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At theAlbertson’s deli counter I ask for Swiss cheese sliced about a half-inch thick, which makes short work of dicing cheese for the macaroni salad I’ll be making (that’s right: macaroni, not pasta, with lots of mayonnaise and none of that fancy-pants extra-virgin olive oil). The lovely woman behind the counter, tiny, 60ish, does her best to help me. She finds a hunk of cheese, slices it, then shows me:

“This is the way we usually slice it, you know, for sandwiches. Is that okay?”

I’ve bought cheese here before and am well-acquainted with their standard slice. In fact, on most occasions I don’t even bother specifying a custom thickness because I’m perfectly happy with stock-thickness cheese slices. I’m generally a low-maintenance person so it’s rare for me to ask for special treatment at the deli counter, although that there is a deli counter with meats and cheeses not yet sliced implies that one wouldn’t be out of line to ask for specific thicknesses of various deli products. Perhaps she didn’t hear me?

“Can you slice it a little thicker, like about a half-inch thick?”

“So, thicker? This is our regular slice but I don’t know what quarter inch is.”

Which should be of no concern to me because I asked for half-inch slices. But to be safe, I use my fingers to visually indicate an approximation of what half an inch looks like.

“Oh, okay.”

Slice.

“Like this?”

“Perfect! A pound like that, please.”

She’s obviously not coping well with my custom request and I hope my enthusiasm for her new-found measurement-estimation skills will make her day a little brighter. But there is much fussing behind the counter. She walks out of sight. Comes back and fusses some more.

“I’m sorry, I can’t find any. I think we’re out. I’m sorry. We must be out. I’m sorry.”

But, but, you just sliced me some cheese! It appears that my request for cheese sliced ruler-style was too much for her. I can’t see the hunk she sliced off of, but maybe there’s enough there for a pound of standard slices but not for a pound of half-inch slices. So I ask about the big block of Swiss cheese under the sale sign.

“That’s not on sale. That’s two dollars more a pound. I’m sorry.”

When that’s happened in the past, the deli clerk automatically gives the customer whatever she’s asked for at the sale price, even if it’s a brand not currently on sale. C2 asked why I didn’t mention that. This poor woman doesn’t know how big a quarter inch is (by this point I’m assuming that a half inch would similarly flummox her and I don’t want to call into question her hearing ability as well as her deficient ruler skills). I’m certainly not going to point out that the sale sign is directly above that block of cheese that actually costs two dollars more a pound or suggest that she give me that $7.99 cheese for the advertised $5.99 cheese. I didn’t even mention that I’d also like a pound of medium Cheddar sliced a half-inch thick. A martyr, that’s what I am.