I got to the store early, picked up my things, and saved the meat for last. I needed a couple pounds of country-style spare ribs, and wanted to cook the meat on the bone, and have it cut into two inch pieces. In the past, they just run it under the saw and package it, no problem.
But yesterday, the butcher was gone. I noticed a sign that said they’d be happy to help, but only between certain hours, and those hours hadn’t started. So I asked the kid who was handling some fish and he said yes, she was here but she’s on break, probably back in five or 10 minutes.
I killed time in the Ethnic section. 10cc overhead, I’m Not In Love. The time right before it gets too busy for them to stock, to where they all get sucked back to the checkout counters and everyone’s pissed off.
They jam Kosher, Asian and Mexican together in about 15 square feet, in the ethnic section. You’ve got the candles with Mary on them, canned Pork Menudo, that kind of thing. I was on the lookout for guava paste or achiote powder, but no such luck.
I spotted the butcher and we traded looks, she was expecting me. She is stout, graying, stern, smells of cigarettes and yes, has a mustache.
It’s not the kind of mustache you’d say to be mean, about a woman who has facial hair; it’s a deliberate mustache likely paired with a sexual preference, a statement, maybe involving supplements, not something to talk about if you’re her manager, and fringy even here on WordPress.
I realized from past run-ins with the butcher that she’s been working on the mustache and it’s been a while now. It’s developed fins on the sides she could wax and curl if she wanted. I noticed the mustache and she noticed me noticing it, and I said I needed some pork cut up please, and I’m sorry I didn’t notice there were certain hours to ask and I won’t do it again, sorry.
And as they always do, the butcher walked swiftly to the area where the meat is already doled out and packaged. Like, You asshole: it’s right here. Let’s see if I can read.
But I had already combed the packages, and they didn’t have what I wanted. So she grabbed a side of pork bigger than both our cats put together, and slapped it on the counter with the saw.
We had an exchange about how I wanted it cut and she mumbled something I agreed to but didn’t understand, and then when she slid around the counter to present it to me I frowned and said I’m sorry, there must have been a miscommunication, because I needed it cut the other way.
And now she frowned and shook her head and looked down, as if saying something under her breath, but gave me a half smile and said No problem, looking past me, thinking what kind of instrument she’d use on me, how quick or slow it would take, where the shoulder disconnects from the neck in the back, biting her lip, setting the blade.
It didn’t turn out as well as it normally does, the pork and beans. I have a small piece of paper in my cookbook describing how I cook the meal each year, this ‘inauguration to fall’ recipe from my first Jacques Pépin cookbook, the one I learned how to cook on.
This year, I will mention the surly butcher when I put it back on the shelf and we will blend the leftovers into a soup, garnished with fresh cilantro, Tabasco. Sometimes you just get a bad cut.