4.37 An Aversion to Mustard


This is the piece I read out loud a few weeks ago at the Centre for Social Innovation's Talent Night. I was very nervous as I had never done anything like this before, but I think it went well. I quickly wanted to thank my good friend Josh for editing the piece (I clearly stole most of his great ideas) and to Dunja who encouraged me to get up on my feet and stand in front of that damn microphone. And also to Liz who helped keep my anxieties in check throughout the event. Years ago when I was in university studying film, I worked one summer at a catering company that catered to television sets. Wait, I just realized how that sounded. We didn't serve actual television sets, but you know, sets: action, actors, cameras, cut, and so on.

I never learned how to cook. I still don't know how to cook. I don't know why I was hired - definitely not for my culinary skills. One time I decided to make a meal for my partner. We're not together anymore. Apparently all that time in the hospital after getting her stomach pumped made her re-evaluate our relationship. Perhaps I was hired for my rugged good looks and prominent nose. But most likely the minuscule white lie I told during the interview. "Do you know how to make simple things like omelettes or quesadillas?" Me: "Yes."

We needed to be on set at 5:00 in the morning and have a hot breakfast prepared by the call time for the crew. In addition, we served a snack every two hours. Our first snack of the day was sandwiches. The woman training me had a chain smoking-induced gravely voice and had probably been doing this job too long. She dropped a giant jar of mustard on the counter and said, "Slather those sandwiches with as much mustard as you can muster." A leathery-skinned poet she was who spoke in alliterations.

So, that's what I did.

I set out to the set handing out sandwiches - we had both vegetarian and non-vegetarian options. All were mustarded. There was a crew member sitting under a tree alone. I walked up to him, handed him a sandwich. Turned, stepped towards the next delivery. The crew member screamed at me to stop. He had unwrapped the wrapping, opened the two halves of the sandwich, furiously waved them at me and yelled, "Don't you know that mustard fucks everything up?" He leaned his arm back like a quarterback and threw the sandwich at me. It flew through the air, hit me right on the chest, stayed there for a moment and then slowly slid down, splatting on the ground at my feet.

I wasn't so good at expressing myself then, but now, now I would like to put forth a question. What other condiment could elicit such a strong response? Mayonnaise? Surely not. Ketchup? Boldly I would suggest ketchup has few detractors. And what about those mysterious 'secret sauces' used in fine and fast dining establishments alike across this great nation? Personally, I have never been so offended by a condiment that the only reasonable reaction was to hurl it at an unexpecting passerby.

That night at home after working twenty hours, I stood in the washroom. Stared at the mirror. Stared into the mustard stain on my shirt and thought, "So this is how it's going to go." I developed an aversion to mustard. To most things yellow. Bananas. Submarines. The sun.

As my career progressed, the first time I was on set and someone offered me food, I was extra courteous and thankful for their contribution. Probably went a bit overboard. But I understood that in many things we do, we operate within a machine, and every part of that machine is equally important. No matter where you fall in the hierarchy.

But some lessons take longer to process. Just a few weeks ago, I caved and got a submarine sandwich at one of the local Subways. Sat down, took a bite. Recognized immediately the error of the sandwich artist and that unmistakable taste. Sitting at the yellow plastic table that complimented nicely the employee's green uniform, bun in hand, seeing my reflection across the room in the salad sneeze-shield, I had a Zen-like moment of clarity and muttered to myself, "He was right: mustard DOES fuck everything up."