The Butcher Counter
The counter is almost the length of the wall, with endless stretches of meat. Diced, fillets, ribs, breasts, entire sides of bacon. As a vegetarian it’s death made neat. Jars of Texas chile starter, crammed season packets, and boxed risotto line the low metal shelf in front of the counter like a barrier to the casing of meat, all accompaniments to dinner. But it’s the people that hold my attention and the atmosphere that makes it feel less sad.
Five or six men jog the length of the counter conversing with the customers. It’s twilight, and the grocery store contains a different clientele: the last minute shoppers. The morning is the time for women, with young mothers and their children, trying to corral them while simultaneously shopping, all the while praying for naptime. Mornings are the busy times. In the early evening, it’s older women, with bulging shopping carts of frozen pizza and toilet paper, buying salmon for tonight’s dinner. Men coming worn from work also peruse the butcher counter, asking for the best way to cook steak. The butchers happily oblige. They know their customers, calling them friend or by their names, suggesting rubs, seasonings, cooking times, everything you need to make the meat taste its best. The older women look relieved, relying on the sage wisdom of the butchers.
During the “meat holidays”, like Thanksgiving and 4th of July, the green tiled wall behind the counter is shingled with white order slips, flapping gently in the breeze of the fan. Now the wall is barren, other than the chalkboard showing specials, and that long thin mirror reflecting the faces of the customers.
Perhaps it’s the soft yellow of the fluorescent light, the low ceilings, or the linoleum floors painted to look like wood, but it feels like a Norman Rockwell painting. An americana image: young mothers in crinoline skirts leaning in at the waist to take the advice of the rosy cheeked butcher in a white apron, while another tells a businessman how he lost weight switching to vodka, and a child, runny nosed, and grass stained, clinging to his mother’s pristine dress looks at us, reminding us that this is a snapshot, a perennial part of everyday life. The painting would be called The Butcher Counter.