was easier than putting pants on and walking all the way up to the dining hall.
So, often, weekend breakfasts, particularly on Sundays, just happened right there in the dorm room. Eggs and coffee, that’s how it’s done!
This earned me a bit of goodwill from my roommate. Apparently, a hangover and the morning news is a little more manageable if one has a plate of eggs and a cup of coffee. And he didn’t want to put pants on any more than I did. And we often had breakfast right there in the room. ...at least, until word got out. No one told the RA on the hall, of course. No one wanted to be a snitch. But occasionally, someone would drop in and ask if there was a spare egg or a cup of coffee to be had by one who simply could not stand the agony of the screaming sunlight to be endured between the dorm room and the dining hall. Please? Please?
By the second summer session, I’d obtained a rapid boiler, a little one quart cooker that could boil water in thirty seconds. I had also begun to experiment with bacon, and learned that you could hang a half dozen strips over a wire hanger, and ignite them with a Zippo, and they’d cook themselves crispy, although you had to put a pan under them to catch the flaming drippings. And someone gave me a toaster.
By the time the fall session had begun, everyone on the floor knew that Sunday mornings, breakfast could be had at Doc’s room, starting sometime after eight.
Eggs were two for a buck, bacon was two strips for a buck, toast was a quarter a slice with butter, ham was a buck a slice, cheese was a quarter a slice, OJ and milk were fifty cents a glass, and coffee was a buck a cup, but free refills. I’d tried selling it cheaper, but we kept running out, and had only the one percolator... By then, my roommate had rented one of those little refrigerators, which made an expanded menu more feasible. We invariably had at least two dozen eggs in there, a small ham, a couple pounds of bacon, a pack of American slices, quart of OJ, gallon of milk... we tried Eggo waffles for a while, but they didn’t bring in enough money to be worth it, and cereal did well but took up too much space, and ew, the cleanup...
We had regulars. Every Sunday, you could count on Izod, the Creature, Rocket Boy, the Dewy Eyed Wonder, Zorro, and Mr. Zulu, regular as clockwork. There were others who would or would not appear, depending on where they’d wound up the night before. The Dewy Eyed Wonder, in particular I remember, because out of all the regulars, he was the biggest pain in the butt; he ALWAYS ordered the same thing, coffee with cream and sugar, three slices of dry toast and two four minute eggs, and he’d bring his own egg cup and metal spoon, and knock the top carefully off the egg, and cut his toast into strips to dip in the yolk and savor between sips of coffee. Everyone else? They’d have fried, over easy, hard fried, scrambled... but Dewy had to have his four minute eggs and toast.
I’d occasionally get complaints about the prices, which might have been a little stiff by the standards of the time. My reply was invariably, “There are four places within four hundred yards of here that will sell you a breakfast made to order. All of them have a better menu, three are cheaper, and one of them, you already paid for. Go try them and see how many will serve you in your tighty whities and nothing else, and let you run a tab.” This invariably ended it. No one wanted to walk more than ten yards for breakfast while in the grip of a hangover.
Sometimes, unauthorized personnel would show up and bang on the door. We had the cover story down to a science: I’d promptly grab the bacon hanger, blow out the flames, and hang it outside the window frame. Boris would grab the popcorn popper, unplug it, and slide it under the bed. Rocket Boy would slip a book in front of the cream and sugar dispensers, and the Creature would grab the bread, toaster, and condiment tray and slip it under the other bed. You’d be surprised how quickly and cleverly a hungover college boy can manage, when you threaten his secret breakfasts.
Admittedly, we did face some scrutiny; when one opens a door and sees ten college guys in their underwear, all sitting around sipping coffee in a dorm room barely big enough for two, it raises questions. Particularly if the smell of bacon lingers. It startled the hell out of this one girl I was dating at the time. The men in underwear, not the smell of bacon, that is.
The problem finally solved itself in September, when the RA, Prepster, managed to sprain his ankle doing something or other, and showed up at the door, on crutches, painfully hung over and begging for coffee and eggs. Please, please, I doe WANNA stagger all the way to the dining hall, just gimme coffee and eggs and I promise, I PROMISE, no word will escape my lips about what you’re doing in there... He coughed up a fiver and his word of honor, and got a plate of bacon and eggs, and a cup of coffee, but the regulars insisted that he eat in the HALL, dammit.
He was eventually admitted, after Mr. Zulu orated a stirring defense in which he reminded us of the lunch counters of the South and evoked the spirit of Rosa Parks.
After that, Prepster the RA became a regular. He was also pretty helpful about deflecting suspicion, and he saved us, one night, when we were considering adding a Hibachi for breakfast steaks; he informed us that if the little barbecue set off the smoke detectors, there’d be a full investigation that even HE wouldn’t be able to stop, deflect, or do anything about... ... and so Wild Man was disappointed; there would be no breakfast grill. Although he and the Prepster came up with a fun idea, and thereafter, we kept diced onion and bell pepper handy for ham and egg scramble, a dollar a cup. It wound up being one of our most popular items, and I liked it because I could make it the night before, and heat it up to serve; I could sit and enjoy my coffee instead of having to constantly be prepping individual breakfasts.
By the spring of ‘83, we were almost too successful. I’d added a bun warmer to keep the breakfast scramble hot while leaving the popcorn popper open for orders. We were getting ten, twelve, fifteen customers at a time, and Rocket Boy was running a successful marijuana operation among the regulars. The Dewy Eyed Wonder took a count at the breakfast boutique down the street, and noted that their Sunday crowd was routinely smaller than mine. I should point out, however, that their customers were all fully dressed. And Boris and I did have to clamp down on a couple of the regulars who slept nude: bare buns would NOT be permitted to sit on our beds. Or anywhere else in the room. You will be served, but you’ll eat in the hall or take it to go. C’mon, guys, nobody wants to look at your junk while they’re eating breakfast...
Quite a few people pressured me to offer a lunch menu, although I had classes during that part of the day...
I guess I don’t know where I’m going with this. It’s sort of a confession to a series of crimes, now that I think about it -- we weren’t supposed to be cooking entire meals in the dorm, much less running a restaurant.
We certainly shouldn’t have offered a Sunday morning breakfast special consisting of a cup of Breakfast Scramble, a bottomless cup of coffee, and a joint.
My old man kept bugging me to get a job while I was taking classes. I never actually told him that I sorta already had one; between “helping” other students write research papers and running Chez Bedlam, I was actually doing considerably better than minimum wage.
Maybe I’m wrong. But perhaps while some sins should be repented? I think some should be cherished and savored...