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5:26 a.m. - 2003-05-02

LUNCH ANYONE?

I'm normally a nice, mellow guy in real life.

Except when I'm asked to do one thing.

NEVER ask me to grab you "a bite to eat" while I'm out.

Nothing irks me more than having to make that special effort to secure lunch for someone back at the office.

Why?

First off, I always get screwed on the money situation. Someone will give me three bucks and order prime rib and a baked potato for me to bring back to them.

Or someone will give me a $20 for a hamburger and fries and when I bring them $16 in change, they'll look at it funny and say "That's it?" as if I pocketed a few bucks for myself.

So as a general rule of thumb, I don't normally get lunch for someone at the office and bring it back to them.

That said ... yesterday a bunch of my office mates are hanging around the receptionist desk at lunchtime as I walk past.

"I'm going to go grab a bite to eat," I announce to them.

"Where are you going?" one of the ladies asks innocently.

I know that I cringed. And not just a simple little cringe. I'm talking a full-blown, shoulder rolling, face contorting, "D'oh!" kind of cringe.

"Well," I said, trying to think of something that would make her say "Ewww...no thanks" real quick. "I hear there's a new Egyptian place in town that serves really shitty tasting rice with chunks of real horse in it. I thought I'd give that a try."

"Mmmmm...that sounds great," she said. "Can you stop at the Deli near there and get me a sandwich while you're out?"

I did the cringe thing again in case she missed it the first time adding a full-body convulsion in there for good measure.

She didn't flinch.

We locked eyes and stared each other down. Both hoping the other would give in.

Naturally, I caved within three seconds because I'm not all that big on eye contact and told her I'd get her a sandwich.

She squealed and started asking everyone else what they wanted.

If I was half a man, I woulda given her a swift punch to the solar plexus at this point. Fortunately, I don't hit women. Even when they make me get them lunch.

Only one other person said they wanted a sandwich too. Great. Now I had to get two people's lunches, plus I had to get a sandwich myself even though I didn't want one.

The girl called the order in and I went to pick it up.

I get the order and the girl behind the counter hands me three iced teas.

I froze.

"Did she order iced tea?" I asked, as if iced tea was optional and just came with the sandwiches.

"Yes sir, she specifically ordered three large iced teas."

I do not do iced tea. I've tried it and didn't like it. It tasted like water that had been stagnant in a roof's gutter for several weeks. So if one of these teas was for me, sorry...I wasn't drinking it.

The reason I was a bit bent out of shape about the iced tea...I have never...and I mean NEVER gotten someone a lunch with a drink and made it back to the workplace with the drink intact.

Eventually, every single drink I've ever gotten in a flimsy cup with a plastic lid tumbles around in my car while I'm trying to maneuver through lunchtime traffic.

The girl puts two of the drinks in a drink holder. The third one? Hey dude...you're on your own with that one. That's not our problem.

So I'm supposed to hold this 30 gallon drum of iced tea while I drive. It was way too big for my cup holder. Hell, it was almost too big for my car.

I pull out of the parking lot into a busy intersection where I have to slam on my brakes because somebody has jetted out of a nearby bank parking lot into traffic.

The two iced teas in the cardboard cup holder topple over onto my passenger side floorboard.

I welcome this inevitable twist in my day with the appropriate curse words, get to a red light, unhook my seat belt and try to reach the drinks.

But they're way over near the door. I can't reach them.

I put the car in park, take my foot off the brake and stretch to the point where I think I tore muscles in my shoulder to reach the iced teas.

There's now iced tea all over my floorboard.

I rattle off more curse words all the way back to the office.

I park and get out of the car, trying to balance a huge bag of sandwiches, a soaking wet cardboard cup holder with two half full iced teas and one pristine iced tea in my hands.

There are five steps leading up to the front door of my office building.

Five steps.

I know that now.

I'm very aware of the fact that there are five steps in front of my building now.

Because if you had asked me yesterday, carrying a load of food that didn't allow me to count the steps in front of my building, I probably would have guessed "four".

Nope.

Five.

It was that fifth step that jumped up, grabbed my ankle, twisted it and threw me down on the pavement.

In the last ten minutes, my life had become one big-assed Jerry Lewis movie.

I got up as fast as I could and surveyed the situation.

The two iced teas were all gone.

The iced tea in my hand had lost about a quarter of the nasty fluid inside.

And only one sandwich came unwrapped and laid on the sidewalk next to me.

Luckily, it wasn't mine.

One of the ladies inside came rushing outside.

"Are you okay, New Boy?" she asked.

"I'm fine," I said, picking gravel out of the heels of my hands. "I just ... I ... I just had a lot to carry."

She picked up all my food, threw the two iced tea cups away and handed me the food.

I got to the office, handed out the food with a weak smile on my face and went to my office to sit down, cry and hatch out a plan that would keep this from ever happening again.

I've decided that from now on, whenever I went to lunch, I would climb out a window onto the roof and shimmy down the rain gutter to my car.

And for God's sakes...never announce I'm going to lunch.

Never ever again.

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