Notable Eggo Shortages
The hurricane that tore Galveston
Off the map is better known,
But a storm two years prior
Made mincemeat of Puerto Rico,
Swamped with twenty-eight
Days of rain. Small egg production
From family farms and smuggling
Routes—rum roads that ante-dated
The charge up San Juan Hill—were decimated.
Factory owners scrambled to make
New egg networks viable to meet
Consumer demand, rising vigorously
Since the introduction of L’eggo
To the nation’s vocabulary. By then
The government had commandeered
Much of the poultry industry
To feed its forces readying for war.
Only a diversion of troops en route
To Cuba prevented food riots
In several east coast cities.
The factory workers had had enough. Their pay was pennies. Hours on their feet with few scheduled breaks—barely time enough to pee when they got any relief. They sweated severely in their germ-free suits. It was scorching hot on the baking floors. In the cooling rooms their waffle gloves were paper thin—no insulation—several men were hospitalized with frostbite. Discipline was strict. No talking, even during lunch. Spies were everywhere. The three men who conceived of the strike met surprisingly in the open, in the diner across the street. Their code: the number of chews before they swallowed their donuts. Despite
the goons, there were networks, ways of getting the word out, the date set.
When the shift changed, no one moved. The managers worked in offices next door. The gates were shut, overseers shoved out open windows. The plant was theirs. When the police charged the workers pelted them with frozen discs that hit their targets with surprising accuracy. Cops were stunned, but no one was hurt. During the stalemate that followed, the workers maintained discipline among themselves—even formed their own government that became a model for aspiring countries years later. The most important rule: no one abuses the product. While they hated management, they loved the waffles. Once during the weekly talent show, some palooka danced a hula wearing nothing but waffles strung together as a bikini. He was seized, tried, and summarily convicted by the workers’ court and expelled from the factory, tossed down the shoot where the burnt waffles go. The workers cheered then. They cheered even louder when the strike ended forty-three days later.
The country cheered too, sick of their diet of Meusli.
The source of the illness was a mystery:
The waffle, the syrup, possibly overripe
Fruit? Maybe it was simply the flu.
But one patient became a dozen,
A dozen became scores. The symptoms
All the same: stomach distress, fever.
Some were wracked with convulsions.
When a child died people panicked.
The recall encompassed over thirty states.
Factories were shut down, cleaned and inspected,
Then re-cleaned & re-inspected.
Then the extortion notes came.
They demanded ransom and public statements
Admitting to crimes both preposterous
& utterly humiliating. The sample poisons
The criminals sent to prove they were
The agents of the illness, the agents
Of the apocalypse they hoped to rain
Down on the country, proved their intent.
Just as mysteriously, the illnesses stopped.
No one can say for certain if the ransom
Was paid or statements were said,
Since no one ever said.
After years in a state of anxiety,
with trade wars resulting in ground wars
& domestic rivalries churning into violence,
the nation’s sense of trust was shredded wheat.
Anything would be accepted as a sign of hope.
That an Eggo was the medium is no surprise,
their slogan—a cry of independence—
had unofficially replaced ne me treader pas!
as the nation’s motto. So the savior's face first
appeared on a buttermilk waffle
on a day worker’s breakfast table,
a story easy enough to dismiss
had not a retiree found a similar image
singed into his buckwheat waffle
by a second-hand panini press—something that
never happened to his white or wheat toast.
When church officials confirmed the events,
the run on Eggos overwhelmed the company.
What first seemed a miracle—a spike in sales in the
middle of a recession—became a curse:
demand outstripped production; small riots
erupted at Wegman's stores on both coasts.
Sensing a crisis to exploit, venture capitalists moved in.
Production ramped up as waffle plants ran
three shifts, but the promised infrastructure
never panned out, only debt. The first thing
the new Board sold off was the lucrative egg
distribution system, developed in the wake
of the crisis of 1898. The next thing to go:
stakes in wheat production to foreign investors
planning the next drought. Bit by bit
the truck fleets, the cardboard plants,
even spare tires were sold to the highest
& often the lowest bidder. Aging factories
were sold for scrap. The unions, which years before
traded power for stock options, were useless.
No number of free blessed prayer towels
could save the company. By then, the savior’s face
was appearing everywhere—in pizzas, energy bars,
sun burns, the peeled back lids of cat food cans—
anywhere the citizens' fevered imaginations
could put it. The only thing left to sell
was the company's name, which a collective
of artisanal bakers, backed with cannabis money,
snagged at a fire sale price.
That we still have Eggos at all
might be the miracle of this story.
Roger W. Hecht teaches literature and creative writing at SUNY, Oneonta. His first poetry collection, Talking Pictures, was published by Cervena Barva Press. His work has recently appeared in Bracken, Gone Lawn, A-Minor, Diaphanous, and Sheila-Na-Gig. He lives in Ithaca, NY.