I had the pleasure of doing a charity breakfast Saturday morning. It is one of the commitments I always make sure to keep each year. It is a combined effort between a local church and my Masonic lodge. It is a Santa Breakfast where families come for a nice breakfast and a picture with Santa Clause. I have worked the Omelette station for the last 3 years.
I have fun cooking, joking with the kids, messing with the parents and I meet new people every year. I really enjoy it, and I was asked back after the first year due to my entertainment value. Omelette stations are like fireworks. For some reason, people can’t get enough of watching someone make one. People “ooooh” and “aaaaahhh” as it develops. They want to talk about it with you, tell you how they “could never do it” and “would end up with scrambled eggs.” Some even ask if they can watch, as if I would send them away until it’s ready. It is so incredibly easy for me, I have over 20 years of cooking experience. A saute’ pan is like an extension of my right arm. Which enables me to “bring it” on the big finale…the flip. It is so easy to do but people love it.
This year my usual partner in eggs didn’t make it. I was asked to work with the Minister’s son. Eli is a tall, smart, good-looking kid who claimed to know how to make an omelette. He made the first one for a lovely old woman and she was delighted. He was very pleased with himself. I thought it was awful. Not in a mean way but he could do so much better. Then came my turn to make one. When I was done, flip and all, I realized that I was being watched by a whole bunch of people. Eli looked at me and said: “I want mine to look like that”. I showed him by walking him through the next 2 that he made. They were better but not good. Finally, he said, “I like making them my way.” I assured him that it was fine. It’s a church breakfast, who cares. Then I saw a chance for a teachable moment.
“Eli, at 21 have you learned everything you are going to learn? Or are you going to be open to new ideas? Because every day that you are not learning something from someone is a wasted day.” He smiled and silently acknowledged that I was right.
The next few were a collaboration and he picked it up fast. We also had fun doing it. By the end of the breakfast he was putting out some nice looking and tasty food, and he was smiling. He even pulled off “the flip” a few times. At the end of the breakfast, his Dad Kevin came over and told Eli how well he did. Eli punched me in the arm and said: “I owe it to the master here”. After Kevin left I said: “you had a little ego at first didn’t you?”
“But when you put it aside you learned something right?”
“I sure did, and I’m glad that I met you today.”
“Eli, the pleasure was all mine.”
Ego is in all of us. I maintain that it is as ugly and destructive, and green, as envy. Most of us keep it largely in check, only allowing it to rear its ugly head when our fragility is truly challenged. It comes out at small moments and places as well, like an omelette station. My ego wanted me to make every omelette, to not share the job, to have all of the accolades to myself. But I didn’t, I told the ugly side of me to stay inside and let me handle it.
Ego is not the same as pride. Flashback twenty years. I was driving around town in my convertible mustang with some friends and some jerk I didn’t know pulled up next to me and started making fun of my car. Not me personally, just my car. My friends started jawing with his friends and at the next light, we pulled into the parking lot of a local watering hole.
The way that the kid got out of his car suggested that a fight was pending. He took off his shirt and removed all doubt. Then, comically, he took off his shoes. The door to the bar opened and the people spilled out into the parking lot. I removed my shirt, to his apparent shock I was in a hell of a lot better shape than he was and a lot bigger. I left my shoes on. I saw the look on his face and he quickly caught himself and put his tough guy face on again. My friends were ready but didn’t engage and I became aware that I was to be the one to fight this kid. I didn’t want to but there was a lot of pressure and a lot of eyes on me. I knew that if it got bad I would have back up so I walked, shirtless and determined, towards my nameless foe.
We squared off. He was talking some kind of smack, I still didn’t even know why he wanted to fight me, but here we were. I circled in a defensive posture, sizing him up for how many skills he might possess. He looked scared and a little drunk. Finally, he made the mistake of telling me in a loud voice, for the crowd’s benefit, that he was going to “kick my ass.”
Again, I didn’t want to fight this kid. I hated fighting. But my ego, or my pride, sure wanted a piece of this kid. Then I heard my dad’s voice in my ear, his familiar saying resonating if you punch an asshole in the mouth he’s still an asshole. I dropped my fists and said “I have a better idea. Why don’t you put your fists down, your shoes on and let’s have a beer instead.”
“You don’t want to fight?” he asked. Looking around for a reaction from the crowd.
“I can, but do I have to?” He shook his head. I watched him put his clothes back on, I buttoned my shirt and nodded towards the door of the pub. We, and our thankful friends parted a sea of disappointed bar patrons and drank for 2 hours. I didn’t make a friend that night but I avoided making an enemy.
I went home that night with my ego in check, and my pride intact.