Saturday, September 7, 2013

Botulism Special... With Crackers

Once upon a time, in this very land, I was a slip of a girl just graduated from high school.  (Really!  I weighed 120 pounds and I was only an inch shorter than I am now.  I was thin.) On my way to college in the fall, I needed a good-paying job with which to pay my tuition.  I'd been working in the mall at the music store, which I loved, but they still paid minimum wage.  

I'd been told by my stepmother not to even ask my father for money.  "Not one red cent!" were her exact words.  She seemed very opposed to the idea that I would go to college, when it was expected of me all along. Why? Gosh, I don't really know... Gee. Golly gee. It really hurt my feelings for many years afterward, because I believed that demand was coming from him.  I was really dumb and trusting when I was younger. I'm not so trusting anymore. ;)

He was unaware of that edict, and it ran counter to what he had intended. Later, he told me that paying for college educations was what had him voluntarily working 8 shifts a week in the factory where he worked.  I had done the math, and had figured out that I could survive (barely) on my scholarships and a better paying job.  

The factory my stepmother worked in hired college and college-bound students as temporary summer workers.  They paid us the grand sum of $5.25 an hour (minimum wage was $3.35 an hour way back when in the late 80s) and treated us like stupid dogs. If there was some nasty job to be done, let the college kids do it.  We worked 10 hours on the 4th of July, with regular pay, 

It wasn't an actual factory, as they didn't create anything there.  They simply packaged automotive air conditioning and heating parts that were ordered by parts stores such as Auto Zone.  

I'll tell you a secret -- the parts, whether Napa brand, Carquest, or Murray -- all came from the same bulk boxes and pallets, and were placed into differently branded boxes as orders came in.  Whether it was a compressor, fan clutch, blower motor, or a 100 foot hose package, they all came from the same box originally. I had the bloody knuckles and broken fingernails to prove it.   They got different part number stickers depending upon which distributor was selling them, and back then, Napa-boxed parts demanded the highest purchased price of them all.  

Anyway, if there was a nasty job to be done, "let the college kids do it."  If there was mandatory 14, 12, or 10 hour overtime, let the college kids do it.  (No overtime pay for us, ever.)  On the 4th of July, while the regular employees were enjoying a national holiday, we worked a 12 hour day, at regular pay, of course.  We weren't allowed to miss a single day for being sick or meeting school appointments, or we would be fired. In short, they treated us like slaves, and most of the regular employees acted as if they were royalty compared to us.  I still worked two jobs during my college semesters, so I never had a break from working. 

One year, they allowed us to come to the company picnic, but only because it was a workday and they realized that if we weren't invited and still had to be inside working, we wouldn't do much work knowing they were outside at a banquet.  I believe they changed the picnic date to September after that, so they could keep it exclusive. 

Several people I worked with that first summer (I spent five summers there and never experienced the party lifestyle that most college students have; it's why I'm socially awkward now) expressed their confusion that I was such a hard-working girl, and that I wasn't at all unpleasant, ill-mannered, and ungrateful. They told me that I wasn't at all... the type of person I'd been painted as being, for years before they met me.  They knew me before only from what they'd heard.  I wonder who could have possibly told them tales about me? Golly gee.  I can't seem to puzzle that one out...

The first summer, for a little while, my stepmother told me she would make my lunch for me.  Grand gesture.  Was it genuine? Well, of COURSE it was, all from a place of love and caring, so that everyone could see how good she was to me, even though I was horrible and didn't deserve it.  

One day she opened her lunch bag and set before me the lunch she had chosen for me.  She had two cans of potted meat (yuck, I hated that stuff and she knew it!), one for each of us, and a sleeve of saltine crackers to share.  Because that's what she wanted for lunch.  A 3 ounce can of potted meat. Gosh, I'd be too stuffed to work afterwards!

I'll admit that I was a truly ungrateful beast for complaining that a three ounce can of mystery meat with a few crackers wasn't going to be enough to sustain me for a twelve hour shift during which she sat on a stool and I did decidedly harder labor on a fan clutch repackaging line.  But wait a minute, she was giving me a bigger can!  Hmm.  Well, not exactly bigger.  It was a three ounce can as well, but the can she chose and slid over to me was bulging at the seams.  Not dented.  Puffing out at the top. 

I should, of course, assume that she just meant for me to have the bigger can.  She insisted that I eat it, that nothing was wrong with it, and that I was "snurling my nose up" at good food to make her look bad.  After all, she's been canning food for decades, and she knows when food is spoiled. (I'm notorious for refusing to drink milk that "is only a little bit soured.")

I refused to touch the can of potted meat.  My brain said "botulism!"

She started yelling at me to eat it.  

I said I'd rather go hungry than eat a can of meat which was obviously spoiled. (Her attitude while I was growing up as a picky eater was a stern "eat what I make or go hungry." Despite the intention to make me eat things i didn't like, it failed and I was a skinny kid. Often, meals consisted of one item which I hated, such as white beans, turnip greens, or saurkraut, and that was all.  We were not poor, so it wasn't a financial necessity.)

She got mad, grabbed the can and started to open it, saying that I was going to eat it whether I wanted to or not.  By this time, her friends at the table were looking distinctly uncomfortable about some part of the situation.  I'm not entirely sure what it was.  Oh right, it must have been that I was refusing the bounty laid before me.  Such an ingrate.

When she pulled the ring on the can, it simply exploded, spraying rotten potted meat everywhere.  On everyone at the table. The table.  The chairs.  The cafeteria floor.  The walls.  Like me, the can was an accomplished projectile vomiter.

It smelled like a decaying corpse, and the stench entirely permeated the entire cafeteria.  It had to be evacuated.  Even after the janitor had cleaned it up, the cafeteria reeked of rotten offal for days.  

She then verbally refused to honor me with making my lunch.  I expressed my gratitude.  I made myself sandwiches that were far more substantial meals, every day from then on. 

After that, all of us college kids decided we would prefer to sit in the sun outside at the single picnic table for lunch, dodging pooping birds and wasps, cooking in the sauna that is the South from April to October. The regular employees didn't want us taking up any of their cafeteria chairs and tables anyway.

Naturally, I don't believe that someone would deliberately give me food that would have sent me to the hospital, thus losing my job that I needed to pay my costs for college, or even which could have killed me.  I'm sure it was just an accident, and that puffed out, bulging can was simply overlooked as she put it in her bag that morning.  

Pure accident.  Sure.  Obviously.  

Wanna buy a bridge?

On a positive note, I've never eaten potted meat food "product" since.  Yep, it's really gross stuff even when it isn't a rotten time bomb waiting to explode. It's a garbage product.  

http://www.pk.org/pottedmeat.html

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Potted_meat_food_product

(The ingrate shall make real links later when she has access to a computer rather than an iPad.)
















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