Tuesday, September 21, 2004

A fowl first day

I reported to HR right on time Monday morning, all smiling and eager to learn all about the new company I hope I can call home for a while. After spending the morning in general orientation (“The company was founded in 1498; we have 49,034,987 employees worldwide; we generate $12,098,909,200 in revenue annually; the bathrooms are located to the left of the elevators…”), we were then informed that our new managers would be taking us out to lunch.

Oh crap.

I was really hoping to avoid any fancy lunches for at least another few days, given the fact that I’m finally recovering from what was most likely a week-long case of dysentery. But there was no way I could bow out of this one. All the new hires were going out to lunch with their respective bosses. I couldn’t be the only one who said she didn’t want to eat lunch. And I wasn’t really eager to tell my boss why I couldn’t eat lunch with him. Does he even know what the B.R.A.T. diet is?

So noon rolled around and I had no choice but to pack up my bags and head out to lunch with my new manager. He asked if I had any preferences, and I just said that I was open to anything, but preferably nothing spicy. Or greasy. Or Asian. Or fried. Or rich. Do you have any good toast restaurants around here?

He suggested a little corner restaurant known for its burgers. Great. That’s not rich or greasy at all. But I was trying to be agreeable, and I was sure they must have had other things, so I said that it sounded great to me. When we arrived, I immediately noticed that there really wasn’t anything on the menu other than burgers. Except chicken wings, deep fried potato skins, and deep fried mozzarella sticks. Basically, we were in a bar.

I ordered the entrée that I suspected would be the gentlest on my currently delicate constitution – the chicken breast sandwich. No mayo. No barbeque sauce. Just chicken on a Kaiser roll.

Our lunches arrived very quickly – so soon that I hadn’t had adequate time to mentally prepare myself for the first solid food I’d had in a week that wasn’t rice or… rice. This was clearly a restaurant that catered to the male crowd because the hamburger my boss ordered had to have been at least 16 ounces of pure beef, and my chicken sandwich took up almost my entire plate. The chicken extended well past the bun on all sides of the sandwich. It was the Dolly Parton of chicken breast sandwiches.

Everything was going along fine at first – we were talking, eating, talking, eating. I was pretty sure that I was going to make it out of this lunch unscathed. But then it happened. I got cocky and took a fairly large bite of my sandwich, when I heard a noise that you really never hope to hear when eating a chicken sandwich.

Something went crunch.

It sounded really loud in my head, but my boss just kept talking, so he must not have heard it. I had bitten into something incredibly hard and bony in my chicken sandwich, and my throat immediately closed.

My first thought was, “Ohmigod. I just ate spine.”

Now, sometimes when you bite into something you know doesn’t belong in whatever food you’re eating, you can just quickly swallow it whole and pretend you never noticed it in the first place. Unfortunately, this was not the case for me. I had such an enormous mouthful of bread and chicken and spine in my mouth that I couldn’t possibly swallow it without needing an emergency tracheotomy.

Up until that point, my boss hadn’t made overly intense eye contact with me, but for whatever reason, he chose that moment to start talking about a really important marketing initiative we were launching, and didn’t avert his eyes from mine for what seemed like ten minutes. I tried desperately to find a moment when he might glance down or take a bite of his food so I could quickly deposit the chicken skeleton into my napkin, but he never looked away.

So for ten minutes, I just held the vertebrae in my mouth, trying to hide the mass in my cheek, hoping it might dissolve if I took a sip of my Sprite. But after a few minutes, I couldn’t concentrate on anything he was saying. I knew he was telling me some critical information that I needed to remember, but I didn’t hear a word he said. I could only think about the bone in my mouth and how I was going to get rid of it.

My boss: “Pokslinm aknd licno marketing plan inlds nlcon diocna corporate-wide initiative cpnmd…”

My brain: [Oh god. Look away. Please just look away right now!]

My boss: “So Jenny, ikcuny ksyajrpc alsi sj ikkdpsh direct mail campaign kcisl unytobok…”

My brain: [Please David, please, just take a bite of your food. Oh god. Some vertebrae just touched the back of my throat. I’m going to gag. Don’t gag. Do not gag.]

This went on for what seemed like hours, until finally I knew that I was just moments away from vomiting right on the table. I had no choice but to spit the gigantic wad of half-chewed chicken and bones and soggy bread out in front of him. It looked like a baby gerbil had crawled into my napkin to die.

I’m not sure if he looked away just as I was spewing this out, or if he saw me do it and looked away in horror. Either way, the carcass was now no longer in my mouth, and it no longer sounded like he was speaking Klingon.

So there you have it. Only my first day on the job and I almost coughed up a chicken backbone in front of my new boss. This could be the start of a beautiful friendship.