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Thursday, September 20, 2007

Rick Sneezed

I used to work with a fellow engineer named Rick (not his real name, but close). Rick was one of the “old-timers” at my former employer, having survived a couple of recessions including the big one in the early 80’s. He had a few strange proclivities, including the most disorganized cubicle I’ve ever seen. It boasted a philodendron that had grown so large and become so intertwined with the shelves that after he departed, the millwrights had to dismantle the cubicle walls to get it all out. Rick had made some accomplishments in his career as well, but neither his idiosyncrasies nor his accomplishments will be remembered quite as vividly as the day Rick Sneezed.

Once while talking with Rick in his cube I casually opened and started eating a small snack bag of pretzels that he had on his shelf. I did this without asking, which was kind of the point. Next time you’re in close proximity to a bag of pretzels, take a look at the expiration date. It will probably be at least two years from now. I started eating the pretzels and immediately had to spit them out, then quickly motivate to the restroom to rinse out my mouth. They were dry-rotted. Amazing, a rotten pretzel in a dry, sealed bag. This was in the early 2000’s, mind you, and when I looked at the expiration date, it read 1993. So this innocent little bag of pretzels had been sitting on his shelf for 10 years. Most marriages don’t last that long!

But anyway, Rick Sneezed.

Rick and I worked together on a project or two, and we went fishing a few times in Lake Erie as well. I kind of miss him. He got transferred to a different department, then got the axe during my former employer’s recent cutbacks. Schade, as they say in the Fatherland. At least he left us with one keepsake memory:

The Sneeze

A group of us went out for Middle Eastern food one snowy December day. Our employer was located in the middle-eastern section of Detroit, MI, so we had quite a lot of M-E cuisine available to us, and many of us have developed a taste for it. There were about 8 or 9 in our group, and as we often did, we ordered the “feast.” It goes by different names in the different restaurants, but the “feast” is basically a big Lebanese combination plate that will feed about twice as many people as it says it will. It typically includes lamb chops, various grilled kebabs of beef, chicken, and lamb, pilaf, kibbie, falafel, stir-fried vegetables, and some sauces and salads on the side, including tabbouli and fattoush. I’m getting all Pavlovian just thinking about it! There’s usually leftovers, but that day nobody was fighting over them.

Rick was in the middle of the table on the side opposite from me, but as luck would have it, I was not directly across. That position was held by an unfortunate young, demure Chinese woman. The poor thing is probably in a mental institution in Shanghai right now. The large platter containing the “feast” was in the middle of the table, and we were all within reach of it. Fortunately we were pretty much all full and done eating, and just a few of us were still picking at the tastier morsels remaining when…

Rick sneezed.

It came completely without warning, like a sonic boom. Not like I’m totally sure he’d have turned his head anyway; engineers do not exactly occupy the top rungs of the ladder of sophistication. But there it was, a blast of phlegm such as I’ve never seen in my life and hope to never see again, accompanied by a great gust of noxious exhalation; it was neither redirected nor blocked in any way, but detonated right into the middle of the table. Products of The Sneeze went in all directions, mostly onto the remains of the feast, but also distributed across those of us opposite him. The brunt was received by the hapless Chinese woman.

We all just kind of sat there for a minute. Those of us who received direct hits of course discreetly wiped ourselves off. Sneeze byproducts dangling from Rick’s moustache needed a good wiping-off as well, and to our collective dismay, he took his time attending to them. He didn’t say, “excuse me” either. That was understandable - it would have been like Mrs. O’Leary saying, “sorry about my clumsy cow.” Someone mercifully broke the ice by asking for the check. When the waiter asked if we wanted anything wrapped, there was a palpable shudder as a few of us replied, “no, thanks.”

As I mentioned above, we had a lot of good M-E food places to pick from in the area, and we all had our favorites. IMHO, the best hommous can be found at Al-Ameer, although some claim that Al-Berdouni has the best (both restaurants have accrued the moniker, “Uncle Al’s” in various circles, by the way), and the best tabbouli can be found at the Lebanese Village if it’s still in business. You can’t beat New Yasmeen Bakery for desserts including baklava and custom pastries. But Cedarland offers the best overall package, so that’s where we usually go. Al-Amani also has great food and a very good overall meal deal, and it’s located more conveniently close to the Southfield Freeway, but I can never go there again because… that’s… where… Rick Sneezed.

1 Comments:

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