Chicago, O’Hare: I found myself having to investigate my packaged chicken salad a little too closely for comfort. Finding my own little private piece of real estate, sitting cross-legged in the only dark corner I could find amid the blue-toothed hoards carrying on with themselves, I had noticed a little rust around the edges of my romaine lettuce after a few blind-eyed ravenous bites. Part of me wanted to put my trust in the whole healthy-food-on-the-go-scheme and not tunnel any deeper than the top layer. But then again, I remembered, the tendency is towards decay, according to Stephen Hawking. Thus, either my chicken salad was a heap of rotting leaves by din of human neglect, or ineptitude, or, in accordance with the laws of Nature, the salad itself was well on its way to parting company with space-time continuum all by itself. Either way something was rotting in Chicago.
As I peeled back the bumpy layers beneath Newman’s dressing, I suddenly realized I really ought to stop eating, hungry as I was. No telling what I would find if I burrowed my plastic fork and mined any deeper. The pale, rusty edges soon became shades of vermillion until by the middle of the stack there was hardly a green leaf left. I could have mistaken the contents of my plastic holder for some steamed rhubarb, except for the other diverse shades of brown and yellow here and there. “Why not excavate a little deeper,” I thought, “This is beginning to feel like science class.” I dug till at last I found proof of Stephen Hawking’s statement. There it was in all its mysterious viscous glory: lifeless black pulp floating in what looked like a small oil slick or octopus ink. “F…in’ gross,” I whispered to myself. Like the proverbial worm-infested apple, it wasn’t so much discovering the black ooze at the bottom of my dish that troubled me, but wondering what part of the ooze had worked its way up to the top leaves that I chowed down without looking.