If you've ever been to Savannah, Georgia, you know that the city has a certain odor. There's the rotten fishy, salt marsh smell from the islands to the east, and then there's some hot chemical, paper mill stank coming in from the north. Of course, the ripe urine smell from tour guide horses is entirely homegrown and all three combine into a nauseating perfect storm of olfactory distress. All this pales in comparison to the stench of the Savannah River, which can only be described as corpse factory meets open sewer.
And yet, the river is precisely where I found myself one day in late winter, newly pregnant and badly in need of funds. It struck me that children require money to raise and so I would need a second job, but I was scared to let anyone know I was pregnant. I found someone willing to offer me one — on a Savannah River breakfast cruise boat.
On my first day, the cook found me out right away. I figured it was no big deal since I already had the job, but I couldn't bring myself to drop the charade right away. "How far along are you?" she asked, gesturing wildly at my baby-makin' area with a paring knife.
"I don't know what you're talking about," I insisted. She "mm-hmm'd" me and then apparently made it her solemn duty to make me out as a pregnant lady.
"Go ahead and devein those shrimp, then," she instructed. "Don't be afraid to really get in there. You gotta sniff each one, make sure it hasn't turned."
Up until this point, I hadn't had a whole lot of morning sickness. But then, up until this point, I wasn't deveining shrimp for a shrimp-and-grits breakfast on a rickety-a** pontoon-ferry hybrid on Corpse River, either. My stomach started to gurgle.
"Here, taste," the cook commanded, shoveling shrimp and grits into my mouth just as the boat lurched out onto the water. She narrowed her eyes at me.
"It's delicious," I insisted, gagging violently. She gave me some sweet tea the consistency of molasses to wash it down with. I flashed her a thumbs-up as it oozed down my throat and willed my stomach to be still. "Yum," I moaned, miserable.
She shook her head and left me to my work — marrying warm mayonnaise bottles in the smoky break room.
Finally it came time for meal service, and I was tasked with delivering bowls of steaming, shrimp-filled goodness to the balcony seating area, out where the blasts of rotten air were the freshest. I came face to face with a group of tourists in eye-assaulting red hats and purple dresses. They called themselves the Red Hat Society and, apparently, in order to be admitted into their ranks one was required to fill a bathtub with Joop! or White Diamonds and splash around for an hour or two. My stomach was rebelling as I took a few tottering steps out into the fog of cheap perfume and Bengay.
I made it through breakfast service relatively unscathed, and then something terrible happened. As I was busing tables, the boat began to list on the turnaround and when I lost my balance, a bunch of uneaten shrimp and grits slopped over onto my arm. I stared at it for a moment, and then ran to the rail, a concerned red-hatted octogenarian not far behind. Just as I leaned over the rail to empty the contents of my stomach, a used condom floated past and that, of all things, was what pushed me over the edge.
"Honey, are you OK?" my red-hatted friend asked. I turned to face her, but when I opened my mouth, all that came out was shrimp and grits, all over her lavender caftan. When I was done retching, I looked up.
"Nope. I'm pregnant." I declared. She could only gag and then hork up her breakfast over the rail and onto the deck below. I caught the faint sound of sympathy gagging from the lower balcony.
When we docked again, I hung up my apron and walked off the boat. A manager caught up with me, waving two twenties.
"Why don't we cut our losses?" he asked, embarrassed.
"You can't fire me just because I'm pregnant!"
"You're pregnant? I'm firing you because you vomited all over a guest."
I dropped my eyes.
"It was her birthday," he mumbled, and my stomach rolled again.
I couldn't really argue with that, so I shuffled off to my apartment, dejected and sour-mouthed, searching for something less barf-inducing in the classifieds.
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