Field Note 01: Table Manners

With apologies to Hunter S. Thompson, there is nothing more helpless and irresponsible than a reporter in the depths of a press lunch binge.

There is hardly any talking, just the clinking of forks and spoons and the grunts of people overloading their taste buds. Every now and then, someone makes a joke and is answered with polite laughter or more grunts. Through it all, the Lazy Susan spins. You have to be fast if you don’t want to end up with that last bit of tofu that everybody else has passed on.

Because most of us would lucky to be from the middling middle class, we will eat whatever is put in front of us. On the general principle that we may never be able to eat so richly again, basically. Given what we make every month, the next time just might be never again.

Plus, it’s like sharks in a feeding frenzy. When someone’s fork snakes out to spear a piece of meat, it’s hard to resist the instinct to rush in and get your share. This is probably the same instinct that drives ambush interviews and the rush to get within earshot of someone saying something about something.

Look at this. I don't even like shrimp.

Remorse sets in, eventually, when our reptile brains have had their primal urges satisfied. At one press lunch, for example, I didn’t even have to look to know how a fellow reporter’s shoulders slumped when we were handed two press releases after a particularly orgiastic meal. They were on minor issues that did not warrant how much food had just been thrust in front of us.

And that’s the thing. We don’t mind having to sit through course upon course of food we can’t even pronounce the names of but there has to be a story there somewhere. Otherwise, we feel dirty and compromised, and also, a little sleepy.

“I feel like a bad reporter,” she said, knowing we were two hours closer to a deadline with nothing to justify either the time lost or the pounds gained. There was an open forum after that did justify them, so the day was saved. Not so the lives of dozens of shrimp and a few ducks.


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