Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Hairy Potato Salad

This morning's Trib has a fascinating article on potato salad:

Potato salad is like chicken soup. Every family has its own recipe, and it's the best.
Potato salad has something else in common with soup: You just never know what kind of unexpected surprise is going to turn up in it. Remember the classic diner's lament, "Waiter! There's a fly in my soup!"? Something similar happened to me about 14 years ago when I was eating some potato salad during my lunch hour at work.

Across the street from my then-workplace was a shop specializing in imported foods as well as store-made deli items, and baked goods. Rather than reveal it's true name, let's just call it "The Oddball Grocery". I didn't shop there very often, mainly due to the fact that imported goods tended to be out of my price range. When I did go there, it was usually for the deli sandwiches or for picnic-type salads -- ham, tuna, seafood, antipasto, or macaroni salads. And, in the rare moments when I felt like it, potato salad.

Potato salad had never been a favorite of mine. I love potatoes in just about any form, but chopped up and served cold in white goo with flecks of celery and who-knows-what-else just did not appeal to me. But I sometimes settled for the Oddball Grocery's potato salad just because it was, per pound, the cheapest of the salads at the deli counter.

On this one occasion, I decided to save myself the walk across the street for a couple of days by purchasing a nice tall one pound container of potato salad. Great move! It would last at least three days, possibly four. I was so proud of myself. I took it to my work lunchroom, sat down, opened the container, stuck my fork in, took a nice big chunk of potatoey delight, moved the fork toward my mouth, and bit down. Something was wrong. Something was very wrong. I made a face and reached inside my mouth in an attempt to pluck out whatever was bothering me. A young lady named Irene, who was seated across the table from me, asked if I had found a hair in the potato salad. She was as unprepared as I was for what she saw next. "Oh, that's gross!" she cried. "I was expecting you to pull out one hair, not a whole clump!"

Alas, it was true. Somehow a rather large clump of hair had made its way into the Oddball Grocery's potato salad. Whether this was through carelessness or through sheer folly, I know not. At the moment, I was simply disgusted by the the fact that I would have to throw away a tall container of food that I had just purchased, and would have to go out and buy lunch after all for the rest of the week. Irene across the table was just disgusted in general. I think her lunch ended at the moment she saw the hairy clump emerge from my mouth.

Once her stomach settled, Irene suggested -- nearly demanded -- that I march right back to the Oddball Grocery and complain about the big clump of hair in my potato salad. I didn't, for a couple of reasons. One was that I had been working retail long enough to be aware of the relationship between customer and server, and the delicacies thereof. I didn't want to turn into one of those pushy guys with a chip on his shoulder about the customer always being right. Besides, the Oddball Grocery was a local shop and I felt it best to maintain good relations with neighboring merchants by remaining silent on the matter.

Another reason that I kept quiet was the nature of the hair clump. It appeared to be white and curly. The only employee at the Oddball Grocery with white curly hair was a nice motherly sort of woman who usually dispensed salads at the deli counter. She was the last person there whom I would want to get in trouble. If I had taken the salad back, the shop's management would undoubtedly have recognized the source of the hairy clump and disciplined the older lady, possibly even fired her. I did not want to be an agent of something like that. I simply accepted my losses and moved on.

Besides, there were plenty of hair-free goodies at the Oddball Grocery that I enjoyed too much to not eat anymore. So I stopped going there for a few months, returning only when my cravings were too great to ignore. Needless to say, one thing that I never brought there again was the potato salad.

Nowadays I really do not mind partaking of some potato salad, so I have gotten over the hair incident quite well, thank you. There is, however, one way in which the clump has affected me permanently: I cannot see or hear the name "Harry Potter" without thinking "Hairy Potato Salad". (Don't tell Malfoy.)

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