Well, I spilled mustard on my shirt this morning. Not the Dijon stuff either, but French’s, with that four-alarm-yellow that made it look like somebody sprayed me with plutonium.
The mustard ended up on my shirt because I was in a rush (while making my daily cheese sandwich to bring to work which I know is lame but we got bigger fish right now, people) and the French’s bottle was a squirt bottle. I guess I squirted it too hard because it ricocheted off the bread like a racquet ball, even though condiments aren’t supposed to just bounce off bread like that. (Do your job, bread!)
But there they were – mustard splotches on my shirt. Worse, I only discovered it on the train on the way to work.
My first reaction, of course, was panic. If I’d had access to a pressure washer I would just started spraying myself, ripping the shirt right off my body and probably blowing a hole in the side of the Metro North.
Instead, I sat there. The panic metastasized into horror as we got closer to New York City, where literally millions of people had gotten through the morning without squirting mustard on themselves.
As I took the subway downtown to my office, I tried to calm myself by attempting to analyze the root of my horror.
Fact: I had mustard on my shirt.
“What are you actually embarrassed about?” I was asking myself. And Myself was shouting back “Because you have mustard on your shirt you idiot!” and it kicked over a trash can. But even Myself had to admit that my circular logic wasn’t providing an actual answer.
No, the deeper answer was this:
I was embarrassed at what my colleagues would think when they saw it. Specifically:
1.) Conor doesn’t know how to operate mustard, which means he is somewhere on the idiot spectrum, and my respect for him has dropped.
2.) He doesn’t care enough to change his shirt, which means he is a borderline vagrant, which means he will never be successful and my respect for him has dropped.
3.) He may not even know he has mustard on him, which means he doesn’t care for his appearance, and my respect for him has dropped.
4.) He is either eating mustard for breakfast or he is bringing a single cheese sandwich to work every day. (Dropped and dropped.)
Twenty minutes later, entering NYU Stern, I had to make that split second decision: Do I preemptively point out something embarrassing that I know others are going to notice anyway?
That’s how I found myself walking in and blurting out “I know, I have mustard on my shirt!”
Now, the problem with that is that nobody knows what the appropriate response is. They can’t really say “Are you okay?” because it’s just, like, mustard. So they pause from pouring their coffee to squint at my shirt and go “Huh!”
But there isn’t really much else to say so they raise their mug with that little “Well, cheers, I guess” and head to their office.
And oddly enough, after having blurted it out publicly and awkwardly, the Power of the Mustard Stain vanished.
As it turned out, the fear was all in the apprehension. Once I pointed it out and acknowledged that I felt really stupid about coming to work with mustard on me? That dread and that vulnerability, it all kind of just…vanished.
My wife figured this out years ago in a way that I find borderline-transformational. Here’s how it works:
Liz occasionally leads these weekend women’s retreats at this Christian ministry called We Want More, up in Bridgeport, CT. It’s a place that has changed many, many lives (I’ve done the men’s retreat, so I know this firsthand). The reason our friends, who run the More House, ask Lizzie to lead retreats is because she has a gift.
This is her gift:
When the dozen women are sitting together on the first evening, they go around and introduce themselves and talk briefly about their lives and why they decided to attend this faith-based weekend retreat.
Those answers, as you can imagine, have the potential to be extremely dull and non-specific.
The More House doesn’t do dull and non-specific.
So when Liz leads, she goes first. And with little or no preamble, Lizzie launches into her actual real-life struggles, and her pain, and her fears.
Liz doesn’t show everyone the tidy, Pintrest-y master bedroom with dried hydrangea blossoms on the nightstand that is her life. No, Liz’s personal tour brings everyone over to what she calls her Junk Closet.
She flings it open and she says “This is who I am. I’m desperate to get rid of this stuff, and I need help doing it.”
Liz, in other words, is the one who walks into the office and points out the mustard stain on the inside of her jacket, the one nobody was going to see if she didn’t point it out.
She does that because it helps her heal and because it helps others open up their own Junk Closet so that they can begin to heal, too.
That doesn’t mean Lizzie wouldn’t be mortified by a mustard stain. She’s human. (She also reminded me that she hates mustard, so bad example, I guess.) But she’s learned to own it. That’s what has made all the difference. That’s what I mean when I say the We Want More House has changed all those lives. So hard, and so simple. So impossible, and so possible.
Of course, none of this makes me feel any less dumb about this stupid mustard on my shirt right now. (People are sort of looking but trying not to look – you know what I mean?)
Anyway, here are the Top Five Sandwiches that I Have No Use For:
1. Roasted Veggies.
Seriously with this roasted veggies thing? I have a hard enough time with roasted veggies on their own, now you’re going to wedge them into my sandwich? You gonna key my car, too?
This is a joke, right? You think you can sucker me into eating a lettuce and tomato sandwich by sticking a piece of bacon in there? Who can even taste the bacon in that Forest of Terribleness? It’s like the princess and the pea with this tiny bacon. I take the lettuce and tomato off sandwiches I actually enjoy. Now you wanna make those jive garden snacks the main event?
Get outta here with your prosciutto sandwiches. Look, I love prosciutto as much as the next guy. But has anyone in the history of sandwiches ever taken a bite and not pulled out all the prosciutto in the first bite? Who’s tearing through prosciutto with their teeth? Piranha?
4. Walnuts in the Chicken Salad Sandwich.
You wanna put walnuts in my chicken salad, you better serve it to me on a bridge because otherwise you’re going to have to let me borrow your car and your phone so I can google-map the nearest bridge because I’m going to drive that walnut chicken salad sandwich to that bridge and I’m going to throw it off it.
5. Anything on Pumpernickel.
Try to serve me pumpernickel bread. Try it. You’ll say “Here’s your sandwich” and I’ll say “I don’t see a sandwich” and you’ll say “What are you talking about it’s right there” and I’ll say “A sandwich is something made with two slices of bread” and you’ll say “That’s bread” and I’ll say “That’s not bread, that’s a pair of brown fossil chips, so if you wanna call that ‘egg salad between brown fossil chips’ then we can talk about that but that ain’t no sandwich.”
What can I say, I’m a big sandwich guy.