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.