“Ladies, ladies,” the meat man said. “They’re coming right out. The butchers are trimming them now. Patience, ladies. $1.99 a pound for rump roast. Can’t say I blame you. Beautiful piece of meat!”
Yeah, sure, patience — you try to have patience, Mr. Butcher Man, with a two year old climbing out of the seat. Jack, don’t stand up in the wagon. You could fall out and then Mommy would be so sad. Have some raisins, Jack. Don’t want a raisin? How about a piece of cheese? Look, Jack, yellow cheese, the kind you like, and it’s low fat. So healthy. I promise, we’re going to go home in a jiffy and you can take your nap. Mommy’s going to make us a nice dinner tonight for Daddy’s birthday. We’re going to surprise Daddy. We’re going to sing Happy Birthday. Don’t squish the cheese, Jack. Can you sing Happy Birthday? Let’s practice. Jack, sit down. Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you.
That’s what I remember about how the day started, Judge. There were about six or seven of us standing around the meat counter, waiting. Today’s my husband’s birthday you know. He loves pot roast. He’s always telling me how his mother used to cook it for him. He likes it with carrots and onions. His mother used to make mashed potatoes, but I was going to forego the mashed and put whole baby potatoes in with the meat. I thought he’d like the mélange of flavors. I got a nice bottle of Cabernet, 1998, French, the kind we used to drink in the old days before Jack was born.
We were all making idle conversation, trying to act casual, but none of us were really listening because we were focused on the swinging doors of the meat room. The butcher said five minutes. Well, Judge, that was the longest five minutes I’ve ever experienced. Maybe I should have left, picked up a rotisserie chicken, gone home, put Jack in for his nap and done whatever it is I do with my afternoons. Well, in hindsight, I probably should have done that.
Judge, look at her sitting over there on the bench. The minute I saw her, I knew she was going to be the only competition. She must have been on her lunch hour. As you know, Your Honor, A&B’s Supermarket is right across the street. She was probably between depositions. She had her carrots, onions and potatoes waiting on the kiddy seat of her cart; must have figured she’d get in and out fast. Her eyes flicked back and forth, measuring the competition. When the heck did she think she was going to make that pot roast? Rump roasts take time, Judge, but you probably know that. You can’t rush a rump roast. Braising is an art. First you brown the meat, and then you add the onions. I was going to use some of my Cabernet Sauvignon for the deglazing. We’d still have plenty of wine left for our dinner, after Jack sang his Happy Birthday song, and we tucked him in.
Other than the veggies her cart was empty, Your Honor. No crackers, no milk, no diapers, and no gummy bears. She probably eats out every night. She had speed on me. She wasn’t trying to keep a two-year-old from falling out of the cart. So that’s how it happened, Your Honor. We all knew the meat man was never going to make it to the counter, and we were going to grab those rump roasts right off his cart the minute those doors opened. I think the other women knew she was the competition too, Judge. I think they were sympathetic to my cause, and, if they could have, one of them might have grabbed two roasts and given me one. But that didn’t happen. Well, Judge, just at that moment when the door opened, Jack decided to climb out of his seat. That cost me valuable time. The other women stormed that meat cart, and when the huddle broke, she, the one sitting over there with that smug look on her face, and I were left with the only remaining rump roast, except it was in her hands. Just as she and I were yanking that rump roast back and forth, Jack started screaming and climbing again and I had to let go.
What was she going to do with a pot roast anyway? She surely wasn’t going to cook it tonight. You can’t just pop out of the office at seven and whip up a rump roast. Pot roasts require time, Judge, slow simmers, convocations of meat and vegetables and fresh herbs. I used to think when I stopped working that we would be eating food like that every night, Judge, or at the very least, grilled fish, fresh salads, or healthy stir-fries. But, most times, Dave comes home late from work; sometimes, he stops off for a dinner meeting with the partners. So, much of the time, it’s just little Jack and me, and, Judge, Jack only likes chicken fingers, hot dogs and grilled cheese.
It was too much for me, Judge. She sat that rump roast up on the kiddy seat of her wagon, like a tableau for some photo shoot, artfully positioned that meat right between her potatoes, onions, carrots, plus string beans for contrasting colors. It looked like the next thing she was going to do was wrap the child safety strap around it. I swear she was stroking that piece of meat as she strutted up to the express line. Jack was nodding off when I made my decision. After all, she wasn’t going to cook it anyway. It was a narcissist’s trophy roast. That’s when I decided to remove it from her cart and make it mine.
Judge Solomon, thank you for listening and, by the way, congratulations on your retirement and awards. So here’s my side of the story.
I don’t know if it’s true that she had her hands on it, Judge. All I know is she let it go, and, may I respectfully state, Your Honor, possession is nine-tenths of the law. She was standing there with her cart filled with junk food. What kind of a mother is that anyway? Feeds her kid hot dogs for dinner, all of that fat? If and when, Judge, and I do mean if and when, if and when I start a family, my kids will never eat fast food. Oh, she made a good show all right; giving the kid raisins and cheese, but that was just a performance, Your Honor. I saw all the cookies and Twinkies under the broccoli and skim milk in her cart.
I’m a very busy woman, and I was on my lunch hour, between depositions. I’m dating this guy Harry now. I think I make more than he does, Judge, but, as you know, you don’t work sixteen-hour days in this field without making big bucks. Harry loves kids. Harry also loves fine wines, golden retrievers, good food, and having me in his bed; I only wish I knew his priorities. Whenever we go out, Harry takes me to the finest restaurants. It’s pretty funny, that “takes me” phrase, but I could bill for $1000 an hour, and I’d still be saying “takes me.” Anyway, Judge here’s what the issue is. I’m a pretty perceptive person, and, lately, I sense that things are cooling down a bit on Harry’s side, especially when we start talking about home and family.
I have never made a pot roast before, but I got three recipes from the Internet and they seemed easy enough. I selected my fresh vegetables, and when I got to the meat department, all the women were standing around and waiting for the butcher to come out with the roasts. Nice, to have nothing else to do but wait for a pot roast in the supermarket. They were probably all going to go home, put on Days of Our Lives, yak on the phone and simmer away while they gobbled down their kids’ junk food.
That’s why, when she and I grabbed it at the same time, I wasn’t about to let go. I’m a conqueror; they call me The Great Intimidator, at work. True, I had the advantage because her kid was about to fall out of the cart, but winning is what counts, Judge.
Tonight, I was planning on making that roast, Judge. I planned to leave work early, start it at five, and have it on the table by nine. Yes, maybe I patted my pot roast in my cart as I headed towards the express line. I was deep in thought. I’d let Harry carve our roast as I poured our wine. Maybe the next day, we would loll around in bed together, or at least go in to work later. We’d talk about our future. That’s when she came over and lunged for the meat in my wagon.
“Pot roast,” the Judge said. She put her hands behind her head and leaned back in her chair and said, “I am ready to make my decision. Here’s what I think."
I love pot roast. My mother made it for us on snowy days. We’d come in from a snowball fight, and smell it simmering on the stove. I remember flying up the stairs to our third floor apartment when a pot roast was waiting.
When I first got married, my husband and I ate it at his mother’s house, and she told me I would never make as good a pot roast as she did. This statement did not endear her to me, but I accepted her challenge and won her approval.
So, when I was learning how to cook, my mother insisted that I write her pot roast method down; she really didn’t have a regular written recipe. I guess she knew she was going to die soon. I still have her pot roast secrets written on that green paper complete with gravy spots. Sometimes I take it out and smell it and hold it close to my breast.
When I became a partner, I had a little more money, and a few children. They hated pot roast, and I much preferred to get a sitter and go out to a restaurant. They’re grown now with children of their own, and I’m pretty sure my grandchildren hate pot roast too.
Too bad for them because now I cook the best pot roast in town, and I improvise. Sometimes I use red wine, sometimes I even braise in beer. I love adding shallots and Yukon gold potatoes. Ah, luscious. My husband and I sip our wine and talk about pot roast and other memories.
But back to my decision ladies. I am fining you each twenty-five dollars, payable in cash now. Then, you are both hereby ordered to take that fifty dollars, and go to a diner, and have a pot roast, together. You will start next week on Thursday night at eight at Murray’s Diner. My clerk will give you the information. I don’t want to hear that you can’t get a sitter or you have an important meeting. This is a court order.
Repeat this dinner every five years. Every five years meeting together, with God’s help, will take you through working, children, family, partnering, menopause, grandchildren, a stint on the bench perhaps, and retirement and/ or senior years. I don’t know which of you will do what, but won’t it be fun to see how things work out.
Now go about your lives and when you lift your pot roast fork, and sip your wine, think of me.
Rose Perlmutter, a retired teacher, is currently working as a literacy consultant for NYU. Her educational feature articles have been published in Instructor and Learning Magazines. Her features on the horror and humor of commuting have been published in the Gannett Journal News and Gannett Suburbia Today.