O, how I long to be on the MOCON Staff! How I long to immerse myself in that intricate web of eccentricity and masterfully executed dysfunction that surrounds me every day during my dining experience! As I descend those sacred stairs, chillingly enter the legendary serving pathway, and make my glorious discharge into the breathtaking expanse of the eating area, my mind is overwhelmed by the sights and sounds that could only exist in the stunningly unique scene of MOCON.
As I near the bottom step, I begin to wonder, will the sometimes-friendly-but-occasionally-absorbed-in-a-book-or-flirting-with-the-special-food-lady-to-his-side Hispanic guy be swiping my card, or will my card endure the swiping process at the hands of the aged, jolly, bespectacled black lady who calls me Baby and makes me sincerely wish she were my grandma? Whichever way it works out, this is a harmless warm-up stage, and before I know it, I’m propelled into the food area.
I pick up my tray and utensils and walk toward the cups, but the employee in charge of cups often cuts me off, ferociously eager to add more and more cups. I reach out my hand for a cup, trying not to disturb his unloading process. This guy takes his cups seriously, and I’m well-aware that any poor maneuver on my part could be dire. His mentality, “You fuck with my cups, you fuck with me” is frightening, so my completion of this level is marked with a sigh of relief.
The next staff member I encounter in my journey is the venerable Dave. Always friendly and sociable, Dave welcomes me into his lovely abode like an old friend. Chillin’ and grillin’ is his game, and he undoubtedly has it down to a science. When I eat one of his exquisite grilled cheese sandwiches or cheeseburgers soon after, a feeling of sacrilege occasionally creeps into my body as I wonder how I could stuff such a beautifully-crafted work of art down my throat.
The following character on my MOCON journey grips me with a stern but loose stare. “I’ll have everything,” I say unsurely to this employee at the hot meal station, hopeful that he’ll oblige my request. With a hazy gaze, he begins his routine: “You want everything? Whadaya mean everything? You have to tell me what these are called.” Too hungry and too afraid to ask him to just serve the food, I look to my right and read him the menu while several young MOCONners blankly stare on at the awkward spectacle. This encounter, in addition to providing me with the greatest percentage of food that I will collect on my path and thirty minutes later unload as massive cargo into a toilet, clues me in to how this server has spent his afternoon outside the MOCON premises.
Occasionally, a sub-five-foot, antique, red-haired woman situates herself to the right of the aforementioned server. I curiously watch as she spontaneously screams at the younger workers with a motion and intonation similar to that of a nauseous cat. The workers respond to the verbal explosions with frightened faces, sometimes glancing at me in an appeal for sympathy or assistance. Eventually someone hands me a plate that I grab hurriedly. I leave this station pondering the events in the old woman’s life that led to her irritable demeanor.
Once the sublime highway of food is in my rearview mirror, I walk towards the pizza. Placing my tray nearby the rack, I extend my hand for a slice. “Something is weird about this,” I think, as my eyes fall upon the furious and growling pizza lady. Why is she so upset with me for taking the pizza? Should I have grabbed a different slice? Did we have a drunken hook-up that I forgot about and now she’s pissed off at me for not calling or something? With her sinister image tattooed in my brain, I sit down to eat my meal. On certain occasions, when the lighting in the room is especially bright, I can actually see the pizza lady’s menacing face on each piece of pepperoni. Ahh, the pizza lady—a classic figure in the mysterious MOCON lineup.
I know I’m finished eating when I can acknowledge the sensation of both satisfaction and queasiness intertwined in my stomach. I make my final observational glances around the room, reflecting upon the personages I was fortunate enough to encounter. A headless tray-taker snatches my tray and I use all my might to open the exit door.
The MOCON scene is behind me now, but that bizarre cast of characters, that singular mélange of offbeat souls, that divinely linked chain of atypical collaborators, will stay with me long after I digest my food.