Around four yesterday afternoon, my mother tasked me with getting the butter necessary to complete something we call “pumpkin gooey cake.” No, I don’t know why we never picked a more appetizing term, and no, I’m not sure what set the precedent to place the adjective after the noun, ESL-style. Honestly, the pumpkin gooey cake would probably be better off without the second stick of butter, seeing as how the other ingredients render it a sort of autumn-festive lethal injection. But whatever.
So off I drove into town, in hopes of finding the single least-busy food emporium that might have butter. Not because I have any faith in its food selection but only because it’s the store closest to my parents’ house, I stopped at 7-11. A quick check of the shelves yielded no butter, so I asked the cashier.
This is how he responded: “Butter?” (Technically “butt-air” would get closer to his pronunciation, but the important part here is the question mark at the end.)
Me: “Yes.” (I waited. I grew impatient.) “Do you have butter?”
Cashier of indeterminate ethnicity: “Butt-air. In the case.”
Me: “Can you show me where? I didn’t see it.”
Him: “In the case. Next to… the case.”
I did another sweep of the 7-11 cold storage. Weird single-serving milks with fruit flavors inexplicably added to them? Check. Gray meats cut into identical geometric shapes? Check. Cream cheese? Check. I returned and asked again, but he insisted that butter existed in this place, and I wanted to believe him. “Can you show me?” I asked. This is how the cashier responded: laying his left hand flat, palm facing toward the ceiling, as if he expected me to place something on it. He then clenched his right fist and moved it back and forth over his left hand. “Butt-air!” Well, he had me there. Though he ignored the spirit of my question, his little pantomime had, in fact, managed to “show me” butter, at least in the sense of how it might be demonstrated in a game of charades. (Do note: The gesture for “butter” is not perceptibly different from the one for “cream cheese.” This may come in handy one day.) “No, I need butter. It comes in a cube,” I explained. And I tried to suggest the rectangular prism that is the butter stick with my hands, which is harder to do than you might expect. No response. Now I used my hands to point at the case. “Show me,” I said, hoping he’d get it.
He did, in fact, leave from behind the register and walk to the cold case — past the weird fruit milk, past the gray lunchmeats and directly to the cream cheese. He retrieved one and held it up. “Butt-air.”
So, of course it turned out that the 7-11 didn’t have butter and I had to go to a different store. (There I met a relative I literally had never interacted with before, but that’s a different story.) I got the butter. But when my mother realized this morning that she lacked the cream cheese necessary to complete a different recipe, I knew where to go. I walked in, headed to the cold case with purpose and grabbed an eight-ounce canister of cream cheese. When I reached the front of the line, a familiar face was waiting for me. He grinned as he scanned my cream cheese. And holding the label up for me to see, he proclaimed, “See? I told you!”