Monthly Archives: February 2012

My Deli Job, Myself.

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.

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True Love and Deodorant: You Can’t Keep Both in Your Life

Catherine: In honor of Valentine’s Day, here is a brief love story.

In middle school, my first boyfriend had a name consisting of solely initials. I will change them, but know that names that are just initials are ridiculous and should be banned. For our sake, let’s call him PJ.

Our story begins when his supremely attractive friend, “Mark”, called me up on the phone. He inquired if I was going to the dance with anyone? NO, I wasn’t, and I made sure he knew I WAS FREE and mentally prepared to tell everyone I knew (like, six people) that hot Mark liked me. Alas. He was calling on behalf of PJ, to see if I would go to the dance with him. I had to clarify who exactly PJ was before agreeing. Ok, yea, we have never spoken before, but we might as well go together. Sure.

From one or two slow dances later (broken down in great deal at a post dance sleepover), blossomed a three month long relationship.

Our courtship consisted of awkward eye contact, or lack thereof, in the hallway, and the occasional hug. We may have spoken on the phone a few times, but I honestly didn’t know anything about him – nothing at all. But, he was my boyfriend. So. On Valentine’s Day, he gave me a single red rose. I just about died. Romance! Passion! An extra-long hug where everyone stares at us and giggles (and during which I, myself, giggle.) I put it in my room, where it remained until I graduated high school (I know.)

Sometime after this bold gesture, we went on our one and only date to the local pizza place where I forced my best friend, Samantha (real name) to come, and hot Mark tagged along. There wasn’t too much talking.

It shouldn’t be a surprise that we later broke up when I called him on the phone from a friend’s house so that they could coach me and listen in. This was, of course, after I had gone to his middle school graduation party, been up to his room, and saw approximately 12-20 different brands of deodorant.  I didn’t have the foresight to end it on the spot.

PJ set me up for years of awkward behavior near or around guys and though sweet, I would like to blame him for messing me up.

Point is guys, have a good Valentine’s day with your co-partner, or cat, or (ideally) both. I like you all.

Red is for Valentine’s Day, and I wore it here.

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I’m allergic to things (specifically, most things, foods, and animals).

Jana: This is a list of my allergies:
Spicy foods
Mold (so, so many kinds)
Minor Danders (hamsters, rabbits, ferrets, etc)
Grass (when freshly cut)

So many! It shouldn’t come as a surprise, then, that I have spent approximately, at least, 85% of my life unable to breathe through my nose. When I was a child, I didn’t even KNOW that most people don’t breathe through their mouths just all of the time. I didn’t think it was weird to wake up with super dry lips and super gross morning mouth, or to carry piles of tissues wherever I went (mostly in the pockets of my zip-up hoodies), and, if I’m being honest, to leave a trail of said tissues in my wake. I wasn’t really bothered by wiping my nose on the sleeve of my Gap t-shirt, either, which was lovely. I was THE Allergy Kid. The resident one. In all groups of which I was a part (school, family, no other groups).

Here I am waking up as I always woke up: With my mouth open, ready for another day of clogged sinuses.

Case in point: At my alternative elementary school, we all had to make a personalized needle case by sewing a design that represented us on to the front. I sewed a tissue box, with little rays of sunshine coming out of it, because nothing else seemed to represent me quite so well.

My parents tried a LOT of different remedies for my allergies, including but not limited to: nasal sprays, daily and nightly consumption of Sudafed and/or Claritin, homeopathic doctors who had me react to crystals, elimination diets, and acupuncture. They also pulled out the wall-to-wall carpeting in my room, put in an air-cleaner, and bought really expensive dust-shielding pillowcases that they read about in magazines called “Allergen”, or something.

Sadly, I did not have the motivation to keep my room clean, so these efforts were largely in vain. I often found myself lying in bed, looking around at dust-covered surfaces, breathing heavily through my mouth and feeling trapped in a hell of my own making. It was at these moments that I would occasionally jump up, determined, and root through piles of shit until I found my very trendy Medicinal Masks, which I purchased in the First Aid aisle at Walgreens and wore for cleaning. I’d pop on one of those babies, secure the elastic around my frizzy hair, and clean until I grew tired, or until I could no longer stand the way my breath collected within the mask and then hit me in the face.

I wish I could say that I’ve since found another dusting solution, but against my better judgment I’m going to post this picture, taken circa 2008 during an epic cleaning of my last college apartment (which, as many of you can attest, was a DISGUSTING place. We had too many cups so we never washed them, and were mostly too drunk to clean, etc):

I know that I’m also holding salsa and wearing a wrist brace in this picture – cleaning the fridge with a broken wrist, a tale for another day.

So yes, my allergies extended into adulthood (excuse me – continue to extend as I hit the END of my twenties and have a pile of those masks in my room and a stack of *dusty* medicine boxes next to my bed). In fact, a few days before leaving for my sophomore year of college, I had an elaborate allergy testing session that entailed getting 60 shots in a row, on my arm, in patterns. Basically, they shot me up with all kinds of mold and animal fur to see how I reacted. Obviously, they learned that I was allergic to almost all of them (the result of this was that they gave me a concoction to shoot into my arm. For a while I gave myself shots, which meant owning tools mostly owned by serious heroin users, but naturally they were ineffective). While I sat in the waiting room allowing the reactions to kick in, I read “The Secret Life of Bees”, which I felt pretty meh about, and then returned to school that weekend with a VERY cool-looking pen-drawn allergy shot grid on my arm: ready to party.

Catherine: I will never get sick of reminding Jana of her allergies. Whenever I make anything (and I cook a lot), I make sure she knows that alfredo sauce has dairy, that chocolate cake has chocolate, and that peanut butter has nuts. The look of “Oh you, again, you got me!” gets me every. single. time. It has made eating out with the Jana difficult at times, but ultimately, it is so worth it because you get to enjoy her order with “no cheese please!” Inevitably, it will come with cheese, and Jana will PROBABLY just eat around it as sending it back is just too much.

Can I also mention that you are allergic to lipstick and anything but black chapstick? I remember in college, the costumers always being like, SERIOUSLY? And you slinking into yourself… “yeah…” Pale-lipped, Jan.

And aren’t you forgetting soy, too?

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If You Can’t Swim, Don’t Take A Swim Test

Catherine: As a youngster, I went to a Catholic Lithuanian Heritage camp in Vermont. It was awesome. I get that you don’t think it’s awesome, but that’s only because you are judging. Stop it. It was awesome. Except maybe for my brothers the short week they came, when their sleeping bags were set on fire. They didn’t think it was too great.

At camp, every day had a pretty similar outline, with swim time coming after lunchtime. After getting either a soda or an ice cream (it was also a health camp), we lined up with our cabins and walked down to the pond, which had a leech problem. Like, if you went in, you were gonna wanna make sure you didn’t just get ‘leeched.’ The most prominent leech spot was the shallow end, which was also not the cool hang out spot.

The cool hang out spot was the dock. You could only hang out on the dock if you passed a swim test, which meant that you could swim, oh say, 30 feet and back, or some really stupidly short distance, without drowning. And then you had to tread water for two minutes or until the lifeguard got sick of watching your head bop unenthusiastically up and down. I REALLY wanted to hang out on the dock, and for this I convinced myself that I COULD swim, despite every bit of evidence to the contrary (largely, that I had never been able to do so.)

I went at the same time as my friend, Alex, which calmed my nerves (which were REALLY JUST WAY TOO LOW FOR SOMEONE WHO COULDN’T SWIM). We got to the little floating rope thing, me doggy paddling just marvelously, and then I starting sinking (since I couldn’t swim). So I thought Alex would get my back and let me lean on her a little. Well, that backfired when she yelled out (and I can still hear this ringing in my ears) “She needs help!” Oh, good god. For someone taking a swim test so she could hang out with the cool kids, I really needed to have thought about the implications of making the too-cool-to-jump-in-the-water counselor rescue me.  It didn’t make me any cooler, you guys. It made me  LESS cool.

The counselor inquired, why did you take the swim test?? And I probably mumbled, “I thought I could swim… but I guess not…”

Sulking back to the leech infested half of the pond, everyone was staring at me, and asking if I was ok – I wasn’t dead, so just drop it guys. Don’t wanna talk about it. If I were to guess,  I was fighting back tears as I headed back to read my Baby-sitters club book on my towel.

I honestly don’t know what I was thinking. So, guys, if you can’t swim – don’t take a swim test. You can’t swim. You will fail.

You can’t tell from the picture, but that dragon is covered in white glitter. This was taken the summer of the incident – 1998.

Jana: Oh, Cathy. Poor Cathy. This reminds me of endless horrible camp experiences (my parents sent me to “Adventure Camp”; Adventures TERRIFY me), a similarly embarrassing swim test experience, and a bad leech experience. So yes, we’ve all been there (or possibly just me and Cath). I forget if Cathy can swim now, but I feel like she can’t, and this story brings a lot of things together for me.

Also, just so everyone knows, Cathy once told me about a “Genocide re-enactment” day that took place at this Lithuanian Camp. Apparently, they put the children into vans and blindfolded them and some other stuff that she’ll probably share at some point. She told me this story while we drove from Vermont to Boston, and I thought she was kidding most of the time. Then I realized that she was NOT kidding, and felt like I should take some kind of legal action on behalf of the Lithuanian children. I have to, I thought! But then I thought, ah well – someone else will take care of it.

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You can squish two kids into a small kayak, but you shouldn’t.

Jana: Briefly, let me warn you not to share a one-person kayak. Keep the Kayak for One to yourself.

I came to this conclusion many years ago, while vacationing with my family in Maine. My parents made friends with a lovely old couple who lived down the lake, and they kindly invited us over for an afternoon of water-sport-like fun. Unfortunately, they had only three kayaks, but everyone figured, the kids are fairly small! Put em together! What could go wrong, I wondered as I silently lowered myself into the microscopic amount of space not already occupied by my sister. What, that is, aside from an afternoon engaging in a difficult, strenuous and stressful activity in an awkward environment? I had thought that would be all.

And it WAS all, until I emerged from my portion of the kayak and attempted to turn my head. No no. My neck was frozen, rendered useless by the hours spent cramped up in the front of a kayak built for one (my sister, having occupied the roomier back of the boat, was totally fine).

I spent the rest of the vacation in a neck brace. Mostly I dealt with this by lying on my side on the floor of the cabin with my brace on, reading novels I was far too young to understand, like “She’s Come Undone” (a book just TEEMING with sexual assault, among other issues). I think that was also the week that I read that series of books about the mother who abandons her kids in a grocery store parking lot, which led to my years-long certainty that my mother would definitely abandon me at ANY point.

I also have a memory of being in the water in one of those loungy chairs, neck brace on, with my mother. Everyone felt sorry for me (although I think I mostly took it in stride) so she stood next to the chair and pushed it around while I lounged to the best of my ability, looking straight ahead (as dictated by the brace).

Here I am still wearing my neck brace during the car ride home. I BELIEVE that I am impersonating a nun here, or some other religious leader, because the neck brace reminded me of a habit? Or a pope hat? Either way, my family LOVED it, and I continued to blissfully evade realities about what a weird kid I was.

Catherine: I would like to take a moment to thank the religious affiliation Jana was imitating for making this photo possible. A NECK BRACE? From kayaking??? Seriously, but no, but SERIOUSLY – this could only have happened to Jana, young or old, only she. My. Lord. (P.S. Sorry I haven’t written my own whole post lately, oh ye loyal followers, I have broken the unemployment streak and am thus financed yet crazybusy. Will share horrifying life tales soon.)
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