“No. It has to be less than twenty.”
I’m standing in the Corvallis Trader Joe’s, elbow deep in Easter hams. The gold and silver foil crinkles while I grasp at labels, becoming increasingly desperate.
It started with a free sample.
But before we get into it, I have a confession. I’m thoroughly infatuated with Trader Joe’s. I love the individually priced, seasonally-rotating produce. I love the gimicky specialty items, canned dolmas and cookie butter. I swear by their soyrizo when an event calls for breakfast tacos. And of course Two Buck Chuck, which is technically now $2.99 Chuck, but still the best bargain on the block.
Now that I have a reliable income, Trader Joe’s has become the foundation of my adulthood. Hell, before I had a reliable income I’d treat myself to their $1.99 microwaveable black bean and tofu enchiladas. [Note: this was during an unfortunate period of time where I experimented with gluten-free veganism AKA acute self-hatred.] I primarily subsist on chicken sausages, bags of kale or spinach, and the occasional 85% cacao Dark-Chocolate-Lovers chocolate bar. And the samples. Party meatballs in honey bourbon barbecue sauce. Chicken fiesta quesadillas with mild tomatillo salsa. Once the Trader Joe’s on 39th and Holgate gave out carne asada samples and I visited three times in as many days.
You guys, there are few things I love more than holiday meats. Having been a vegetarian a good portion of her life, Carly has little experience with holiday meats in general Easter ham in particular. One fateful sunny afternoon we walked into Trader Joe’s where I bee-lined for the sample station, per usual. She followed more slowly, actually doing some precursory shopping before sidling up next to me. Nestled in those little white paper cups were morsels of thick-cut maple glazed ham, smeared with dijon mustard.
We ate our cups of sweet, salty, meaty goodness.
“What do you want to do for Easter?” I asked.
Thus the Easter Feast of 2015 was conceptualized.
What makes a feast? 4 lbs. of pre-cooked, spiral cut ham, one jar of Sweet n’ Hot mustard, one package soft, sweet pull-apart rolls. A veggie tray, because we’re not brutes. 20 fluid ounces of coconut water to wash away the dredges of last night’s wine. The final crumbling corner of Carly’s chocolate chip banana bread. Sitting in my car, we appraise our recently acquired goods.
Easter Sunday 2015 we woke up in Corvallis, Oregon feeling a little delicate, having become unconscious in our Super 8 hotel room the previous night after an evening of poetry, wine, and late night television. Saturday morning we’d driven down for Festival Poetics, where I would eventually perform 25 minutes of poetry to an audience of eight people, because Easter Sunday.
But first, the Feast! Unfamiliar with the area I plug the word “park” into Google Maps and we’re off. Sunlight glimmers off the silver ham wrapper. Sketchy looking clouds begin to crowd the horizon, and things look windy, the way they’re starting to drift horizontal like gravity switched off. But my comfortably warm and sheltered car lulls us into believing an outdoor picnic will be tolerably warm.
The “park” nearest Trader Joe’s was actually an empty field with free-standing benches on each corner. Across the street, a church and a community garden. Between the two at the foot of a giant shade tree, a lone picnic table. A scattering of volunteers hunch over rakes, spades, and trowels. They’re busily weeding and tilling. I count at least three straw hats, as many as five humans total. Responsible adults, every one of them. And there, maybe 15 feet from the garden gate, was the picnic table beckoning.
“Wet grass where nobody can see us, or picnic table where those other humans might watch two grown women eat a ham with their bare hands?”
We gather our food items and every piece of warm clothing we own, having realized fairly quickly it is NOT tolerably warm outside. I smile and give Carly a thumbs up. Game time. We’re halfway across the street when a hooded figure swoops around the side of the church with alarming speed and perches atop the one picnic table, casually texting. We freeze, clutching the ham, looking uncertainly from each other to this angel of picnic doom. A small animal cry of desperation wrings itself from my lips before we’re laughing, helplessly standing in the middle of the street, shuffling uncertainly.
Luckily, before we have time to formulate a new plan the black clad stranger leaps up with that same unfathomable speed and disappears back around the corner. This is how we found ourselves sawing off hunks of cold ham to squash between mustard smeared sweet roll, eating in near silence, our fingers purple with cold. We avoid eye contact with the gardeners as they take their leave. We avoid eye contact with the children playing tag. We avoid eye contact with the elderly couple walking their dogs past us. Nothing to see here folks, keep it moving.
“Are you going to write a blog about this?”
“Just two ladies in the park eating a ham.”