i was not a food critic for the post bulletin. i was manpower temp with a tryout at a local nonprofit, where i answered phones and opened mail, and they did me the favor of referring to me as an "editorial assistant." [later i would get a job at the post bulletin, but as more of a high school tennis critic than a food critic].
it should have been obvious that i was lying: in rochester, in 1998, the occupation of "food critic" would have quickly become obsolete. one night you're hitting the grand opening of timberlodge and within three weeks, resources spent, you're interviewing the woman who works the drive thru window during the afterbar rush at hardees. [true story, i did write about her for rochester magazine]. plus, a real food critic wouldn't out herself to the waitress, a real critic wouldn't show up on opening night. a real critic wouldn't eat at a timberlodge.
not to mention i was young. 22 masked as a 17 year old. unrefined in every way. i had a dull slab of pink palate. a hunk of raw boneless chicken breast idle in my mouth. linguistically capable of only: hmm ... salt or tobassco sauce, me likey. definitely not a food critic.
the waitress's eyes doubled, stunned. she scurried away and within an instant was replaced by a husky fellow who introduced himself as assistant manager and was joined seconds later by a huskier fellow who introduced himself as the manager. in between hearty banter, they passed out business cards like tag-team black jack dealers. i nodded cooly with a steady stream of "oh shit-shit-shits" bleating in my head.
because when this popped out of mouth two minutes earlier, it had seemed like a funny prank to play on some high school cross country runner from john marshall earning money for college over summer vacation. now management was involved and we were being promised the surf and turf experience of a lifetime. mashed potatoes double-checked for luggies; shrimp combed for stray hairs. we would be massaged and loved with the attention of a thousand stalkers.
the rub: for the next 45 minutes i was going to have to pretend i was a food critic. and eventually this morphed from funny to uncomfortable. our waitress hadn't been terrible. i would know: i'd been a terrible waitress. just ask anyone who ever ate at the ground round in roseville in 1997. they would be lucky to escape with salt spilled on the table. if a customer didn't leave with his lap filled with linguini debris, it was probably because they had left in a huff when i forgot to place their order.
a real food critic's dinner companions wouldn't get blotto, 32 ounces at a time, on michelob golden draft light. a real food critic wouldn't get a little blotto herself. a real food critic would have declined the free dessert, and definitely would have waived the two 20 dollar gift certificates that appeared folded along with the bill.
but i wasn't a food critic. i was an editorial assistant. an editorial assistant who's next meal at the timberlodge would be free.