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The Ham


Foxy Methoxy
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I worked as a porter in the Food and Nutrition Services department at St. Vincent’s Medical Center in my late teenage years. I didn’t enjoy the job or the people, but it paid $5.88/hr which was a couple dollars per hour more than I’d been making at Taco Bell, so I stuck with it. I felt out of place being the only white kid, the only teenager, and the only kid from the suburbs of Orange Park. My co-workers constantly accused the manager of giving me preferential treatment and I routinely mocked my co-workers for having the collective IQ of a pair of dice. It was true, however. I was lazy and had a rotten attitude. And I inexplicably got away with many things I shouldn’t have. Most of the people there were working in dietary as a career, but I saw myself destined for greater things. I didn’t mop the floors, empty the dumpsters, clean the pots and pans, or sanitize the food carts with the same enthusiasm the others had. The only thing I rushed to do was sneak out for cigarette breaks (back in those days, everyone who worked at the hospital smoked). I had a somewhat antagonistic friendship with a guy named Todd for laughing when he said he was going to start a church and become its pastor. The image of Todd addressing a congregation was hilarious to me. Who was going to sit through one of his sermons? He was very difficult to understand. Todd had a bad stuttering problem as well as speech impediment. He was a very loud talker and would proclaim God’s greatness everywhere he went, but I was his favorite target.

 

He’d walk up to me and say “Be-in, da lawd ha-had-ha-had domething dreat in mind-uh fuh yuh doday. You dust hab do listen ah-ah-ah-and drust in Dawd.”

 

“Dawd?”

 

“Don’t buh-buh-buh mock me, Be-in.”

 

“I just want to know who Dawd is. Tell me about Dawd. Does Dawd love me? Will Dawd deliver me from evil? Did Dawd create me in his image?”

 

And at some point, Todd would tell me he was praying for me and leave me alone for the rest of the evening. By “praying for me” he meant he was going to report my sarcastic attitude to the manager who would then lecture him on harassing employees with his religious views.

 

My best friend in the department was a guy named Khalid, who was also very religious, but very philosophical and insightful. He’d tell me about The Qur’an and arabic culture in ways I found fascinating. This didn’t make Todd happy as Todd was on a mission to convert us all. Having grown up in Pentecostal churches, I’d already heard all of Todd’s stories before I’d even met him. Khalid, on the other hand, was presenting something new. Also, I could understand Khalid when he spoke.

 

In spite of my heathen-ness and Todd’s pious-ness, we both loved the blues. In the locker room, I played harmonica and he’d stomp his feet, clap, and sing. The janitors who we shared the locker room with would sometimes join in, but the kitchen cooks weren’t down. We had this guy from Maine named Chris who called it the worst racket he’d ever heard and yet, he’d sit there as we stomped, clapped, and improvised lyrics to my harmonica with this wistful look in his eyes that seemed to say “I wish I wasn’t from Maine. Then maybe I’d have rhythm.” Sensing this, we’d always try to draw him into the song.

 

One day, we’re in the bakery area. I’m playing the blues harp, the janitors are clapping and stomping their feet, and Todd is singing a stuttered, speech impaired rendition of the old Pentecostal hymn “I’ll Fly Away,” I’m doing my best not to laugh through my harp as Todd boisterously sings “I’ll bly abay do bory. I’ll bly abay. And dib I die allabujah by and by, I’ll bly abay.” Chris walks up and interrupts our song.

 

“Guys! We’re having a raffle and they’re giving away a 50 lb ham. A 50 lb ham!!! This thing is worth like a hundred dollahs.”

 

Everyone was excited, except Khalid who for obvious reasons wasn’t big into eating pork. They gathered around and I whispered to Khalid “What are you going to do if you win?”

 

“I would throw that disgusting bulk into the incinerator.”

 

So my name gets drawn and a collective groan goes out over the kitchen. The obnoxious 17 year old pain in the ass kid from Orange Park just won a giant ham. Conspiracy theories abound. The notion that I’m somehow a favorite who not only gets away with anything but also wins free ham was not making me any more popular in dietary. I needed to win them back over, but it wasn’t going to be easy. So instead, I decided to irritate them further.

 

I improvised a harmonica song about winning a giant ham.

 

So after winning the 50 lb ham and taunting my co-workers with a song, Chris lead me to the meat locker and presented me with the ham. It was huge. I’ve never seen a ham that big and seeing as I didn’t actually want it, I wasn’t interested in carrying it back to my car. St Vincent’s is a big hospital and dietary is on the opposite side from the parking garage. It’s approximately a half mile walk. There was no way I was carrying a giant frozen ham that far. So I tried to give it away. Unfortunately, no one wanted it. “Oh, no, Ben. That ham belongs to you.” was the response I got over and over. I couldn’t give this ham away. Meanwhile, Chris followed me around bragging on my behalf. “Can you believe this guy? He just won a 50 lb ham. He must be the luckiest guy!” But when I tried to give hm the ham, he says “I don’t know what I’d do with a ham that big. I’d probably sell it.” So I tried to sell it to Chris, but he wasn’t buying. I racked my brain to try to figure out who is in the market for a giant ham. It’s not like pawn shops buy frozen food. Ultimately, I had to lug what felt like a 100 lb block of ice all the way to the parking garage. This was not an easy task.

 

 

Huffing and puffing and with numb hands, I walk pass the security booth and am detained. They thought I was trying to steal the ham. So I offered to sell it. This only made them more suspicious, so they made me and my slowly thawing ham sit in a secure room while they conducted an investigation. I was asked repeatedly “So how did you get this ham?” “Tell us one more time. I just want to be certain this is your full story. Is there anything you’re leaving out?”

 

 

Finally, after nearly an hour of questioning, they let me and my ham go. I walked out dripping ham juice everywhere, leaving a trail of ham flavored water from the security station to my car. Finally, I could take this beast home. When I got home, I tell my parents I just won something, a giant ham. They weren't exactly overwhelmed with excitement, especially when they saw just how big this thing was. We tried to fit it in the freezer, but it was just too big. Our only option was to carve the giant ham into several smaller hams. As the center was still frozen, this ended up being a very tricky thing. We took turns sawing away and after a long effort, we had sectioned it off enough to store in the freezer. We ended up eating either ham or ham flavored foods like green beans or Northern beans almost every night for the next 6 months.

 

 

It’s amazing how long it takes to eat a ham that big.

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Well done! I will admit this surprised me. Since I belong to an eating club whose members are ham radio enthusiasts, I truly expected this topic to be about ham radio operators, often referred to as Hams.

 

However, this tale was not only a surprise but very well written. It held my interest and as I read I was amused, sympathetic, and highly entertained. Thanks for sharing!

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Thanks! Maybe next time I'll share the story of how we spilled 2000 pounds of hospital jello in the middle of the road.

 

I'm looking forward to it!

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Awesome story man! I really want to hear how the hospital jello story turned out.

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