Jana: I went to the Shaw’s deli counter after work today, which I don’t usually do anymore, but I needed some turkey for reasons that are annoying to explain and have to do with my being lazy about making lunch. I stood in line behind a woman who asked the fresh-faced deli guy if he could tell her which was more moist, the chicken or the turkey. “If you know that kind of thing, of course,” she said. He responded, “Oh, I know. I got all kinds of deli knowledge.”
I believe that he does, because I once did, too. I stood and watched the other deli kid take his hat off and grab his jacket to start his break, while the third deli girl slowwwwly put on her stupid plastic gloves. Meanwhile, a line was forming behind me and people were obviously pissed about the wait, and the first kid was still discussing moisture-levels of turkey vs. chicken. Immediately, I felt 19 again.
Because, YOU SEE CHILDREN, I once worked behind a deli counter. And when I say once, I mean twice, including one christmas vacation. It was the summer of 2005, and I came to the deli counter at Johnny’s Foodmaster, the sketchier of the two grocery stores in my hometown, purely out of desperation for a job. I applied to work as a cashier, but only a deli job was available – would I be interested in that? Sure, I told Dave, the Deli Manager, when he interviewed me in a small, claustrophobic back room of the supermarket. “Are you afraid of fish? Because you have to deal with fish sometimes.” Naw. “Then you start Monday.”
So, after a long, safety video-filled orientation at the HEAD Johnny’s Foodmaster branch, located in an arguably even sketchier location in Somerville, I was off. I was given a “FOODMASTER” hat (which I still own, and which has been utilized at MANY parties) and a long white coat, and immediately got to work memorizing the numbers that corresponded with the meats. I also learned quickly how to estimate when I’d cut a pound or a half pound (100 slices of Land-O-Lakes = a pound, generally), and became really adept at dashing up and down the back stairs to replenish the supply of low-salt turkey, or whatever it was that was needed at that particular busy moment.
A quick picture of me in mah Foodmaster hat, partying. As you can see by my facial expression, I thought this was very cool (but I remember that party specifically, and I know that I did NOT look cool).
My co-workers were HILARIOUS. First was a small asian woman, a long long time deli employee and a huge favorite among the regulars. One time during a long boring shift, it came up that I’d never had lobster before, so she cooked me one in the room downstairs. We ate it behind the counter (illegal/health violation, I’m sure). Another time, we were rolling salami for a deli platter, and she goes “Look! Like we rolling joints!”. She danced around a lot – a tiny, tiny woman she was. It was amazing.
My other co-workers included a tall black man who was the first person to tell me to start saving my money. When he heard I was an English major, he told me every day to switch to nursing. Wisely, I stood my ground, knowing that literature would pay off in the end (HELP ME I’M BROKE I’LL GIVE YOU MY KIDNEY FOR YOUR NURSING DEGREE). But, it was because of him that I started putting money into savings and could then afford to drink comfortably for the entirety of my sophomore year of college.
The other co-workers were more white, my age, and male. They were sometimes creepy but mostly just a good time. One of them often smoked pot in the walk-in freezer and then worked the rest of his shift with SUPER red eyes. And, one of them was mentally handicapped, which I don’t mean to make fun of except I will say it was real annoying sometimes and listen, it just wasn’t necessary to ask every customer how thin they wanted the slices when we had a huge line snaking around the neighboring bakery section and the creepy cashier guy was coming by to go, “Pretty busy over here, huh Jayna?”
The weird thing is that I was really, really good at this job. I got more hours than any of em. Dave, my manager, LOVED me (although he did called me Jenna, which I encouraged via my usual silence). But he sort of made me his apprentice, and even taught me how to filet a salmon. I really liked this because when people came in and saw me do it they were always really surprised that such a tiny child girl could filet a salmon, and I was like, yes that’s right bitches I WILL CUT YOUR FISH, bring it. It was great.
It was also an excellent study in humanity. For example, people do buy pounds and pounds of roast beef at 7 AM. People DO ask you to cut brisket five minutes before closing, and you DO lie to them and say you’re all out of it, because that shit gets everywhere and you’ve already cleaned the slicer and you’re late to go drink keystone lights in your parents’ basement. Also, People Do Buy Ham Salad In Large Quantities, But Only Lonely People.
I will end today with a final observation, a question that I have long pondered and returned to time and time again. Do people eat ham salad BECAUSE they are lonely, or are they lonely as a RESULT of eating ham salad? I honestly don’t know. All I know is that I could tell from a mile away when someone was gonna ask me to scoop out a pound of ham salad, even if I had forgotten to toss it recently and a crust had formed on top. I could tell because he or she was weird as fuck. Usually sort of disheveled and wearing some kind of cotton pants, the kind that are baggier on the top than the bottom. Clearly this person had only left the house FOR the ham salad, to then return to eat it among his or her cats/other gross animals while watching weird, lonely tv shows. Such people were often known to ask for a pound of olive loaf, as well. All I could do was comply and offer a sad smile. And wonder if their spouse had left when the ham salad smell became too much, or if the spouses’ disappearance had driven them to the saddest, grossest item at the deli counter, carefully scooped into a plastic container by yours truly.
Here, I wear the hat to another party, this time including my Johnny’s name tag. You’re unfortunately able to see here that I am wearing it with a corset, an item of clothing that I thought was AWESOME. You are luckily UNABLE to see the baggy jeans with which the corset was paired – but, sadly, they are there.
So there you have it: my first summer at Johnny’s. I also lost my virginity that summer, which I can only imagine happened due to my newfound confidence at being able to filet a salmon. But don’t worry, friends. I also later worked at a deli in Vermont, where the hairstyles were entirely still living in the 70s and the salad bar was never at a legal temperature. I’ll get to that another time.
Catherine: I am going to begin by addressing the corset/hat/baggy jeans picture. On the one level, I LOVE it, because it is so nineties. (As you should know, 90′s fashion is my jam. Plaid mini skirts, knee high socks, baggy pants, I’ll take 60 of each.) In fact, just the other night, a friend complimented me on the corset I was wearing! This backfired quickly when I had to explain that, no, this is not a corset you are seeing from the back, but rather, my belt is pushing my dress and fat out towards you at an alarming rate (Jana – you were there – my belt looked like a corset on Friday?… why you no tell me I looked monstrous?)
MOVING ALONG – I am surprised that you didn’t mention the second time you worked at a deli counter. Everyone, this was the summer that we worked at Friendly’s and Jana hated it so much that she went off to work at a deli counter, where she had to wear khakis and a maroon shirt to work. I almost vomited typing that you guys, but that may have more to do with the fact I am in lying in bed, running late to work, because I am experiencing (BOYS – LOOK AWAY) cramps that could and may murder me.
In closing, Jana and I have determined that working at a deli is the only thing she may be good at. I hope this doesn’t indicate a future of ham salads, but it just might, people. It just might.