Sunday Storytime – Ketchup

With all the cabin fever and work getting cancelled I had this week, I just haven’t had ANY time for my considerations. The cold really kills my brainpower, even indoors.

While my fingers were too numb to type until today, on Wednesday I did have some hump-day thawspiration for the following story. Here it is. No, not the dirty snow. Notice the small red pool of death?

ketchup in snow

This was spilled ketchup/catsup and I nearly died stepped on it! (And catsup — that spelling needs to start its second life as being a novel, creative, progressive baby’s name or just be erased from our memory with one of those Men in Black memory-eraser sticks, Will Smith and all.) I was getting into my car after work, and I nearly stepped in the red death. I let out a small scream, my heart pounded, and I kept my gag reflex in check. I jumped over the hood of my car and got into the driver’s seat through the passenger door. No way I was leaving it to chance that I might take one misstep and fall into that sin of a condiment. That’s right, sin.

And herein lies my inspiration.

I hate ketchup. I know most of you like it, even love it. You’d add it to a milkshake if it were socially acceptable, you wouldn’t mind a new Bath and Body Works lotion partnership with Heinz. I get it. I’ve, for a very long time, had a strong aversion towards most condiments. Taco John’s and Subway (the only fast food options in a 60 mile radius I had growing up) were always ordered “plain.” Salt was about the only thing I liked to add to my food, and I added it to everything. (For future reference, this is worth its own story.) It was the sauces and goopy things that gave me the heeby jeebies. Not sure where this came from, but the fact that condiments were evil was part of my core beliefs. Jesus and no condiments – all a value system needed. For whatever reason, ketchup had and has always been the worst offender. I think this is because I have vivid memories of it setting off my gag reflex. And why it ever set off my gag reflex is still buried in my unconscious. The other condiments are just blameless bystanders that were caught in the crossfire.

Then college happened. No, I wasn’t enlightened (besides the glory of buffalo wing sauce). I had some necessary and unnecessary run-ins with ketchup and other condiments that made face my fear head on.

The first occurred when working at a Minnesota Vikings game in the Metrodome concession stands. A student group I was a part of, got to run the concession stands and make a percentage of the profit for that given game. This included serving all stereotypical concession stand fare: beer, hotdogs (or Dome Dogs in the Metrodome), popcorn, nachos, etc. As a group, we were also in charge of keeping up the condiments bar, where people poisoned the processed food and maybe grabbed a napkin if they remembered. It was time to clean up after one of the games, and I was assigned to take the pumps out of the industrial-sized vats of condiments. And then to wash them. I asked my supervisor if he wanted me to puke on the job. I wanted to cry. I breathed through my mouth, wore multiple sets of gloves, burned my shirt afterwards, and bargained with myself that this earned me an Oreo shake from the student center upon my return to campus. I really loved Jesus at this time because I had just washed condiment pumps, after a major sporting event no less, all so I could go on a mission trip during spring break.

A few years of college passed, I was in my senior year, and a lot of things had changed for the better. Still, condiments made me cringe. I tried not to sit directly next to those friends who would put ketchup directly on their dinner plate, then smear it around as if they were finger painting. But as long as we were in a group, they were cool. Now the people who would mix condiments and then swirl it around as if they were Bob Ross…I couldn’t eat with them.

One lovely evening in our gorgeous cafeteria I was enjoying a nice post-workout dinner with friends. I also remember I had a long night in the library ahead of me working on a group project and was not planning on going back to my dorm to change clothes because being un-showered and academic at the same time was hot. Then it happened.

A group of freshman was sitting at the table behind me. I went to a small school, so yes, I know they were freshman. At said small school, we also loved one another so much that we left our backpacks and coats unlocked and unsupervised throughout the student commons. There was a certain lounge that had was used as a meeting place for meals before you went up to the cafeteria, with mountains of coats from around 5-7 every night. You just didn’t wear your coat into the cafeteria, and you weren’t even allowed to bring in your backpack. So when this table of freshman got up to leave, I thought it weird that the guy directly behind me was putting on his coat.

You know when you’re in a restaurant and you’re kind of pinned in your seat? That’s the environment I’m talking about here. You cautiously get out of your seat so you won’t elbow them in the neck, rub your butt against their back, etc. Kind of like going around someone in a church pew. It can get real awkward, real fast. There is the succinct way to put on a jacket that may cause your arms to cramp, but is good for crowded settings and then there is the free-flowing, no-restraint-necessary-because-no-one-is-around-me way. This guy chose the latter. Actually I don’t think he chose, I think he was a college freshman boy who had just had dinner with a group of girls.

Before he’s finished putting on his coat, he also grabs his tray. Still with no awareness of my chair that is surely jamming into his backside, he turns to start walking away. Point of elbow in my head. Pain. Then a red liquid flowing down my arm. “Wow, he got me so good I’m bleeding from my head,” I think.

Then I realize that it is not opaque enough to be blood and I smell IT. The guy’s cup of water had spilled upon impact, mixing with the left over ketchup on his plate, then cascading off the tray, onto the shoulder of my shirt and down my arm. The guy is already taking his tray to those funny cafeteria conveyor belt things, how did he not notice the pain he just put me through? I look at my friend Kari, who I distinctly remember being there with me, and I’m jaw-dropped, speechless, and probably needed my inhaler. Then I turn to the girls still at the table behind me. Nearly crying, I say in my winiest, most pathetic voice that is only validated on some select home video moments, “He just spilled ketchup on me, and I hate ketchup.”

They stare. With the tippiest tips of my fingers I peel my wet t-shirt off my shoulder, wafting the scent to my nose more and more. I can’t bear it! I’m trying to air dry the shirt as much as possible, while still on my body and in the cafeteria. I’m going to be late for my group meeting. Will they understand if I tell them I have to go change? Probably, but I just want to get this shirt off my body as soon as possible. I go dump my tray, keeping an eye out for that SOB who just assaulted me. I can’t just go take my shirt off in the bathroom because my coat is downstairs in the coat mountain. Darn! I rush downstairs, dig for my coat, and finally make it to another bathroom. I feverishly wash my arm, making sure no scent of ketchup is left. Who cares if I smell sweaty? Ketchup is way worse. Now, in the library, my only option is to wear my coat during our group meeting. It feels weird to wear a coat with no shirt on underneath. Some of you can relate, I’m sure. The whole meeting I’m replaying the incident in my head and hoping that no one will ask me why I have my coat on.

I had not let the ketchup win. It almost made me cry, it almost made me bail on my classmates, but I was victorious. I even kept the t-shirt for a while as a reminder of the battle I had endured and the strength I had gained.

I don’t remember the last time I tasted ketchup. I had a close call a few years ago in Seattle when a girlfriend of mine wanted us to take oyster shots at Pike’s Place Market. I was saved at the very last second by the same friend who witnessed my cafeteria incident. She must be my ketchup angel. When it comes to other condiments, I have somewhat of a more open-mind now. I like a good garlic aioli and hot sauces are my friends. This week I actually had a big break through: the sub shop put mayo on my sandwich even though I would have paid $5 for it not to be on my sandwich and I ate it! I may have wiped off as much mayo as I could with a napkin, but I ate it. So there is hope for ketchup and me. Maybe.

My friend Katie was studying abroad when found this.
My friend Katie was studying abroad when found this. Maybe I’m destined to have a loving relationship with ketchup after all?

2 thoughts on “Sunday Storytime – Ketchup

  1. oh ketchup. i will never try and inflict that on you willingly. at least not plain ketchup. i think there are some fancy tasty ketchups (like at burger bar in lawrence) that may warrant at least the smallest of teensy tastes. but i vow to get you more engaged in the bbq sauce community.

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