DELI WORKOUT

Last night my mom told me about a new study that links obesity to inconsistent nocturnal sleep patterns. I then proceeded to not sleep while snacking on a tray of Totinos pizza rolls.

Today in the deli, as I was stuffing another clump of leftover cake in my mouth, it dawned on me that it wasn't yet 3 pm and I had already eaten Chick-Fil-A, a free cookie, a stack of hard salami, a sample of 18 dollar per pound butter, approximately half a log of havarti, colby and cheddar in addition to the incoming mounds of a canceled wedding cake in the break room.

I start to feel physically ill. My coworker offers me an apple slice. I took it like Eve and skimmed Facebook, ironically noting that half my feed is an endless scroll of bathroom mirror selfies of my friends' new bodies.

I insert another slice of cheese into my mouth, sigh and take a 15 second insta story of my hand squeezing a slice of ham. Maybe next week I'll start running or slicing on manual, with both arms.

Two customers later, a tall, dark and healthy man asks for one pound of the smoked turkey. He doesn't own a grocery cart, not even a basket, because his list of organic fruit and string cheese can fit in the palm of his hand. I give the healthy man his one pound of smoked turkey and ask the usual, on auto, Is there anything else I can get for you?

Oh no thank you, but I was wondering, do you work out?

I'm sorry what? Do I work out?

Yeah like do you go to a gym?

I'm sorry what else can I get you?

Like do you have a gym membership?

Haha. I laugh in an awkward manner. Ohh no I just eat a lot of cheese.

He nods politely and reminds me that cheese, like most things, is good for you in moderation. He gives me his card over the counter in exchange for the turkey, revealing that he is a personal trainer. He offers me a free session and places his giant iPhone on the scale, TYPE YOUR NUMBER in my phone, you can do it, you got this! That's right just three more digits!

....Does he mean my weight or my cell? I wonder. This is so demanding. I cant even imagine the severity of the push-up commands as my one arm is only accustomed to lifting in half pound increments. The line grows wider, while I grow fatter. I'm sweating, flustered, and exhausted, so out of shape. My pants feel tighter. My breathing is shortened as my apparent body fat bulges over. What in the deli world just happened!? Do fitness trainers typically look for their clientele while ordering lunchmeat in the delicatessen? I mean eventually I hope to be able to lift more than the usual one pound of thinly sliced turkey, but for now, is this a sign?

I continued to eat cake all shift, however, I'll hold onto that card. Maybe next week.

BIEBER SALAMI

Graying middle aged dad across the counter: "I need some salami."

"Ok do you know what kind of salami you would like?"

"Yeah I just want mainstream salami.......it's for my daughter."

Ah yes, the mainstream salami, as opposed to those artsy hipster loner high quality expensive pretentious circles of outsider meat.

"You got it."

#biebersalami

NICE HAM

Hi how are you? 
I'm good how are you?

I'm good too. How can I help you today?
I'll take a half pound of honey ham, please.

Sure of course. Good choice. And how would you like that ham sliced?

Oh I don't know, just sliced nice.

*Insert knowing nod and nice smile*

Mmm, yes. So you just want me to cut it nicely?

Yeah just like, you know, a nice slice, please.

#nebraskanice #niceham #haveaniceday #thisinteractionwasnice

DELICATE DECISIONS

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.

Hello. 
Hello.

(Boy, what a great opening.)

How are you?
Good I’m good. You? Yeah I’m good too.

Cool. Cool.

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.
You too.
Thanks.

What is your type?

My boss asked me what "my type" was. I told him I don't know. He said, "your type is probably short skinny guys" Huh interesting, you think so?

"Yeah you seem like the type to like short skinny guys, kind of artsy but short and skinny"

Well you do know me best.

Other coworker disagrees. 
"Nah, I bet your type is tall poets with Paris hats"

Yeah probably, I really just don't know.

The white american

White American male asks for one pound of White American cheese.

In an unusual display of ignorance, my hand grab is completely off the mark....a half pound under the perfect 1.00 decimal score.

"Man the white American feels extra heavy today," I say.

British coworker responds: 
"Well Della, That's because the white American is sad, weighed down with guilt."

Smile

Disclaimer * The following is more of a Dear Diary entry, less of a Deli Diary story. More of a smirk, less of a smile. Proceed with caution.*

Flashback to roughly one year ago today:
My boss pulls me aside, sits me down, his voice low, his heart heavy.

Della I have been informed by the humans and the resources and the other departments of higher authority that you have received a record low secret shopper score. A 31 out of 100. 
That's 31%.

(Thanks I needed that conversion for comprehension)

(No for real though, I only took contemporary math in art school)

I let the words hit me. Slice me, then shave me, cut me, slap me and pinch me. Punch me, choke me. Then drag me hit me. Harder. All 31 points sink deep into the inner workings of my soul, one painstaking digit at a time.

My boss' bald head bobbling in remorse. 
ignite individual tears, drip
into a homogeneous pool
of equal parts confrontation
and consultation.

My hands tremble in the extra room of the nylon XL. 
How is this so? I'm a good person! A decent worker, sometimes! 
I give the deli free advertising, all the time. I conceal my phone usage in the presence of the customers! I eat meat, still, after all this! Why me?! Why must this happen to me?!

"I can't believe it either Della, I really can't. You always appear so happy and nice, so well rested, so present"

Apparently, not so.

Apparently, I did not thank the customer for being a customer after the customer thanked me for being an employee. Mistakenly, I used the phrase, “You’re welcome”.

Nor did I offer a closing remark such as have a nice day! Or have a good night! Or Have a good life! Similar to the cyclical thank you game, I neglected to entertain the inevitable back and forth slapstick pursuit of how are you? I’m good I'm good I'm good I'm pretty good not bad I'm good I'm good.

Furthermore, I failed to mention the weather patterns of the day. What's it like out there? Sure is nice out there isn't it? Or Be safe out there!

The ambiguous "out there" talk gives the customer a sense of power as the mere worker may only dream of the “out there” while counting down the hours left of the predestined stuck “in here”.

Although these points quickly add up in overall deductions, not all sins are equal. The unforgiveable kicker: I did not smile.

Apparently, My face appeared sad, uninviting, cynical and I quote, “millennial”. My interface deemed non-user-friendly for ultimate deli experience. Let the “benevolent sexism” debate ensue.

Like any unstable, obsessive, self-absorbed, egotistical, yet insecure, forever-emerging-tortured artist, who slices on auto in a perpetual "transitional" period, with no foreseeable end, well of course I did not handle this well.

My elusive ego collapsed in the soft flop of the malleable slice. This news shaved my self-esteem so thin that I turned to Oscar Meyer and his Lunchables, desperate for answers. During breaks I was seen double fisting hot pockets doused in gin. I started snorting lines of minced ham in the gender neutral family bathroom. Every third hour I would inject near fatal doses of liquid turkey into my varicose spider veins, while swallowing cigarettes whole. One coworker admitted that watching me was as depressing as the black-screen, post episode update on AE’s Intervention.

The nonchalant text doesn’t give a shit and whispers in your ear: Six weeks later Della relapsed and died. Sorry not sorry to waste your time.

Yes, I realize A Helpful Smile in Every Aisle is the daily mantra and motto of the store I call home. But OH don’t get me started! Technically I stand behind a counter on the burban outskirts of the inner city. Let’s Leave the smiling to the blue collared online shoppers and overnight city stockers, the only employees who actually commute in the heavy traffic of the 2 lane aisle.

Can I get an AMEN!

Well turns out I couldn’t. These technicalities were quieted quickly, swept under the anti-fatigue commercial mats of the deli, as I was forced to watch reruns from the employee training “smile like you mean it” video series. This is a 33 part VHS guided program, guaranteed to improve the fluidity between the natural, genuine and forced smiles on demand.

Regardless, life drug on for weeks (just like this Facebook post) in the hungover fog of the all too attractive NyQuill and self-sulking pity combo. That is until something quite miraculous took place.

While making sure to avoid tolls, highways and aisles, google maps directed me to the nearest bathroom for women. There I sat on the toilet, contemplative with a slice of the pink deli shaved ham on cheek. Like all bathroom breaks, I proceeded to take rows of mindless bathroom selfies from above. I experimented with the usual poses–The Duck faces, the artsy pouts, the kissy faces and disinterested stares–but on this particular shift, my phone died mid pose, forcing my vanity to look into the real mirror of self and I began to cry uncontrollably. Is this what I truly look like? Is my identity so completely wrapped up in the comfort of the semi thin cold turkey slice that I am blinded by my unhappiness, quick to place blame on everything and everyone but myself? What have I become?

And in that moment I closed my eyes and I looked up. I saw the light, in all its fluorescent goodness, it’s quiet hum of peace. I dropped my phone and then dropped to my knees. A repetitive twitching occurred. My eyes hurt but my mind awakened, my heart pulsing. I began to see smiles everywhere. Smiles on trees. Smiles on stalls. Smiles on tiles. The whole porous world as one big smile. Two dots, and the outer lining of a half. The three elements of a smiley, never a need for a nose. Seeing, inhaling. Perceive, Exhale.

Then I ate the slice of meat previously exfoliating my facial pores. I felt my lips slowly curling thus marking the moment I decided to forever change. From here on out, I will earn my way back to a respectable deli worker. With a charged phone, and a changed heart, I opened up my digital notes: and wrote this contract:

Because I received a record low secret shopper score, primarily for not smiling, my self-imposed penance will be to create a smiley a shift with the materials at hand.

Now some might protest, “Why this is a works oriented salvation!” And I agree, however the delicatessen has always leaned more toward Catholicism than by the grace alone doctrine of reformed Protestantism. It is plausible, one could argue, these smiles flow from a heart of gratitude.

Fast forward 243 smileys and one shift later....
At the start of 2017, last week my boss (sent with no balloons) (sent with no fireworks) apathetically mumbled in passing

“Oh hey, Della, you got a 100 percent on a secret shopper score. Nice job. Good girl”.

Ok, Yes, my boss likes to refer to me as a good girl for completing minimal tasks such as sweeping, taking out the trash, counting cheese slices, perfect scores etc, but that’s an entry for another time.

100%. That’s 100 points out of 100 points. This I can comprehend.

But if I’m honest, I’m not smiling in full, for I do not know how to process this perfection. This rags to riches narrative. Do I quit? Do I stop making salami eyed smiley faces on the clock? Where do I go from here?

For now, as my name is congratulated in all caps, on the monthly announcement bulletin board, all I know is that I will be entered into a drawing for one hundred dollars on February 6th. And although, I cannot say with certainty, I have a hunch this secret shopper was perhaps a predictable mom of two.

Gifted

Predictable and probable mom of two approaches the deli counter with high pitch confidence. 
“Hiiiiiiii yes, I’m good, how are you? Good, good, good we’re all good.

“Ok let’s see here, it’s a Tuesday… so I’m gonna need one pound of the regular turkey.”

A bit of a snooze fest request, but I’m up for the challenge. To save time I don’t even bother to explain that we don’t actually carry a flavor of turkey called “regular”. By now it’s common knowledge that when a customer desires plain, boring, suburban, regular or white turkey breast, they are referring to either the Oven Roasted or the Golden Brown. Indeed, with each, the taste is quite regular, proving to be a valuable selling point, particularly for the probable moms.

With a smug nod of the head, I rub my nylon palms together and quickly throw myself an internal pep rally, inviting memories of both high school friends and foes. Cue the music. Here we go. Watch this, I’ll match her self-assured poise.

Side stepping into position, I glide gracefully to her left, my right, with the poetic ease of the balanced harmony, found only in the delicate interplay of flesh and meat. Lowering my body in alignment with the glass of the case, I gently slide open the door, ALL the way. I extend my arm as my mind reverts back to the flexible nostalgia of the sit and reach.

In perfect symmetrical synchronization, my hand makes the first move. Not wanting to startle the turkey, I must ease in with a soft initial touch to the cool skin of the slice, wrapping each finger around the measurable rosettes of classical Greek proportions.

*must locate the inner pound within. *

Tenderly I grab hold and pull the finely tuned wad of meat, drawing it closer to the comfort and warm embrace of the stainless scale. In doing so I let the excess of the unwanted turkey remnants fall effortlessly in between my fingers, while the moldable rest becomes one. My mind, my body, my arm, my hand, all senses working in perfect unison. Breathing in, breathing out. Sniffing and tasting the aroma, grabbing and grappling, in time… just let it go. Mother Briggs was correct back in 2009 when she whispered softly into my sensitive ear “Della, you are an intuitive feeler my dear”

In one sweeping rhythmic motion of elegance, I toss that turkey clump over my head like a 72 pt font exclamation point ! sticking it perfectly center stage on the scale. Think figure skating, meets basketball meets the 2016 U.S. Women’s Olympic Gymnastics team.

BOOM. Swoosh. Landed it. One pound. Exact. Decimal ON POINT. A 1.00 flawless performance.

TBH, not surprising.

Her response however, debatable in its excessive flattery.

Pardon my French, but HOLY SHIT! 
Eyes wide, her jaw an elongated drop.
WOW you are good! So good!? I mean you are REALLY really good. Seriously eerily good. Eerily really good. I mean you are almost too good. Like this is kind of crazy am I right?! Tell me please WHO ARE YOU?!

She looks behind her, seeking a crowd to share in her uncontainable enthusiasm (unfortunately to no one on this oddly slow double stamp Tuesday). Desperate to spread the word she decides to facetime a friend, quickly changing her mind. Think bigger, be bolder.

Instead she goes live on the gram. With 55 online viewers plus me, she begins to wail, waving her arms above her head possessed in charismatic admiration. While speaking Pentecostal praises in updated emojis and tongues she abruptly falls to the ground, uncontrollably bawling, tears of joy she assures. Next thing you know, Beyoncé appears, prolonging this unwanted scene with repetitive chants of bow down bitch(es).

Trembling in awe, former woman of poise, wants answers.

“Where did you come from?! Are you even real? I know this is odd, but may I ask to touch your XS powered free nylon right hand?”

I allow it, but just this once before she proceeds with her pleading question of finality.

“Just answer me this. HONESTLY, HAS. THIS. EVER. HAPPENED. BEFORE?!” Or Did I just witness the most unbelievable act in all of Deli history, in line with no one else??

HA. I manage a smirk. 
Has this ever happened before?…please….let me ponder this cute and amusing ignorance for 5 whole slices of a second as we pause for station identification.

I’m done bull shitting, I’m done with the humble brags. I’m done being honored and hashtag blessed to be accepted and loved and validated. I’m here to be real, bleeding rare raw. To say it like it is. It’s 2017 and damn it I am on fire.

I sit her down, well rather I pick her up off the ground, straddling the counter now face to face….

“Ma’am I do this for a living..

She interrupts. What’s that you ask? 
OH my ASL. Sure.

I’m a 29-year-old female located in a windowless basement surveilled by the parental department of burban love. Furthermore, I hold 2 impractical degrees and have been a practicing deli artist for over a year now. Perfection is not an option, nor is it a random act of improbable chance. It’s a corporate commandment. A mental and physical demand of being.

I mean honestly, do you think I just woke up one day and thought “hey IDEA! I could make a quick literal one dollar an hour without tips by slicing meat” because I was bored? Did I choose this lifestyle because I thought it would be easy? NO! By no means! This is not merely a job for the high schoolers and the degenerates of society. This is Art. This is Life. A calling if you will.

For one must endure intense deli training before even being allowed on the front line at the counter. This ten-step-hands-on program is designed to cultivate like-minded and progressive emotional acrobatic feelers while implementing a science of winning. Sadly, not everyone makes it. Like most competitive schools of prestige, only the strongest and fittest survive, weeding out the feeble in spirit and weak in the 1-5 lb range of strength. For many, submergence in the excessive blind tastings of grab bag technology, eventually begin to wear down on the physiology and psychology of the non-gifted. But more on this later.

“If we never meat again Della, hold fast to my words of encouragement, for I know that your talent will take you to great weights and heights in this upcoming year.”
She then offers to write me a letter of recommendation, waive my application fee and strongly encourages me to sign up for the local 4H talent show.

*Here’s to hoping the Food Network launches the Deli Wars, my ego dies down a slice or two and my paycheck increases significantly. If anyone out there is reading this and knows where I can use this supernatural talent of sensing incremental quarter pounds of meat on demand with immaculate precision and acute accuracy outside of the deli, please DM or PM me at your convenience. Happy New Year!

How do you measure happiness?

A young, male-oriented millennial gradually approaches the deli counter like the slow walking emoji boy in blue jeans, red shirt. Both Hands kept concealed in his pockets while he stands there emotionless, doesn’t say a word, patiently waiting for me to initiate the conversation like it’s some sort of real life game of the dating app Bumble.

Next thing I know 24 hours pass and I get this lucky lady one time only notification of an extension.

Because I don’t know how to distinguish the difference between life in my phone and life in the deli, the glass screen being the only obstacle standing between this potential customer and his meat, I finally break the silence out of boredom using my classic go to opening line.

“Hi, take note of my natural smile despite not being in an aisle, my name is Ella, you can call me Della. I’m pushing 30, live in my parents’ basement and slice meat for a living. How may I help you today?”

“WELL ITS MY FIRST TIME!!”
He blurts this out unexpectedly in over the top all exclamatory caps.

Insert Big Eyed Emoji and a momentary silence of contemplation.

Although I appreciate the honesty, what does this guy want from me? Congratulations for getting out there! A pat on the back? Congrats on finding that inner courage to order lunch meat in person! Mommy wow You’re a big boy now! I mean Is he expecting a surplus of confetti to just fall from the sky?! Bravo! Ding Ding Ding we got ourselves a winner! First time caller, long time listener! Winner winner, chicken dinner!

“Alright, well, let me gently hold your hand and I’ll walk you through the process. To be honest, It can get rather complicated. The delicatessen is a glass case of complexities.”

“The first step is understanding what you want, or rather, what you lack. For everyone knows consumption is driven purely by emotions. The second step is familiarizing yourself with your options. Use your eyes, scan the case. Back and forth, up and down. What is out there? What is in here? And finally, arguably the most vital step is determining the dollar to dopamine ratio. What are you willing to pay for quality sandwich induced glimpses of inner happiness?”

Feel free to be your autonomous self, allowing for discreet glances at your reflection ever so often in the depths of the glass case. Take as much time as you need while the line progressively and rather angrily extends all the way back into aisle two.

“I think I want turkey.”

Of course slow talker boy "thinks" he wants the most generic white meat available.
“Ok well we have 15 different shades of the basic turkey.”

Another 24 hours pass as I give a detailed account for each variety and flavor of this typical American meat. By this point I have taken 27 new selfies, an entire turkey photo shoot, and extended my snap story to 340 seconds.

“I think I want the hickory smoked”

“GREAT!! and How much would you like?”

Little did I know that this question would throw both millennial boy and I down a long and twisted, spiraling inner dilemma.

“well I don’t know…..what are my options?”

WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS FOR MEASURING MEAT!? OMG YOU ARE KILLING ME NEWBIE.

I look him straight blank, direct eye contact. Oddly I catch myself staring quite literally into his soul, it’s like we almost share this inexplicable moment and I begin to feel myself growing lighter, easing up on him, humbled almost, like the feeling I ONLY get when I freshly cut the Dilluso reduced sodium turkey.

I have never been asked this question during my tenure in the deli. Up until this point no one has dared to care about the mathematical fractions in which I must deal with on a day to day basis. (as an art major mind you!)

I begin to talk slower and lower in pitch. I get caught up in the moment. Who am I? What am I? Where am I? I introduce my “sexy” voice?

“To be frank, the possibilities are endless”

You can order by the slice. You can demand 5 slices laid flat. In fact, I could hypothetically sell you single slice of the hickory smoked. Although this is a valid option, it might make you appear weak. Most customers are bit more ambitious. They shout Gimme 2 pounds of the cracked pepper! I NEED ¾ pound of sun-dried tomato. “That will do me” they boast! Why don’t you just give me a handful of the honey mesquite. Wow you have small hands, make that two handfuls.

In the past, one couple -who we only whisper about- was rumored to have ordered 15 pounds of the deli shaved ham, individually packaged. But if you want to be hip and give into social constructs, the half pound (.50) is trending right now. V popular.

“I don’t know, yeah, I think I’ll take a half pound,” he concludes without any genuine browsing of the psyche.

And that is that. It is what it is. Meat is meat.

contemporary art

My older coworker breaks the monotonous hum of the slicer in between shredding pounds of the golden brown.

“Ella, you have yet to show me your art. Do you paint pictures of water? Like the ocean horizon with sunsets and sand?"

“I don’t typically, but I could I suppose" 
(fully aware of my central location)

“Well what is it you normally do? Maybe some snowcapped mountains, that would be nice”

“Yeah that would be nice”

I pull up my website on my phone to show her. And it’s in this moment of scrolling through pictures of meat, men holding fish, smiles, sprinkles and carpet that I realize my work is not nearly as universal and/or accessible as I may have hoped.

“Oh, huh".....head nod, long pauses. Silence.

"cool, so you make contemporary art, is that what you call it?"

#intheenditsjustapicture #wecantallbebobross

redemption

Update* One shift later and I’ve found redemption in the cheese.

My coworker was in the middle of assisting this adorable elderly woman and her tightly curled perm. With such sincerity she asks him, “Sir, can you tell me about the Muenster cheese, what’s it like?”

My ears perk up. Did somebody just inquire about the characteristics of the muenster?

As my coworker is in the midst of dutifully explaining the chemical makeup of this semi soft cheese I physically could not resist.

In dramatic fashion, out of nowhere I pop up, my head resting on the Hobart scale like an overeager jack in the box gleefully exclaiming,
“Ohhhh the muenster!!! it’s a pretttttty scary cheese!”

Legitimately startling her, the cheese inquisitive grandma shrieks, falling to her knees..which then leads me to apologize for just how terrifying the muenster truly is.

Much to my relief she is ok but is now dying of laughter. Cackling almost.

Catching her breath, she abruptly stops laughing, “You know on second thought I think I’m going to have to go with the gouda cheese”

*ARE YOU KIDDING ME!??? The slices have aligned. I can not contain my enthusiasm; my smile is off the charts.

“Well now THAT is a very GOOOOOUDA choice!”

Instantaneous laughter. Can. Not. Stop. Laughing. Her head cocked back, tears rolling down her face. The little old lady in red is almost on her deathbed.

“OH my gooudaness You are a riot!”

Thank you, thank you. If only she knew.

cheesy

Oh my goudaness, my jokes across the counter are falling flat today.

So this overweight, slightly balding but pleasant looking man won a free 1/2 pound of cheese. Channeling my inner "Price is Right" game show host, I enthusiastically ask him which type is his slice of choice. After much contemplation he finally settles on the Muenster. It becomes notably clear that his indecisiveness was strictly due to fear.

"Ohh the scary cheese" I cry out trembling as I force myself to crawl inside the glass case in a risky attempt to grab hold of the demon.

"Is it scary because it sounds like monster?" The brave man begrudgingly asks.

"Yeah that's why it's scary" (obviously)

Cue the crickets.

"I know, I know, it's pretty cheeeeeeesy" I add in an attempt to ease the awkwardness.

"Yeah....thanks for the cheese," he manages to mutter under his breath.

A few customers later I feel the need to redeem myself. Bitter old man is annoyed with the rules of the cheese sale. He demands a 1/2 pound of Gouda.

"Now that's a gooooouda choice right there!" Way less scary than the muenster.

Complete and utter silence.

Is it my timing, my material or my audience I wonder?

#atleastismiled

Life is Complicated

In the midst of gracefully handing out 15 individual pounds of the deli shaved ham, Avril Lavigne reminds me that life is complicated, while Sheryl Crow suggests I tell customers to lighten up as I sit back and soak up that fluorescent Hy-Vee sun. #musichelpskeepmecalm

Call me a Romantic

Grey-haired middle aged man rightfully asks:

“What is the difference between the two hard salamis you got here?”

ME: “Well so the Dilusso hard salami is “better”.

MAN: “Right, but like better “theoretically” (air quotes)

ME: “Yeah there’s like a brochure for it, and it’s even gluten free” (GF)

MAN: “Plus it’s a flower shape……

ME: EXACTLY, valid point.

We share a knowing a glance. His body presses closer against the glass case. His voice softens….

MAN: ……”it’s almost romantic”

#romanticsalami #delidiaries

My Lucky Day

Deli diaries: This morning my manager looks at me, eyes gleaming, "Ella do I have a surprise for you" as he pulls out an official piece of paper. "Look! You got a raise, it's your lucky day!"

I am genuinely surprised. I rub my weary eyes in disbelief and read the official documentation.

.25 cents. An hour.

"Lucky you!" 
Yes lucky me.

I'm Still Single

From the Deli diaries: Dillon the dishwasher was surprised to find that I'm pushing 30 years old.

"Well I hope you can find a boyfriend soon, you know, because I don't want you to be lonely your whole life"

"Thanks Dillon" I mutter...as a slice of slimy, overly processed, willowbrook turkey falls on my head.

#contentment