Thomas S. Lane: Xmas Gift Tip & Tax
Shortly after Xmas, I fell out with Lou who runs the deli section of my supermarket.
For someone working with the public, Lou's not very sociable. Sometimes, he greets the customers, but no one should count on it. A girl and a guy work for him, and do most of the serving. If Lou does serve you, you'll wait until he's ready. He doesn't respond to entreaties such as, 'Excuse me, sir', or 'Is anyone serving here?' The speaker gets a blank stare, and often leaves with nothing.
Lou doesn't make carrot and raisin salad. Its inclusion like the other missing salads isn't negotiable.
"We don' make it. Pick something else."
Telling Lou you like a salad doesn't ensure its survival.
"We dropped that one. What can I say?"
Questions about freshness don't fare much better.
"Eh, you don' like the way it looks, you don' buy."
I waited for Lou who was alone behind the counter. I knew that his tending to luncheon meats came before waiting on me. Oddly enough, I heard him say aloud to no one in particular: "Xmas time at last. All year the deli guys take care of the customers. Now it's time for the customers to take care of us."
He's got a sense of humor, I said to myself, wondering how long he'd make me wait.
After Xmas, as one of Lou's helpers prepared to scoop me some Caribbean grain salad, Lou appeared, glowering. She stopped cold, dropping my salad's intended container. As it rolled top-like on the floor, she dashed into the kitchen.
"I forgot to refrigerate the mayo, boss," she said.
Lou stared blankly at me before turning his attention to a price list. I said nothing, not wanting trouble so soon after the holiday. When it became clear that I was in for a longer than usual wait, I left without any salads, resigned to provolone on rye.
I'm okay with giving gifts to family and friends, but not to others like the mailman, or the super, because I never know for sure who to give to, or how much to give. I'm the same way with tips. Gift giving's better because it only comes once a year. Both gifts and tips can be like taxes. They're all but obligatory, and often there's no return.
I sometimes drink wheatgrass juice which can cost as much as five dollars an ounce. Most juice bars have counter cups with the word 'tips,' printed on them with a black marker. After spending five dollars, I'm expected to tip a cup, pre-stuffed with bills to discourage coins.
Wheatgrass juice, murky and green, tends to remain in its cup. You must drink it carefully to avoid staining your face, and looking like a child. Once a juice bar provided me with napkins and water to help me with the juice. I assumed that routinely I didn't get these aides because I didn't tip the cups. As an experiment, I began tipping cups, but nothing changed, proving the tip more a tax than a gratuity.
The experiment showed me too how Lou could take offense at not getting a gift for his shabby service.
Emerson in his essay, "Gifts" dismisses material gifts like jewelry, money, and clothes as barbarous apologies for gifts. The true gift, 'must be the flowing of the giver unto me, correspondent to my flowing unto him.'
In a sense, we must bleed for each other. That kind of gift wouldn't please Lou. I'm sure he'd gladly settle for a barbarous apology.
Rather than put up with Lou's hostility, I decided to buy my salads elsewhere while continuing to shop at that supermarket for everything else. The first deli I visited had a counterman on a cell phone.
"Be with you in a sec," he said, but when the sec became ten minutes plus, I left.
The next deli person told me I could only order salads from a designated spot from where none of them were visible. Next, I visited a salad specialty shop, but the salads were too costly, and many of them showed their age. 'Eh, you don' like the way it looks, you don' buy.' The phrase echoed through my mind, paying homage to Lou.
The next deli person took pains to be exact with my half-pound quantity requests.
"I don't care if they're a little over or under," I said.
"Look, I don't tell you how to do your job, so don't tell me how to do mine," she said.
I then tried The Exotic Gourmet whose window sign read: Food variety from all over the world. Proudly, we can bring it all to your table. But for me, they couldn't come up with a half-pound of German potato salad.
One more try, I thought, walking into another supermarket At the deli section, I expected disappointment, but there, I met Ray, a deli angel. Courteous, friendly, and eager to help, he loved his job, and it showed. His salads were also cheaper than Lou's.
The next day, after shopping at my regular super market, I'd visit Ray, making the trip a part of my morning walk.
When Lou saw me at the old supermarket, he turned his back, anticipating making me wait, but I just passed him by with a skip in my step, humming, 'I Can Get Along Without You Very Well.' After passing him like that a few times, I overheard him talking with the manager.
"A trouble making customer is one thing, Lou, but crazy is something else. If we banned all the crazies who come in here, we'd have to close."
"I hear you, boss, but the man's gone weird. He used to buy a dozen, or more salads. Now he buys none. He also walks funny, and hums some dumb tune. Gives me the willies. I hope I never get like that." DSS
Hummm... grumpy old guy or wise man? Tips are taxes? Well, maybe. Keeping these good stories coming means donating here to Downstate Story. Call it a tip.