Sunday, August 14, 2022

the heat is on

For the past 40+ years that I have worked in some sort of office, my co-workers — for some unknown reason — have been positively fascinated by what I eat.... or, in actuality, what I don't eat.

I was never much of a regularly-scheduled eater. For years, I skipped breakfast at home, in favor of stopping somewhere for a cup of coffee and a doughnut on my way in to work. I am admittedly, a very hard and dedicated worker, so putting the brakes on my typical workday momentum was something I just did not do. While the majority of my co-workers began to prepare for their lunch around 11:00 AM, I continued to work, with the intention of stopping at 5. Sometimes I would have a soda or a cup of coffee from the office community coffee pot. In my younger days, I would have a bag of M & Ms, a Snickers bar or something equally as "no-good for you" to tide me over in the afternoon. But a full meal? No, thank you. Not for me.

So, job after job (and there have been many), a "lunch break" was something very different for me. It was a time that I had a communal office to myself. And it was great, My work output increased in that hour because I was uninterrupted by meaningless, un-work-related office chit-chat. However, sometime in the 90s, I entered the real live corporate world when I began working for a legal publisher. This was a larger company with offices across several states. There were rules and decorum and multi-level management and an actual room that was dedicated to eating lunch.... the likes of which I had not seen since high school. There was a large commercial refrigerator where employees could store their lunches until the time came to eat. There was a microwave and a couple of vending machines and it looked just like the office lunch rooms I saw on TV. After I made friends with a few co-workers, I began the heretofore foreign practice of joining them for lunch. I, of course, would not eat lunch, but I would sit at a table while other people ate their lunches. Some would bring elaborate concoctions wrapped in foil or Tupperware. Some would bring a typical bagged affair with a sandwich and other accompaniments, just like they were in elementary school. I was always questioned about my lack of lunch, with someone usually offering to share. I would always decline. I don't like eating a full meal during the day. It makes me sleepy and unproductive. However, it makes other people very uncomfortable. One day, at this particular job, I saw a Post-it note stuck to the refrigerator door. It read: "To whoever ate my turkey sandwich: It wasn't yours and you know it! How could you just eat someone else's sandwich? That was a pretty rotten thing to do!" I read the note. I smiled to myself, Then I extracted a pen from my pocket and wrote at the bottom: "Needed more mayo." Just because I don't eat lunch, doesn't stop me from being a smart-ass.

At another job — at an even bigger company — there was a huge cafeteria for the employees. This was a full-service restaurant with a quick-serve area and another section that served a selection full-course platters. In the middle of the workday, there were people eating giant grilled steaks with baked potatoes and green beans. I still joined my co-workers, marveling at their midday fare and still being questioned by my lack of eating.

As I got older, I developed hypertension, better known as high blood pressure. I also began a propensity to pass out, in an occurrence known as "vasovagal syncope." Under a doctor's recommendation, I was told to begin a regular eating regimen. So, now I eat breakfast every morning and I began eating lunch on a daily basis. Prior to this diagnosis, I had adopted a vegetarian diet. So, while my co-workers were chowing down on hamburgers and meat-filled hoagies, I was purchasing a grilled tofu sandwich on seven-grain bread. Trying to remain inconspicuous among my carnivorous co-workers proved difficult. "What's that?," they'd inquire, pointing an accusatory finger just inches from my sandwich — sometimes as it was going into my mouth. When I explained what I was eating, I was usually met with "Oh, what's it taste like?" or, more frequently, "EWWWWWWW!" I'm not sure who taught these people manners. It was instilled in me, by my mother, to be polite and never ever make derogatory comments about food that someone was about to eat. We all have different preferences. These particular co-workers had never met my mom.

After a while, once I got my blood pressure under control, I reverted back to my old habits. While I still eat a bowl of cereal every morning, I, once again, have given up on lunch. My co-workers, of course, have not. And — boy! — do they bring weird shit with them to work to eat later in the day... with no regard to how it may smell, either in the refrigerator, while it is being reheated or in their office while it's being consumed. One co-worker would regularly bring in leftover fresh fish and stick it in the community microwave, befouling the air on the entire 36th floor and rendering the microwave useless for anyone innocently heating a Lean Cuisine following her. Once, the same co-worker cut open a durian on her desk. The durian, a Southeast Asian fruit, emits the overpowering scent of death when cut. Decidedly not the ideal food to eat when proper ventilation is not readily available.

At my current job, one I am happy to have in the wake of the recent worldwide pandemic, my work desk is in a large room that also serves as the department "food prep" area. about six or so feet away from my desk is a table with a toaster oven, a small microwave and a wire rack with napkins, paper towel, plastic utensils and a collection of condiment packets absconded from various area fast food outlets. Every morning, my current co-workers file in — one at a time — and pop something in the microwave. Every afternoon, the same folks come in and pop something (something different, I assume) into the microwave. However, no matter what time of day it is, everything that cooks in that microwave smells like old, over-seasoned soup. I can distinctly smell rendered fat and spices heating rapidly. The aroma hangs in the poor ventilation for sometime after the offending food is removed from the oven. Once, some asked me: "Don't you get hungry from everybody heating up their food in here?" "No," I answered, "No I don't." 

Every so often, some supplier or client will buy a bunch of pizzas for the employees at work. My boss, a nice guy around my son's age, informs me of the availability of "free pizza." I politely thank him, yet I do not move from my desk. After a few times that pizzas were supplied for lunch, he stopped informing me. Aside from the fact that I don't eat during the day, the thought of my co-workers fingering and poking and prodding every pizza sounds so unappetizing, it turns my stomach. I wouldn't eat it anyway.

I know I am in the overwhelming minority. I don't like to eat at work during the day I just don't understand why anybody cares?

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