Even as he took the first bite of his sandwich, Earl knew he was making a phenomenally stupid mistake. It was the latest in a string of mistakes he had made in the last few days and the one that was likely to cause him the most immediate grief.
It all started when he made his weekly trip to the grocery store. He was in the mood for something different for lunch, so he bought two things of liverwurst and half a pound of cheese. That would be enough to make six sandwiches. (Earl was very exacting when it came to parceling out the cheese slices and spreading the liverwurst.)
All went well until Wednesday evening, when he was making his lunch for the next day. He had used up the first thing of liverwurst the night before, so he pulled out the second and got a sharp knife out of the utensil drawer to cut it open. As he lined up the knife at the one-third point, he noticed he would be cutting through the expiration date. He also noticed to his chagrin that the date was for two weeks earlier. Why hadn’t he checked that when he was at the store? Simple: he didn’t think he had to.
He briefly considered digging up his receipt and taking the liverwurst, but balked at rooting through three days of kitchen refuse to find it. He also didn’t relish the idea of driving to the supermarket so late at night, but the thing that irked him the most was the waste of $2.49. It wasn’t that he had to scrimp and save to get by – and $2.49 was hardly a great deal of money to him – but it was the principle of the thing. Plus, he hated to see food go to waste. That was when he made his second mistake: he made a sandwich with the liverwurst.
Oh, sure. He took what he thought were precautions before proceeding. He checked the package thoroughly to make sure there was no discoloration or other signs of spoilage. After he cut it open, he sniffed the contents to make sure they didn’t smell off (of course, a voice in the back of his mind piped up, how would he be able to tell if it was?). Finally, he tasted a tiny morsel and, satisfied that he wasn’t going to poison himself, he spread the liverwurst on the bread, adding the cheese and mustard that he hoped would mask any strange aftertaste.
Remarkably enough, lunchtime on Thursday came and went without incident. The more he thought about it, he realized the expiration date on the package had to be a “sell by” date, not a “use by” date. Sure, the supermarket had been negligent about leaving it on their shelf, but as long as he felt no ill effects, he saw no reason why he should be worried about eating it.
That night he made a second sandwich, which went down fine on Friday and showed no signs of coming back up. Two for two -- would he risk it a third time? What was it they said about lighting three cigarettes on one match – that it was bad luck? Would the same hold true for sandwiches made with expired liverwurst?
Sunday night he had a judgment call to make. Did he make one more sandwich or throw the last 83 cents’ worth of liverwurst away? He would also have to throw out the remaining slices of cheese, which likewise wouldn’t last another day, because he had no other lunch meat. What were his alternatives? Peanut butter and jelly? That was for kids. Tuna salad? He was all out. Starvation? Not really an option. Reluctantly, he made the third sandwich – the one for bad luck.
Monday lunchtime. Earl was able to get through the entire sandwich without feeling nauseous and chased it with his customary yogurt and bag of chips. Maybe the problem had been all in his head. Little did he know the problem was now in his stomach and it wasn’t going to pass without comment.
Earl’s last mistake was not going home early when he started feeling sick to his stomach, but his company had a staff meeting every Monday right after lunch and leaving in the middle of one was definitely frowned upon. Actually, his absolute final mistake was not picking a seat closer to the trashcan. Or the door. Or the window, even. He also could have had a small plastic bag with him. As it was, he was entirely unprepared when his liverwurst sandwich decided to make an unscheduled reappearance. And so was his boss, who had the misfortune to be sitting next to him. And so was her boss, who was seated across the conference table from him. Suffice it to say, no one was happy to be in the room with Earl that afternoon.
And Earl never ate a liverwurst sandwich again.