Unfortunately, you can’t serve food to the public without those board of health types getting exercised over Shigella.
A few weeks ago, I set out to get the Food Safety Manager’s certification online, thinking that like so many certifications, it would be a meaningless vehicle that existed solely to shuttle money into the pockets of some trade organization. Alarmingly, it turned out to be a rigorous fifteen hour ordeal, followed by a proctored exam that is administered a few times a month at a secret location.
I haven’t had to study for a test in years, so when it came to memorizing the times and temperatures for various cuts of meat, poultry and fish, I had to have recourse to flash cards, No-doze and Adirol to study, and then Clonipen, Atavan and cooking sherry to calm down. I was legitimately nervous about flunking the exam and prolonging the agony for a few more weeks.
To be fair, there were many bright spots along the path to my Food Safety Management Certification. For example, we have all written off those stories about sushi and worms as urban legend, but who knew that the worms are real and that they actually crawl up out of your throat? I also learned that a cook should never wear false eyelashes while preparing food because they could fall off and physically contaminate the food.
After the first few hours of the course, I briefly considered giving up eating, but reason told me that even though food is basically deadly, I have never had food poisoning. Then I thought about the fantastically delicious and sometimes disgustingly prepared meals that I have enjoyed while traveling in Central America— freshly caught Red Snapper, frijoles negros, avocados, crab meat, huevos revueltos and fresh tortillas, mole and flan…
Although I have somehow cheated death even though I eat food prepared outside of an operating theater on a daily basis, there was one notable exception involving a plate of rice and beans in Costa Rica.
The four of us had spent a long hard day traveling. It was our kids’ first trip to Central America and despite our crushing fatigue, our spirits were high. We wandered into the first open air restaurant we came upon and gratefully ordered beer and food. Costa Rican food is notably terrible, but we hadn’t figured that out yet because it was our first trip there. We were starving and exhausted, so the modest dishes tasted delicious and we left feeling much better than when we had come in. The important thing to remember as you read the rest of this story is that I was ravenous, which means that I wasn’t exactly discerning.
The following day, as one would hope, I heard and obeyed the call of nature. Everything was as it should have been, except that when it came time to clean up, I detected a stubborn foreign body that seemed to cloy at the toilet paper while producing a commensurately cloying sensation in my butt. My face flushed, my hands shook and I had to take a moment to gather my thoughts before I could do anything. Drawing a deep breath full of calming oxygen, I considered my options, and seeing as how I was in a primitive bathroom, without recourse to mirrors or forceps, I concluded that really, my only option was to bravely grasp what I had just realized was a giant fucking worm and pull it out of my ass.
The horrible worm put up a good fight. It was thick and tough, and it seemed to have tremendous stretching properties. I pulled, it stretched, but I could feel it slowly losing its purchase. Every fiber in my body longed to pull the thing out with my most savage strength and dash its brains out against the wall, but the only thing worse that a whole worm in your butt is a half a worm, so I accessed my Jedi powers and forced myself to be patient. Breathing rhythmically and whispering affirmations to myself, I carefully pulled and the thing finally came out in one piece. I raised my shaking hand to my unflinching eyes, expecting to see a primordial jungle parasite, but what I saw instead was a large blue rubber band.
How does one face their family after an experience like that? The boys were just little snippets at the time, and knowing that their mother had eaten a fairly robust elastic band and then pulled it out of her ass would have been too much too soon. I had similar misgivings about sharing the story with My Royal Consort. Yes, he had been present during the birth of our two sons, and he was my best friend, yet I worried that hearing the story might somehow diminish me in his eyes.
I emerged from the bathroom a changed woman. As we sat around the table, looking out at the people going about their daily business I wondered how many of them had pulled a bright blue elastic band out of their asses? That day, I went through the motions, smiling, albeit maybe a little wanly, pretending to be interested in the brightly colored butterflies that floated by on the warm breezes. All the while, I wondered about what else might be in there— the cook’s wedding ring? Maybe some loose change or a tie clip? A baby’s hand holding an apple?
As I always say, there is more room on the outside than on the inside, so I unburdened myself to My Royal Consort. He comforted me and then laughed so hard that he cried.