Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Wet Wheels of Cheddar

If you travel to Europe in the autumn, you expect to get wet. It's the rainy season, even in typically warm and dry places like central Italy and Spain. The rain came down so hard in Avila on a Saturday evening in October that it kept Spaniards at home until it let up. Not much can keep them from going out and enjoying the night. Needless to say, almost half of my days in Basel and Warsaw were wet ones, but I was lucky that Berlin stayed dry, especially on the day of the marathon.

London has been particularly wet this past month, with more overcast days than sunny ones. We've even had two snow showers. I know that this isn't groundbreaking news for a country known for its abysmally rainy weather, but it does seem more than usual. Even on days that start off with the sun shining, like this morning when I went for a run in Battersea Park before work, by the afternoon, the brilliant glow of the sun all too willingly yields to the gloom of grey clouds and drizzle.

What doesn't expect to get wet in London are five 25-kg. wheels of Montgomery's Cheddar, which would retail for about 500 pounds sterling each at Neal's Yard Dairy. It was my fault they got wet. While closing the cheese shop with the assistant manager Martin, I did a little dance to the deafening but motivating music of Justice, a French electronic duo. It's hard not too. The eclectic songs are really upbeat; that's why Martin blares their album Cross at each close. But even when you are bopping to the sounds of Justice, you have to keep your wits about you during a close, especially when you are wielding a hose to clean the floors. I didn't and I end up dangling the hose over several Cheddars which were on floorboards at the far end of the shop. Hard farmstead cheeses favor humid conditions--85 to 90 percent, in fact--but not a water bath. Momentarily, entranced by the music, I was oblivious to the potential damage I was causing, but Martin luckily noticed and calmly but sternly told me to stop what I was doing and I did. Fortunately I didn't completely drench them. We put the heavy wheels up on the slate counter, rubbed their wet muslin covering with blue paper towels, and left them there to dry overnight.

I feel awful about it, and stupid. As David Miller, my long-ago colleague and friend at Choate remarked, when you fuck up at a "no-brain" job, you feel like you've really fucked up. He came to this realization while working as a carpenter soon after graduating from college. I know all too well what he means. Even if, or especially because, you have an undergraduate degree from Harvard, as Dave did, you can't help but feel bad about yourself when you fail to hit a nail properly. If you can't hit a nail on the head, or show a hose who's boss, you doubt that you are capable of doing anything at all. I feel this way often. New at the job. I feared that I would be known as the slow-witted, Justice-dancing cheesemonger who gets Cheddars wet instead of the floor during a close.

Two weeks on, my psyche and the Cheddars seem to have recovered, along with my reputation. Key to their recovery was the quick attention Martin paid me and the Cheddars. He quietly let me know that I was okay, and did what he could to make sure the valuable cheese was too. On top of that, I now have enough positive work experience under my belt to know that I am not a total disaster in the workplace, even if I can't be trusted with a hose. Like wheels of Cheddar, with time I've developed a harder exterior and a more nuanced interior.

But the following night, to add injury to insult, the hose uncoiled from its holder on the wall and bumped me so hard on the nose that I thought it drew blood. Damn that hose! And a few days later I left my umbrella at my local pub and am now exposed to the rain. Damn this cold, rainy weather! But not too much. The cheese likes it even if I don't.

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