Overcome by a great desire for soft-boiled eggs, I went out to buy an egg-cup or two.

Schematically, an egg-cup is like a wine glass, but it's smaller and more squat, and the "bowl" part at the top is just the right size to hold the lower third or so of a common hen's egg.

When you "soft-boil" an egg, you boil it until the "white" or albumen is congealed, but the yolk is still liquid. This takes just over three minutes. When you're done, you've got a tasty capsule of fats and proteins, but you can't just peel and eat it like a hard-boiled egg because the yolk will end up all over. This is where the egg-cup comes in: You set the egg in the cup and slice off the top third of an inch or so (of the egg, not the cup: ideally, the cup should remain intact and uneaten). Then you salt the bit of congealed albumen in the top, scoop it out with a spoon, and gobble it up. Next, add some salt and a little butter to the main body of the egg, scoop, gobble, salt, scoop, gobble, etc.

Clearly, only a fool would try to run a civilized country without egg-cups.

As it turns out, we in the USA are just such fools. Egg-cups are not so easy to find. Don't ask me why, but I started looking in Burlington, MA.

At Crate & Barrel, the nice young lady said, "you want . . . a what?"

"An egg-cup. For soft-boiled eggs."

She gave me a blank look and edged away. She thought I was insane. Maybe I should have shaved? In any event, she handed me off to an ebullent young man who must have been their troubleshooter. He'd just clocked out, but he knew what an egg-cup was and he understood the gravity of the situation.

He sighed. "We used to have some, but they were plastic. You wouldn't want one of those. They were nothing special."

Fuck special. I just wanna eat my damn eggs. "Any ideas?"

"Try Williams Sonoma."

So I thanked him and thought to myself, "'expensiver and expensiver', said Alice". Williams Sonoma didn't have them either, but at least the nice young lady knew what they were:

"We should have them, but we don't. You might try Macy's."

Okay. Macy's. Where the fuck is Macy's?

I found Macy's. At Macy's, I fell in with two nice middle-aged ladies who worked there, and they were cool: They were really into china. It's not often that I meet somebody like that. So I said "please" and "thank you" and "ma'am" and they thought I was just adorable, even if I did look a bit bedraggled.

The NMAL's held a long consultation, and they were grieved -- sorely grieved -- at the passing of the egg-cup from American life, and from virtually all American china patterns to boot. "People don't eat eggs any more. They're worried about cholesterol." They sadly shook their heads: Thus do great civilizations falter. They knew of only one "set" (was that the word?) that still came with an egg-cup, and they'd have had to special-order it.

Hm. Great. I'll pay some ungodly price for something with little blue flowers on it, and I won't even get my hands on the damn thing for six weeks. They sensed my despair, and suggested yet another store, something called "Kitchen Etc."

So there I went.

Kitchen Etc. turns out to be a monstrous emporium off in the corner of a parking lot across Route 128 from all the above. They've got kitchen stuff I don't even recognize: Aspic burnishers, tomato drills, specialized dishes for serving up devilled ocelots . . . It's huge.

Best of all, they've got a NMAL who's really into china, and who (like me) regards the desuetude of the egg-cup as a clear sign of a general reversion to barbarism and madness. I put myself in her hands, and by Christ she had egg-cups. They were little glass ones with narrow bases. She was sorry they didn't have a better selection, but hell, any egg-cup at all seemed almost miraculous at that point.

Now, if I were designing an egg-cup, I'd overengineer the bastard: The base would be three inches wide and weighted. I'd make an egg-cup you couldn't knock over with a sledgehammer. Lacking capital, however, I'll take what I can get. I bought two. They were reasonably priced.

Now I have egg-cups! Yay!

Barbarism is foiled again.