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  • Every Friday, a group of us from the office would go to lunch at a diner at 10th and Market, a place called D & D’s. This particular Friday there were 6 of us. Most of the group were former food inspectors and veterinarians who now worked in the regional office – some of us, like myself, had always just worked in the office. I was the Administrative Officer for the region.

    Chas had also always worked in the office. He was a Workforce Analyst. There were 1000 employees in the region, and his job was to make sure we had the right number of positions in the right places. He worked for me. Chas was also, like myself, a veteran, although he was a little older than me, and had actually served a tour in Viet Nam. I joined just as the war was winding down, so I missed having to go over.

    Chas was Italian, and as such, usually talked with his hands. He was a very talkative guy, so his hands often were waving all over the place. He was a very funny man, always joking, always the life of the party. He was also a great practical joker. This story, however, is not one about a practical joke. It is one of grace under fire.

    We’d usually get a sandwich and french fries at the diner. Since there were six of us, we were in a table in the middle of the diner, and there was another table right beside us with 4 ladies, all dressed to the 9’s. Most of the rest of the lunch crowd were in booths on either side of us, so we were sort of center stage.

    We typically had two or three conversations going at the same time at our table. This was the case on this day when Chas picked up the ketchup bottle, while he was heavy into a conversation with Harry and John, and went to pour some on his fries. When it didn’t come out very fast, he screwed the lid back onto the bottle, and began smacking the bottom of the bottle with the palm of his other hand. (Kids, don’t try this at home).

    Then, suddenly it happened. Just as he was hitting the bottom of that bottle for the 3rd or 4th time, talking all the while, several conversations going at the table simultaneously, there was a pop, and a red explosion, as the lid flew off the bottle and shot off across the diner, and the entire contents of the nearly full bottle flew, seemingly in slow motion, past John at the end of the table, and kept flying until it simply splattered all over the hair, and the back, from head to seat, of one of the ladies dressed to the 9’s sitting at the table beside ours.

    All conversations at our table, and in the entire diner, stopped at that moment, and we all just looked at the scene in complete disbelief. It was beyond belief. The body language of the victim of the ketchup attack, the look of shock and horror on Chas’ poor face, all was silence for a split moment.

    Then, someone inexplicably began to giggle. Then someone else started to giggle. Then, in the next moment, the contagious nature of laughter infected our entire table. It was completely wrong, and the absolutely worst possible thing that we could do in that moment, but it just quickly took hold of us, and we had no control, and the harder we tried to stop, the worse it got. We kept looking at each other tot try to get each other to stop laughing, and that just made it worse.

    We were literally falling off our chairs laughing, laughing so hard it was difficult to catch your breath. We just couldn’t stop. Even the waitress, who came over to help clean up the mess, and shot us a look of disdain for laughing at someone’s expense like we were, became infected with the laughing bug, and had to walk away trying to stifle a racking laugh.

    It was completely out of control. All except for Chas. Chas was pure grace under fire, as he calmly tended to the victim of his unfortunate accident, finding handfuls of napkins, keeping a serious demeanor, picking up their entire table’s tab, and giving her his address to send the cleaning bill to. His poise saved what otherwise would have been a complete disaster. The rest of us couldn’t stop laughing until we got good and far away from the diner, which we did as quickly as we could pay our tab and get out of there.

    Chas would be forever after that incident known, affectionately, as the Mad Splatter. But I would always remember the total poise and grace under fire that he demonstrated when the rest of us had been turned to complete and utter imbeciles, racked with laughter beyond our control. I couldn’t even write this just now without bursting out into laugher several times.
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