November 28, 2001
Free Lunch


I forgot my lunch this morning.

I got distracted, kissing my husband goodbye, and I accidentally left my lunch sitting in the Subaru, on the floor of the passenger side of the car ... along with my Ugly Emergency Sweater, my Dean Koontz paperback and the cell phone bill I was planning to pay during my lunch hour. I realized my blunder even before David had finished pulling out of the Dirt Company parking lot, but at that point it was already too late. Trying to flag him down as he was re-entering manic morning traffic, just so I could rescue a banana, an apple, a bag of raw vegetables and a can of Chocolate Royale Slim Fast,  would have been too dangerous for everybody concerned. So I made one of those split-second decisions -- I'll just skip lunch today -- and I watched him pull away.

Two hours later my stomach -- and my blood sugar level -- were protesting the wisdom of this decision.

I never forget my lunch. That's what surprised me the most about it, I think: walking away and leaving my lunch behind is the sort of forgetful, fluffy-headed thing that ... well ... that my husband would do, actually. Food is MUCH too important to me. (When you don't get to eat very much of it, it takes on even greater significance than normal.)  For another thing, I'm ordinarily much more together about stuff in the mornings. The rest of my life may feel like one big unmade bed, sometimes ... but mornings are when I shine. Mornings are when *I* am in control. I have my entire morning routine timed right down to the exact minute: shower from 5:45 to 6 a.m. ... blowdryer/coffee/one-handed e-mail from 6:15 to 6:25 ... spending a little quality time with Matt Lauer from 7 a.m. to 7:14. By 7:15 a.m. every morning I am standing in the kitchen, stuffing chopped celery and fistfuls of baby carrots into Ziploc bags. By 9 a.m. I am sitting at my desk at work, leisurely enjoying my breakfast banana.

But not today, obviously.

David called me at my office, half an hour after he'd dropped me off.  I said yes, I was aware that I'd left my food in the car ... and no, I didn't need him to make an extra trip back to the Dirt Company to drop it off. "I'll find something in the office lunchroom," I said mournfully. 

That was the other problem: I know what's in that lunchroom. I'm the one who did the shopping this week. It's all about Pringles and Toaster Strudel and Jell-O Puddin' Packs in that lunchroom. (Eventually I'll probably start trying to introduce them to stuff like fruit and vegetables and dairy products that don't come in a can ... but right now I want them to think I'm The Cool Mom.)

"The techs are ordering seafood pizza today," said JoAnne, when I got off the phone. She had overheard my end of the conversation with David, and she knew I was tragically lunch-less today. "They make a pretty good Calamari Combo. We can probably snag you a slice before the meeting starts."

I was touched (and only vaguely nauseated) by the offer, but I politely declined. This wasn't me being snooty. At least, not completely. This was mostly me being cautious. My eating habits have been borderline atrocious for the past couple of weeks  --  taqueria runs, tiramisu, Ten O'Clock Sandwiches  --  and my skirts are starting to get snug around the waistline again. If I start down The Pizza-For-Lunch Road now  --  even if I strip off the cheese and the olives and the offending little slimy things that used to swim  --  the next step will be walking to Jack-in-the-Box at noon for a couple of Jumbo Jacks. Then will come bologna and Miracle Whip sandwiches ... Tupperware containers full of greasy leftover chili ... Pringles and Toaster Strudel and Jell-O Puddin' Snacks.

The next thing I know, I'll be standing in front of KFC at noon with a cardboard sign in my hand. Will work for Honey BBQ Wings.

"I'm OK," I told her. "I've got an orange left over from yesterday, and I'll drink a lot of water." 

JoAnne looked briefly skeptical  --  maybe it was the hollow-eyed, Margaret Keane expression on my face  --  but she knows that I'm extremely committed to healthy eating. She thinks I'm insane, of course, but she respects my committment. Soon afterwards she left for lunch. We usually take turns every day  --  she goes to lunch for the first hour, then I take mine as soon as she gets back. That way one or the other of us is available to answer phones. While she was gone I defragged my hard drive ... ordered a bunch of office supplies from Give Something Back ... recorded a couple of new voicemail greetings. (Hi, you've reached The Dirt Company. We aren't available to take your call right now, but if you happen to have a spare Taco Time Soft Taco, we might answer the door. ) The goal here was keeping my mind on everything except how absolutely fabulous a large Togo's Hot Pastrami with extra mayo and avocado would taste, right about now.

Or the bowl of Hershey's Miniatures sitting in the middle of the lobby coffee table.

Or the seafood pizza, once the delivery guy showed up at the door. (It actually didn't smell all that revolting, to tell you the truth. Not fishy at all. I might have attempted to filch a bite of it, too, if all the engineers hadn't swooped in out of nowhere and carted it off.)

When JoAnne got back to the office, shortly after 1:00, I was nearly weeping with hunger. One rock-hard Satsuma orange and seven bottles of Calistoga weren't going to cut it, obviously. I had resigned myself to making a meal out of Pringles and Hershey's Miniatures, and I was starting to head for the kitchen ... but my boss had a surprise for me. 

"Lunch is served," she said.  And she handed me a large styrofoam container. Inside: an enormous tossed green salad, along with a squeeze-pack of low-cal Italian dressing and a little cellophane packet of saltines.

"You are the BEST BOSS in the entire WORLD," I said flatly. "I don't know what I did to deserve you, but whatever it was -- I'd do it again in a hot minute."

She beamed -- she loves it when I get all warm and fuzzy and appreciative on her, especially when other people can hear me -- and she shooed me off to the empty cubicle to eat my emergency lunch. The salad restored me physically -- within minutes I was calm and alert and vertical again -- but it was the unexpected act of human kindness from my employer that restored me psychically. Life is good. Work doesn't completely suck. Bosses can be fundamentally decent. I've come a long way from the days of wet crumpled Kleenexes in my *In* basket.

Who says there's no such thing as a free lunch?



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