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.
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?