What is it about my brain that not only magnifies the awkwardness in a perfectly innocuous situation, but also dwells on it, for days afterward?
Well, that is what blogs are for, is it not?
I was at my favorite haunt, the grocery store, waiting at the deli for the lone deli slicer staff person to finish wrapping up another shopper’s Muenster. Carla was in school; it was early on a weekday, and the store was calm and nearly empty. The deli person asked what I needed, and I said “one third pound of honey ham, shaved please.”
And she poked around in the deli case, and said, “I have to go to the back to get a ham for you.”
Well, that was unusual. It took me a beat to recover, but then I tried to call after her because 1) I was sure she had misheard me and thought maybe I said some other ham; she hadn’t repeated “honey ham” and, more importantly and less revealing of the depth of my insecurities, 2) I could see an entire honey ham, right there in the case.
Well, of course I wondered whether maybe that was a display only honey ham. But, on the off chance it wasn’t, I didn’t want her to make a separate trip to the back.
But she had stopped just on the other side of the deli, and she was talking to someone anyway in a friendly fashion, so I called out, “Excuse me! Excuse me!” trying to get her attention.
A second deli person popped up out of nowhere and said, “Can I help you?” And I said, “The other woman was helping me, she said she had to go to the back to get a new honey ham, and I just wanted her to know that there’s a honey ham right here.”
But she interrupted me and said, “We have honey ham right here.” As though I were the one who had sent her colleague on such a frivolous errand.
“I know,” I said, smiling in a way I hoped conveyed that I was both conscious and conscientious, “I just wanted to let her know, so she didn’t have to run to the back for a honey ham when there is already one right here.”
And the woman said, “Yes, we have honey ham right here.” And blinked at me expectantly, awaiting, no doubt, my next nonsensical utterings. So now I’m struggling with wanting her to understand what I am saying and stop looking at me like I am asking her repeatedly whether I have a lobster attached to my face, but also maybe thinking she just didn’t hear me, but also not wanting to repeat myself a THIRD time, but also really wanting her to know the situation. Think of her colleague, seeking an unnecessary ham!
(The colleague was still chatting with her friend, which seemed to me a little callous; for all she knew, I was still standing there, anxiously awaiting ham.)
So I gave the second woman my order, and she grabbed some pre-cut (NOT shaved) ham from the case and then, perplexingly, said, “It’s only $1.99. Do you want more?”
Now, this ham is usually $6.99 a pound or something – I admit to not paying that much attention because a) I buy it infrequently and b) it’s really the only ham Carla eats, so I’m going to buy it anyway; it’s only a third of a pound – which is to say that I didn’t think she was referring to the per-pound cost of the ham. There’s a big board of daily specials on the counter, and the honey ham was not listed among them; I looked; it’s nice to know that you are being thrifty even if you aren’t doing so on purpose. I assumed that she was saying that my third of a pound was ringing up as $1.99, which, great. Sounds good. Why mention it at this point in the interaction?
So I said something brilliant, like, “I’m sorry?”
And she shook the ham at me and said, “It’s only $1.99. Do you want MORE HAM?”
Still not grasping anything really – I mean, how could I not still be reeling from the mistakenly absent ham? and the woman poised to – after her conversation, clearly – go fetch another? – I shook my head and said no thank you.
(Aside: If I need a third of a pound of ham, having it be less expensive doesn’t make me magically need more ham. I mean, I guess if I really wanted a POUND of ham, but knew that $6.99 wasn’t in my budget, then knowing it was $1.99 per pound might change the amount I would get. I don’t know. It’s like when you go to Dairy Queen, and you order a small slushie, and they say, “Drinks are half price between 2:00 and 4:00, do you want to get a large?” Well, no. I want a small. And I’m saving money because the small is also half price. If I get a larger size, the price also increases. A $3 small at half price is still cheaper than $5 large at half price. And yes, I get that I could be getting more for the original price I intended on paying but it still all strikes me as ODD. WHATEVER. I am sure it is a legitimate marketing strategy that works or it wouldn’t be so prevalent.)
We are back to me, rejecting the extra ham.
The deli person shrugged at me in a kind of “suit yourself” manner, and I took my ham and pointed to the other staff member – still chatting, I mean, the entire interaction took maybe 45 (interminable) seconds, but still – and said, “Will you let her know a) you took care of me and b) that she doesn’t need to go to the back for a whole new honey ham?”
And the second deli person turned to her colleague (who had just at that moment finally bid adieu to her long lost twin sister or the queen or whomever she was talking to all that time) and said, “Hey, there’s already honey ham in the case.” And the first woman laughed and shook her head and went to help some other poor ham-needing sap.
But no, not the end, because I am still thinking about it.
I cannot properly express to you how NEEDLESSLY and RIDICULOUSLY flustered I got during the course of this interaction!
And WHY, in the name of all the pigs who so graciously gave their lives for our deli needs, am I STILL THINKING about it, literally weeks later?
WHY? Who CARES? It’s just HAM.
It felt SO AWKWARD. To be misunderstood. To be misheard. To see a misapprehension occurring, and to be incapable of preventing it. To instead be misheard again and misinterpreted as someone lacking adequate brain function. To leave, finally, with ham that was not shaved as you wanted. At least it was only 66 cents. For the ham. The therapy this incident may require will likely cost much more.