Working in a meat market during the holidays is surreal. Everybody needs their turkeys for Thanksgiving and then they need them again for Christmas. I don’t know why most people do both for both holidays, but there is no end to the perversity of man and I no longer question it.
Christmas does see a rise in the sale of prime rib roasts, both large and small ends, and then there is the sale of tenderloin. The stuff is expensive. Six pounds can run about ninety-some-odd dollars and an entire tenderloin might as well be made of solid gold.
Goose sells reasonably well out of the coffin-shaped case we have on the front floor. This coffin case is, like its name implies, sarcophagial in shape with an open top. Designed to make grabbing items easy for easily confused customers, it contains the following items:
Bulk sausages packed in one pound chubs. There is your standard Italian style, plain pork, turkey, etc. and a few more exotic things like maple blueberry sausage, buffalo, and chorizo. Beef marrow bones can also found, along with knuckle bones from both cows and elk. Then there are ice packs (ninety-nine cents each). Then poultry: frozen turkeys, chickens, geese, capons, and the ducks.
There are four kinds of ducks we sell. Peking duck still with their heads and feet, muscovy ducks-- the expensive kind, and then the two Culver types; with and without orange sauce. Of all of these, the standard Culver sells the best and the coffin case has to be filled up multiple times a day during the holidays.
Now, normally, only fresh meat is procured from behind the counter, but as things dip low in the front freezer often customers will come up to the counter and tell us we’re out of items in either the coffin or the standing freezers along the walls.
Sometimes it is easy to get what is out. Something like chicken feet involves a jaunt into the back freezer, a quick visual inspection of the left side of the freezer, and then a hasty return with the packed chicken feet. Cue operatic victory music and another satisfied customer.
However, some things are harder than others. If a customer wants bone dust, the trip into the freezer involves a quick jaunt to the middle of the freezer, a horrified groan when noticing the bone dust is blocked by six or so seventy pound tote-boxes, and then a resigned fuck-word or two.
I am working the counter, and calling numbers, “Forty-two, do we have a forty-two?” And yes, there is a forty-two. A little old woman holds her ticket aloft and says, “I have forty-two.”
Cool. Let’s get her out of the way and then move on to forty-three.
“What can I get for you?” I ask in the I only speak this way to customers voice. That is to say in a fake voice.
“You’re out of ducks in the front freezer.”
“Ducks,” I say. I don’t like where this is going.
“I need one of those five generation ducks,” she says. “Oh, maybe like eight pounds. Do you have some in the back?”
“Yeah,” I say. She means a regular Culver. “I think I saw one or two.”
“Oh good,” she says. “My family will be so pleased.”
I’m sure, lady, I think.
“Hold on a minute,” I say.
I zip up my jacket, pull up my hoodie, and head all the way to the south of the store where the freezer door sits like a portal to hell.
I enter and pass the sausage section. The links are tightly packed to prevent freezer burn. I walk by the grocery section. There are frozen vegetables in colorful boxes. The grocery department has had an influx for the holidays and some of their boxes take up space in the walkway, so I have to shimy sideways to get through.
I pass the pork section. There’s bacon in them ther’ boxes.
I cross into beef and exotics. There are boxes neatly labeled: pullback steaks, beef tongue, beef oysters, 500 cow eyeballs, etc.
I reach the turkey boxes. These create are stacked across the walkway and I have to physically climb over them to continue. They can’t be moved because the lower ones have three or more turkeys in them and they can be up to thirty pounds each. They’re stable enough that I’m not worried.
Beyond, I enter the realm of the ducks.
They used to be peaceable enough but since the old king died, they’ve been less welcoming. They’ve arranged a kind of court with empty chicken boxes so that they can sit above you and look down while you plead your case.
The old king, Tadorna the Wise, died in November, the day after Thanksgiving and his heir Tadorna II is rather imposing. He sits on a throne made from cannibalized grocery pallets and I notice right away that he has replaced the traditional duck crown of silver and gold with a gaudy thing of chrome with huge, vulgar orange-red rubies.
His court has about fifty or so mallards, all glaring down at me.
“What do you want with us?” his mayordomo, a pompous muscovy in a 19th Century butler outfit asks.
“I’m here to see you honor your agreement made twenty years ago,” I say. “A customer requires a duck.”
“The agreement was made under a previous king,” the mayordomo says. “Why should Tadorna, the second of his name, ruler of the ducks of the freezer, liberator of the Mergini tribe, singer of the anatine sonnet, son of Tadorna the wise, and the possessor of a most corkscrewed penis, honor the agreement with you?”
Despite the hostile stares, I square my shoulders and deepen my tenor: “Because the agreement is an old one and because the store has vowed that if the agreement is not kept, they will destroy you utterly. Remember, we do not sell half of you as fast as we would like, but we can always freeze you indefinitely.”
There’s a huge hullabaloo at this proclamation. The ducks on either side of me start angrily quacking. Feathers fall around me in the cold air. Tadorna angrily pushes his mayordomo out of the way.
“Gah! Paaaak! List, human boy, thou art assured of thy most potent destruction! Tell thy anatine-phagous masters I will not yield a bird more. Many generations did heed thy agreement and many hath been led into sorrow.”
“That might be,” I say, “but this customer’s Christmas will be ruined if she doesn’t get a duck. Who can deny a more noble purpose? Imagine how lovely the table will look with a duck at the center. Imagine how barren sans pièce maîtresse de canard.”
“We’re fresh out of sacrifices,” the mayordomo says, peeking out from behind his king’s back. “Tell your customer Christmas is canceled.”
“Shall I instead tell my bosses?” I say. “This time next week there won’t be a duck left in here.”
This again causes a commotion. One of the younger ducks gets so excited it falls off its perch and breaks its neck on the freezer floor.
There is silence and then the king says, rather judiciously, “You may use him, I guess.”
A short time later, I exit the freezer with a Culver duck package that I hand over to the elderly customer. I’m thankful that we didn’t run out of any alligator fillets in front. I don’t feel like borrowing the butcher’s machete today.
a reQuested node.