Fred burst into the kitchen and proclaimed excitedly, “Honey, I have great news!”
His wife, Furn, spun around and responded, “Oh, Fred, you know I love good news! What is it?”
Fred held back just for a moment to heighten the tension.
“Well, do you remember the position I applied for last week?”
Furn’s eyes widened. “Do you mean the director job at Platinum Industries?”
Fred chuckled. “Director job? That’s a modest way of describing it. If I get this position, I would be running an entire division. Platinum is initiating a new venture in alternative energy, and I would be the head of it. This is the dream job of a lifetime! And it’s right up my alley. With my training and experience, this is exactly the type of position I’ve always wanted. Just the thought of getting this job makes me feel alive!”
Fred’s wife responded, encouragingly, “Sweetheart, I know you’re going to get it. You’re the perfect candidate! So, what’s the next step?”
“Well,” said Fred, “the director of human resources called me just now. He told me that they were very impressed by my background and that he wants me to come in this afternoon for a lunch interview with the president of the company, James Calloway. Mr. Calloway has quite a reputation. From what I hear, he’s a real tough cookie, a no-nonsense, intense director who doesn’t tolerate weakness in his managers. He’s one of the most highly respected CEO’s in the Fortune 500. He single-handedly brought the company from its beginnings as a regional start-up to its current status as one of the top companies in the world.”
Furn said, “Honey, if you’re going for a lunch interview this afternoon, you should probably have just a light breakfast to start the day. I’ll make you a nice bowl of oatmeal.”
Fred smiled, but cautioned, “Please don’t forget to wash your hands.”
“Oh, Fred! You know I wouldn’t prepare your food without doing that! I know how insane you are about germs and cleanliness.”
While his wife was tending to breakfast, Fred sprinted up to the bathroom to perform his morning bathroom activities. He reached for his toothbrush, only to be horrified by the presence of a small particle of food within the bristles.
“Oh, no!” he thought. “How nauseating. That could have been sitting there all night, festering with bacteria and funguses. That’s disgusting.”
He immediately shone an extremely bright light on the bristles and donned magnification loops. He quickly identified the particle, targeting it with a brand new silver toothpick and set of stainless steel German tweezers, meticulously removing it as a microsurgeon might suture a tiny arteriole. He then ran water to its hottest, rinsing the toothbrush for at least five minutes while whisking the bristles with a special comb which he kept wrapped in plastic in the drawer.
Once finishing his bathroom duties, he bounded down the stairs to enjoy his sumptuous breakfast, thoughtfully prepared by his wife. Then, with a thumbs up and a hug from his wife, he headed out for the long commute to Platinum Industries. Since the company was in a neighboring town, the trip would take at least an hour and a half. Fortunately, there was an express bus that would drop him off just at the entrance to the company.
As he disembarked from the bus, he was face to face with the front facade of Platinum Industries, an ornate building that exuded power and dominance. He stood for a moment, taking in the magnificence of the architecture while also feeling a twinge of anxiety about the upcoming interview. Getting this job would be the culmination of determined and arduous work.
Once his nerves settled down, he strode confidently towards the entrance of the building. Just then, one of his shoes began to stick. “What’s this?” he thought. He lifted his shoe upward and around, only to be confronted by a glob of gum stuck on the sole.
“Oh, no!” he thought. “What a horror! Gum!!!”
Luckily, Fred was prepared. He carried with him a kit for such eventualities. The kit contained a set of small containers, one with alcohol, one with hydrogen peroxide, one with plain distilled water. It also contained individually wrapped alcohol pads, Betadine, a miniature barbecue brush with steel bristles, and a plastic bag for any disposables.
As Fred was always very prompt, he had plenty of time to clean the shoe. Once the shoe was spotless, Fred proceeded to march confidently into Platinum Industries and approach the front desk. The young lady receptionist was more than pleasant.
“You must be Mr. Fiddlefinger. How nice to meet you. Mr. Calloway is expecting you. Let me notify him that you’re here.”
Within a minute, Mr. James Calloway greeted Fred with a firm handshake and a broad smile.
“Greetings, Mr. Fiddlefinger. May I call you Fred? Excellent! My human resources manager told me all about you. I’m looking forward to getting to know you. Now, how about some lunch? We can chat over a nice London broil.”
The exclusive restaurant in Platinum Industries, reserved for only the executives, was warm and rich. The tables were solid mahogany, and the chairs were heavy and elaborate, the seats made from Corinthian leather, the backs having ten to twelve hand-carved cherubs and other design features. The walls of the dining room were dark red, ensconced by reproductions of Baroque artwork in highly decorative gold frames. The lighting was low, very conducive to private conversations.
The men were ushered to a prime table by the window, which overlooked a beautiful, sparkling lake. The maitre d’ approached the table and greeted the men.
Mr. Calloway took the lead. “Charles, I’m ready to order. How is the London broil today? OK, great! I’ll have the London broil. Give me a baked potato on the side.”
The maitre d’ then shifted his gaze to Fred. “And for you, sir?”
Fred inquired, “I noticed you have a pasta special today. That looks very enticing. I think I’ll try that.”
The maitre d’ responded, “Ah, good choice. Our chef specializes in that dish. It’s his signature creation. He takes it very personally. I’m sure he will come out of the kitchen to make sure you’re enjoying it.”
While waiting for their dishes to appear, Mr. Calloway led the discussion.
“So, Fred, let me tell you why we asked you to come in for an interview. We were very impressed by your resumé. You graduated summa cum laude from MIT with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical and chemical engineering, then completed a combined business and law degree program at Harvard. Not only that, your letters of recommendation were superlative. We had to meet you. I personally feel that you could be the right man for this new position. Let me tell you about it.
First of all, you will be managing an entire division, with at least 20 sub-managers below you. You will report directly to me. I don’t believe in middle men. I started this company, and I run it with an iron hand. But, if I am pleased with your performance, you will be richly rewarded, believe me.
Just so you’ll be prepared for the opportunity of working for me, let me tell you something about myself. I am a tough and demanding boss, but I’m a fair boss. My six years as an officer in the Marines informed my life and my philosophy. No woke crap in this company. I like real men, tough men, no-nonsense men. No squeamishness is tolerated. No whining. No complaining. If you have a problem, you deal with it. If it’s a serious problem you really can’t handle, you come to me about it. But, overall, I will expect you to be as tough as nails and a real warrior.”
Fred responded, “Well, Mr. Calloway, I am confident you can count on me to be the kind of man you want. I am quite capable of being that type of leader. I will be tough but fair, as you said.”
Just then, Mr. Calloway’s London broil arrived. Set before him, he inhaled the aroma of the steak deeply and sighed. “Now that’s the way I like it.”
Fred looked over and saw the chef approaching, carrying his pasta dish. The chef, smiling all the way, set the dish down in front of Fred, and stood back to allow Fred to appreciate the beauty and mastery of the creation.
The chef said, “Mr. Fiddlefinger, this is my personal signature dish. When someone orders it, it makes my day. I am so thrilled to present it to you. I really hope, or should I say, I know, you will love it!”
With that, the chef and the maitre d’ spun around on their heels and headed back towards the kitchen. Fred watched them for a moment, briefly daydreaming, wondering what the kitchen looked like.
Fred’s revery was wrenched back to reality when he heard Mr. Calloway cough spasmodically. He immediately turned his gaze back to the table, and through the peripheral edge of his visual field, he saw something fly out of Mr. Calloway’s mouth and directly into his pasta dish. It was fleeting and Fred wasn’t looking directly at it, so he couldn’t determine what it was, but he was sure it was something. It could have been anything: a chunk of meat, a wad of saliva, a blob of mucus or phlegm.
He quickly surveyed the pasta, searching desperately for any irregularity or visible identifiable chunk. But there was nothing. Just pasta, broccoli, sun-dried tomatoes, artichoke hearts, asparagus, garlic and peas.
Mr. Calloway excitedly proclaimed, “Dig in! I know you’re going to love that pasta. I had the same dish last week. I’m looking forward to hearing your opinion.”
Fred sat frozen in position for a moment. A combination of anxiety, despair and nausea quickly crescendoed within his abdomen and chest, and Fred tried actively to suppress a wave of retching that was rapidly accelerating from deep within his stomach and bowels. He felt his jejunum twisting into a knot.
Just then, Fred saw the chef coming back to the table, undoubtedly to ask about the pasta dish. Fred quickly picked up a fork and took one single strand of pasta from the edge of the plate and twirled it, intensively studying it for any sign of mucus. Nothing was apparent. He slowly brought it up to his mouth.
The chef arrived at table side just as the strand was at Fred’s lips. Mr. Calloway and the chef stared directly at Fred, awaiting an anticipated look of pleasure and appreciation at the wonderful taste and flavor of the pasta. All eyes were on him.
Beads of perspiration formed on Fred’s forehead. Time seemed to stand still. Fred could hear the clock on the wall ticking. The ticking was horrendous, bearing down on him, pounding into his ears and brain. He glanced up at the wall and could swear one of the Baroque characters in the artwork was glowering down at him. Several couples at nearby tables seemed to be looking in his direction. Even the chandelier directly overhead seemed to be peering down.
Within just a few seconds, Fred was able to analyze the situation and come to a plan of action. The dilemma was quite simple. Which was more important, the job, or succumbing to his neurosis? Could he overcome the sheer disgust in potentially consuming a chunk of mucus coughed up by an old geezer in order to get the dream job of his life?
Slowly, he tried to force the strand of pasta into his mouth. His lips were tightly clenched and wouldn’t open. However, with a bit of elbow grease, he pried the fork between his lips and teeth and inserted the strand onto his tongue.
Fred looked up at the two faces focused on his every move and forced himself to smile weakly, nodding his approval. The chef raised his arms in a celebratory motion and then brought his hand to his lips, kissing three fingers and then spreading them out in a gesture of delight. Mr. Calloway looked very pleased.
Fred sat quietly. He felt something happening inside. At first, it was just a slight wave of peristalsis. Then, it became a strong pressure. After that, it became a rising tide of lava within an active volcano. Fred struggled valiantly to suppress the impending eruption of pasta, bile and duodenal chyme.
But suddenly, as manna from heaven, Fred solved the dilemma. He looked up at the chef and said, “This is the most delicious pasta I’ve ever tasted. Would it be possible to get an extra order to go? Of course, if that would be acceptable to you, Mr. Calloway. I wouldn’t want to overstep my welcome. Also, could I get a salad for now?”
With Mr. Calloway nodding his approval, the chef gleefully scurried to the kitchen to whip up an additional portion to go and a salad for now. Once both were brought to the table, Fred nibbled on the salad and simply waited for Mr. Calloway to excuse himself to go to the restroom, at which time he made a quick switch.
Fred chuckled to himself. “I didn’t get a degree in mechanical engineering at MIT for nothing.”