I always try to get to my processing shift early so that I can claim my corner of the prep table, and still have time to grab the clipboard and head upstairs to make the cheese list. I don’t know why I get so stuck on making the list. Perhaps it’s a response to my mother’s inability to complete a successful shop without forgetting some key item that might send my father into an epileptic fury. “No, fucking, High Life!” he’d sputter, as he rooted through the shopping bags like a starving campground bear.
I try, try, try not to miss my shift because when you miss your shift, you have to make it up which involves asking permission from the shift leader, and they all seem to be cut from the same anal-retentive cloth. It’s all very grade school.
“Um—I don’t know? Roxy is out today, but we’ve got spices and cheese covered… maybe you could do dried goods?”
But I don’t do dried goods. I’m strictly cheese, and I realize how crazy that sounds so I don’t say it. The wall between crazy and almost crazy is built from self-monitoring and discipline. Trust me. Or as my mother used to say, “You’re not crazy if you talk to yourself. You’re only crazy if you answer back.”
I only joined the Coop because my boyfriend at the time had been obsessed with reducing his carbon-footprint, and we’d moved to Park Slope so that he could get a Master’s in Environmental Studies from Columbia. The boy had charts and computer programs for calculating his footprint, and god forbid if you got him started talking about it.
We met at a Rainbow Gathering outside of Seattle, back when I still found stringy dreadlocks sexy and hadn’t yet kicked the habit of carrying hula hoops with me whenever I went. When someone asked me why I carried them I’d quip, “One is for the son. One is for the father, and one is for the Holy Spirit.
“I’m a lapsed Catholic.” I don’t think I was very clever.
So, on this particular day, I make it to the basement just as the last processing shift is busy wiping down the stainless steel prep table with squirts of blood orange, scented soap and tying twisties around the last remaining bags of herbs de provence. I sign into the shift book, and reach under the table for an apron and a bandana. I kind of like how I look in them, actually. I’m kind of 40% Rosie the Riveter and 60% 1950’s housewife. It’s a good look for me.
I pick up the cheese list and asked, “Is this the cheese list?” to no one in particular and no one answers. A hip young couple shuffles past me. A younger jazz guitarist hassles an older jazz guitarist about “sitting in with him.” More shuffling. I glance at the list:
I slip the list underneath my arm and walk back upstairs to the shopping floor.
It’s a slow day, thank god. No cartbound children reaching out to grab your hair, or gumming giant pomolos as their mothers gather leeks and rainbow carrots from the produce aisle.
“Perhaps it’s a Jewish holiday?” I think to myself, and then I get stuck wondering if the thought might be a bit anti-semitic, but there’s no time for guilt. I have to refresh the list.
“These onions are no good. You need to change out the onions. They’re all rotten and nasty,” an elderly woman barks at me as I pass her in the aisle. She holds them out to me as if they are evidence of some unspeakable atrocity.
“Not my job,” I mumble, and spin to dodge a bearded boy toting a sack of wheat flour over one shoulder like an Oxfam relief worker.
A feeling of urgent, yet healthy consumption can take over the shopping floor sometimes, usually around the holidays, when the imported and artisan cheeses disappear faster than we can replenish them.
But the space in front of the cheese cooler is clear, no prostrate gawkers, fumbling through the robiola, asking which of the Italians is the most like Fontina. “They’re all good for melting,” I might reply, unbundling the skirt of my apron to reveal a cache of Black Wax Gouda. The gesture is quite fetching, I think.
There is no peanut gallery today, and all the bins are full: Reggiano, Asiago and all the Cheddars. The regional artisanal cheeses are bursting from their allotted rows, and the imports are nestled alongside one another, awaiting the inevitable rush. I cross all the cheeses from the previous list, all except the Constant Bliss, even though there seems to be enough bliss to go around. Otherwise I’ll be relegated to tea-bagging Oolong all shift long.
By the time I get back downstairs the new shift has arrived. Django Reinhardt’s manic twanging fills the space with a nostalgic melancholy that doesn’t belong. Bandanas are donned. I nod to a few of my less frustrating comrades, and move to don my headphones, only to find they have grown tentacles and slithered away from my jeans—bastards. Now I’ll be forced to learn which second grade teacher to avoid at PS 282, how to start up a vegan cupcake business, and be held hostage to debates about whether it’s “time to turn on Obama.”
I drop the cheese list on the counter and announce, “The cooler is filled to the gills. All that’s left is Constant Bliss.” I wait for a moment to let the information sink in, pull out a wheel of Constant Bliss and added, “All that’s left is Constant Bliss and I’m on it,” just to make sure they didn’t miss my meaning.