Cracking Up

Nervous about the sun -- recent rains had postponed the eggsperiment more than once -- we got right down to business. Detrick's palms were slick with anticipation and his eyes wide with excitement as he drew a magic-marker target circle, breathed deeply, and knocked shell against skull. Voila! -- the second most famous Estefan crackup (behind the tour bus, of course).

From the instant the raw innards slid out, we knew we'd picked a prime spot. The locals clustered eagerly, attracted both by the brilliance of our experiment and the fact that Marvez, bullhorn in hand, was advertising our presence to anyone within earshot. From above, with the pool of egg floating atop the marble star and darkening the inked circle, it looked like a Julia Child crime scene.

After five minutes, though, nothing was cooking, and we turned to the crowd for moral support. "Yeah, sure it will," said Marca Perez of Frank Joyeria, the corner jewelry store. "Ella es especialmente caliente." A little man who appeared to have compensated for his lost teeth by sprouting an unreasonable amount of chest hair nodded energetically in agreement. Their optimism seemed reasonable. An egg, of course, is a single cell, and how hard could it be to fry a single cell? A slice of salami only takes three minutes.

Giddy with the prospect of success, Marvez played the crowd in Spanish, regaling them with dirty jokes, suggesting that we should have brought white rice to cook with the egg. "I see the crack problem has invaded Little Havana," she deadpanned, gesturing grandly toward the broken shell.

Detrick, though, shared none of her enthusiasm. Hunched over our little yellow friend, he mumbled to himself and kneaded his knit brow. The minutes wore on until he stood abruptly, and bravely announced the failure of the Gloria Estefan Egg Trial. With a sorrowful deliberation, Detrick opened his portable Tupperware lab and produced a control egg. "Don't be afraid," he told a wizened, toy-size old man whose eyes widened at the sight. "It's only a replica." After documenting our disappointment, we cleaned up the egg and tossed the paper towels, wet with the liquid corpse of Exhibit A, into the garbage can. Jorge Valls, a spectator who identified himself proudly as a sign maker (and, in fact, offered to build us a giant egg), motioned toward the damp patch and began boasting in rapid Spanish. "Of course," laughed Marvez, translating. "He says that in Cuba, it would have been hot enough for the egg to fry."

We reloaded the car hastily and drove away as the last traces of yolk seeped into the chiseled letters of Gloria's name. "Goodbye," Marvez called. "Hasta los huevos."

Location: Gloria Estefan marker, Latin Stars Walk of Fame, Calle Ocho and 17th Avenue

Starting time: 1:00 p.m.

Ending time: 1:15 p.m.

Highest surface temperature: 110 degrees

Glutination Index (0-10): 1

Part Two

SECOND CRACK

From the warm hospitality of Little Havana, we crossed to the arch cool of South Beach. It's all see and be seen on the Beach scene, all look-ups and hook-ups. What else would people be doing hanging outside at two in the afternoon on a weekday?

In our pre-mission briefings, we had addressed the puffed cosmopolitan fatuousness of South Beach folk, and we expected the worst when we unloaded our rig next to the News Cafe on Ocean Drive. Beach people are media savvy, we figured. They will have seen jerks like us before, and they'll know just what to do. They did. They ignored us.

But we came prepared. During the briefing, Marvez had mentioned Pavlov, and it wasn't far from the truth: Break out anything with a lens, and all of a sudden people start shifting their chairs ever so slightly. A different sort of phototropism.

True to form, everyone behaved diffidently until they spotted the camera, and then they jumped right in as if they were born to watch a bunch of idiots attempt a sidewalk omelet. "Your dogs should eat the eggs," said Marvez to a man standing nearby with a pair of retrievers. "It's good for their coats."

"They don't wear coats," he answered. He smiled as if he'd been waiting years for this moment, and who's to say he hadn't? But he wasn't the only onlooker we snared. With a flurry of well-placed agitprop (it's a model shoot, it's performance art -- anything that created the right atmosphere of chic legitimacy), we drew quite a crowd. Tan and young, most on roller skates; two of the nonskaters, Yvonne Ostby and Inger Lise, were Norwegian tourists. Whispers careened along the perimeter, speculation on which magazine might be commissioning the shoot. (One woman even suggested Egg, the slightly-less-obvious-than-that arts and fashion monthly.)

Deaf to the clatter of American wanna-bes crassly climbing the social ladder, Yvonne and Inger simply stared, eyes wide, arms at sides -- imagine writing home to Oslo about this. Meanwhile, Marvez entertained two bare-chested skate boys named Bill and Ted, shaking her breasts at them disapprovingly.

Suddenly, with only ten minutes of South Beach sun on Egg #2, Detrick snapped. Maybe it was a matter of overlooked medication. Maybe it was the heat -- pavement temperatures kicking the mercury over the 112-degree mark. Whatever the case, he became a human tornado of bizarre autocracy. Waving his clipboard wildly. Loudly ordering Yvonne, Inger, Bill, and Ted to focus all their mental energy on the egg. Screaming at James Romano, a middle-age man in a swimsuit: "Of course, a lifeguard, in case someone should slip and fall into the egg."

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