“Did you guys get violently ill last night?”
That John, he’s such a card. His wife got called out of town suddenly, so we asked him to come to dinner. Nothing fancy, just some leftovers, but much better grub than he’d rustle up by himself. And, as well as we know each other, we don’t often sit across the table from one another. We had a great, fun evening together, topped off with ice cream and cherry pie. We talked about the cold snap, when we thought it would be warm enough to golf again, and about an upcoming cruise our families were taking together.
It had been all over the news that night that another cruise ship was limping into port with a cargo of sick passengers and crew — all with a virulent stomach flu. The stories were graphic and gruesome and we wondered about our chances of getting through our vacation without an on-board fire, breakdown or stomach bug. It’s one thing to get the flu; it’s another to waste a bunch of vacation days and pay an arm and a leg for the privilege.
After a few hours together, John drove the five minutes back to his house with a smile on his face.
The next morning, I pick up a call from John, expecting to hear “Thank you” but getting “Did you guys get violently ill last night?” instead.
Very funny, I thought. Not that it’s the first time anyone’s ever called to ask that, but usually it’s after a boy’s night out or a day at the county fair. It’s never after eating a meal at our house. So I told him he was welcome and started to hang up.
No, he insisted, he really was sick in the middle of the night and since his wife is still out of town, a neighbor was going to drive him to the hospital in a few minutes. It turns out he was not kidding.
When you think about it, there’s really no good answer when a guest asks you if you got violently ill after your meal together. If you say “yes,” you’re admitting that you poisoned a guest. If you say “no,” they may think you did get sick, and just don’t want everyone to know.
We tried to remember if we all ate exactly the same things that night, and were pretty sure that we did. When I volunteered to drive him, he said, “Thanks, you’ve done enough.” What does that mean? He was probably thinking, “Why should I give that clown another chance to kill me?” I’ve always heard that “No good deed goes unpunished,” but I never quite knew what it meant until today.
John left the hospital this morning after three days of observation. It was not food poisoning; it was something totally unrelated to dinner at our house. Still, we all know how these kinds of stories can get twisted around. By the middle of next week, it’ll be all over town that we tried to kill him and that he barely escaped with his life. And his next-door neighbor is a lawyer. Who hasn’t been to a restaurant and accidently asked for an “evidence bag” when you meant to say “doggie bag”? I had eaten the last of the cherry pie while John was in the hospital, proving that it was blameless. And delicious. But I could see how a clever attorney might accuse me of destroying evidence.
But actually, I told him, he should be thanking me. What if this had happened while we were on our cruise? We could have been out at sea when this hit, two days away from the nearest port. He didn’t buy it. If he catches the latest norovirus on our cruise, will that somehow end up being my fault? Instead of the guy who was coughing up a lung behind him on the flight down to the departure port?
Jim Mullen is the author of “It Takes a Village Idiot: Complicating the Simple Life,” “Baby’s First Tattoo” and “Now in Paperback.” He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.