I used to run a small warehouse in downtown Sacramento. Actually, it was less of a warehouse than a 5,000 square foot, hollowed-out office space with pallet racking and a forklift modified not to go through the eight-and-a-half-foot ceiling.
We were a bunch of guys who cussed and joked too much and encouraged each other’s poor eating and communication habits. Occasionally I would hire a female, but they would never last long; the testosterone-laden environment was more conducive to farts, belches, and jokes about these two gastric expulsions than things more feminine. Another thing that sped up the elimination of temporary female personnel was the warehouse’s refrigerator. Even now, when women make up nearly half of the staff and the atmosphere is more professional, we don’t always get around to cleaning the fridge properly, and the females are the most vocal about this problem. Still, compared to the old fridge, the one we have now is as sanitary as a surgical instrument table.
It was not that we never cleaned the fridge back in the old warehouse days, but we would invariably wait until things got vile before one of us got around to cleaning it. When that happened, there was usually only an old green sandwich or a half-bottle of orange juice that was no longer orange. However, there was one time none of us will ever forget. The people who lived through it would rather forget it, but I tell this cautionary tale to the rookies who skip their turn cleaning the break area.
In our fridge, we had a huge bowl of posole. Occasionally, women would feed us guys something they made from home. This was usually due to some maternal thing, but in this case, Rita, a woman who worked across the hall, had potluck leftovers and didn’t want to lug the stew home. When she first brought it in and asked if we wanted it, I saw a thick stew that would have smelled appealing any other day, but I wasn’t interested having just eaten. All the other guys had already eaten, too. I knew I was going to try it the next day and one of my staff also vowed to have some soon.
For reasons I have long forgotten, I never did try the posole and I think that also goes for the rest of the staff. So the posole sat in the fridge. Days turned to weeks, weeks to months, and the posole remained in the fridge. Since I was (and still am) foolish enough to eat out for lunch or, when I am a little more fiscally responsible, bring in a sandwich and chips, I never looked in the fridge, nor did I ever hear a peep out of my staff about the posole. For all I knew, the stew had been removed from the fridge months ago.
I didn’t know Rita was in the shop until I heard her cry “Oh my God!” followed by what sounded like a dry heave. As she left, she pointed with a quivering finger and said, “I need my bowl, but I’m not washing that out of it!” It took me a few seconds to process this statement. The required set of synapses had to fire for me to conclude that the bowl of the posole was still in the fridge. I chuckled almost in disbelief; I mean really, who would leave a bowl of stew uncovered in that dirty icebox for that long?
When I approached the fridge I could smell it; the remaining stench from when Rita had opened the door hung in the air like a death haze. I have never smelled anything like it. This was worse than the day my friend JT and I visited the old County Morgue. JT was helping me look for possible jobs and there was an opening as an office clerk there. After receiving the details of what this clerk’s responsibilities were–heavily peppered with macabre humor–we were on our way out of the building when JT cut in front of me and stepped on a pressurized doormat that opened a door to the corpse hold. The cold air hit me in the face, then the smell, and then, after my eyes focused, I was staring into a room of cloaked dead bodies on gurneys–one whose arm had fallen off the gurney, purple, grey, and black. JT impishly smiled at me. The whole experience was permanently burned into my memory cells. Thanks, JT!
I don’t remember getting the chance to look at the bowl or even shutting the door, but someone must have. I spoke with the crew about the situation as if I was choreographing a multi-pallet shipment. The task force consisted of three people: Brad, Ricardo, and me. I lead a five-man staff, but one of them was hired post-posole and the other guy, a problem employee from the beginning, made it perfectly clear that he didn’t like posole in the first place and told the woman so when she dropped off the bowl three or four or five months ago. We split up the tasks.
We had to move the bowl of posole approximately eighty feet to the nearest toilet where one of us would do the honors. Ricardo valiantly volunteered to take the bowl all the way to the bathroom, but felt his vomit launch begin to countdown when he reached in the fridge to pick up the bowl. He was out. It came down to Brad and me. I was proud of Brad for being a team player, even though the Irish wimp cannot handle anything remotely spicy and didn’t want the posole in the first place. (Brad couldn’t even muster a second bite out of a mis-delivered McDonald’s Spicy Chicken Sandwich. McDonalds, I tell you!) Brad took the first seventy or so feet, setting the bowl on the lobby’s candy machine! Sweat collected on his freckled brow; he was done.
Now it was my turn. Like a fool, I picked up the bowl before checking to see if someone was occupying the first stall. I had to double back – not only was the first stall occupied, none other than Tim Rothschild occupied it. Rothschild prefers to do his business in the basement so fewer of his co-workers have to partake in the byproduct of all those Snickers and Pringles he stashes in his cubicle.
I couldn’t wait in the lobby with the posole and there is no way in hell I was going to take it back – I left the stinking bowl on the candy machine. No one would be buying any Snickers this afternoon. I went back into my office and drank some water, and released some frustration towards sissy Ricardo: “My God, man, you’re a Mexican, proud of your tolerance for habanera peppers, and you can’t handle a little necrotic pork?” Speaking of necrotic, I checked the bathroom again about five minutes later, and Rothschild was still there.
I waited a good ten more minutes before bothering to check again. By this time, the entire lobby reeked. I peeked in the Men’s room to see that no one was in the stall, but Rothschild’s essence was as strong as if freshly squeezed. I couldn’t wait any longer. I grabbed the bowl, ran into the bathroom, into the first stall, only to notice as I bent down to dump the posole that someone was in the back, handicapped stall.
As I bent over and began pouring the rotten stew–dry heaving all along–a bone, hidden in the mucus, slid out and hit the porcelain with a resounding “DINK.” I couldn’t laugh, but still had to wonder what the person in the other stall was thinking. Let’s see: a guy runs in to a stall, stands before the toilet and evacuates a gallon of the foulest smelling fluid from his stomach, and then accidentally drops something into the swill. Whatever it was, it was worth diving into his own rejected lunch to fetch it. Is a Rolex worth that much?
I threw the shiny, slippery bone into the paper towel receptacle, washed, and dried the bowl, all the while still heaving and brought the bowl back to the warehouse. I never knew who was in that other stall, and I don’t know who gave the bowl back to Rita. That night we defrosted the old icebox – keeping the door open to the max, hoping the smell would dissipate by morning.
Now, whenever my name comes up on KP duty, I preface my fridge cleaning with an email to all staff members reminding them how merciless I am about throwing out anything that is not clearly marked and that doesn’t look right. Some poor bastard once lost a half-full jug of Odwalla juice – how was I to know it was still good, it was green! I tell my fellow staff members it’s all for the greater good, nobody wants to do the Posole Dash!