In the spirit of holiday feasting, it seems apt to share what is undoubtedly the most embarrassing incident of my life involving food.
It also happens to be the most degrading moment of my very first job. I was 17 and working at Willows Lodge, a five-star hotel in Woodinville, WA. I thought I was hot stuff because I wasn’t working at McDonalds or Jiffy Lube like other high school classmates. (As luck would have it, this incident never would have happened had I worked at those places.)
You see, Willows Lodge serves lunch to its employees. On my first day on the job I probably heard this fact twenty times.
“Oh and did you know lunch is provided?” one perky employee informed me. “Isn’t that incredible?”
I didn’t know how to tell her I was a student in high school, an institution that also serves lunch every day — forgive me if I’m not thrilled.
“Oh but you don’t understand,” they’d tell me. “This is lunch from the Barking Frog! We get a gourmet lunch every day!”
Whatever butters your bread, people. As long as it’s presented as a buffet, I’m not going to light fireworks of elation.
My job was as a customer services coordinator, which is a fancy way of saying I worked the front desk. I checked people in and out, escorted them to their rooms, served as concierge, and booked reservations. It was fantastic, because I felt like an established, working adult, despite having the face of a 14-year-old.
The job also came with loads of perks, like earning free spa services and free overnight stays on slow nights (I’d invite girlfriends for sleepovers).
I worked with a woman named Mary who was in her sixties, wore gobs of makeup (including fake eyelashes), gossiped incessantly, and had worked at Willows since it opened. Due to all of these reasons, she was only allowed to work the phones, not the front desk. She was like a television news anchor forced into radio: everyone knew why she wasn’t allowed on TV, except her.
Mary became my buddy because the people in housekeeping were bitter that I was given front desk, the front desk people didn’t think I was old enough to be there, and management…well, no one is friends with people in management.
Naturally, then, it was Mary who I gushed to about the recent Willows Lodge lunch I’d had, after turning my nose up at it for weeks.
“You guys weren’t kidding. Lunch was fantastic!” I told her.
“Wasn’t it?” she replied. “Especially the garlic chicken. I had two helpings.”
“I know!” I exclaimed. “And the soup! I can’t get over it. It was so creamy and delicious, I hope they make that more often.”
Silence. Mary blinked at me twice, then looked at the ceiling, thinking.
“Soup? That’s weird, I didn’t see any soup,” she thought aloud.
“Yeah, how could you miss it? It was down at the end of the buffet, in the metal dish,” I explained.
She slowly covered her mouth with her hand, a look of horror crossing her face. Then she wheezed with laughter and could barely look at me as I stood there saying, “What? What?” over and over.
“Ohmygawdohmygawd that wasn’t soup! That wasn’t soup! That was the gravy!!!”
I turned away from her and gasped. No. No. No, that wasn’t possible. I did not mistake gravy for soup and eat it with a spoon. I grabbed Mary’s hand and dragged her down the hall to the kitchen were we both ran over to the buffet and stared down into the metal tray. Oh my gosh, it was a tray. Who serves soup in a tray? No one does, of course; it was gravy.
I felt my stomach turn in revulsion to the ounces and ounces I had eaten of what? Pure fat? Gristle and left-over meat parts?
I gagged. Mary howled.
“So you actually scooped the gravy with the ladle into a cup and ate it? Ohmygaw!” she exclaimed.
I grabbed her shoulders. “Mary you can’t tell anyone!” I begged. “Don’t tell a soul!” Remember, I was a teenager and felt my reputation could be destroyed at the slightest slip. I could hear the nicknames: The Soup Kid. The Lying Luncher. Gross Gravy.
Of course, being a mature adult, she swore secrecy. And I, being a reckless teen, immediately told my parents when I got home that night. I think my mother actually cried, she laughed so hard. Just as I feared, Sam, being 13, didn’t waste time in coming up with nickname, which she still uses today from time to time: Gravy Girl.
Perhaps I should have given that Jiffy Lube application a second glance, after all.