Friday, January 04, 2008

Looking Back on Deli Hell

I've decided that I will not be intimidated at the deli in 2008. (I made this resolution late on New Year's Eve after describing to my boyfriend the trouble I had with getting the prepared salad portion of our dinner.)

Yes, that's right. My name is Julie and I have a fear of grocery store deli counters. This is the deal. I feel like there are deli counter rules but I don't know them. Then, I learn the rules and they change! I always, always screw up, break the rules, and incur the wrath of the deli counter staff. I feel like you are supposed to know exactly what you want immediately when you approach the deli, even if you haven't had an opportunity to review the offerings. Perhaps, some people make a list and know ahead of time that they prefer Boar's Head turkey breast over the store brand, but not me. I don't even know I want turkey breast until I get there and see it.

So, I no longer buy my sandwich meat or sliced cheese at the deli counter. I buy inferior, over-processed cheese and meats in the prepackaged section where there are no rules and no angry deli counter personnel. Once, in a while, though, I want potato or three-bean salad and I don't want to make it myself. I have to really want it bad, though, and the circumstances need to be perfect for me to risk a visit to the deli counter. There has to be no line since the whole "take a number' thing gives me an anxiety attack since years ago I picked a number and waited only to have the deli counter guy yell at me that they weren't doing numbers that day. There can't be too many other customers around to witness my ineptitude, and I absolutely, positively, can't have the kids or anyone else with me.

So, here I was. It was 6:30 p.m. and I was on my way over to my boyfriend's for dinner and a movie on New Year's Eve. He was in charge of picking a romantic comedy at the video store and I was responsible for dinner. Since I waited until the last minute, restaurant take-out food was not an option. So, I went to the grocery store to get sushi, sorbet and some other grownup food to pick on while we watched the movie.

When I passed the deli counter the first time, I decided that there simply had to be other options. I picked up the sushi, some good bread, the sorbet, and then realized I needed something tasty and special to put on the bread as well as a side dish--preferably healthy, low-fat, and meat and sugar free so I could start the year off right. So, I put on my mental big-girl shoes and returned to the deli counter. I perused the prepared salad section, vowing to not let the clerk rush me into a decision. I saw some bruschetta that looked lovely for on top of the bread--$5.99 per pound, according to the little plastic sign sticking out of the bowl. I had no idea just how much a pound of bruschetta would be so I guessed.
"May I please have a half a pound of bruschetta," I asked the 20-something, pony-tailed clerk behind the deli counter, trying to smile and expect the best. He grunted in reply and started scooping bruschetta into a little plastic container. I knew I was going to get a second item but I also knew that, in the past, when I tried to list my entire order to the clerk, I was chastised for breaking another unwritten rule, I guess.

I dutifully waited until the clerk weighed the bruschetta, put the little label on the lid, and handed me my first item. "May I please have some of the healthy salad, too?" I asked, pointing at something that looked like coleslaw without the mayo and with a whole bunch of different veggies in it. The clerk looked up at me, like I had just asked him to give me his last pint of blood, exhaled audibly, and started to scoop regular, mayo-filled coleslaw into the second little plastic container.

"No," I said quickly, pointing at the item I wanted which was one bowl over from the one the was scooping from. He looked up at me again, sighed loudly again, dumped out the regular coleslaw, and leaned over to try to access the healthy salad that was in the bowl directly in front of where the slicer and scale were pressed up against his side of the glass case. He literally had to strain to reach the bowl for the healthy salad. Another deli clerk walked by, saw the first clerk reaching, and shook his head, like he felt sorry for the guy because I was such a pain in the butt on New Year's Eve.

I giggled nervously, caught the second clerk's eye and said, "Well they really shouldn't leave that slicer and scale in the way right there, should they?" He just looked at me, looked away and walked on, with absolutely no smile, nod, or anything.

So, I tried a second version of my inane comment, complete with a second burst of nervous giggling to the guy who was waiting on me. "Boy, that's a bad place to leave that stuff, huh?"

He looked up at me and just stared for a beat. Then he said, "We're closing early tonight and the slicer and the scale get put away here at night." He added, "It never fails, you take the spoons out, start putting stuff away, and someone wants something. It never fails."

I felt my face flush but said nothing. What could I say? "Sorry I broke the fricken deli rules again! You guys should issue a GD manual. Why can't a person just order what they fricken want and you give it to them with no attitude and no judgment!"

But I didn't say that. I didn't say anything. Instead, when the deli clerk handed me my weighed and labeled container of healthy salad, and muttered, "Happy New Year" I just muttered back, "You, too" and slinked away, as if I had done something terribly shameful.

So I ended 2007 in Deli Hell. Never again. I will no longer hide from the deli. I will no longer allow myself to be intimidated by meat-slicer-wielding young men on a power trip. I will stand in front of the deli counter, shoulders back, and say, loudly, clearly, and without apology, "One moment please. I'm still deciding."

I am woman, hear me order my sandwich meat.

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