By Sean Dietrich
The elderly man at the deli counter was undecided. He looked at the lineup of cold salads behind the glass divider with a serious face behind his surgical mask.
It was the kind of face that deep thinkers wear.
“Lemme try a sample of the chicken salad,” he said to the girl behind the counter.
“It’s REALLY good,” said the cheery young woman with the mask and hairnet. “I just made it, it’s world famous chicken salad, at least that’s what my son says. Every time I make it, I just HAVE to take a few pounds home to my son, my son LOVES my world famous chicken salad, he’s the kind of boy who just loves anything with mayo, and I try to tell him, ‘If you keep eating all that mayonnaise, you’re gonna just swell up like a big ole balloon…’”
The man interrupted, “Lemme try the broccoli salad, please.”
“Sure,” said Miss Sunshine, scooping another sample. “Do you know we put CURRY in our broccoli salad? I used to think curry was gross, but I was wrong, curry’s good, I eat it all the time now — the broccoli salad I mean, not the curry by itself. I don’t think anyone would do that, eat curry by itself, but you never know, people do some weird things…”
The grumpy man cut her off. “That’s nice, Miss, I wanna try the Waldorf salad, now.”
“Comin’ right up,” she said. “It’s funny, all the old ladies come in here and get the Waldorf salad, and I just laugh, they’re the cutest things, they used to come in every week to eat and talk, but if you ask my opinion, I hate Waldorf salad because I don’t like fruit and mayonnaise to EVER touch each other, that’s gross, I don’t know why anyone with half a brain would put mayonnaise and fruit together, but you know what I always say? I say, ‘Everybody has their own tastes,’ that’s just what I always say…”
The man was losing patience. “Miss, gimme a half-pound of the chicken salad.”
“It’s world famous.”
“You said that already.”
“You won’t regret it.” She filled his container, and her happy chatter never ended. “Yep, this is world famous chicken salad, that’s what my son calls it. My son likes this stuff better than my sister’s kind, she puts grapes in hers, my son just goes ‘YUK!’ My son doesn’t like grapes, or carrots come to think of it, he’s a picky eater, that’s just how he is…”
While she was speaking, she wandered toward the register to ring the man up.
“Hey!” the man said. “I wasn’t done ordering. I wanted some macaroni, too.”
She slapped her head. “Silly me! Would you look at that? There I was, going straight to the cash register, and there you were, wanting to get macaroni. I get distracted when I’m talking to customers, I start to get all…”
She started scooping macaroni.
“No!” he half shouted. “Not THAT macaroni salad, the MAC AND CHEESE!”
“There I go again, I thought you meant this macaroni salad, but you wanted the macaroni with CHEESE, which I can totally understand because after all who doesn’t like some cheese in their life, right?”
The man sighed a sigh strong enough to tip over an elephant. He rolled his eyes. He looked at his watch. He tapped his foot. He cleared his throat.
This guy was a real day at the beach.
Finally, she rang the man up. He handed over his cash, she handed him a bag of food. And before he left, he had some critical words to impart:
“Young lady,” he said, “you need to learn how to stop running your mouth and serve your customers.”
The girl was noticeably embarrassed. Her face lost its cheer. He yanked the bag from her hands and stormed out.
Next, she was looking over the counter at me, asking what I wanted to order. I could see how tired her eyes were, and how upset she was.
But before I could order, I heard the bell on the door ring.
The front door opened. It was a woman in scrubs, pushing a wheelchair with a young man in it.
The young man looked fourteen, maybe. His head was pressed against a headrest, his body unmoving, his face showing a wide smile. He had tubes coming from beneath his shirt, and an oxygen nosepiece.
The girl forgot all about me. She removed her apron and darted toward the boy.
The boy howled, “Mama!” but he did not move a muscle below his neck.
She kissed the young man. He kissed her. I wish you could’ve seen them.
Soon, the young woman was seated at a table, feeding this boy crackers and some chicken salad. They were lost in their own private world.
“Sir?” A new cashier was behind the counter, talking to me. “Sir, can I help you?”
I turned to see an employee staring. “Sorry,” I said. “I got distracted.”
“It’s okay, what would you like, sir?”
What would I like? Well. It’s simple, really. What I would like is for people to be nice to each other no matter how much it costs. Also, I would like it if someone would give that young woman with the beautiful personality a significant pay raise.
But most of all, I would like a quart of that world famous chicken salad.