Sunday, October 14, 2012

essay: mustard meltdown

“No mustard on it? Does that mean you want mayonnaise?” the mystified sandwich slinger offers, holding up my roast beef sub like a newly baptized child, the slightest bit of drool gathering in the right corner of his mouth. “Nope! No mustard, no mayo. No...sauce,” I politely call back to him over the counter, as I begin to actually consider the reasons for my apparently peculiar response. For most people, condiments don’t necessarily inspire a reaction akin to someone offering them a sweat-soaked sock on a plate, but I’m truly disgusted by most sandwich toppings, with the exception of barbecue sauce and ketchup. Even then, I’ll usually order them on the side; I’m not so comfortable as to allow anyone to douse my deli meats. I’m not scared of condiments, like the chick on Maury who ran away sobbing as the producers taunted her with a heaping plate of mustard. This is no phobia, to be sure. Just pure and utter revulsion.

A summer of pool parties at Mrs. Husted’s house in the summer of ’91 meant a good two months of Miracle Whip-laden sandwiches for lunch. Since then, I’ve forever associated mayonnaise with bathing suit wedgies, mosquito bites, soggy turkey-on-wheats, and water trapped in my ear. Over the years, I’ve become skilled at recognizing the whipped abomination under all of its aliases and in all of its incarnations, including “aioli” and “remoulade.” As far as I’m concerned, you can put the mayo in the gourmet kitchen, but you can’t put the gourmet kitchen in the mayo (actually, I don’t even know what that means). 

The mustard? Well, that was a bit more traumatic. While I can’t recall the occasion—perhaps a christening or birthday party—I’ll never forget the sheer embarrassment that haunted me for years after the incident. My entire family was gathered at my aunt’s house in Syracuse, New York. Ever the weirdo that lurks around the buffet table to get the first of the lasagna at a catered event, or stalks the waiters for a fifth serving of stuffed mushrooms at a wedding, I snuck away from my happily socializing relatives and onto the enclosed front patio, towards the holy grail. I could see it from afar. A beautiful basket of chips and nacho cheese sat, untouched and uncorrupted. Mine, all mine! My six year-old eyes lit up, and I dove in, grabbing the biggest Tostito and claiming it as my own. I scooped a heaping portion of the dip, preparing myself for pure hedonistic indulgence. What I received instead was a mouthful of dijon-flavored disaster. This ain’t no velveeta, my suddenly southern mind concluded. So naturally, I reacted in the only manner that a first-grader who just had her taste buds and sensibilities assaulted by spicy mustard could.

I opened my mouth and let forth a yellow-tinged fountain of drool onto the porch. 

I looked around feverishly for napkins or paper towels. Nothing. Alone, confused, and still drooling, I suddenly heard footsteps and froze. Paralyzed with fear and rendered mute by the mustard, I slowly turned around to find myself face-to-face with a family friend/handyman/all-around random dude that had likely just wanted to enjoy some chips and was unprepared to encounter a small child that was frothing at the mouth.  His eyes widened as he took stock of the scenario before him. “We’ve got a mustard meltdown,” he shouted, to no one in particular. Curious family members began to gather, wincing and cringing as if they were watching a UFC fight. After what seemed like hours of humiliation, my mother got wind of the situation and rushed to my aid with an industrial-strength paper towel. “Oh, sweetie,” she shook her head, liberally swiping the sheet across my lemon-colored lips. “Nacho cheese,” I sputtered. She nodded towards the crowd, repeating “nacho cheese,” as if that somehow explained why her child was spewing hot mustard onto the floor. No, it certainly wasn’t my cheese. Or anyone else’s for that matter. And people wonder why I still dip my chicken nuggets in honey.

The sandwich artiste’s voice snaps me back to reality.  “...So, no horseradish?”

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