Since I was a child, I could spot a hair on my plate, whether it was on top, mixed in, or at the very bottom of whatever I was eating. For some reason, hairs always migrated my way.
When I was in the Weiner King business, we bought most of our foodstuff from R&R Provision Co. based out of Easton, PA. Weiner King, for those of you who don’t know, was primarily located in the central NJ area. As the name implies, we specialized in hot dogs and hamburgers — Texas Weiners, in particular, with mustard, onions and homemade chili sauce. No restaurant made a better chili dog, and that’s a fact!
To say that, after many years in the business, I got a little tired of the same food every day would be an understatement. Don’t get me wrong, I tried every variation possible — hot dogs and hamburgers with any and all combinations of toppings imaginable, but it got old. You could only eat so many French fries with mustard, in other words, and fish sandwiches with pickles and ketchup.
Invariably, I’d send one of the workers out for a couple of good steaks. “Get one for me and one for you.” Or fresh sea scallops. Whatever I was in the mood for. A lot of times, the R&R rep would bring us samples in hopes that we’d put them on the menu, but we pretty much stuck with our main theme. The samples sure were a nice change, though.
On my nights off, I would sometimes go to the Union Hotel on Main Street in the heart of Flemington, and order breaded, deep fried, mushrooms. For years, they were one of my all-time favorites, so when R&R gave me a flyer with them as one of the specials, I gobbled up the offer and bought a 10lb. case. Holy mackerel!!! I was in my glory. When the delivery truck arrived, I went outside to greet the driver.
“Do you have my mushrooms?” He could check what was on the list.
“No,” he responded, “not today.” Fortunately, deliveries were twice a week.
I don’t know if I had to wait a week or not, but it seemed like an eternity, and my mouth was watering at the thought of biting into those delectable, deep fried to a golden brown, morels. Oops! I mean, morsels. They were button mushrooms, after all.
Finally, the frozen treats arrived and I quickly and carefully cut open the box. Certainly, I didn’t want any of them to spill on the floor. Not a single one. I threw a whole bunch into the deep fryer and told my employees, “Eat them while you can. The rest are mine. That’s the law.”
We were very liberal when it came to employee meals. They were always free and plentiful but, when it came to my mushrooms, I took a hands-off approach. Anything but them. While they were cooking, I went into the back room to close up the case and throw it in the freezer. I may have written DO NOT TOUCH on the box, too, but I did notice one thing that was printed on it: PRODUCT OF THE PHILIPPINES.
I didn’t care where they were from, but it goes to show you that, even in the 1970s, we were outsourcing. Did I worry about foreign pesticides, hormones and antibiotics back then? No. All I cared about was that I could eat my mushrooms every single day until I looked like a fungus. Well, not really. As a rule, I ate them in the late afternoons, when it was very slow. I didn’t want customers wondering if I was serving them, and I didn’t want employees asking me to share. 99% of the time, I’m a very giving person, but not with breaded or battered mushrooms. Until one day…
I was probably about halfway into the box when, one fateful afternoon, I had a life-changing experience. It altered this one eating habit of mine for the rest of my life. Believe me when I say that, until that day, I was enjoying bite-after-bite. I sat with my plate of about a dozen mushrooms when, as usual, I popped one in my mouth. As I chewed and chewed, I thought there might be a hair in there. Yuck! I stuck my fingers in my mouth and, yup, it was, indeed, a hair. I should have just spit the darn thing out on the spot, but I didn’t.
I managed to grab the end of it without losing any of the mushroom or breading. Then, I started to pull. Out and out it came. I moved my fingers away from my mouth. The farther they got, I realized this was no ordinary hair. It was LONG and STRAIGHT and BLACK! It was as long as my left arm could stretch by the time it was completely out. I immediately spit the mushroom into the garbage and just about heaved on the spot. I was totally shocked and disgusted. How did something that long get wound up into one mushroom? I didn’t want to think about it. My appetite was gone. I threw the remainder of that case into the dumpster and, to this very day, I cannot eat deep fried, breaded mushrooms. Just thinking about them would make the hair on my head stand up… if I had any, but I won’t eat them to this very day.