He’s young. Mid-twenties I’d guess. He is bagging my groceries but he isn’t paying attention. He is just looking at me.
So, I give him the nicest smile I can, then I make a startlingly obvious remark about the weather.
He answers by saying, “You like cheese?”
It feels like a trick question. So I plead the Fifth Amendment.
“It’s REALLY GOOD cheese,” he insists.
The cashier giggles, and I half-expect this kid to ask me to pull his finger.
But instead he whispers, “It just came in. You wanna go see it?”
“Go see what?”
How silly of me.
Thus, even though the cashier probably thinks I’ve fallen off my toy horsey, I follow him to the dairy section.
He walks with a limp, but he moves fast. I notice a large moon-shaped scar on the side of his head where hair doesn’t grow.
“Hey Dan!” says my dairy-liaison to a man in a red apron. “This guy wants to see the CHEESE!”
The man leads me to a basket in the cooler case.
“This is it,” says the red apron. “We only get it once a year. Comes from Georgia, aged thirty months.”
It doesn’t look so special. I ask him if it’s truly as good as my broker advertises.
“It’s pretty good,” he says. “If you’re into cheese.”
“AND IT COMES IN A WHEEL!” the young man points out.
The older man explains how the cheese arrives in a big circular package, and how it’s up to the deli to slice the stuff.
Traditionally, such an honor is given to the most valued deli employee. This year, the privilege fell to a certain young bag-boy with a vibrant personality.
The kid’s face lights up like Biloxi. “I CUT THE CHEESE!” He laughs as hard as he can.
As it happens, besides being a champion cheese-cutter, I learn this kid was once a promising outfielder, and an even better golfer.
Before the accident.
It happened when he was on his way home from school for holiday break, years ago. He twisted his car around a tree. He should’ve died, but he didn’t.
The man tells me, “He’s a good boy.”
And that’s as much as he has to say about it.
But the kid has much more to get out. He tells me that ever since the wreck, loud noises bother him, that too much light make him uncomfortable, that he’s glad to have this job.
“These employees are my best friends,” the kid says.
So, without hesitation, I buy a wedge of cheese.
I pay the cashier twenty-two big ones for this stuff—which is more than a case of Budweiser.
She smiles and says. “So, I guess you met our Jason. Isn’t he a mess?”
And from the looks of it, he’s one hell of a fighter, too.