by Sue Blaustein
It’s eight below zero.Stinging winds scourthe avenue, hounding meinto the vestibule.In Lam’s Garden,the north wall is allwindow, yet today the sun –
the life-giving sun – actsmean. Bright,but eager to show us where the glass is greasy. To pointout scratches…why?Must it blanch the orange scalesof blob-eyed fishin their aquarium?They swish their finsso fitfullywhen they circlea sunken treasure chest,and electric blue gravelmakes them look worse. But –I’m here about foodsafety, not the fish. Mr. Nguyen deeplywishes I wasn’t here,and I do too. But thanksto our jobs we’re helpless,and I have fact sheets.“Handwashing”in Vietnamese.And “FAT TOM”, which isonly in English. Food-Acidity-Temperature Time-Oxygen-MoistureIt’s the science behindthe rules (whythey’re reasonable).
Supposeyou’re a pathogen,well-fed in beef. Storedin a working fridge,it’s too cold for youto multiply. All you can do is hold outfor better times. Now your pot’s on the counter, warming. But someone adds salt.It robs you – poor cell – ofmoisture! Now you’re surviving,but far from thriving. If the re-heat for lunch,this frigid day, is donecorrectly, when the potgoes on the burneryou’re doomed. Weak fromsalt-induced parching,now you die morequickly. It’s what happens when we’re outof optimum range.
Mr. Nguyen is exhaustedfrom my talesof invisible events.When I finally pause, he asks: Did a Black lady call you?Yesterday a lady said I touchedher food without gloves. She cursed me in front of customers.You can tell me what to do.Please, you don’t haveto write it. I’m unmoved.No, nobody called. This is routine.I’m also spent. What a waste,reviewing “FAT TOM”in air icy with mistrustand spite. There’s science behindmy orders. They’re fair. But Ithink of a vintage book.Exotic Aquarium Fishes coversABC’s – how to createconditions where fishcan thrive. The epigraphfor Chapter One wasn’t meantto be ironic, asserting The best way  to be freeof the law is to obey it. Assert…assert…Ican’t help but think:whoever wrote thatwas white, like me.