A middle aged medium man approaches the counter. It’s fair to say that most men who lackadaisically roll up to the delicatessen with their tricked out mid-life crisis cart on a slow evening tend to be middle aged and medium. This man was no exception.
His head of grey hair disheveled, but not intentionally cool. His sunglasses on a leash rested nicely on top of the grey mess. Like I said his size medium. He sported a long sleeved polo, a white base with three stripes of vertical reds, and one horizontal stripe of Giant Blue serif letters IN ALL CAPS across the stomach flashing TOMMY. Hello American vintage, my suppressed Hilfiger hand me down keepsake.
I can’t stop staring, which luckily you can get away with behind the counter, prolonged one sided staring contests. Sometimes I stare so hard on purpose. They never stop me.
I assume this medium man wants a heavy half pound of the Dilluso roast beef, probably so raw that its bleeding, shredded, not sliced, probably to compensate for the not so manly monotony of his weekly Red Baron classic crust pizzas and microwavable chicken pot pies for his banquets of one. I checked, no ring.
(Boy, what a great opening.)
How are you?
Good I’m good. You? Yeah I’m good too.
I let my smile relax, alright well let’s get started. If you don’t mind I’m just gonna cut the small talk and get right into it. What would you like?
He lets the words out slowly, each consonant an individual, animated with a vertical blind entrance effect from below, one text at a time. Were now standing in a puddle of Powerpoint in 1997. He matches my stare, no longer a lopsided relationship, his dead pan face on the brink of either a smile or frown, a toss-up, really.
“I’m gonna let you decide.”
“Oh I’m sorry what?”
“I’m gonna let you decide.”
YOU. DECIDE. The words swivel, then hover above the counter, fading in and out.
“Wait so you want me to decide what you want?”
“Yes, I want you to decide what I want.”
“Ok, so you don’t know what you want?”
“No, no, no, I know that I want you to make that decision for me”
“So I have to decide what you want?”
“Well no, you get to decide for me what it is that I want”
Ohhhhhhh boy! well this is one way to really spice up the monotony of shared medium lives.
“The thing is sir, I don’t really know you all that well yet. I mean sure, I’ve stared into your shirt for approximately 60 seconds. It appears you have a naturally hairless chest underneath and I know a few things about you from my preconceived judgmental first impressions, but that’s not necessarily a strong foundational basis for jumping into this kind of fast moving philosophical relationship of sorts over lunchmeat.”
“Della, Della, Della, JUST pick, whatever it is that you like. Ask yourself, as I’m asking you,
What is it that you like? Do you even know what you want?”
I’m sweating now and realize I forgot to swipe both neglected pits with Teen Spirit this morning.
“Well, ok yeah I get that, but it’s no guarantee that you want what I want.”
“No, see I know that I want what you want, but I don’t think you know what it is that you want.”
OKAY, MAN! This is a lot of pressure. I mean this is not part of my job description. I am programmed to smile, to greet within the first 30 seconds of visibility, to mention a shallow topic of mutual interest, and to grab piles of meat with perfection on demand. This gig is not about me and my wants. It’s about YOU, the wise autonomous and needy customer. I’m a people pleaser. I’m here to serve you, to thank you for making decisions in order to keep the system beating. Sure, I can guide you with all the clichés and coupons your cart longs for, perhaps steer you in a direction of desire, but to do all the work for you? We are playing in a dangerous ball pit over considerable heavy slices of consumer psychology, venturing into the eternal depths of role reversal abyss.
“Oh Della, You’re I-N-D-E-C-I-S-I-V-E aren’t you?” he inquires with slow man talking accusation. That word pierces into the meat of the matter. The sweat transitions to tears. I confess, “OK it's true, I haven’t made a raw decision in 3 years sir.”
“OH Della dear, Its okay, take my hand. Time will stop for this transaction.”
He’s right. There is no line growing, not even his impatience. The night is eerily slow. I can see the moon past the fluorescents casting shadows on the center aisle Red Bull display. It’s beautiful really. Sincere and serene. The floors so clean.
He gently guides my two chins upward with the touch of his fingertips. “Why don't you stop looking at my shirt, rather peer over the counter and gaze directly into the sparkle of my eyes as I look down on top of that hat you wear. I believe in you, you can do this, I trust in your decision.”
I swallow a deep breath. I text “UGH” to my girlfriend, followed by an updated eye roll and shoot me squirt gun sequence of events.
“Ok fine whatever. My instincts are leaning toward the golden brown. I mean it’s our most popular. It’s super average. It's loved by everyone, universally low in sodium, perfectly drier than most, but not chalky.
“Is it good?”
*sorry to keep texting more eye rolls, but the green gun emoji isn’t quite doing its job* REALLY, IS IT GOOD?
“Yeah, sure, I mean it’s classic, I would compare it to vanilla ice cream.
“OH, ok then, does it taste like Vanilla Ice Cream?”
“I mean yeah kind of I guess. It has that milky aftertaste.”
“Ok. Calm down, Like I said I trust YOUR decision.”
Ha, Yeah, lets wipe away that brief moment of skepticism, maybe we can stop playing these mind games as I finally lay a half a pound of the Golden Brown to rest on the scale above my head.
Then without warning he mutters under his breath with nonchalant effects.
“You know, Vanilla is good, but sometimes chocolate is better”
My transitional effects however are perhaps more animated. I quickly revert back to my non updated phone and pull out the real gun emoji. IM SORRY WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?? Seriously? After all this back and forth!? Now you go against MY slash YOUR decision? Surprise! Jokes on me, so what, turns out you do have an opinion? Is this some sort of demented deli torture? Are you some sort of sick mentally twisted psychopath derived from too many reruns of Forensic Files while basking in your LazyBoy. Gol damnit! Why are you messing with me like this? You know I'm a stereotypical artist, particularly open to seeing more than one possibility, while also being exceedingly fragile and frail in feeling.
It’s at this moment that Celine Dion interrupts my frustration. Bursting forth like the sweet angel she is whispering over the intercom those precious words of old. When you want it the most there's no easy way out. I can read your mind and I know your story I see what you're going through it's an uphill climb, and I'm feeling sorry but I know it will come to you when you want it the most there's no easy way out when you're ready to go and your heart's left in doubt. DELI DEPARTMENT LINE ONE, DELI LINE ONE. Don't give up on your faith love comes to those who believe it and that's the way it is when you question me for a simple answer I don't know what to say, HYVEE SHOPPERS DO WE HAVE A DEAL FOR YOU. No, but it's plain to see, if you stick together you're gonna find a way, yeah that’s the way it is when you want it the most there’s no easy way out. JUST BREATHE OH CELINE.
When you're ready to go and your heart's left in doubt Don't give up on your faith on repeat Overcome by the calmness of '99 in twenty seventeen, I look at the pile with the freshest of eyes, miraculously touched with a change of heart. I think I might have made a mistake. The slices of vanilla don’t look great, very blasé and just OK. I reminisce in my mind about all the times it was indeed more fun to order a double scoop of mint chocolate chip or limited edition Strawberries n' Creme Oreo at TCBY on those summer nights with the underage sitter. TBH, I was never 100% confident in my decision. Celine and him could sense that. I’m an open book, easily readable with big font, a kindle designed for grandma. It is what is, there’s no easy way out sometimes chocolate is just plain better, but not plain.
“WHEW OK, on second thought I think I prefer the smoked turkey and although the glob of golden brown is already on the scale, do you want to make the time sensitive switch and dispose of the premature original choice?
“Well if it's not too much of a hassle?"
“At this point sir, no, no it is not.
"And if you think the smoked is better then Ok yeah I trust you lets switch. And hey, for what its worth, now I know that you really thought about it.”
Right, thanks. I did, this is true. Sometimes I tend to overthink things, and I’m not necessarily sure that’s a bad thing in and of itself, but then again it does make for a longer than necessary interaction, and sometimes within that internal struggle I lose sight of my sense of self, and anyway, OK have a nice night.