My First Power Breakfast, and How I Won It

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(published in IN Los Angeles magazine)

by Becky Neiman

In Hollywood, breakfast really is the most important meal of the day.

A writer/comedian friend of mine got commissioned to develop a sitcom, and she invited me to join the project. She obviously recognized my talent, punctuality and ability to meet deadlines. She also mentioned that my ’89 Volvo would be less embarrassing to the studio parking lot attendant than her ’91 Festiva. It wasn’t the most flattering comment on my writing, but anyway you look at it, I was in. Our assignment was to develop a behind-the-scenes look at a fake “Spice Girls” type of band where all the girls were hateful back-stabbers. A comedic docudrama, if you will.

After weeks of preparation, a breakfast meeting was scheduled for our pitch, and I knew what that meant—somebody was going to be paying for that meal with a credit card, and it wasn’t going to be me.

I woke early, scrubbed extra well behind my ears, and donned my meeting attire: a classic ensemble whose finest attribute was that no one could tell how little it cost. Then I made the final preparation for my first power breakfast: I ate breakfast—at home.

I arrived at the restaurant. Early. Obviously, I’m still working on the politics of time.

I took my seat and plotted my strategy.

I decided to begin with a cup of tea. Black, not herbal. Herbal tea has become the leading symbol for the underpaid, and I want no part of it. Black tea implies serenity and control. As I sat calmly sipping my morning beverage, the junior and senior executives filed in. I was the picture of Zen tranquillity as they took their seats.

I examined the menu.

Waffles: Absolutely not. You might as well order an Eggo. Plus, syrup is childish and sticky. No titan of business needs candy in the morning.

Eggs Benedict: $12.5). The Hollandaise sauce was a little pretentious, and the problems with ham are too numerous to mention.

Huevos Rancheros:  $9.50. Sure it’s a good value with all the sides, but I didn’t want to enter “bean country.”

Smoked Salmon Plate: Rather pricey at $14.00, and let’s be honest, it comes with a bagel, which makes it lox ‘n’ bagels, so why the subterfuge?

I rejected anything with sausage, for reasons mentioned above, as well as my  unnatural fear of random bits of cartilage. Oatmeal has a Dickensian feel to it, and the fruit plate didn’t even enter the equation. There’s too much room for error— semantically and gastronomically—when it comes to fruit.

The waitress started taking orders, and much to my chagrin, my writing partner was the first to speak up: “I’ll have the Spanish omelet,” she said, without a trace of irony. Was she mad? Spanish omelet? There are vegetables and spices involved. How are you going to explain “acid reflux” to a VP of Development?

Then the waitress turned to the first of the junior executives. I was anxious to hear his strategy, fearful that my writing partner and I would not recover from the Spanish omelet setback. Finally, he made his decision: “I’ll have eggs over easy.” Over easy? I thought I was among equals. You know what, buddy? You’re over. Easy.

I eyed the next one: a graduate of a “seven sisters” school with a growing reputation in the biz. She seemed clever. Perhaps too clever. But as soon as I heard the words “Eggs Florentine” come out of her mouth, I knew I had nothing to worry about. The self-preservation instinct in me must have blocked that one out when I was scanning the menu. Imagine giving a presentation and having everyone point at your front tooth through the entire thing. Come on guys, this isn’t brunch, it’s a power breakfast!

Then it was my turn. My mind was racing from one item to the next. I felt like IBM’s “Deep Blue” chess computer, trying to calculate the billions of possibilities that could result from this one move. But like a true Grand Master, my instinct prevailed: “I’ll have a toasted English Muffin, please, and some more tea.” Touchdown! Nothing could have outdone the English muffin for breakfast. It was minimal, classy, and dry. It had the word “English” in the title and “muffin.” It screamed: “I don’t need your free food. Restaurants are not new to me. There will be no spilling, dripping, or perils of syrup involved with my meal. It fact, I’m not even hungry.

But I had not yet wrested victory from the jaws of defeat. The senior executive was about to make his move. I anticipated the “egg-white omelet”—a favorite power breakfast selection on the East Coast. It is an ascetic choice. Those who order it are sending a message of temperance and minimalism. But I beg to differ. I sense fear in the “egg-white omelet.” What’s the problem? Plaque building up on your arteries? High blood pressure? Can’t stand the heat? Get out of the kitchen! Finally, he spoke: “I’ll have a toasted English muffin.”

What was I thinking? This man hadn’t risen to his position by behaving in a cavalier manner. He was a skilled professional. Now I had to make a move: “Could I have a sparkling water, please?” Bubbles, I thought. They’ll make me seem more alert. Ready for action. But he responded immediately: “I’ll have a cup of hot water with lemon.” I was blind-sided. Was this some miracle cure drink? Hot water with lemon. It sounded practically spiritual. And isn’t lemon a fat-burner?

The waitress brought out our order. She handed me my muffin plate and the other one to the senior executive. “Could I have some apricot jam?” he said. I looked down at my plate. “You can have mine.” I passed the orange tub of “I want my mommy” to the other end of the table and pretended like nothing was going on. It’s not polite to gloat.

I continued to savor my victory during the meal. I chose to eat the thinner bottom half of my English muffin and leave its fat cousin on the plate. I was sure my writing partner and I  had the deal.

“May I have a Diet Coke?” It was a cry for help from one of the poor young executives struggling for survival. Let me translate: “Please, give me something to wake me up. I’m not used to thinking this early. I want some Cheetos!” In the entertainment industry, Diet Coke is a hard drug and we’re all its mistress. Best not to let people know you’re hopelessly addicted. You might be viewed as a future liability in the kitchenette.

In Hollywood, the Grim Reaper appears in many forms.

We reached the end of the meal ,and the attractive blond waitress approached the table. “More hot water with lemon?” The senior executive accepted the offer. Then she turned to me. “More hot water for your tea?” “Yes, Thank you.” My ears turned red hot as soon as I realized what I had said. A used tea bag? Now I would have to drink the brackish “free” beverage with everybody watching like some frat boy at a hazing.

I looked over at my writing partner to beg for her forgiveness, but she was too involved in her own self-destruction to notice me. As the words came out of her, I fantasized leaping over the table and covering her mouth. But at that point, everything was happening in slow motion and I could barely move. Like a shell-shocked soldier I gazed impassively as she requested a take-home container and filled it with the remains of her Spanish omelet. As she reached over to take the top half of my English muffin, it all faded to black.