[encore] 917: Love and the Deli Counter

[encore] 917: Love and the Deli Counter

[encore] 917: Love and the Deli Counter

This episode was originally released on July 10, 2023.


I’m Major Jackson and this is The Slowdown.

No one knows Trini’s real name. In a Bed-Stuy barbershop, he is simply called by the country of his birth, Trinidad. Trini doesn’t talk much while offering up the flyest fade to men and women alike. I love his laser-like focus, the precision of his clippers, and the light touch of his scissors on my head. When he does speak, his melodious voice is poetry. While lining up my sides, he drops wisdoms like koans in my ear. He models for me a respect for craft.

The other barbers are just as meticulous, but they cut up left and right. They joke about people walking in with ten-year-old sneakers, incessantly debate the greatest of all time: Michael Jordan or LeBron James, and raucously argue political headlines. They pause, and wave razors above caped clients to make their points, loud enough for people walking outside to hear. They are joyous and free, a model for me, too.

I love the spaces we enter, in which we feel a rich sense of our differences, of our collective humanity, and a lightness of being. Today’s poem exhibits the kind of love and care and humor that passes through us out in the world.

Love and the Deli Counter
by Jill McDonough

At my Stop & Shop the ladies at the deli counter 
give us free slices of meat so we can talk about
how thin we want it. Everyone wants it thinner
but me. A woman asks for four slices shaved
ham. She can have anything she wants. I want
two pounds of turkey, sliced thick. I never
got the thin slice thing; it’s hard to pick up. It tears.
It takes the ladies longer to cut it up. Here’s what 
I hate: inconveniencing ladies. One of the deli ladies 
tells me the provolone piccante smells like feet and I 
say Way to sell it! I make her coworker laugh, 
which is all I want from a trip to the Stop & Shop.
She and I keep looking at each other, nodding as if
we are listening seriously while foot-taste cheese
lady makes her case; the foot taste is a good thing!
Then she wants to talk about not wearing socks
as a kid, getting in trouble with her mom. I love
them both. I am eating a free slice of turkey, thanking
them, telling another lady in the store I love the blue 
and yellow grosgrain ribbon down her jeans’ seams,
telling another I love your boots. There are no men
in the store. Saturday afternoon; we stroll the aisles,
kind to each other. Some days Boston is just a bunch
of women calling out to each other I LOVE YOUR DRESS!
We eat free turkey, help each other find the sour cream.
The checkout girl’s name tag says Love. Love tells me
her mom called her love so much she just changed it.
I love it, love my Stop & Shop, her name, love
when people, strangers, call me love or lovie. At the gym
Christine says Hello, love until she learns my name; 
a shame. At the deli counter, a woman dries her hands,
smiles at me, says and what can I get you, my love?

“Love and the Deli Counter" by Jill McDonough from AMERICAN TREASURE © 2022 Jill McDonough. Used with the permission of The Permissions Company, LLC on behalf of Alice James Books.