I’m not a neat eater and that’s putting it mildly. I’ve been afflicted with this condition since birth. The pediatrician had to double my Similac dosage to make up for the spillage. My family tried to improve my table manners over the years but the results were spotty.

Once, in the fourth grade, I traded my lunch for a Lone Ranger Decoder ring. When I got home that afternoon, my mother scolded me. “Just a minute, young man! What did you do with your lunch? Now don’t lie to me,” she said, examining my spotless shirt front. “There’s supposed to be ample evidence here of peanut butter and grape jelly!”

You might think this is a small cross to bear, even endearingly human. So what if my fork hand doesn’t know the exact location of my mouth and I therefore can’t avoid launching food fragments in various directions? Nevertheless it’s been an embarrassing handicap and was once a real threat to my dream of a successful business career.

I was assigned to meet with a very important client to finalize our three-month campaign to land a multi-million dollar contract. All that was needed was the CEO’s signature. Unfortunately she insisted on a lunch meeting.

I tried to get out of it by feigning a temporary illness. “Nonsense! ” Old Ms Finchley barked. “You look as healthy as an ox, half as heavy and you’re less than half my age. Besides, I don’t like eating alone. Now where can we get some good Spanish food? Just bring the contract and I’ll order us their best Jambalayas.”

“What the heck?,” I thought. “I’ll just be extra careful.” But jambalayas needed careful planning to prevent or at least mask the almost inevitable collateral damage. There wasn’t time to buy a Mexican poncho so I decided on a pink shirt and red tie even though they clashed with my magenta sports jacket.

Ms. Finchley didn’t seem to notice when I put my elbow in the butter dish and when I splashed my salad dressing it got less than halfway across the table, but during the gazpacho soup course my thumbs began to get the range.

I thought I noticed a slightly raised eyebrow and Ms. Finchley definitely flinched when our entrees arrived. By then her napkin was raised up to the level of her lowest chin.

Believe me, I was struggling mightily, but the jambalaya had a mind of its own. The centerpiece, a delicate spray of violets, was soon overwhelmed. The waiter removed the dripping vase at arms’ length. I got a look at his apron. It reminded me of the final scene of “Bonnie and Clyde”.

“I’m running late,” Ms. Finchley muttered, wiping the crystal of her wristwatch. I noticed a bright red stripe on her cashmere jacket as she jogged to the exit.

“I tried to reach Ms. Finchley,” my boss said later, “but her secretary said she’s spending the afternoon at a steam bath. How did the lunch meeting go?”

“It went swimmingly, Chief. Here’s the contract, signed on the dotted line.”

“It’s dotted all over the place!” he barked. ” I hope this holds up in court. It looks like she signed in tomato sauce! Okay, you can count on a steady job under certain conditions. Never eat at your desk, not even pretzels, and for Pete’s sake, take off that dumb Lone Ranger ring!”

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