Jim Siergey: Slice Of Life

October 6th, 2019

I once had a job slicing ham. The time I spent there was less time than it would take you to make a ham sandwich.

I was eighteen or nineteen years old, not the perfect age for someone seeking a dependable employee. I was the poster boy for that depiction yet somehow I got hired.

My boss was Mrs. Novi. She ran a deli section contained within the confines of a variety story. Y’know, one of those stores that sold a little bit of everything—clothing, records, books, notions, toys, hardware, garden stuff, pets, furniture, etc. It also had a lunch counter and, like the deli section, a self-contained candy section.

It was akin to a Woolworth’s, if anyone remembers those stores.

Mrs. Novi was built like a linebacker and barked like a drill sergeant.  There was no messing around with her and with the deli section being so small and self-contained there was no area in which to laze about for a bit.

I was disheartened about this because lazing about for a bit was my forte.

My job was to work the large shiny meat slicer where all day long I sliced ham. That was it. Slice ham. There was no waste either. If I came across any fat or hard pieces I was instructed to slide them in between the slices.

fargo-articleLargeMeat cutter…



The deli section also had one of those hot dog carousels. When the wieners had been on there so long that they were turning crusty, Mrs. Novi would cut them up and sell it as ham salad.

Like I said, no waste.

I pulled an eight hour gig slicing ham and let me tell you it was as exciting as it sounded. But, being of good stock with somewhat of a work ethic I showed up again the next day.

I put in another four hours of slicing ham with Mrs. Novi’s judgemental eye boring into me every time I happened to cease my meaty monotony for a moment. Then lunchtime arrived.

I went to lunch and decided that I just couldn’t continue any longer in this line of work. So, kissing that buck and a half an hour wage goodbye, I did not return.

I went home to catch up on my lazing about. I didn’t want to get rusty. After a couple hours, in which I got in a good work out, the telephone rang.

I answered and on the other end was a frantic Mrs. Novi. It was a side of her that I had not experienced before. She pleaded with me to come back to work. The next day was the beginning of the weekend, which meant a very busy period for the deli section, and she needed me.

She needed me.

Of course, the next day I went back and spent the weekend slicing ham.

I guess I got inured to the tedium of this temporary occupation because on Monday morning I made my way back to Mrs. Novi’s deli. Little did I know that a surprise would await me.

As I arrived and went to don my apron I found it no longer hung on its hook. Instead it hung around the neck of my replacement who turned out to be a good friend of mine. We looked at each other. He shrugged in embarrassment and my inner emotions went through a whirlwind of betrayal and relief.

I wasted no time in exiting the store, just in case there was another position available in the deli.

And, yes, it was many years before I was able to once again bite into a ham sandwich. But I have never ever again eaten ham salad.


Editor’s note: Jim’s last post for The Third City was The Wait

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