But luckily, such a memory-jogging event occurred at work the other day.
One of our new interns and I chatted over a sinkful of buckets about what it was like to make mistakes as a new intern. I reassured her that everyone does it, which bridged the final synapses in my brain to bring you The Story Of the Airborne Disaster.
I did my internship at the Clearwater Marine Aquarium, which started on January 20th, 2005. Why do I remember this? Because it was four days after my 21st birthday in which I really let loose and ushered in my newfound drinking privileges with eating key lime pie for the first time and drinking glass after glass of….water.**
|I know how to party. Sober. Yes, I'm serious.|
To give myself some credit before I well, discredit myself, I did have the general notion of what a marine mammal internship would probably be like. I knew I'd be cleaning a lot, and sorting fish, and of course I knew what I'd read on the sheet sent to me about what to expect in the internship. I knew it was going to be a lot of hard work and and smells.
But I really had no clue how to distinguish myself, since this was My First Step Towards My Dream Job. I wanted to Make An Impression. Be careful what you wish for, right?
My first day, I put on the required clothing and showed up with a bellyful of butterflies at CMA. Wait wait wait, let's backtrack. What did I do after I put on my black quick-dry pants, tevas, and random crappy shirt? Oh, I put on makeup.
Apologies to trainers/zookeepers everywhere who put on makeup for their job. I'm sure yours is waterproof and expertly applied. Well done! This is not the experience I am describing for myself. I've had spurts of makeup-wearing periods, especially around that time in my life. But I didn't know what I was doing. I had the cheapest stuff you could find because, uh, it was cheap. Furthermore, I have never felt comfortable in makeup because it makes my eyelids feel heavy and I always feel like it's running down my face and making me look all heroin-addicty.
|This is much later in my internship, sans makeup.|
But how else was I supposed to look presentable and professional my first day on the job? Certainly not by the way I dressed! Makeup was the answer.
I was directed into the fish kitchen, which was crammed full of People Who Knew What They Were Doing. And it was there that I realized I had made a huge mistake in wearing makeup. In fact, one of the volunteers even commented on it, "Wow, you look awfully nice to be down here."
Now that I remember this, I'm like dude, that's no big deal. But at the time, I was convinced it meant my job as a dolphin trainer would never happen, because I'd already made myself look totally stupid in the first 23 minutes of my internship.
So that sets the stage.
My next few days were very stressful. I didn't know what anyone was talking about (WTF is an SD? How can they really tell these otters apart? How can they keep track of food each day? Where the hell are the bathrooms?!), everyone was so focused and passionate that I felt like I'd be bothering them with really, really dumb questions to help me learn how to do different tasks, and I just felt like I wasn't cut out for the field. I was defeated, disillusioned…and most of all, self-conscious.
|This ain't the place to get sick.|
With the stress and cold weather, I found myself starting to get sick.
Oh NO, I thought! I can't be sick during my internship! I can't call out sick so early in a job!
That day, I did my duties feeling pretty crappy. I still couldn't remember everyone's name, and was just yearning for the moment when I felt like I belonged there. When lunchtime rolled around, I sat quietly at a desk in the marine mammal office. One of the trainers asked me what was wrong, I told her I was fine, just felt like I was coming down with a cold.
"Have you heard of Airborne?" she asked.
"Yes, but I've never had it."
"Oh, I have some in my purse! Take it! I swear by it!"
"Thanks," I said.
"It tastes like Orange Crush," she said.
|Herbal cold-fighter, or harbinger of horror?|
She handed me the tube of Airborne and went back to her conversation with the other trainers and volunteers in the office. I was touched by the trainer's kindness, but my insecure mind made me feel embarrassed that I'd admitted I was getting sick (I showed a sign of weakness! Now I'll NEVER get a job!). My stress and impending illness may or may not have affected what transpired.
I thought I'd read the bottle carefully. I thought it directed me to take one tablet with a glass of water.
I popped the top of the tube open, unleashing the characteristic citrusy smell. I slid one tablet into my hand and peered around the office. Everyone was engaged in conversation, so I could take my Airborne in peace. Thinking back, I had unbelievably low self-esteem during that time.
I looked at the flat, orange wafer in my hand, hoping it didn't taste like well, every other chewable med out there (Chalk and some perverted version of "Flavor"). But I couldn't afford to get sick, I didn't want to be rude to the trainer who'd lent me her personal rhinovirus-fighting stash, so I bucked up and popped the tablet into my mouth.
And then it exploded.
Foam, saliva, orange chalk flavor, filled up my mouth and burned my tongue as the effervescent tablet tried to figure out what the eff just happened.
Airborne Tablet: Where the hell am I?
My mouth: Uh, this is a mouth.
Airborne Tablet: What am I doing in here?!
My mouth: I don't know, Brain isn't thinking.
Meanwhile, I am more and more closely resembling a rabid dog as I struggled to maintain composure in a room full of people who could Make My Career Happen. My tongue on fire, I tried to take a sip of water to flush the sensation away. But as I tried to open my mouth, Airborne foam poured out of my face.
My brain: You're gonna have to just deal with it! Ain't no way you're gonna spit this out and RUIN YOUR CHANCE AT YOUR DREAM JOB. NO ONE WILL HIRE SOMEONE WITH RABIES!
I suffered in silence until trainer who had given me the pills turned around and saw me.
"What is going on?" she asked.
I couldn't answer because, well, my mouth was full of foam and I was 86% certain my tongue had burned away.
"Did you just put the Airborne in your mouth?" she asked. At this point, everyone in the office stared at me.
I nodded, cheeks full.
Everyone laughed. Not the meangirl laugh, it was a genuine, "Oh god this is hilarious" laugh. It actually made me feel a little better.
"You're supposed to put it in a glass of water first! Like alka-seltzer!"
And then I started laughing, and drooled orange-flavored foam all over myself. This action freed me to drink copious amounts of water, diluting the awful flavor and sensation burning my cheeks and tongue.
I looked at the Airborne container again. Indeed, I had somehow misinterpreted the directions. More importantly, I'd missed the word "effervescent".
|….and/or Airborne inappropriately.|
At that point, the ice had been broken. From that day forward, I felt more comfortable around my bosses and coworkers. They'd seen the Real Me and thought it was hilarious. I could be myself around them and be accepted, because they were all good people.
And the best part? My immune system gave me a pity pass on the illness.
My mouth: Hey, Immune System, give her a break. She just put an Airborne directly into her mouth.
Immune System: What?! Didn't she read the directions?!
My mouth: Not thoroughly. But she's under a lot of stress. Cut her some slack on this cold she picked up.
Immune System: Sigh. Just this once.
Alas, I've seen many interns come and go in my career, and expect to see many more. Half of those interns have an experience similar to mine (although I've never seen or heard of anyone eating Airborne directly, which makes me feel really unique). And while they field feelings of embarrassment and self-consciousness, I can relate to them this story to tell them it's okay, it happens. That perhaps it's more important how you react to the mistake, no matter how bizarre or bad, than the mistake itself.
|"…so I was like, I didn't even realize I had to dissolve it first!"|
Now I'm curious about you all, dear readers. Share with me your stories of internship disaster!
* Haha, yeah, more like "as the seconds pass, I can't remember where I put that bag of M&Ms, much less everything that's happened in the last eight or nine years."
** And I regret not a moment of my sobriety or nerdiness