From a 1930 Italian cheese advertisement.
I used to like buying cheese. You could say it was one of the small, reliable pleasures of my week. I never bought a great deal—usually just a small piece to eat for lunch with some bread and fruit—but I enjoyed the process of tasting and learning and then bearing home the neatly wrapped little waxed-paper bundle.
The cheese guy was nice, too. Knowledgeable without making a big show of it, authoritative without snobbery, and pleasantly detached. It was this detachment, in a way, that allowed me to enjoy the transaction—he never made a big fuss about my being a regular. I felt slightly invisible, but in the best possible way. It would have been awkward if he’d been flirtatious or overly friendly. And he never made me try more cheeses than I wanted, which I thought was nice.
Then one day something strange happened. I had purchased a set of sheets at a white sale. The sheets were, in fact, printed—with a whimsical motif of mermaids and mermen and branches of coral. I’d liked them because their soft colors had reminded me of a beloved children’s book, Deep Sea Farm. But one night I was reading in bed and I realized the little merman on my pillowcase reminded me of something else: the cheese guy! He had the same distinctive pompadour of hair and kind of barrel-chested build and, yes, that was his nose! Really, it was remarkable! I debated drawing my husband’s attention to it, but I wasn’t sure he knew what the cheese-store guy looked like.
Several times in the cheese store I thought of bringing it up. I even snapped a picture on my phone. But I couldn’t think of a way that wouldn’t be deeply strange and make him uncomfortable. I blushed just thinking about it. I began to avoid going to the cheese store, and when a friend came over for dinner, I asked her to provide the cheese course.
She brought a delicious piece of cheese. And she brought tales: the cheese guy, it seemed, had been very friendly. Flirtatious, even. He’d gotten her phone number. “He made me try so many cheeses!” she said, when she refused seconds.
“I have to show you something,” I said, and led her into the bedroom. She stared in silence.
“It’s the cheese guy,” I said.
“I see it,” she replied.
“Uncanny, isn’t it?”
I’m not sure she thought it was uncanny. But in the coming days, the cheese guy sent her texts that were so sleazy and risible that I was ashamed for him, and I had to stop buying cheese, and of course I have not used those sheets since.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.
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