New Orleans

Lessons From The Sludge

Note: This piece was inspired by yesterday’s outrageous downpour and my husband’s subsequent muddy bike ride. Upon his return, he found me eating potato chips that I had dropped on the floor. It was our anniversary this weekend. Sixteen years. I guess this is a tribute. Kind of.

When I lived in New Orleans, there was one particularly soggy Jazz Fest where just as Robert Cray finished belting out the last stanza to “Forecast,” — I can feel the thunder
/ I can see the lightning
 / I can feel the pain
 / Oh, it’s gonna rain,” — the already ominous looking grey skies opened up, and torrents of water-soaked this curly-girly’s hair in less than 30 seconds.

My soon-to-be fiancé and I huddled under an enormous piece of plastic that some smart person had thought to bring, and when the downpour turned into a light sprinkle, we slogged over to the food vendors.

Hubby immediately headed for the shortest line and opted for something cheap — a piece of pizza. I, on the other hand, went full throttle N’awlins and went to stand in a line advertising étouffée and crocodile and turtle soup and crawfish pies.

The line was ridiculously long; it wrapped and weaved around which, to me, indicated I’d found the Disneyland of food vendors. For 30 minutes, I sloshed around in a combination of mud and muck and hay and urine, my feet and ankles covered in a chocolaty-goo.

Eventually, I made it to the front of the line where I asked as politely as a ravenous, sleep-deprived, ridiculously sweaty, mud-covered dancing fool could muster: “One soft-shell crab Po’ Boy, please.”

Finally, a woman with honey colored skin and a long, kinky ponytail placed the sandwich of my dreams in my hands. My Po ‘Boy was thick and ungainly. Holding it, made it near impossible to retrieve my wet wad of dollar bills out of my pocket to pay. The woman behind the counter offered, “Sugar, let me hold dat for you.”

I reached in my pocket for $15.00.

Expensive? Absolutely. But I was beyond ravenous, and I just felt certain my “sammy” would be worth the wait.

Ms. Honeysweet Food Vendor traded cash-for-sandwich and, napkins in hand, I stepped away from the smell of fried food and the stink of people whose deodorant had washed off hours earlier. Or had never been applied at all.

I scanned the crowd for my fiancé, knowing he wouldn’t be far and, spotting him, I triumphantly raised my sandwich in the air.

Photo by rpongsaj @

And then it happened.

The innards of my sandwich — all that crabmeat, the special sauce and lettuce and tomato and onion — slipped, slow-motion style from the wax paper into which it had been carefully swaddled and splashed into the filthy sludge pile beneath my feet.

“Noooooo!” I howled, scrambling to my knees to retrieve what I could salvage.

Future Hubby was mortified.

“You. Are. So. Not. Eating. That.”

Future Hubby probably meant this as a gentle suggestion, but I have always heard sentences like that as a kind of dare.

And I always take the dare.

I picked up my broken sandwich parts and picked out the largest, most offensive pieces of hay and grit.

Did I mention the dirt? And the sludge?

I looked at Future Hubby, just so he understood the girl he had chosen and what he was getting.

And I took a bite.

My sandwich was not delicious. It definitely had bits-o-mulch in it, but I made a point of chewing and swallowing.

Future Hubby made gagging noises. He told me I would, undoubtedly, become sick. He told me all about germ theory and all the kinds of parasites that live in urine and dirt. He told me I was going to get tapeworm. And toxoplasmosis. Don’t ask. (I know I didn’t.)

I was unimpressed. If it was going to be my time, I figured it was as good as any to go. I would have lived fully. I would have been warmed by the sun and then survived an amazing lightning storm. I would have heard Herbie Hancock and Pearl Jam and Wynton Marsalis and Superfly and Chilliwack Dixieland.

As it turns out, that Po’ Boy was not worth a 30-minute wait. Neither was it worth that $15 price-tag. Even if my ridiculously expensive sandwich hadn’t fallen in the flarg, it is unlikely that I would have finished it. It just wasn’t very good.

Later, the sun came out again in full force. Exhausted, Future Hubby and I went to the Gospel Tent, where a person can usually find a chair away from the heat. I felt transported back in time, to some kind of revival meeting straight out of Huckleberry Finn. With so many people raising their hands in the air and saying “amen,” I knew I would not get sick. That afternoon, I put my faith in Rance Allen and Albert S. Hadley and Soul Children — in their voices, and in my immune system.

And guess what? I’m still here.

What’s the most disgusting thing you’ve ever tried to eat?

43 thoughts on “Lessons From The Sludge

  1. “I picked up my broken sandwich parts and picked out the largest, most offensive pieces of hay and grit. Did I mention the dirt? And the sludge?” Yes. And I also believe you mentioned urine. You ate urine-soaked ‘po boy! I’m not sure the 5-second rule covers that.

    I was at a fancy restaurant in Rochester – I think it was Aaron’s bar Mitzvah. His little brother kept staring at my iced tea. Finally I asked him why. He pointed to the bottom of the glass, where there was a very large cockroach! Did I mention it was my second glassful? My brother, trying to calm me, said “At least you used the straw”. My little cousin responded…but the bug is at the bottom of the glass. That’s where the straw starts!”.

    I stopped drinking the tea. I actually didn’t drink iced tea for about 5 years after that. On the up-side we did get the whole meal for free – all 15 of us.

      1. Definately a roach. In Rochester. In my iced tea. Definately NOT plastic. I’m not even sure it was dead. Do they swim?

  2. As someone who’s been to the New Orlean’s Jazz Fest and walked through that sludge, I am disgusted and extremely impressed. You had to eat that sandwich — the man had to know who he was marrying — it was the only thing to do. I’m so glad you didn’t die.
    My most disgusting thing is really disgusting. So disgusting it should never be typed for public reading. So here it is – I was sitting with one of my babies laying on my chest and eating this yummy red pepper hummus with some pita. I saw I’d dropped a bit of hummus on the baby’s leg and wiped it off with my finger then, like any mom without a napkin would do, I thoughtlessly put my finger inside my mouth.
    It. Wasn’t. Hummus.
    I changed the baby’s poopy (need I say the poop looked like hummus?) diaper, rinsed out my mouth with mouth wash (like five times), and didn’t eat hummus again for years.

  3. You might not believe this, but I’m going to say liver and onions. My mother force fed the stuff to us once a week when I was growing up, because it was cheap, foremost, and had lots of good “iron.” It came in those plastic bowls with the clear lids. I want to say it was every Wednesday, but I’m not positive on that one. I would spit out as much as a could into a napkin during the meal, and sneak the rest to the dog as I could. I had a friend that used to order it at restaurants when we went out to eat together, and it still makes me gag just watching him eat it. Other than that, I avoid putting things in my mouth that could cause me to retch. Like chocolate covered insects, or crawfish brains.

  4. I have read that it takes MUCH longer than 5 seconds for bacteria to grow. Therefore, the 10 second rule doesn’t apply anytime or anywhere. I hope that is true! As far as the most disgusting thing I have ever eaten… I would say anything at the New York State Fair. Those people working in those places look like they have not showered or more importantly washed their hands in years. But, it all smells so good, so I have to dig in. And even more gross, I eat my lunch everyday in my classroom during the school year because I try to get work done when the students are out of the room. Many times food items have fallen on the floor, especially grapes roll down the center of the classroom and I always pick up whatever falls and eat it! There is probably nothing more disgusting and germy than elementary classroom floors. But, I don’t pack extra items in my lunch bag, so I eat whatever falls…. And I am still here!

    1. Jode:

      I would have never thought that you would EVER eat anything that fell on the floor. So good to learn something new about you on this gloomy morning.

      Look at us, teachers. Eating crud off the floor. And we are still here. 😉

  5. My confession is that I’m not particularly adventurous when it comes to food. Tastes are one thing, but textures are usually what kills it for me. If I have the faintest inkling that I won’t like the texture, I won’t eat it. It’s actually one of the reasons I stopped eating meat. I hated when we had stew because things were too unidentifiable. If I ever got a bit of errant fat or gristle, I’d gag. Eventually it just wasn’t worth it. I had no problem, however, eating even the sloppiest-looking vegetarian stew that the Hare Krishnas used to serve on my college campus.

    I’d be on the pizza line, too 🙂

    I’d say eel was one of the grossest things I’ve tried, at least in terms of texture. The worst tasting thing? Probably Marmite. I didn’t learn my lesson after just once, though. Some friends asked me – the neutral American – to settle a debate over what was better, Marmite or Vegemite. Blind taste test. The verdict? “They are both the foulest things I’ve ever tasted! You people are stark raving mad!”

    1. Hubby has the texture thing, too. I used to be offended when he spit out “invisible” pieces of gristle into his napkin. Now I wish he would use a napkin.

      I’ve had Vegemite: truly offensive, even to my forgiving taste-buds. 😉

  6. Loved reading this! I, too, perceive the words “you can’t” as a challenge. Even when the speaker (which, more often than not, is one of my brothers-in-law) is speaking them strategically, I must rise to the challenge.

    The most disgusting thing I’ve eaten was natto (fermented soybean, which I just tried to describe as soymented ferbean, go me!). It doesn’t hold a candle to what you’ve just described, but the smell alone made me nauseous. My Japanese coworkers applauded me for trying it before nixing it, but I’m not sure the praise was worth the minutes of praying to keep the contents of my stomach in my stomach.

    Uni was bad, too, but that was just a texture thing.

  7. My brother once pretended to eat some Science Diet dog food kibbles. Apparently he had put something crunchy in his mouth to sell me on his ruse. Of course I had no choice but to throw a couple of kibbles in my maw. It was awful but I chewed and swallowed it. That was when he opened his hand and demonstrated which one of us was not terribly bright.

    My mom had a thing about germs. I mean a BIG THING about germs (in her defense, she was not well). She told us (and then constantly reminded us) that if we drank from another person’s cup we could get ill and die. I can’t drink out of anyone’s cup…EVER! I knew it was a bit over the top when I would make-out with boyfriends but then refuse to share a soda with them. If someone accidentally takes a sip out of my drink, it’s theirs. Strangely, I’ve occasionally caught the cat lapping tea from my cup but finished the tea anyway. I know it’s wrong, but I would rather die of some strange feline malady than miss a drop of morning tea.

    1. Teresa: As odd as this sounds, I completely understand this. I cannot drink out of a can or bottle from which another person has sipped: a glass, however, is another story. I’m okay with sharing a glass. I guess I figure I can turn the thing around and sip from another side.

      And I’m obviously not phobic about germs.

      Look how mothers go and mess us up when we aren’t even looking. I’m guessing Monkey will be good and wrecked by the time he’s 30. 😉

  8. Disgusting food? I’ve tried many unique foods including some of my own culinary experiments that seemed to have gone horribly wrong and oddly enough, nothing totally disgusting comes to mind. Renee, with one story you’ve taken the prize as far as I’m concerned.

    There is one item I’ve consumed in a liquid form that causes me to shudder when I think about it; St. Ides High Gravity Malt Liquor. Rather than attempting to describe it, I’ll just copy what I later found on a beer review website when I thought maybe I, unfortunately, had a bad batch:

    mrasskicktastic: “Taste – Corn, musky grain, a bit of paint thinner and glue. Aftertaste consists of offensive chemicals that make paint thinner and glue seem like something to look forward to having.”

    At least I found my favorite quote out of the whole deal.

      1. Well, maybe.

        I’d described this experience to my son. He was positive that I was just too darned negative. We’ve brewed our own beer without painful results and he was certain nothing could be this bad. He found a bottle. College students will drink anything, right? Wrong! Not this stuff. I think he managed half the bottle before having to decide if it should go down the drain or wait for the next local tox-away day.

  9. Oh no no no no no you di’int. I’m a pretty picky eater. I don’t do disgusting. But this story says way more about your stubborn streak than about what you are willing to eat.

  10. I love a good “how’d you meet? “first date” or wedding story. This one is great. The “5-second” rule is universal–even in the sludge. You showed him you are a gal who is commited. What better a message could you have given? (Committed to what? Well, that’s another story. ;))

  11. That is absolutely amazing that you ate that sandwich. I’m definitely more of the squeamish type when it comes to food…however I SAW my friends eating dehydrated field mice when I was in Malawi. I was the one gagging.

    1. Okay, THAT is disgusting. And I read your comment right before my neighbor told me she had a dead mouse in her pool — so I had this image of a super emaciated mouse contrasted against the uber-bloated mouse at the bottom of my neighbor’s pool.

      So thanks for that.

      All of it.

      I don’t think I could put away a dehydrated mouse.

      Unless it was dipped in chocolate.

      Or fried.

      I can eat anything fried.

      Napkins taste good fried. 😉

  12. You’re my hero for eating that sandwich! That’s awesome! The most disgusting tasting thing I ever ate was dandelion milk, which my sister made me eat when we were little. I’m entirely opposed to tongue, though I’ve never tried it, because it strikes me as french kissing a cow.

    1. You will have to explain (or blog) about dandelion milk. It actually sounds like the great title for a book.

      As for tongue, I used to love it — until someone told me that it really was tongue. Then I was out. But if you dared me, I could suffer a bite or two. I’d hate you for it, but I’d do it. 😉

  13. I ate an entire Milkbone dog biscuit on a dare when I was a kid. It was pretty bad!

    I applaud your courage in pushing the 5 second rule to the limit!! In my house it’s the 3 second rule and it only applies to “dry” food items like chips or cookies! You are so much more hardcore than me!! 🙂

  14. I take prodding to try new things I think I’ll suck at, but I’m pretty adventurous food wise. I’ve eaten deep fried bugs in Thailand. I’ve drunk homemade rice wine in a ceramic glass given while floating in the middle of a river in northern Thailand…given to me by a stranger wading out to our bamboo raft.

    Mystery meat too.

    I’m still here.

    I’m glad you are too!

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