I worry a lot. It’s most likely something I got from my mother. She worries…she worries when I worry, and she worries when I don’t. I’ve inherited her innate ability to know when to worry, and worry at times there’s nothing to worry about (the calm before the worry storm).
It’s worked—the worrying I mean. It’s kept me from getting into trouble from swallowing gum and gluing my insides together, or from going blind sitting too close to the TV. Even the clean underwear thing worked. Years ago, when I was in that serious car accident, I didn’t have to worry when they started cutting off my jeans in the emergency room.
So, the other day when I knowingly did something I should not have done, it worried me. I broke one of the golden food rules. You know the ones: “Don’t eat anything that’s been on the floor longer than five seconds;” “Don’t buy food from a street vendor;” and “In cheap restaurants always order your hamburger well-done.” It was this last one that got me.
As I often do, I went up the 45th Street to Café Manhattan for lunch. It’s a deli serving—and I use this classification generously—“fusion cuisine,” meaning there’s a pasta station, a pizza station, the custom salad bar, and my destination that day: the grill.
I frequent the grill, and everything, up to this point at least, has been served as it should. The meat has always been grey and any drop of meat juice that could potentially host a living organism has been vaporized. I’m used to this food. It’s vapid, but safe and life sustaining.
I order the Deluxe burger, no cheese. Here, they don’t bother asking how you want it cooked, and you don’t volunteer, because you both know it will be well-done, grey and dry. The cook pulls the partly cooked meat patty out of a container on a shelf and throws it on the grill. I turn to CNN on the large flat screen TV above the salad station. As I feel the heat from the flames on the grill, I turn to see the cook using his burger flipper to sear the life out of my patty. “Out damn juice!” I can almost make out the words forming on his lips. He readies a to-go tin, pre-populated with the deluxe condiments: lettuce, tomato, onion, and a quarter slice of pickle spear. I turn back to CNN.
“D’luxe burger, no chezz?” the cook asks. That was quick; I missed the burger assembly and dumping of the waffle fries into the tin. Did I get enough fries? Are they touching the onions? I reach over the counter for the delivery.
Back at my office I close the door. Not for privacy, but to contain the infectious smell of the seasoned waffle fries. I assemble the burger by rote, stacking the tomatoes, onions, lettuce, two packets of catsup, and top with the lightly grilled bun.
As I slice it I immediately notice something is wrong, very wrong—there’s meat juice on the bottom of the tin. I pick up one half of my masterpiece and look at the cut I just made. My worst fears confirmed—it’s…pink. Not a little pink in the middle, but cooked a perfect medium-medium rare. Impressive, had I been at, say, Morton’s Stake House and that’s how I had ordered it.
We could finally afford that new kitchen—if . . . what, if I don’t die!?
What happened to our unspoken agreement? Well-done…it’s always been well-done. I feel the worry creeping up my throat, wondering if it will block the ingestion of this juicy, but potentially lethal burger. I think mad cow. When was the last case of mad cow in the US? Nothing lately, but you never know. What about E. coli? Is that in uncooked meat? I know from CNN it can kill the very young and elderly. How far is 45 from elderly?
As I contemplate my fate, I realize how hungry I am. I decide to eat just the almost-well-done parts around the outside. I look at the pink burger after every bite. What if I get sick? Could I sue? We could finally afford that new kitchen—if….what, if I don’t die!? I take the last safe bit from the outside. I’m still hungry—hungry….deathly ill…hungry….ill. Hungry wins out (sorry mom). I continue to inspect the meat after each bite though not exactly sure what I’m looking for.
I take the final bite of the pink burger. I have no willpower when it comes to not eating something sitting right in front of me. I briefly consider keeping the nearly empty tin as evidence. “But your Honor, it was the burger that done him in…” I decide that any jury of my peers would certainly blame me for eating a cheap, non-well-done burger. I throw the container in the trash under my desk.
It’s now been 13 days since the burger incident, and aside from a sore shoulder—I don’t imagine deadly meat bacteria would choose to start in my rotator cuff—I’m fine. Or am I? I just saw on CNN that stress, caused by worrying, leads to high blood pressure, malignant Hypertension, heart disease, and strokes, to name a few. Wow…that’s scary. It’s OK mom, I’ll take this one.