My brother Jim has a germ phobia. He’s reminding me how when he was a teenager he was at his friend Roger’s house. Roger’s dad, an old cowboy, was fixing breakfast for the kids.
“He was whipping up pancake batter, ” Jim tells me, “in a great big bowl. He’d tossed in the flour and eggs and oil and I was watching him with that big blue bowl under his arm, slapping the hell out of that batter with a wooden spoon.
“Roger and I were really hungry. And, you remember Mr. Payne, he was a Real Cowboy and he was tough. He was so tough he scared me.”
Jim and I are sitting at my kitchen counter and at this point in the story he puts his head on the granite. He almost sounds like he’s going to cry.
I know the story and I know he might cry for sure.
Every once in awhile Jim trots out this tale of The Terrible Morning With Mr. Payne, The Cowboy. He has never gotten over it.
“So,” Jim continues, ” he plunks the bowl down on the table where Roger and I are sitting and says, “Looks good boys! How many do you want Jim? How ’bout I make you twelve of these here flapjacks.”
“Well, ‘great,’ I say, ‘I’m starving.’
“Then I take a look into the bowl.”
Jim’s voice rises. “I see lots of little black specks. Wow, what is that? Pepper. I lean over and look closer. Shit!
“It can’t be. Mr. Payne turns around towards the stove and I quick, dip my finger in the batter and scoop a few of those black things up. Shit! It is! It’s rat shit! Oh my god, it’s rat droppings. All through the batter!”
It’s been at least 40 years and Jim is living it like it happened this morning. His face turns red. His eyes water.
“That batter is full of rat shit!!”
Jim puts his hands over his face and eyes.
“I can’t tell Mr. Payne his pancakes are full of rat shit. He’d kill me. He lives on beer and rat shit. He is a hard, dry old cowboy and I could never tell him I can’t eat those pancakes! I have to eat those pancakes. A whole plate full of them. I think I am going to die. It was the worst day of my life. I had to eat 12 pancakes loaded with rat shit!”
Jim is wailing. He has that germ phobia, you know.
“Venus, it was the worst day of my life!”
“Oh..I dunno..” I say. “You’ve had worse. You just went bankrupt and lost your mobile kitchen business. You owe all your friends and family a ton of money. And we, your siblings almost had an intervention and dragged you off to a mental hospital a few weeks ago because we were sure you had cracked your marbles over all this.”
“Oh,” Jim says.
“Would you rather have experienced all this stuff that happened recently or eat rat shit?” I ask.
Well, dang, with Jim, he can’t decide. It seems to be a toss up. That’s how bad phobias can be.
But, I can be reasonable because I am not the one who ate a plate load of pancakes loaded with filthy rat droppings, and I am not the one who just lost everything I’d worked for.
“Look at it this way, Jim,” I say. “You ate rat poop and you lived. You have just lost your business and pretty much everything else, and you will live through this, too. In fact, everything is going to be a whole lot better. You have just unloaded years of worry and work and pain and your mind is coming back together…and all the people you owe money to still love you and know you will pay them back.
“And, you’ve just had the luck of a life time because the best business man in town has asked you to run his three deli’s and he will let you make any menu you want and do anything you want and you can just be The Great Chef and chat with and charm all the customers and get paid to do it. You’re a Lucky Man.”
Jim looks at me.
“It’s better then eating rat shit?” I ask.
Jim can agree to this one. Being Suddenly Lucky is certainly better then eating rat shit.
“And to top it”, I say, “everyone knows you run the best restaurants because of your germ phobia. You scour everything every day with bleach so we could eat off the floor tiles or lick the wall behind the stove, and all your food is super clean and fresh. Having that germ phobia works out really well for you.
“I tell ya’ Jim…you’re a Lucky Man. It’s just all in how you look at it.”