Cracking Up

In the late Thirties, William "Tallahassee" Dranes, an obscure Panhandle blues singer, sat awake in a shotgun shack and mused about the weather. It was so hot that summer that birds fell out of the sky completely cooked. So hot that parking lots melted and poured down streets, carrying children and mailboxes with them as they oozed around corners and washed onto lawns. So hot that telephone poles capitulated to the temperature and bowed to touch the flowing streets.

With his shirt collar already salty and damp, and fresh sweat spilling off his brow, Dranes did some thinking. Some serious thinking. And then he began to write a song.

Well, I woke up this morning And my head was burnt right off my neck My fingers lit up like cigarettes Toes melted like candles in a kiln And my woman left me And I lost my job Hain't I got the blues?

Dranes never recorded the "Candle-Toe Blues"; he never finished it. Three weeks later he was dead and buried. The neighbors claimed it was a knife fight, but the local coroner, in the kind of dispassionate block-letter printing that often conveys the most ominous information, recorded heat stroke.

On the final page of his journal -- kept at the Blues Museum in Minerva, Kentucky -- Dranes, clinging to the last strands of his being, found cause once again to talk about the weather: "Wonder is it hot enough to fri [sic] an egg on the street?"

The only way to find out is to try. Either that or wait for a local newspaper reporter to try. Then not only will you find out whether Miami's streets are hot enough, you'll get the truth like lit-up gasoline, in turbocharged prose that will animate the scene like those special 360-degree theaters at Epcot.




Cheap publicity stunts in thermometer-busting summers are nothing new. For years newspapers across the country have responded to the heat by dashing outside with goof-ball props and cozying up to the asphalt. But few papers have gone to such extreme lengths to ensure that their temperature tests were events.

To achieve the proper Psychopath's Holiday ambiance, New Times spent weeks assembling a crack research team, pairing "Albumen" John Detrick, owner of the Americana Bookshop in Coral Gables and a certified urban adventurer, with Monique Marvez, a local comedienne and self-confessed breast-enhancement surgery patient. Self-confessed may understate the case somewhat -- suffice it to say that she talks voluminously about her now-voluminous breasts, which she has nicknamed Ben and Jerry. They go everywhere with her. Detrick and Marvez, egg testers extraordinaire, were ready for outfitting.

The things they carried:

1. Relevant scientific instruments: Stopwatch, thermometer, clean-up equipment (we might be literal minded, but we're not litterers), as well as stove-fried control eggs to flop on the ground next to our test subjects for comparison, and magnifying glasses in case we felt like cheating.

2. Irrelevant scientific instruments: A chemistry set (test tubes, test-tube rack, eyedropper, funnel); a folding wooden bookshelf on which we could set up aforementioned chemistry set; a plaster skull on which to crack the eggs; and a bullhorn for bothering passers-by.

3. The raw eggs themselves -- two dozen of the large variety, purchased fresh the morning of the mission from a Kendall Publix and held up to the light, one by one, to minimize the risk of a fetus fiasco.

Experts warned us against such a foolhardy enterprise, especially Gustave Minkin of Sun City Dairy Farm. "Nope," grumbled Minkin, with the weary voice of a man who has handled more fried eggs than he cares to remember. "No way. You got to get them up there, 400 degrees or something."

Minkins be damned. We waited for a sunny day, took the final precaution ("I, Your Name Here, being of sound mind and body, do solemnly swear that at no time during the course of this experiment will I humiliate myself and my associates by uttering the following puns: `Eggzactly,' `Eggceptional,' `Eggciting,' `Eggsodus,' and, of course, `The yolk's on you.'"), and set off on our intrepid -- or is that insipid? -- quest.


We resolved to kick off the afternoon with a little egg-inspired blasphemy, but couldn't decide upon the variety. Anti-Christian? (Commission an Andres Serrano Yolk Christ?) Anti-Jewish? (Pull up within kosher-shattering distance of a synagogue and cast down eggs, then ham?) Or maybe anti-Muslim? (See if we could muster some sizzle in a limited-edition Satanic Verses skillet and then brace for the fatwa?)

After intensive (not eggstensive) debate, we decided on a locally potent cultural blasphemy, and off we went to the southeast corner of Calle Ocho and Seventeenth Avenue to make egg-drop soup atop the Gloria Estefan marker in the Latin Stars Walk of Fame.

As we unpacked at Calle Ocho, the first hints of a crowd were already massing. Few people were prepared to see Detrick, dressed in shorts and a lab coat in the best mad-scientist fashion, and even fewer were ready for Marvez, who was decked out in elbow-length gloves and a white evening gown that slipped from one shoulder and gave her doctored cleavage plenty of exposure.

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


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."

Just as the crowd started to get interested, we packed up. That's the way you have to play it. Never give them too much. On our way out, we distributed egg-fact pamphlets to the News Cafe patrons.

Detrick, apparently not yet recovered, bid farewell in his own unique way. "Thank you very much," he thundered through the bullhorn, his free hand clenched into a fist. "You've all been total assholes!"

Location: Sidewalk just north of News Cafe, 800 Ocean Drive, Miami Beach

Starting time: 2:01 p.m.

Ending time: 2:14 p.m.

Highest surface temperature: 113 degrees

Glutination Index: 4


At Marvez's suggestion, Detrick chose the next site, and we sped north, past a sign reading Euro-Ice ("Isn't that the rapper who pretends to be such a tough guy when he's not even really from Europe?" he asked), past the geriatric district, where Marvez claimed she could smell the aroma of white shoe polish, past the blocky bay-coast condos and the mean motels.

Detrick didn't seem at peace until he swung the car into the parking lot of the Pussycat Theater near 79th and Biscayne. "Hello," he said, apparently speaking to the theater itself. "A legitimate local landmark. What a facade. Why, the last time I was here...." Enraptured, he couldn't even muster the strength to continue.

Our stay at the Pussycat lasted only minutes, just enough time for Detrick to unleash another amplified barrage of insults at bystanders ("Go ahead, Pee-wee," he yelled at a short, fat man in a denim jacket who was slinking into the theater. "We'll be right in.") and to suggest that we fry an egg on Marvez. More specifically, on her breasts. By then she had done enough superficial psychoanalysis to understand Detrick's aggression (even coining a term, "bullhorny"). A little bosom break seemed to be just what the doctor needed. In the tradition of great entertainers, she agreed. Detrick nestled his head close to the silicone valley and breathed deeply, calmly.

Location: Pussycat Theater, 7770 Biscayne Boulevard

Starting time: 3:10 p.m.

Ending time: 3:12 p.m.

Highest surface temperature: 98.6 degrees

Glutination Index: 10


The carnal serenity of the Pussycat soon subsided. Growing despondent over his failure to fry, Detrick vowed, voice quavering, that if the next site didn't pan out, he'd buy a giant skillet, hoist Marvez on his shoulders, and force her to cook an egg over Bayside's Torch of Friendship. "I want some eggs smoking on the pavement," he muttered to himself. "At the very least, I want a confrontation with authority."

On the steps of the Dade County Courthouse, he got half his wish. Confrontation seemed like a done deal from the minute he angle-parked in an illegal space and tuned to Channel Bullhorn again, filling the air with cries of "Bring me an honest judge!"

While he cavorted, Marvez got off to a promising start, passing out pamphlets. Detrick settled down long enough to crack an egg, and the future looked bright -- the surface temperatures were the hottest yet, over 114 degrees. Equally important was the crowd participation. Lawyers and judges stopped to watch on their way inside. Security guards made casual bets among themselves as they fondled their ear pieces. Secretaries wondered aloud if maybe we weren't some sort of ponderously symbolic pro-life group, or a road company for the "This is your brain on drugs" commercial. With eight minutes passed, the egg was beginning to cloud. Victory was near.

Then the heat moved in -- unfortunately, a different sort of heat. A host of officially sanctioned goons -- Assistant Building Manager Juan Silva, Metro-Dade Police Officer Robert Taylor, and a half-dozen graduates of the Stern Guys With Cigars Academy -- approached with hands on hips (their own hips) and ordered us to leave. Well, at first they asked nicely, but when we refused, then they ordered, and they wouldn't back down. Not even when we entreated them a few minutes in the name of science. Not even when Marvez sidled toward Officer Taylor and offered to whip up a little sensual souffle. No go. No way. No dice. We got the boot, and the first egg that showed any promise was dumped in a plastic garbage bag and tossed unceremoniously.

We left with the crowd urging us to stay. "Wait!" one woman cried. "I wanted to see it happen." We were cult heroes, champions of the people, a reinterpretation of Turk 182 for the All-Dairy Network. Detrick bellowed through the bullhorn that it was police intimidation, narrow-minded Philistines unzipping to display their authority, and what kind of country is this if a man can't even crack an egg on the steps of a public building in the name of legitimate scientific inquiry?

Location: Dade County Courthouse, 73 West Flagler Street

Starting time: 3:37 p.m.

Ending time: 3:46 p.m.

Highest surface temperature: 114 degrees

Glutination index: 6*

*Index should be adjusted upward to compensate for ill-timed police intervention.


We unwound from our tense confrontation by cracking atop a New Times news rack in Coral Gables. The news racks, in case you're not familiar with them, are red. Very red. So red, apparently, that the City Beautiful found cause one fine March afternoon to yank them off the street without warning, claiming that their boisterous ruby shade disrupted the Gables's chromatic quietude. A judge (the honest one) will eventually unscramble the mess, and in the meantime, we thought we'd have a hassle-free omelet on the flat metal hotbox. But the surface temperatures were anemic (108 or so), and before we knew it, wisps of clouds were starting to undo the afternoon sky. Eggsasperated and eggshausted, we swept our ignominy into the bushes. Detrick and Marvez shook hands and traded business cards. We parted.

Location: New Times news rack, 1 Miracle Mile, Coral Gables

Starting time: 4:10 p.m.

Ending time: 4:30 p.m.

Highest surface temperature: 108 degrees

Glutination index: 2

Part Three


In retrospect, the eggsperiment, like any such endeavor, had its flaws. There were hot spots we didn't try -- mall parking lots, downtown rooftops, the torrid steel jungles of industrial parks. And, of course, the local equivalent of the Sahara -- Metrozoo.

The last oversight, though, wasn't our fault. We issued a request to the appropriate zoo personnel, and Ron McGill in the media-relations department responded with affable but surprisingly weenielike reluctance: "There are many hotter places, and we're not comfortable with you coming out here with the eggs. The administration just didn't think it was a positive image thing. You can go just outside the park, where it's the same temperature. But we don't want you cracking eggs inside the park."

One bright, broiling day, when the zoo guys least expect it (maybe an afternoon when they're in a recording studio laying down backing vocals for the "Metrozoo's Got Wings" 12-inch), we'll pack into a car and take a crack at it. Break eggs, prove that we can fry them, then heave the evidence heedlessly into the cages.

But we'll keep one of the successes, of course, pack it carefully in a small cedar box and drive north and then west until we come to the narrow old graveyard on the banks of the Ochlockonee River. Birds will hover motionless above us as we remove the egg, sprinkle the yolk with healing herbs, and set it gently atop the plain gray gravestone. Tallahassee Dranes, R.I.P.

We decided on a locally potent cultural blasphemy: egg-drop soup atop the Gloria Estefan marker in the Latin Stars Walk of Fame.

When they spotted the camera, they jumped right in as if they were born to watch a bunch of idiots attempt asidewalk omelet.

What kind of country is this if a man can't even crack an egg on the steps of a public building in the name of legitimate scientific inquiry?

Metrozoo's Ron McGill responded with affable but surprisingly weenie-like reluctance: "We don't want you cracking eggs inside the park.


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