Thank you, Mom, for those years of lunchbox love, but I’m done

The nightmare is over. The agony has ended.

I’ve finished the baloney.

This was torture of my own making.

It was a package of thin-sliced baloney, $2.62 worth, just two-thirds of a pound, with a Sunday sell-by date.

I never should have bought it. But I caved in.

It wasn’t just that it tasted awful — although it did taste truly awful. This “Vienna German bologna” is just $3.79/lb., and for good reason.

But this two-thirds of a pound of baloney was painful for another reason. A psychological reason. 

During the long days I spent choking down this perhaps-meat, bite by reluctant bite, this package of baloney in my fridge door-drawer taunted me, more and more every day, as a symbol of my multiple character flaws.

First character flaw: my Jennie-O® honey-cured turkey breast addiction.

I came by it honest, this addiction. Years ago, desperate to downsize my enormous belly, I became a fanatic calorie-counter. Discovering pre-sliced Jennie-O® honey-cured turkey breast in the favorites bin in the Rowley Market Basket deli department was a breakthrough moment: only 25 calories per ounce! A single slice of the stuff, slightly sweet and oh-so-affirming — especially wrapped around a calorie-free dill pickle — could get me through a snack-panic and buy me another hour of fidelity to my weight-loss regimen.

Eventually I lost a total of 70 lbs. and gradually divorced my calorie-counting app, but my Jennie-O® honey-cured turkey breast passion proved impregnable.

Second character flaw: impatience.

Here again, I do feel I was victimized by enablers.

The favorites bin in the Rowley Market Basket deli department, by its very nature, caters to the patience-challenged. It’s a big rectangular space loaded with deli delicacies — various cheeses and meats, all precisely sliced and primly packaged and labeled and ready to be scooped up by anyone in a hurry.

If you’re the patient type, of course, or you want something that’s not in the favorites bin, you can take a number from the little red machine (which looks disturbingly like a cartoon alien sticking out its tongue, but that’s another column for another day); then you wait to be called; then you tell the deli worker what you want, and how much of it, and how you want it sliced; and they do it for you, and it’s a beautiful experience — but it has required all that time. Minutes and minutes. By the time you leave the deli counter, you’re quite a bit behind in your lifetime consumption of deli products. You may actually need to eat the stuff you just bought more quickly, in order to catch up on your basic nutritional needs by the time you die.

Third character flaw: poor judgment.

Last week, I was saddened to find no Jennie-O® honey-cured turkey breast in the favorites bin. To be honest, this has happened a few times before; it’s natural for deli inventory to ebb and flow. But generally you can find some suitable substitute: another type of 25-calorie-per-ounce turkey, for example, or some sliced ham with only a slightly higher calorie count.

Occasionally, though, you can’t. Last week, with terrible timing, I arrived at the favorites bin to find no turkey, no ham, nothing but various cheeses and — heaven help me — “Vienna German bologna.”

(They still market it with the Italian spelling — which should properly be pronounced boh-LONE-yah — but this so-called food is so gross, our entire culture has learned to see the Italian word bologna and automatically declare it BALONEY. This should be a clue.)

I could have taken a number and waited to be called. I could have waited for my Jennie-O® honey-cured turkey breast to be sliced and weighed and packaged. But no. In a perfect storm of my character flaws, I grabbed a package of baloney and told myself, “It’ll be all right. Just one package. You can do this.”

Let me be clear about the villains and the victims in this sad story. There are heroes, and there are morons. In my Ipswich neighborhood, on outer Linebrook Road, we have three main types of heroes:

(1) First responders.

(2) Pothole fillers.

(3) The workers behind the Market Basket deli counter.

These are men and women with not only astonishing blade-management skills, but also superhuman forbearance. They call the “next number in line” without any way to know whether this will be a simple “pounda ham” or some bizarre configuration of roast beef or a complicated “half-pound of Thin’n Trim chicken breast sliced to an eighth of an inch — let me check your first few slices to make sure it’s thin enough, okay? — plus a pound of Hoffman’s super sharp cheese ($4.49/lb.) in quarter-inch slices,” or “Could I have five-eighths of a pound of baked ham but do you still have that Galbani provolone? Could you check in the back, please? I’ll wait.”

You can age into the Medicare bracket waiting behind this person in the Market Basket deli line.

It’s not that there aren’t enough deli workers. Hats off to Market Basket for keeping the deli department staffed in this tight labor market. It’s just that the deli workers have an impossible job. They work as fast as they can, but they’re stuck dealing with human beings. To get from “#45, please?” to “#46, please?” can take two minutes or a lifetime. There’s no way to predict.

So I avoid the little red alien-tongue number-machine. I go to the favorites bin. I pray I’ll be able to feed my addiction for at least one more day.

And I am proof: people can change. People can grow. People can learn. I have changed. I have learned. I have grown. If I don’t find Jennie-O® honey-cured turkey breast, there is one thing I can be sure of in this life:

I will never, ever, ever again settle for Vienna German bologna.

Gah. So gross.

Doug Brendel hoards pre-sliced Jennie-O® honey-cured turkey breast from the Rowley Market Basket deli department in the freezer of his home on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Don’t risk infection by clicking “Follow the Outsidah” at

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