On Tuesdays I’d stand with my arms crossed and chest out alongside the other delivery drivers. Most were older men who wore faded uniforms and reeked of cigarette smoke. This late in the afternoon, there wasn’t much conversation among them. We all just stood there, quietly, waiting for Salvo.
Salvo was the receiver at this particular gourmet market. If he wasn’t around, I’d have to skulk around the backroom to try and find someone else who understood English. This person was never happy to see me.
“Come back later!” they would shout.
I’d say: “Salvo! Where’s Salvo?”
“You come back!”
Sometimes they would relent – they’d check my order, sign the paperwork and swear at me in Italian. Other times, Salvo would emerge from some secret place, his hands up as if to say, “What’s all the commotion?” Then he’d look over the line of angry deliverymen, sigh and gesture the first of us over.
Aside from those who wore company-emblazoned uniforms, Salvo never knew what any of the individual drivers had in their unmarked brown boxes. He’d tap one and say, “What is it?” And the driver would answer accordingly: wine… cookies… organic ketchup… whatever.
When he got to me, I‘d say, “Cheesecakes.” Then his face would grow dark as it all came back to him; he hated me. Or rather, he hated my boss. He called him the “cheesecake man.” And while this isn’t a very cruel nickname, the way he said it, it had the earmarks of a racial slur. Now I was the “cheesecake boy.”
As part of this distinction, I was routinely dragged back to the dairy cooler and berated. Salvo would tell me the cakes I brought last week weren’t fresh. Or he’d say I brought too many. I’d remind him that the store’s purchasing manager had called and requested that specific amount. “She’s an idiot,” he’d say. “You should be dealing with me.”
If a cake didn’t sell by its expiration date, he would force it into my arms and demand a refund, which I wasn’t authorized to give. I’d suggest he call my boss to work something out. This only enraged him further. He got so frustrated one afternoon that he pushed over a stack of boxes filled with cottage cheese. As he begrudgingly signed my invoice, I smiled and collected the small cartons off the floor.
This was the summer between my senior year of high school and my freshman year of college. So while Salvo grumbled, I got lost in dreams of attending keggers and meeting beautiful girls, none of whom cared about the acute differences between strawberry and strawberry swirl cheesecakes.
When he finished signing, he’d slam my copy of the invoice down and storm out of the cooler. This meant that I was now free to stock the dessert case in front of the bakery.
Despite the hostile backroom, the front of the market was warm and inviting. The smell of coffee wafted through the aisles and smooth jazz played softly over the closed-circuit radio. But the best part, as far as I was concerned, was the bevy of high school-aged girls who worked behind the bakery counter.
Being just 18-years-old myself, I thought they were all lovely. But of course I said nothing. Just gave a friendly nod and blushed with embarrassment as I fumbled with my price gun.
Occasionally I was mistaken for a store employee and enlisted to help some old woman find polenta. When this happened the girls would snicker. But it wasn’t until the end of the summer – my last day in fact – that one of them actually spoke to me.
Out of the blue, Katie, a pretty young athlete with dirty blond hair, approached me and asked where I went to school. I told her I was about to start my first semester at Central Michigan University. And much to my surprise, she said that she was doing the same. In fact, she and a bunch of her girlfriends were renting a house off campus. They were already planning a party for the following week…
When she offered me her phone number, I quickly handed over the first scrap of paper I could find – the invoice that Salvo had just signed. On the back she wrote her name, number and “call me” in big bubbly letters. I took it and told her I would. Then I exited quickly, knowing that if I lingered for even a moment I’d say something to ruin this perfect moment.
As I pushed through the thick padded doors into the backroom, someone shouted behind me. But I kept moving. Then I heard it again. It was Salvo. “You! Cheesecake boy!” I turned and he was there, snatching the invoice out of my hand. He was fuming. “What’s this?” he demanded.
I was speechless. He pointed to a line that read: 4 dz tartlets @ 6.99 ea.
“These used to be 6.75,” he growled. The paper crinkled in his hands.
A wave of relief washed over me. Then a second wave of fear as I noticed Katie’s handwriting peeking through the page. I tried to explain that we had notified the purchasing manager about the price change two months ago. “She must have forgot to tell you,” I winced.
With desperation setting in, I decided to sweeten the pot, offering to rewrite the order for a reduced price of $6.50. “For the inconvenience,” I insisted. I was sure my boss would understand. Or not. Probably not. But it didn’t matter; I needed that number…
Salvo smiled, baring a mouth full of jagged yellow teeth. “Eccellente,” he said, relaxing his grip. Then he gleefully tore the invoice apart, tossing the shreds into a nearby bin of rotting produce.
“You’re alright, cheesecake boy.”