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Deli-rious

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I’ve noticed I get the eye roll now when I approach the deli counter of my local grocer. I don’t consider myself an especially difficult person, though the eye roll I’ve received during my 35-year marriage has evolved more or less into a fairly prominent facial tic on the part of my bride.

There haven’t been any incidents at the deli counter where security has to be summoned or anything like that. I simply have this way of subtly expressing great displeasure (my wife refers to this capacity as “your basic personality”) that the deli staff apparently feels is out of line, given the circumstances.

The circumstances are as follows.

The queue at the deli case is as disorganized as a bus stop during rush hour in Islamabad. Don’t banks have little ribbony mazes that keep the rabble in line? Buying processed meat should not mirror feeding time at the zoo.

I know what you’re thinking: Deli counters have those take-a-number conveniences. I found that so-called convenience to be a most-inconvenient lottery. When I dutifully take a number, a staffer will call, “Who’s next?” When I don’t take a number, the staffer will call out, “Ninety-one!” Then I’ll rip a tag from the roll to discover I’m number 101, with the possessors of 92 through 100 having come after me, but in queue before me. They guessed—correctly—that the deli decimal system was in effect that day.

And then there are the days when I enter the store to see a golden glow of emptiness at the counter. I head straight for that beautiful cosmic nothingness only to find a patron from the produce section suddenly approaching that same emptiness on a much better vector. She arrives just ahead of me, as I watch her pull out a list of meats and cheeses that would satisfy the catering needs of a Greek wedding. (I believe anyone ordering quantities less than a quarter pound should be summarily shot. That’s one sandwich, for crying out loud. Ever hear of refrigeration?)

Then came the remote ordering kiosk at the entrance to the store. Miracle of miracles. No longer would I have to spy the commotion in front of the deli case. I simply tap in my order, then go about my business. I arrive at the counter some minutes later, expecting to find my packages—but nothing save a white slip of paper (my order) still defiantly posed in the printer against the wall of the deli, which is unattended.

Through clenched teeth I politely ask if my order has been filled, my eyes never leaving that piece of paper.

“Has it been 35 minutes since you placed the order, sir?” the slicer replies with what I swear is the same arrogant, folded-arm pose that Mussolini struck when he spoke from the balcony of his palace.

So I’ve become a deli stalker. I approach the counter with the stealth of a hungry carnivore in search of easy prey. If there’s someone in front of the counter holding a list, I move on. If two or more are gathered, I move on. Finally, there will be that day when I have the counter to myself. Victoriously I place my order for one pound of ham-off-the-bone and a half-pound of sharp provolone, then move on with a jaunty gait, only to return to half a pound of ham-off-the-bone and a pound of regular provolone. I swear I can see the flicker of mischief in her eyes.

One day, I fear, security will have to be called.

Reid Champagne has admitted to occasional impulses toward vegetarianism.

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