A yoga class. Babysitting. Raw chocolate bars. A ride. All things we’ve bartered for using our eggs. Sure, exchanging a dozen eggs for a fiver is satisfying, not to mention necessary, since we can’t pay for chicken feed with chocolate. But bartering is fun. I feel like a kid doing an underground transaction in the corner of the playground where the grown-ups can’t see. Is it a “good deal” to trade my gloves for your necklace? It is if we think it is.
My favorite things to do with our eggs, though, is to give them away, a habit husband Joe tells me I’ll need to curb if we’re going to make this a sustainable operation. We’ll find that happy medium, but our books will always include a line item for comps. Giving away eggs not only lets you feel delighted with yourself for paying it forward; it is the kind of thing you might come up with if you were playing the if-you-could-have-one- superpower game. It’s a shortcut to making friends.
Sometimes I’ll put an extra dozen or two in my trunk, and if I don’t sell them before the day is out, I’ll find someone to give them to. Rarely does that person fail to materialize. “You!,” I’ll say, on line for a coffee, spotting an acquaintance in front of me. “Come with me to my car, I have something for you.” Acquaintance upgraded to friend.
Sold, bartered or given away, eggs can do what money can’t. They’re not only a conversation starter (“why are some blue?”) but also a more flexible currency than anything minted by any government. It would be weird and insulting if I tried to give my mother-in-law $5 for watching her granddaughter. Weird and pathetic if I handed my friends a few bucks in gas money on their way out the door as a thank-you for making the trek from the city. No one would accept it, obviously. But I put out a basket of eggs and skirmishes have broken out over who gets the six-pack and who gets the full dozen.
Eggs are our thing. I’d been looking for my thing. Let me back up.
It’s the summer of 2008. I am between jobs. Two friends and I decide that this is the year. We’re going to Burning Man, a massive festival out in the nowhere desert of Nevada – “the playa.” Your money is no good on the playa, except to buy exactly two things: coffee and ice. You come prepared, ideally, with water and food and protection enough to survive the desert. That part seems straightforward enough (although we sprung a leak and had to throw ourselves on the mercy of the veteran members of our camp). One item on the packing list, though, is more obscure than the rest. You’re supposed to bring something to “gift.” Not give, but gift, a word that lets you know right off the bat that everyone there will be more enlightened than you. You can gift anything: massages, solar-generated electricity for charging phones, a pancake breakfast, an advice booth, an open bar, a DJ’d dance space.
We went with Frisbees. Being diehard ultimate players, life for us is always more fun with a disc in hand. We drew up a design and rush ordered 300 discs.
When we finally pulled up to the playa – a cross-country flight and a long drive later – I figured we’d nailed it. The vast flat desert looked to me like a field without beginning or end, yearning to have a disc launched back and forth across it. We did a half-ass job setting up camp and started tossing. It was hot, yes. Hot and dusty. But we threw and threw some more, offering discs to everyone who passed by.
I think we had a grand total of one taker that first day. Over the course of the week, maybe we gave out 50 of our stash of 300. (The rest, we distributed at a beach in San Francisco; that was memorable, walking backwards to my car to take in the sight of discs peppering the sunset.)
Why didn’t Burners want discs? This was no bank giveaway, but a regulation, 175-gram beauty. It wasn’t until the sun went down that first night that we started to understand. As shadows swallowed the playa, a howl went up. People in numbers we hadn’t imagined started tumbling out of geodesic domes into the dusty avenues, yipping like coyotes gathering for a hunt.
The air was charged, the playa was coming alive, that much I could feel. Meanwhile I took a swig of whiskey and instead of rallying, passed out in our sagging tent and slept through half the next day. All my energy had been wicked away by the hot desert sun.
The disc was a good try, but it was too much about us, and not enough about the people it was meant for. This nocturnal band of shamans and fire jugglers was here to get freaky, not play sports. (Maybe next time a light-up disc?)
The experience, though, got me thinking in a different way. Not: How can I make money? That question seems to answer itself naturally when the question is, instead: What can I offer? What can I provide that will make life a little better for everyone else?
What’s my thing?