Sunday, July 03, 2005

The salmon has landed

If the back of a cereal box ever asks me to send in a detailed anecdote describing the most random event of my life, I’m pretty sure that once I finished with the cereal inside the box, I’d just throw it away and never think about it again.

But later on, I’d start thinking about what I would have sent in. Then I’d think that if I wasn’t too lazy to actually write it down, I would probably have written this, which is dang near a true story:

Before suckering Corporate America into buying my soul after I graduated college, I spent a summer working at a dude ranch Out West (which is the opposite of Back East, and perpendicular to Down South) as a kids’ counselor.

The most important thing I learned that summer is that even though children’s imaginations have no limits, they still have a tough time figuring out how to get at you through all the riot gear. I also learned that while a little love and attentiveness goes a long way, a squirt of pepper spray goes about ten feet.

For the last few weeks of the summer, the ranch was closed off to families; during that time, corporations and clubs rented it out for retreats. With no kids around to look after, I joined the wait staff in the dining hall, where I discovered my passion for carrying dirty plates from the dining room to the dishwasher.

Over one of those weeks, a group of men involved in aviation and aeronautics came to stay at the ranch. I had just read Tom Wolfe's book "The Right Stuff," and some of the near-mythical pilots described in that book were staying at the ranch that week.

Among the guests was Neil Armstrong. Yes, Neil "No, I Invented the Moonwalk" Armstrong. All week, I hovered around his table in awe, amazed at how much the first man to walk on the moon reminded me of my Dad. I had expected him to wear a space helmet to dinner, and to fling thunderbolts around the dining room.

On their last morning there, I was bussing breakfast tables as the guests said their goodbyes. It was on that fateful morning that I saw an opportunity to become a part of galactic history, and I snatched it. Reaching over several graying heads, I collected two armloads of sticky, syrupy plates and arrived in the kitchen with the grand prize: Neil Armstrong's leftover salmon. Yes, they had salmon for breakfast.

I couldn’t just throw it away. If there’s one thing my parents ingrained in me as a child, it’s that life won’t give you too many chances to surreptitiously eat an astronaut’s leftover salmon.

At this point, you might be thinking that only a mildly deranged person would actually eat a famous person’s dirty leftovers, and that a sane person would just sell them on eBay. I agree that it would have been weird to eat the leftover salmon of, say, Gene Hackman or Britney Spears. But this was Neil Frickin’ Armstrong, and salmon would be difficult to ship, anyway.

Not being one to hog all the glory, I proudly announced to the cooks and dishwashers in the kitchen, "I got astronaut fish! Who wants some?"

The clamor in the kitchen stopped for a brief moment, and everyone just stared at me. Then the clamor started again. These people obviously had no interest in being pioneers of the cosmos.

Then Dan the Cook said, “Hey, bring that over here.” Dan and I polished off the space salmon together, and we both agreed that even though it was one small fish for Dan, it was one giant leap for Dankind to eat nasty leftovers with me. Okay, his name was Steve, but that doesn’t rhyme.

I hope this story inspires you to triumph, like I did, and to never be too proud to catch strep throat from an astronaut.

Also, your cereal is the greatest.


  1. You never fail to make this reader smile. And I don't even like fish . . . so that's saying a lot!

  2. Thanks for the laugh, Mike. :)

  3. Thanks! I'm glad this one was a hit with adorable, very small girls. That's so cute that y'all both know how to use a keyboard.

    [You have to click on POST A COMMENT to see their pictures. No pressure to actually leave a comment, though.]

  4. You entertain me!! I have no other words today Mike!

  5. Mike... I'm laughing again. The comment about the pepperspray was priceless. I hope you don't mind, but one of these days I'm going to use that line.
    Fantastic story. I once served food to Jack Palance and also ate breakfast next to Val Kilmer. I'll tell ya though... I had no desire to touch their leftovers. It definately depends on who the famous person is.