My Life as a Deli Worker


478044_4618781261948_737228180_o

There was a time when I felt sorry for the middle-aged women who worked the deli counter at my local grocer. I used to create scenarios of their personal histories in my head to pass time, while I watched them slice my honey ham, oven roasted turkey and low salt swiss. I wondered how they “ended” up there, never imagined our roles could change, that I might find myself in their shoes, filling orders from well-heeled housewives and stay at home Mom’s. Divorce turned the tables. I am now one of them.

I work toward the back of Whole Foods Market on South Street in Philadelphia. On any given day, chances are, if you walk through the front door, hang a left past the bakery, you will see me, standing behind the prepared foods case, at the ready to serve. I expected to be a restaurant owner at this stage, never pictured myself here. I am oddly surprised by how I feel about
it, a midlife twist of fate. Strange mix of happiness, definitely, and dare I say, contentment? I enjoy what I do.

A deli worker’s position does not come with culinary bells and whistles, accolades from fellow chefs, nor rave reviews in a local paper. My skill set is certainly beyond simple cooking tasks that I perform on a daily basis. The hourly wage I earn barely pays the bills. Yet, for the first time in my life, I do not feel restless. I am no longer searching for something to make me happier. I am okay where I am and with what I am doing. Life does not always play by our rules or follow our set in mind patterns. The path I’m on now, however ordinary, is one I have grown to love. I am known as The Deli Queen, and damn proud of this hard-earned title.

My work day begins at 7:00 am. I punch my ID number into a time clock outside the employee break-room. I don a chef’s coat, cover my wet pony tail with a baseball cap, and walk down a flight of stairs into a 24/7 operation, a kitchen that never sleeps. I am greeted by a sea of white jacket clad cooks, a lively, multigenerational cast of characters, a remarkably mixed bag of cultures, and personalities. Muzak, via Whole Foods “exclusive” music station, fills our ears. Shared air slowly thickens with the aroma of Rotisserie chicken.

I lay claim to a space for myself on a prep table, collect my mise en place and begin to prepare 50 sandwiches that will hopefully last through lunch hour rush. Between 7:45 and 7:50 our store leader Jessie’s voice can be heard over the intercom. He thanks us for showing up, states the daily business forecast, and wishes us a great day. I take my place behind platters laden with rare roast beef, house-roasted turkey, and countless dishes of vegetables. A cashier unlocks the front doors. It is 8:00am when the retail games begin.

We have a good number of regulars, those who order the same things each time they visit. I know them by name. We chit-chat and joke with one another as I fill container after container with mashed potatoes, crisp green beans, and our most popular dish, General Tsao’s vegan chicken. For the record, it may be vegan, but it’s deep-fried, not healthy.

Customers, my fellow employees consider too difficult to wait on present a challenge I willingly embrace. Despite their condescension, and lack of manners, I know how to tame these shrews. Small subtle doses of my trademark sarcasm they seem oblivious to, go a long way, and keeps them at bay. In fact, these difficult “cases” seem to really like me, and request me name. I welcome thorny customer interactions, and know when to put on my kid gloves.

We have no number system in place to bridle Jo Public. We learned in training that paper chits are not the “Whole Foods Way”. Our guests can and will determine who is first in line. Ninety nine percent of the time, this approach to crowd control works out well. When a jerk does butt to the front of the line we rest easy, and go about our work, deaf to the poor soul’s demands. We know that our loyal and patient customers amid the herd will not hesitate to put any line crashers in their proper place. From my vantage point, it is delightful to observe these true-blue, Philadelphia style, public displays of affection. “Yo! Buddy! We was here first! Yous need to wait your turn!” The chastisement of wayward fools is music to my ears, and makes deli work, sans paper chits, a veritable breeze.

My years as a homemaker made me forget how much I enjoy working with the public. I could not ask for more than the endless parade of human entertainment my job provides me; formerly fit men in short-shorts, grungy too cool for school hipsters, and Mommies who demand fried chicken nibblers, because that’s all they can get their little darlings to eat. Of all these people, I adore seniors most. Older folks who tote their granny carts, smile sweetly as they order five slices of white American cheese, and quietly reveal their time-worn, oft confused states of mind.

My hands down, favorite among this group is Winifred, who prefers to be called Winnie. She stands out from the crowd in her neatly pressed blouses, and finely knit, timeless blazers. Her silk scarves and matching hats never fail to draw attention. She is the Grandmother we all wish we had. She is sharp as a tack on the surface. One would never guess her to be eighty-nine years of age. About two weeks ago I had the pleasure to wait on her.

We dished for twenty minutes; I her food, and she tidbits of daily dirt in the local news. As an older person, her knowledge and grasp of current affairs amazes me. As we finished up, I walked out from behind the counter to place the containers in her cart. She thanked me, leaned in close to give me a hug and peck me on the cheek.

“Can I ask you a question?” She whispered.

“Of course, Winnie! What is it?” I inquired.

“I know the year, and who’s president. I can tell you what I ate for dinner last night, but for the life of me I can’t remember the simple things. Can you please tell me what day of the week it is dear?”

I am humbled, and honored to be of help to this sweet woman. I know that it is Tuesday, but for her sake, I feign ignorance. “You know what? I’m not sure. You’re not alone Winnie, I lose track of days too. Gimme a minute, I’ll go ask someone in the kitchen. Then we’ll both be sure.” Her eyes light up and she smiles. My day is complete.

I walked through the doors of Whole Foods Market almost a year ago. For the first six months, I felt sorry for myself. I was bitter and miserable. My head was not in the game. I looked for every reason to quit. I showed up late, and called out sick on more than one occasion, unconsciously hoped to get fired. For months, when friends or family asked me how I was feeling about going back to work, I answered with a pat, “Great! I love it!” I lied. I laid awake each night in my half filled bed. I pined for my former existence, an intact marriage, and the ease and comfort of financial stability I knew then. I longed to be the woman in front of the deli counter again, not behind it working my ass off.

Try as I may, I cannot pinpoint exactly when the paradigm shift occurred in my brain. In all reality it makes no difference when it happened. What is important is the fact that my attitude changed, and for this, I am thankful. I no longer lay awake at night feeling sorry for myself. Interactions like the one I had with Winnie make it easy for me to resist hitting my alarm clock a second time in the morning. I look forward to getting up out of bed and off to work.

Slicing deli meat is not glamorous. Regardless of its low rung on the culinary career ladder, I can truthfully state, I enjoy my job. It does not define who I am, nor what I am capable of as I so foolishly believed for a while. I was out of the workforce for twenty years. I no longer beat myself up over where I’ve landed. I now stand on my own two feet. My career may not be moving at the speed I once had in mind, but at this juncture, I’m okay with its humbled pace. At peace with my past and current choices, I live my life one moment, one day, or as we say in the deli, one slice of De Parma prosciutto at a time.

One Slice at a Time

8 Comments

June 25, 2013 · 5:40 pm

Stone Harbor


SONY DSC

Sunrise…#wordlesswednesday

Leave a comment

January 30, 2013 · 8:53 am

Mother and Son


Mother and Son

My son Jimmy is on a train, headed back home, to Philadelphia. He has lived in Montana for the past sixteen months. He is coming back to live with me.
My brain tells me this is a mistake, my heart says you are his mother. The reality of our situation sits between my heart and my head, a mother’s leap of faith, in a boy who has lost his way. I am as ready as I will ever be. I knew this day would come.
With love and support from family and friends we will make this work.

3 Comments

December 17, 2012 · 11:37 am

Trickle Down Love


Sick and tired of

Hanging on the edge,

Life’s periphery

She holds her breathe, grasps

Onto old-vine, slowly

Withers away,

Subsists on his

Trickle down love

 

Like a shiny Christmas ball, she hangs

On a branch too weak to

Sustain her

She holds tight, despite

A pretty sight

Pretty girl

Me, living on

Trickle down love

 

A pinky ring, he wears

Me well, though

Not every day, at

His beacon call, ever

Ready, I come

Out to play, when

he feels like it, just

Enough to

Keep me, shiny

Bauble  to throw

His arm round, for

All the world to see

Trickle down love

 

A balloon, I float

Tethered to

Strings of hope

Afraid to say,

I must go now

Untie this knot

Please, let me be

I beg for treats

He throws scraps

To keep me, pretty

Pooch at his feet

A glimpse of him here, bittersweet

Taste of joy there, I

Eat leftovers, famished

Trickle down love

 

I question the crumbs, tiny

Morsels he feeds me

Better than

None?

Think  not, I

Deserve  more than

His remnants,

Odds and ends, his

Trickle down love

 

I am so hungry, and yet

I am full… of him

No boundaries remain

Edges all blurred

Where does he

End?

Where do I

Begin?

Leave a comment

Filed under Poetry, Writing

Nikolai Gogol’s Marriage


I am currently helping out a theatre company in Philadelphia called the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium. It’s a mouthful I know, but they are a truly talented and dedicated theatre company, worthy of every hard earned dime we can rustle up to aide them on their creative journey.

Less than a month ago we launched a Kick Starter fundraising campaign. We shot a fantastic video, to document their latest production, Marriage (an utterly improbable occurrence in two acts), by Nikolai Gogol.

The IRC breathe new life into absurdist theatre classics. Work by Frisch, Giradoux, Ianesco, and Vian, masterpieces, rarely seen by theatre goers here, or for that matter, anywhere in the world. But the  IRC has a mission:  to render this timeless theatre genre alive, rescue it from obscurity and place it in the public eye.

We are all excited about our February, premiere, Marriage. The play tells a story of the reluctant suitor, coerced, in competition, to win the hand of  well dowried, bride to be, Agafya. Sound familiar?  Though it was written in 1833, it is, eerily similar to  modern matchmaking that happens, on reality TV. Picture an episode of  “Millionaire Matchmaker” on Fox network and you have the idea.

Characters include a matchmaker, silly suitors, and a team of St. Petersburg cheerleaders, who throw their two rubles into an utterly hilarious  arena.

Have a look at our pitch. If you have a dollar or two to share, throw it in their hat. Every dollar counts. If you are a lover of the arts, show your support. If you are near or in Philadelphia, come out to see Marriage. You will not be disappointed!

Join me, and help the IRC continue on their absurd journey. Help us  preserve these rare theatrical gems. Give your nod of approval.  Throw two rubles into an  absurdist theatre troupe’s hat, so the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium can continue to bring good nothingness to life.

Follow the link below to for a wonderful taste of what they do best! I thank you for listening to my pitch and give up some cash, if you can. If you can’t, just enjoy this. It will put a smile on your face!

http://kck.st/z420ZA

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Gogol’s Marriage


I am currently helping out a theatre company in Philadelphia called the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium. It’s a mouthful I know, but they are a truly talented and dedicated theatre company, worthy of every hard earned dime we can rustle up to aide them on their creative journey.

Less than a month ago we launched a Kick Starter fundraising campaign. We shot a fantastic video, to document their latest production, Marriage (an utterly improbable occurrence in two acts), by Nikolai Gogol.

The IRC breathe new life into absurdist theatre classics. Work by Frisch, Giradoux, Ianesco, and Vian, masterpieces, rarely seen by theatre goers here, or for that matter, anywhere in the world. But the  IRC has a mission:  to render this timeless theatre genre alive, rescue it from obscurity and place it in the public eye.

We are all excited about our February, premiere, Marriage. The play tells a story of the reluctant suitor, coerced, in competition, to win the hand of  well dowried, bride to be, Agafya. Sound familiar?  Though it was written in 1833, it is, eerily similar to  modern matchmaking that happens, on reality TV. Picture an episode of  “Millionaire Matchmaker” on Fox network and you have the idea. 
Characters include a matchmaker, silly suitors, and a team of St. Petersburg cheerleaders, who throw their two rubles into an utterly hilarious  arena.
Have a look at our pitch. If you have a dollar or two to share, throw it in their hat. Every dollar counts. If you are a lover of the arts, show your support. If you are near or in Philadelphia, come out to see Marriage. You will not be disappointed! 
Join me, and help the IRC continue on their absurd journey. Help us  preserve these rare theatrical gems. Give your nod of approval.  Throw two rubles into an  absurdist theatre troupe’s hat, so the Idiopathic Ridiculopathy Consortium can continue to bring good nothingness to life. 
Follow the link below to for a wonderful taste of what they do best! I thank you for listening to my pitch and give up some cash, if you can. If you can’t, just enjoy this. It will put a smile on your face!

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Red Balloons Protest


Goldman Sachs executives are pooping in their pants now. A peaceful protest took place outside of their gleaming towers the other day. I imagine the Goldman executives looking out from their corner offices seeing their  ill begotten fortunes flashed before their eyes in the form of floating red balloons, with letters to the CEO attached. The red balloons are a fantastic metaphor for the shield our government has provided these huge corporations so that they could get rich at the price of the other 99%, us. Profit before the people.

We can POP their bubble if we all stand together and OCCUPY. metaphorically speaking, we hold the needle. Government by the people, power of the people. We are the people. I have included a link to an article I read on Alternet. Read it and see if you don’t agree. This peaceful protest serves as an incredible example for all Americans. It sent a clear message to the execs at Goldman’s and all other monopolistic corporations that are bedfellows of our “elected” officials.  There wasn’t a damn thing the police or anyone on the security staff at Goldman Sachs could do about it. Makes me laugh out loud. I wonder if they might have considered shooting them with rubber bullets!

The real point is that this protest forced Goldman Sachs to take notice, to look at their past behavior and to seriously consider how they will go ahead in the future if they are to survive, or better yet fade off into the sunset. A new day is upon us. We have a right and a responsibility to take part in this movement; dare I say modern American revolution. Here’s to peaceful protest and red balloons; a child’s delight and beacon for progress.

Biometric Door Locks and Bulletproof Windows: How Occupy Wall Street Is Scaring the Heck out of the 1% | News & Politics | AlterNet.

Leave a comment

Filed under Uncategorized

Put Out the Fire


Put Out the FIRE

A week ago I asked my 15 year old daughter what she was going to be for Halloween. She told me not to worry, that her Dad was going to take her out to the Halloween store to buy her a costume. I have been in big box Halloween stores and I know what they have to offer. I am the Mom who makes her kids costumes. Yes, that one, who stays up until 5 am the night before, sewing, to get them finished in time for the school parade. So, when she told me this, I held my breath, and hoped for the best. I called home at 9 to check in and asked her what costume she chose.

“A firefighter.” She replied. 

Whew, I thought, that’s a relief. In my mind I pictured a yellow jacket, boots, and a red helmet. Imagine my surprise, when I came home last night to find the packaging pictured above, laying on my entry floor, not at all what I pictured and certainly not what I wanted to see. 

I am not comfortable letting my daughter walk out our front door, in what is clearly a costume meant for an adult. I am sure to have a battle on my hands when she gets home from school this afternoon, when I tell her we will have to make some serious modifications or she can’t wear it.  

I am not a prude, but what what passes for fashionable astounds me. Toddlers dressed in belly shirts and minis, thirteen year olds wearing six inch stiletto heels, and most currently teenagers dressed like soft porn stars, in role play costumes to go trick or treating. It boggles my brain. I am surely not alone, feeling this way. 

I am not a dyed in the wool conservative dresser, nor a vogue fashionista. I’ve done my share of fashion experimentation. I dappled in punk, turned to the bright side of prep, and lived in vintage clothing for years. I just never chose the sleaze road. It was available, but certainly not desirable. The reverse is now true. Sleaze is the rule, no longer the exception on mainstream clothing store racks. Our culture has sexualized the fashion industry to the point that girls actually strive to dress this way.  

There are no easy answers, though I do believe we hold the power to reverse this trend. Blogs like mine will not change the world, but do hold the power to connect with others who have similar beliefs. The key to meaningful cultural shifts lyes in connection to people, both friends and strangers alike.There has never been an easier time in our history to connect the dots and rally for a common cause.  


As I gathered my thoughts before I sat down to write this, I checked into my Tumblr blog. Coincidentally there was a video posted by someone that pertained to this very issue;  a trailer for a documentary called “Miss Representation”, that aired at the Sundance film festival this past summer. I have not seen it yet, but the trailer was enough to hook me. I will include a link to this film and to an organization to promote cultural change that was formed in direct response to it. 


If you are concerned please comment here. Check out these links. We are not powerless. An opportunity for culteral change is an opportunity none of us can afford to miss. There really is power in numbers. Join me.


Miss Representation Extended Trailer
















3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Lucky Duck


Young man in white hat and apron behind a row of hanging barbecued ducks

This picture came from another blog I have joined. It was a writing prompt. Here is the poem I wrote after looking at it.

Lucky Duck

Before my eyes alit, I knew

When

I looked up

Who

I would see

You’ve come unannounced to visit

Delighted to see you, though

Not surprised

You are with me each moment

I am away

Break of day into night

Lifeblood

Once strangers, now

Kindred spirits

We

Kismet?

Not so

Life

Hit or miss

Sliding doors

Serendipity smiles

One and one makes two

You and I

Universal sum

I memorize you daily

Your form, your smell,

your tongue

I watch as you lay there bathed

Early morning sun

A vision that sustains me

In my head while I’m gone

Away

Halved and

Whole

Our song

Drowns out the morning

Quacks

Fowl who must die

At my hands

You must have sensed my dismay

This morning as I sulked

To see you here

Pure joy

My love

For you

I consider myself

Lucky Duck

6 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized

Thank You Mr. Buffet


Here is a link to a New York Times Opinion piece written by none other than mega-rich Warren Buffet. He is to be commended for writing this. Our government officials need to wake up and listen! Enough is enough!

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/08/15/opinion/stop-coddling-the-super-rich.html

 

3 Comments

Filed under Uncategorized