April 15, 2011

the tuna sandwich episode...

This is the essay that I submitted to Real Simple magazine's essay contest. It wasn't chosen as a finalist, naturally, but I enjoyed writing it for sure. It's a true story that I have been telling since I was a kid. Hope you like it ... 

I Never Thought I’d Eat a Tuna Fish Sandwich …

Wally Pendleton. That is the name that comes to mind when I am faced with the word tuna. I was five years old but I remember this occurrence as if it happened ten minutes ago. For twenty-eight years I have blamed my aversion to this brown-bag classic on my play-date with little, corduroy-clad Wally and his evil, tuna-peddling mother.

Wally and I went to kindergarten together. Our moms had met in typical fashion at school functions and what not. We were not exactly best of friends but more like paste-eating, flash card buddies. I was a little too bossy and a little too bold. Wally was subdued and sort of a wallflower. When my mother was unable to pick me up from school one cloudy afternoon she enlisted the help of Wally’s mother. It was a rather awkward and uncomfortable ride to the Pendleton home. I felt like a doll tagging along on an errand in the cart of a stranger.

Upon reaching the house, which was larger than my own, we were led up the driveway in a hurry to avoid the raindrops. I remember feeling uneasy and I wanted my mom to swoop me up immediately. Since it was raining outside we were limited to indoor play. For a little while I was able to forget my unfamiliar surroundings and enjoy a few games of hide and seek. After Wally chased me around the pool table for a few laps his mother called us into the kitchen for lunch.

We sat down at the breakfast nook and awaited our serving. Mrs. Pendleton placed a small plate in front of me. It smelled horrible. This was no PB & J. No sir. This was something straight from the sewer, I was certain. “I don’t want this,” I informed her, “I like peanut butter and jelly.” Well, it quickly became apparent that Mrs. Pendleton had no intention of creating my requested lunch. “This is what we are having for lunch today, eat it, you’ll like it,” she assured me. I could feel my face getting hot. My mom would never have forced me to eat something so vile. She would have given me my peanut butter and jelly sandwich and she would have smiled while doing so. Mrs. Pendleton was clearly a monster. My tears were like skydivers in a doorway awaiting their jump. I lifted the stinky sandwich cut sloppily into a triangle. The fumes made me gag. I could see that Wally’s mother was displeased by the production I seemed to be making. I peeled off a tiny corner and winced while bringing it closer to my mouth. In it went. The back of my tongue tried to block it from my throat much like a goalie. I could feel my mouth watering with disgust and my throat closing in defiance. I managed to literally choke the miniscule bite down before stating that I refused to eat another stitch. Mrs. Pendleton removed my plate with a grimace. I began to cry. I wanted my mom to come through that door and save me from this horrid lady and her poisonous lunch. There was no calming me down, I sat outside on the cement stairs until my savior arrived. That day marked the end of my friendship with Wally.

That day also marked the beginning of something. The beginning of a life to be lived without tuna fish! I vowed to never touch another stinky sandwich in my lifetime. And I hadn’t … until age seventeen.

My mother is a pretty good cook and I always enjoyed the dinners she prepared. Well, except for steak. I couldn’t chew and swallow that to save my life. Overall, her meals were delicious and well-balanced. On occasion she would make tuna salad and when that smell wafted through the house I had flashbacks of The Pendleton Catastrophe. After years of declining a taste of this foul-stench salad my mother said something to me that gave me a new perspective. I believe the sentence was, “Taste buds change, you know.” Hmm. Is this true? Do taste buds change? Well I, being somewhat lazy in the research department, decided to take her word for it. I opted for a ridiculously small taste test. The end of my fork barely grazed the well-blended enemy. Within seconds my throat started to close and my mouth began to water in that suddenly all too familiar way. After the morsel of horror vanished I maintained my anti-tuna campaign.

Over the years I have caved several times at the request of friends and family. “Try it the way I make it,” they say. “This restaurant makes it the best!” I don’t know why I kept giving in. A glutton for torture I guess. Maybe it was the words of my mother that I had questioned years earlier still ringing in my head. It’s not as though I was happy hating tuna. In fact I wanted to love it! It’s healthy and a great option for lunch. I am a big seafood fan so it only made sense that I should be able to stomach a freaking tuna fish sandwich. I just didn’t understand.

One week ago today, my husband decided to make a big ole nasty batch of tuna salad. I could smell the unmistakable aroma from the living room and thought for sure I would have to run for a pail. I began lighting scented candles and waving my arms to exaggerate my discontent. Several minutes later he emerged in the living room with his little, brown sandwich. Upon taking his first bite he became overjoyed. His eyes widened. “Oh my God you have to try this,” he said, still chewing up his mouthful. I turned up my nose and shook my head like a child. He handed the half to me and again suggested its greatness. I decided to take him up on the offer. What’s one more bad experience, I figured. To my astonishment it was delicious. Delicious. “I can’t believe it!” I kept saying. “I like tuna!” “I can eat tuna sandwiches!” If our windows were open our neighbors would surely have pegged me for a mental patient. I couldn’t help it, I was stoked. This opened up a whole new world for me! It was like seeing a piano for the first time in your life and realizing you are able to play like Beethoven. Well, maybe not that exciting.

I can’t quite explain why that one sandwich was so special. I suppose it could have been the toasted Pumpernickel bread. Perhaps the melted American cheese won me over. Or maybe it just happened to be the perfect amount of diced celery. Whatever it was, it reeled me in like a wounded sunfish. I even made my own tuna melt the next day and ate the entire thing. I was so proud that I actually texted a few friends to spread the news. Mom was right, taste buds do change. I am glad I never gave up. I have proved to myself that it really doesn’t hurt to keep trying. It can be a little unpleasant at times but you never know what door you may unlock. Rock on, tuna, I’m sorry I doubted you.

April 5, 2011

The Not-So-Sweet Shop...

You may remember back in November/December when I had mentioned that I would be doing some freelance graphic design work for a local Sweets Shop.  Yeah, here's how that situation panned out...

Initially I was pretty excited about the opportunity because I love the work and that industry is right up my alley -- designing little pink cupcakes and treats -- and working from home! I had several meetings with the shop owner, beginning the week of Thanksgiving. She was very enthused about me living so close by and she really liked my style and portfolio. She gave me some ideas of what she was looking for and asked me to create an Ice Cream menu. I was eager to get started and after six hours I was very happy with my outcome. In early December I forwarded the file to her and awaited her response. Once approved, all I needed was the accurate information to complete the project. Her response came within a week and she "Love Love Love"d it, was "in love with it". I was SO relieved! It is very hard to transform someone's thoughts and ideas into a design and nail it on the first try. Whew! This was going to work out great. I replied reminding her that I just needed a list of the ice cream flavors to complete the job. 

I went into the shop the following week to get things hammered out. She said she would definitely use me and was just going to hire a web designer for her new site. I would be doing all of her menus, flyers, signs for the shop, labels and tags for her products, cupcake wrappers, specialty items for birthday parties and events, designing a logo for a new line that she would be starting and I would even get to handle her upcoming blog. Sounded great! She said she would keep me "VERY BUSY". I was psyched. I asked about how many hours per week she thought this would entail... 5? 10? 20? And she said "Oh at least 20!" It was exactly what I needed! She thought it best that we officially start on these projects after the New Year because she had been so busy with the holidays. Perfect! Something to start the year off on the right foot! I was very relaxed throughout the holiday season just knowing that I had this awesome endeavor to look forward to.

Enter January. I hadn't heard from her so I went into the shop during the second week of the month. She was all smiles as usual. She asked me to work on a cupcake menu, mentioned the other projects but gave me no further information. She didn't have time to sit down and discuss things but said she definitely wanted a flyer for Valentine's Day along with a couple other items. She said she'd be in touch. So I went home, a little disappointed in our discussion, thinking I would have a long list of projects to get started on. I settled down to work on the cupcake menu. Once finished, I sent it over to her for approval. A few weeks later she contacted me to create a flyer for a local school fundraiser. I finished it in a couple of hours and after her immediate approval I was paid on the finished product. This would be the only project I ever completed and was paid for. 

Valentine's Day came and went and I was never contacted to make that flyer for her. Every week I would send her email reminders - attaching the ice cream and cupcake menus and politely asking her for the flavors/information I needed to finish them. I never received replies.

I went into the shop several times asking her if she was happy with everything and she said yes, totally, but she had just been too busy to get to me. She told me that I needed to "haunt her" because she was "spacey" (or "a flake", I can't remember how she put it). I felt that by sending her weekly emails - sometimes two or three per week, that I was doing my part in reminding her of my existence. 

I would read her daily facebook page posts and wonder why she couldn't take the time to just reply to my emails while she was taking those few minutes to update her page. It just takes a minute to respond. It's quite a simple courtesy. One day when reading her page I saw that she mentioned her new blog was in the works and to keep an eye out for the posts. Hmmm, guess she got someone else to take care of that. 

Another day on facebook when I came across a post from her shop I saw a brand spankin' new logo for her new line of goodies. Yup. The very same logo she wanted me to design but didn't give me the information for and said we were holding off on that for the time being. What the hell was happening here??? 

I was livid. Apparently she had chosen another designer and decided not to let me know. Was I to believe that she had completely forgotten about me?? Did I not "haunt her" enough?? No. I refuse to believe that. My job is to take the information (the COMPLETE information) that I am given and to design a layout for approval. My job is not to send three emails per week begging for approval and information. 

I decided to send her one last email letting her know that the way she handled the situation is completely unacceptable. I cannot believe that someone so irresponsible and unreliable can have such a successful business. 
After four months of requests I never received the list of ice cream flavors. After three months I still hadn't received the list of cupcake flavors. I was never paid for my time spent on concept and design for those two projects -- which really pisses me off. Being burned like that just sours me right up. 

At first I thought it was my loss because I was really very excited to do this work for the shop, I was so passionate about it. But now realizing that I would need to wait on her for weeks and even months, I know it would never have worked out for me. I can't sit around and wait and constantly beg for five minutes of attention. I don't have it in me. I learned that this was far from the ideal situation for me. On to the next ...