The Hell in Health Department

"Phil, this is Bob from the Health Department," my answering machine dutifully played back for me. "Why don't you call me tomorrow regarding that issue we were discussing.""The Issue" at issue: I wanted to be a Health Inspector for one day. I wanted to go on restaurant raids shouting words to line cooks like "Health Inspection. Drop your ladles. And put your hands where I can see them." I wanted to look for pathogens at Parisian restaurants. I wanted to find mice in tiramisu. Roaches in ravioli. Or at the very least, I wanted to say, "There's a fly in my soup."But first things first. And the first thing I had to do was explain to my new roommate, Ruth, that I wasn't Typhoid Mary, STD Steve, or even Hepatitis Hank. The issue at issue: A phone call from the Health Department wanting to discuss "The Issue."Ruth thought the Health Department "Issue" was a euphemism for "Her Roomate's Disease."This isn't a commercial break, I just want to state that I love my answering machine service. It answers the phone when I'm on the phone, a technological godsend. The lady that says, "Please enter your security code," I consider my friend. I hear from her every day. I can check my messages when I'm not at home. And, apparently, so does my roommate.After getting the message from Bob, at the Health Department, I came home and my new apartment smelled like a new hospital. Ruth wasn't taking any chances. When she heard I had "issues" with the Health Department, she had issues with me and my bacteria. Empty bottles of Clorox, Windex, Lysol, Mop and Glow, and lemon scented Pledge littered the apartment.I hated to disappoint her, the apartment was so clean, but I explained my dream to be a Health Inspector for a day. I think she believed me.The next day I returned Bob's phone call. We had issues.Disclaimer: In all honesty, the next day I didn't call Bob. I called a person whose name wasn't Bob. But today, I'm calling the guy that called himself by another name "Bob." Because stick and stones may break your bones, but it's reality that really hurts. The Health Department put me through Hell to get this story. And in the end, I didn't get the story I wanted. Instead, I got the story about trying to get the story about me being a Health Inspector for a day. Therefore, names have been changed.Bob was pleasant when I first talked to him. And mayonnaise doesn't need to be refrigerated, until you open the jar. We set up a couple of tentative dates for me to shadow his short staffed Health Inspection team. We opened the mayonnaise jar.Those dates came and went. I thought he was going to call me. He thought I was going to put the mayonnaise back in the refrigerator.I made potato salad and left it in the sun. I promised my editor I'd have the story no later than "x." Who wants to eat crow? I have semi-fresh potato salad as a side dish. When those dates expired like a carton of milk in a lactose intolerant household, I called Bob back. He put me in touch with Emily.Emily was slightly sweeter than unsweetened chocolate. Emily is not her real name. She said we could meet on Thursday. On Wednesday it was changed to Friday. On Friday to Monday. On Monday to Friday. On Thursday, Friday was changed to Monday. Finally on Monday, we would inspect.On one of the Fridays, or perhaps it was Wednesday, I was given the names of two restaurants we were going to "surprise" with an inspection. However, the Health Department Public Information Officer didn't want these restaurants to think it was S.O.P. (Standard Operating Procedure) to have a reporter in tow. I was told to call and ask permission from the restaurants to observe the inspection."Surprise," I said to the restaurant managers. "You're going to get a Health Inspection. And can I watch?" This was one can of beans they were happy to hear get spilled. I gave them the times and dates of the "surprise" and I was told I was welcome to the party.Then the eggs in Emily's cookie dough started to turn to salmonella. I'd call the restaurants back and say, "Did I say I'd see you on Thursday? I mean Friday." Then, "Did I say Friday? I meant Monday." Or, "Did I say the dinner rush? I meant Breakfast."I was no longer the welcomed guest at the surprise party. One of the restaurants let me know I could quit calling, the other was still willing to sample my tasty inside information, even if the "sell-by" date kept expiring.On Monday, when the inspections were really going to go down, I felt just like a SWAT Team member getting ready to raid a crack house. Granted, the tenants had been informed of the raid, but I could taste this long overdue, possibly stale, adventure that was cooking up.The outfit I chose for the raid was half khaki (Army Man pants). And half restaurant chic (A red and white checkered shirt that I've been told looks like a table cloth). I wondered what Emily would be wearing? I hoped my attire was appropriate.When Emily emerged from behind her cubicle walls, I saw that I was a walking fashion faux pas. Her inspection outfit was a capital "F" for Fun. Her sweatshirt top was a large print of the Tasmanian Devil, you know, from Bugs Bunny. And to catch those quick cockroaches, she had on sweatpants."What do you want?" She said to me."I'm here to help you inspect restaurant X and restaurant Y," I replied."Not dressed like this," she said. I knew I should have worn my Marvin the Martian outfit. "Sorry, but I forgot you were coming today," she continued. "Can we reschedule for Wednesday?"Once the blood rushed back to my head, I said, "Can I simply ask you a few questions?"The three of us, me, her, and Taz then went to a conference room and talked about her job. The mouse droppings, the butt scratching chefs, the proper way to cool food, and the fact that E Coli happens.I left the Health Department and felt like something was missing. So, when I got back to my apartment, I became the Health Inspector I had desperately wanted to become."Ruth," I yelled. "Drop the ladle. And put your hands where I can see them." Then I opened up our refrigerator and started ticking off supposed Health Code violations. "The milk has expired. You put the orange juice back in the fridge without using a proper cellophane wrap? How many jars of jam do you need to open at once? Is that a petri dish or leftover soup? This won't look good on the report."

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