Salad Dressing Man.
We were at Mollie Stone's trying to think of what to cook for dinner when at the end of the aisle which led to the produce section I spotted a man handing out free samples of food. I froze. I cannot take a free sample of something without winding up purchasing one of whatever it is. It's a guilt thing: imagine taking a sample of something a person has cooked, eating it in front of them, and then leaving without buying one of what they are offering. It would be insulting. It would be like saying "Listen. What you made is bad. It is not good enough for me." This is why I avoid free sample tables at supermarkets—I just don't want to get involved in the whole psychological mess. Whenever I see one of these tables approaching I stop, look thoughtfully at my watch, and turn the cart around.
That's harder to do when one's wife is along and she doesn't know what you're up to. She insouciantly strolled up to the table despite the sudden and strong interest I had taken in my watch, and then had the gall to call me over to try the free sample. I studied the label of a Barolo ("Great with full-flavored meats such as lamb, venison, or beef") until the second entreaty came, at which point I gave in and wheeled over. The fellow, an older gentleman with a chef's outfit and thick Mediterranean accent, smiled as he offered us a sample of bread dipped in some kind of brown sauce. It was tasty; in fact, it reminded me of the dressing they use on the house salad at our favorite Italian joint. I began to rationalize the purchase. The man complimented our baby. I remembered that Liz had thrown all of our old salad dressings away last week. She reminded him of his own baby granddaughter, he said, just nine days old.
Since there was no one else around (which makes it virtually impossible to leave the table without buying something) we chatted and it turns out that he was actually the Julio featured on the bottle of "Julio's Delicious Sauce." He made the stuff himself and did the farmer's market circuit, drumming up customers. I was reminded of the early career and travels of Robert Mondavi. At this man's advanced age, to still be hitting the pavement...I sympathized with the fight of the self-made businessman. I do a bit of self-making, after all, three or four days a week. Well, let's put a bottle of the stuff in the cart and wish him luck. I mean, it has good flavor. Support the independents, and all of that.
The rest of the trip passed uneventfully (Liz got some pita bread and olives to round out a Greek plate we had most of at home, and I just made a sausage sandwich from some leftover birthday sausage). After we rang up, while Liz was otherwise occupied with the baby, I stole a look at the receipt. There it was: JULIO DELICIOUS SAUCE -- $7.99."
Well, I don't need to tell you, no matter what you might think of me, I was not raised to pay eight dollars for a bottle of salad dressing. Unfortunately, I was also not raised such that I could return a bottle of a hard-working man's salad dressing and make him look bad in the store where he was working. Who raised a fellow with these diametrically unworkable qualities? My parents. They're lovely. It's not easy raising a child.
So what did I do? I threw the receipt away before anyone could see it. As far as anyone's concerned, I paid a reasonable $3.59 for that bottle of Julio's Delicious Sauce. A bottle which I am promptly throwing away so that it doesn't become a family favorite or some disaster like that. If I don't, I'll be pouring that stuff over the salad at Thanksgiving dinner in 2065, just like I have been for the last sixty years, my thumb pressed firmly over Julio's face, hoping I voodoo-suffocate his ghost. My sixty year-old daughter will note that yet again, dad's thumb is bright white with purple accents and he's pouring very, very slowly.