When I was in seventh grade I had a cool science teacher. He lifted weights and wore quiana shirts with groovy patterns and might have been listening to The Doors as you wandered into his realm of black countertops and Bunsen burners.
In April, the cruelest month, he challenged us to devise any way we could come up with to protect an egg so that it could be tossed off the third floor roof of Lincoln Hall and land, unbroken, on the blacktop below, a black tar macadam scene of much unspoken cruelty already (from fights where girls beat boys to children forced to eat worms or grasshoppers).
Only a man would think to drop an egg off a building, and of course as a young boy I was thrilled—and delighted to know that if any of us succeeded in this task our teacher would take his bulging biceps and lift our semester grade by one full letter.
My offering was deemed most decorative, with unlikely streamers on a cardboard box and upside down cupcake papers meant to be like feet for the lunar landing, the egg itself nested in Styrofoam packing worms and coated with a bit of melted plastic for good measure.
Dropping an egg off a building is like a Rorschach and a primal scene rolled into one: re-evoking one’s first emergence into the cruel world, challenging us to better protect our egg-selves than our parents or our world had been able to do (otherwise perhaps children would not have been fighting and feeding each other worms and grasshoppers as Nixon visited China).
The toughest kid in our class arrived on drop-day with a Maxwell Coffee can. I always thought of him as Riff-Raff, as he was a ringer for that cartoon gangster, and he was a lot of fun (when he wasn’t unexpectedly punching you in the stomach).
The Maxwell Coffee can was sheer Warhol. And it weighed twenty or thirty or maybe a hundred pounds, for it was filled with concrete. The egg, Riff-Raff assured us, was in the center of the set concrete.
That was the climax of the event—a concrete filled coffee can dropping like a shell from a Howitzer onto the Somme of our kid town’s collective psyche. The can gave a little, but it gave as good as it got to that old blacktop that took a cut to its own rough chin.
Back in the classroom the eggs were examined, many cracked and some scrambled. Mine made it through, but Riff-Raff’s stood enigmatic, a pillar of impenetrable modernity. Who could truly say the state of the egg in concrete? Was this a metaphor of autism or of sociopathy? Of rebel without a cause hurt or wake up and smell the napalm outrage? Was this Riff-Raff’s soul on display, a crybaby locked in coffee?
The teacher had to concede the A to Riff-Raff, to smiling and triumphant Riff-Raff. You just have to love Riff-Raff. The word “riffraff,” from the French, rif and raf meaning “every single one,” reminds us that, after all, it is you and me.