The last time I quit eating shrimp it was because I crammed so many in my mouth that I got weirded out. As the closing manager I had been inspecting the main walk-in refrigerator, in particular the sheet trays housing the mise en place for the ceviche station. Those first few weeks closing the restaurant I played a dangerous game called how many shrimp can I fit in my mouth. Open access to unlimited shrimp had turned me into a walking whale: nothing got my baleen salivating like a late night shrimp snack. And then one night, alone in the dark restaurant, I reached my limit. Mouth crammed with textures of shrimp, I panicked. And that’s when I switched to slurfing sweet treats at the end of my closing shifts.
Two tangentially related stories:
The first time I remember experiencing a freakish panic over food was when my age was somewhere in the low single digits. My family was having lunch at Kathy John’s, an old school ice cream parlour just outside the rural campus of the University of Connecticut. At Kathy John’s they served the famous “kitchen sink” to college students and other boneheads, a humongous disgusting salad bowl with 1000 scoops of every kind of ice cream and topping. The waitresses rang a bell when you ordered it. Anyway, I was just a little kid having a hamburger, and when I had eaten my hamburger down to a crescent half-moon shape, I was suddenly overtaken by the feeling that this hamburger could be anything, a sandworm from an alien planet. This was way before any drugs, by the way. I remember looking at the remains of my hamburger, bell ringing wildly as a bunch of cheering college boneheads were presented with a tub of frozen goo, totally weirded out thinking, “What the hell is this thing?”
The other story is the first time I got food poisoning. Again it’s my early childhood. It was the year I unsuccessfully tried out as an altar boy at the local Catholic church. Come to find out I just wasn’t cut from the right cloth. My older cousin was getting confirmed at the Cathedral of St. Patrick in Norwich, CT. Perhaps as an harbinger of my growing agnosticism, I lost interest completely in the ceremony. Bored out of my mind, I hung out in the cathedral’s basement, where the buffet was already set for the post-confirmation fiesta. The Bishop was on hand to personally bestow the sacrament, and it was a big deal. Evidently the Bishop considered himself a big deal as well, because he was the first one to come down to the basement, before the local priests had even finished up. From out of site, I watched him go down the buffet line. The Bishop took a chocolate milk. The Bishop took potato chips. The Bishop took iceberg lettuce salad. He came to the platter of sandwiches: the Bishop picked up a tuna boat sandwich, put it down, and chose roast beef instead. The Bishop took his meal to-go. Alone again in the cathedral basement, I ran over to the sandwiches and scarfed down the tuna boat that sucker the Bishop had passed up. It was delicious, and it bestowed on me a full day of traumatic, harrowing food poisoning. I remember my cousins’ hunting dogs trailing me around the yard, chowing on my piles of barf.
This past Friday, I worked my first manager shift at the new restaurant. The restaurant opened last summer, but I don’t really have the stomach for restaurant openings. I’m a person who likes my routines. Six months in, I was finally there to lend a hand. With my fresh eyes (and nose) I identified a key issue: the host podium was topped with unsealed metal that reeked like blood and stained the hostesses blouses. I uploaded a fun photo of the wood-burning oven onto all the Micros POS screens. Just before the kitchen closed at 11PM, I asked the chef if the shrimp in garlic mojo would be a good dish to try, and he said yes. I’d actually had shrimp for lunch as well. “What can I say, I’m like a walking whale,” I joked. I put my food order in. I followed up by going up to the Latino cook working the wood-burning oven. I pointed at my ticket, the last on the line. “Bien Preparado,” I said. The cook was nonplussed. “Hecho en Mexico,” “Estilo Sinaloa,” I goaded him, getting no response, “Trabajo Para Chapo Guzman.”
“I’m from Ecuador,” the cook replied, as he reluctantly got out the shrimp bucket and added more shrimp to the wood-burning oven.
My body knew instantly that something was wrong. Right away my stomach bloated up and garlic started sweating from all my pores. Five to eight hours later, the diarrhea faucet switched on. That morning, in agony, I emailed work, described the situation and conveyed my hope I would be well enough to work in the afternoon. Around noon, I crapped the bed. Needless to say, I called out sick from work. Without the care of Etta and Roly Poly, I may not have made it through that one. As NBA great Charles Barkley once said in a T-Mobile commercial, “And that’s why I don’t eat shrimp.”
I’m taking a short break from small friends with swimmerets. Upon receipt of an email detailing my condition, Aunt Judy’s reply was classic. “Not the first time [you crapped the bed], Arthur.”