Evan’s been working the meat counter for as long as I can remember. He’s outlasted all the checkers and sackers, and store managers, produce stockers and folks in the front and back office.
Evan is a survivor.
Evan is also a professional. His meat and fish counter is immaculate and always laid out in an interesting and entertaining fashion. Soon after we moved to this part of the world and started shopping, Evan recognized us as ‘regulars’ and began to greet us as we foraged for our daily fare.
Soon I learned that being asked which cut of meat I wanted was really a formality. I could say “that one”, pointing in a vague direction and Evan would instinctively grab the best cut on display.
So, it was somewhat of a surprise when I ordered a couple of filet mignons that Evan deviated from his normal routine. I could see two very El Primo cuts at the bottom of the tray, partly covered by decorations made of Romaine lettuce and red bell peppers carved into the shape of little palm trees.
Evan’s hand reached almost that far, but hesitated and picked a couple of steaks not quite as filet mignon-ish as the two choice cuts below.
“What about those?” I asked.
“What those?” Evan replied defensively, “you mean those dried up, old, yesterday cuts? You don’t want those.”
“They look pretty good to me,” I countered.
“Naw,” Evan looked around, “they’re not that great. I’ll probably wrap them up for myself so a customer doesn’t get disappointed.”
Evan looked pretty earnest and a little nervous at the same time. Obviously, he wanted those two cuts and I was raining on his parade.
I decided to play along and agreed to the cuts Evan selected for me. Relieved, Evan was chattier than usual as he weighed and wrapped the meat and wished me a Merry Christmas and a speedy checkout.
Later, I returned to the meat counter when Evan was in the back room and placed a second order.
Checkout was indeed speedy. Carlos had been promoted to Floor Supervisor and was working the checkers into a check-out frenzy. Hands were a blur and customers were being hurled through the lanes at a dizzying pace. Not that anybody minded. We all had places to go, things to do and people to see.
I made my way home, fired up the grill and created a splendid dinner with the Next-But-Perfect filets. Rave reviews, nevertheless.
Meanwhile, it was shift change at the meat counter…
“Checking out, Evan?” Chuck asked.
“Yep. Got plans for tonight. Green pepper encrusted filet mignons, Chalk Creek zinfandel, and some morel mushrooms that a friend of mine FedEx’d me from Oklahoma. I’ll do those in butter and brandy. Gizelle’s in town for the Southern Supermodel shoot and I’m certain those perfect filet mignons will really impress her. I’m counting on it, if you know what I mean.”
Evan pulled out the filet tray and reached under the Romaine camouflage.
His hand met bare tray, not filet.
Frantically, he hauled the tray out of the cooler and tossed lettuce and peppers left and right. Wide-eyed he looked around, searching.
“The steaks,” he managed to say, “they’re gone!”
“Yeah,” Chuck said, “some guy bought them earlier this evening.”
Evan stared at Chuck resolutely. “Really?” he said.
“Ratso rizzo.” Evan hung his head in resignation. His evening plans with Gizelle were dashed.
“I was hoping, you know…” his voice trailed off. Evan pulled on his coat, adjusted his cap and headed out the back door.
Chuck called after him, “Wait, Evan, I’ve got something for you.”
Evan turned around and Chuck handed him a package of meat, about two filet mignons in weight.
“What’s this?” Evan asked.
“Some guy bought those filets you were trying to save and told me to give them to you at the end of your shift. He didn’t want some doofus buying them by mistake because he knew they were special. Nice guy, huh?”
Through misty eyes Evan looked down at the package. Written along the side of the butcher paper was an inscription.
“Merry Christmas, Evan!” Signed “The Sackmeister.”
Evan showed the package to Chuck, “Look, the Sackmeister.”
“Yowza,” muttered Chuck, “that’s a pretty nice present. I didn’t know the Sackmeister had a heart.”
“I dunno,” Evan said, “this time of year does things to people. Good things, ya know?”
“Yeah, I guess,” agreed Chuck, “Merry Christmas, Evan!”
“Merry Christmas, Chuck. And Merry Christmas, Sackmeister, wherever your are!”