One Gallon of Mayonnaise

Perhaps I overreacted. After reading about the parent company of Duke’s Mayonnaise announcing layoffs following a steep drop in orders from restaurant buyers, I worried that demand would make this prized condiment scarce on grocery shelves. In the COVID-19 economy, hoarding of toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and disposable gloves made these items difficult to find. Could Duke’s Mayonnaise suffer the same fate?

I let my friend Nora buy me a gallon of Duke’s Mayonnaise after divulging I had less than a quarter of a jar left. Moments before this disclosure, Nora had dispatched Damecca the Instacart Costco Lady to buy a jar and other items for her. Nora sent new instructions to buy a second jar for me and messaged me when the delivery arrived at her home. I Venmoed Nora for my part of the order.

Feeling cooped up in the house under quarantine, I rode my bike to Nora’s house to get some exercise the same afternoon during a break in the rain. She left my mayonnaise on the front doorstep. A cardboard box top shielded my new jar from the elements. The jar seemed larger than a one gallon bottle of milk, but that’s not possible, I thought. The folly of my purchase began to sink in during the ride home.

“How are you going to store this jar?” my husband wondered aloud when I returned with my purchase.

“Don’t worry,” I said, “I can work this out. I will make it work,” with a certainty that made no room for defeat.

Paul and I remodeled the kitchen in our Midtown bungalow four years ago. My culinary exploits expanded in the new space, but we lost shelf storage from a pantry absorbed by the renovation. We donated or discarded utensils, containers and gadgets deemed unworthy of the new kitchen. Some items survived only to be relegated to the forgotten reaches of the attic. I don’t even know what’s up there now. We had to make sacrifices.

Unlike many Southern homes, we don’t have a spare freezer or refrigerator for food hidden in a garage or mudroom. We rarely buy food for more than a few days at a time since we only have the two of us to feed. With no hungry kids or bottomless teenaged mouths to fill, there’s no reason to buy food in bulk under normal circumstances. We used to maintain a Costco membership, but we let it lapse after throwing away too many stale boxes of biscotti and Clif Bars.

The kitchen remodel did include the addition of a second refrigerator for wine at the insistence of my husband. Paul studiously curates wine for the household and can usually pair a wine from storage for most meals I prepare for us or for company. My cooking and baking skills improved as Paul’s expertise in wine expanded culminating in a level three certification from the Wine and Spirit Education Trust. Our respective hobbies of cooking and drinking wine developed into a mutually beneficial symbiosis of sorts.

The 108-bottle capacity of the new wine refrigerator in the kitchen replaced a smaller wine fridge in the mudroom. But that plan proved short lived after a month or so. Before too long, Paul began filling the smaller wine fridge with new bottles. Libations and groceries compete for space in the limited environs of our kitchen.

The day after my trip to Nora’s, my friend Robin posted a photo on Facebook of her newly cleaned and organized refrigerator (Robin totally gets me. When invited to dinner at our home a few years ago, she brought a jar of Duke’s Mayonnaise to us as a host gift.). The French doors opened to either side. On the front edge of the middle shelf in the center of the photo rested Robin’s jar of Duke’s Mayonnaise. Inferior condiments like ketchup and ranch dressing lined the edges of the field of view or disappeared into the deep recesses of the fridge while the Duke’s jar asserted its dominance at the center. It was only a 32-ounce jar, but it formed a culinary axis mundi connecting her with the divine. Did she know about the coming scarcity? Did she realize it could be her last jar? Had she planned for every last dollop of Duke’s before there’d be no more?

My new Goliath jar sat on the stone counter at room temperature reminding me of the responsibility I would undertake when I removed its lid and cracked its seal. “Sooner or later, you’re gonna want a sandwich or egg and olive salad. I’m safe on the counter,” it seemed to say, “until you open me. I’ll be wasted if you don’t make room in the fridge for me.”

The pressure intensified. Paul declared that I couldn’t put the jar into the refrigerator. “You’re gonna have to break that down into smaller containers and give some to other people. Use Mason jars.”

But that negated the whole reason for buying the gallon. I didn’t want to live in a world where I could run out and not buy more Duke’s Mayonnaise. Strict rationing might soon become our reality. I began to think of all the selfish assholes who emptied store shelves of toilet paper as the pandemic tightened its grip on the planet. Had I become that guy?

Before making dinner on the following night, I opened the refrigerator and cleaned out all the forgotten leftovers in plastic containers, nearly empty jars of jelly, an untouched tub of cottage cheese, and pickled vegetables whose expiration dates had come and gone.

“Look at how much room I found in the fridge after cleaning it out,” I declared as my husband walked through the kitchen to the mudroom. He nodded with approval before turning his attention to clothes in the dryer.

After demonstrating the restored capacity of the refrigerator, I pressed on with dinner. I cut up a carrot, Napa cabbage, scallions, onion and red chili pepper and cracked some eggs to make Korean cabbage sandwiches on whole wheat toast. The recipe author recommended ketchup, mustard, Sriracha, or mayonnaise to dress the sandwiches. When it was time to assemble the first sandwich I called out for Paul to come to the kitchen, “dinner is about ready, can you come help?”

When he appeared, I used my magical social-work powers in a subtle and unperceived act of transference to ask, “can you open this jar for us? The recipe calls for mayonnaise on these sandwiches.” With these words of enchantment, a spell fell over my husband as he twisted the lid open and broke the seal over the opening of the jar and bound him to share the responsibility of its contents with me. I hoped silently at the stove that my refrigerator reorganization and Jedi mind trick spared our jar of mayonnaise from unwarranted dispensation to others.

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