I can never find anything at the grocery store. In the aisles, I wander like a slow-motion Pac-Man, turning at random intervals in hopes of finding something edible. Simple grocery runs become Homerian (think Simpson, not blind poet) slogs. Eventually I arrive home with both a full beard and trunk, the latter loaded with cookie dough, potato chips and whatever the stir-fry lady happened to be demonstrating that day.
My latest adventure in grocery incompetence occurred just last week. My Soulmate wrote out the shopping list, though to call such a document — tricolored, with more footnotes than the tax code, a map of the store to scale (fire extinguishers highlighted), a concordance and detailed descriptions of the items to be bought — just a list is like calling Liberace merely overdressed.
At the last minute she wrote on my hand with a Sharpie, “Baking soda is NOT baking powder.” Then she pinned the list to my shirt and warned me not to go down the beer aisle. “Remember what happened last time? The collapsed shopping cart?” I replied petulantly, “If there’s a weight limit, they ought to put up a sign.”
I arrived to find the assistant manager just inside the door, tying a string to the handle of a buggy. At the other end, near the ceiling, bobbed a big red balloon. “Tracking system,” he explained. The PA system sounded overhead: “Impending cleanup, impending cleanup.”
My first stop was the produce section, which was packed. Trouble always starts in the produce section. If you’ve ever had to outrun a knuckle-dragging semi-literate for the last bunch of collards on New Year’s Eve, you know what I mean (and shame on you for tripping me).
I was minding my own business, listening to the faux rain on the cilantro, and wondering whether I should take a flyer on something called jicama when the trouble started. Among the usual crowd of sniffers and squeezers was an older man. With him was a little girl, probably his granddaughter. As I watched, the oldster took a handful of grapes, ate one and, with a wink, handed one to the girl. She hesitated a second but, after a nod of encouragement, ate the fruit.
A lady — attractive, with green eyes and a set jaw — approached the man. “You’re stealing,” she declared. Simple, straightforward, categorical. Traffic stopped, glances bounced, disapproval simmered. “How dare she?” said the accumulated zeitgeist. The lady, whose zeitgeist meter was broken, continued, “And the worst part is you’re teaching her to steal, too.”
People don’t like tension. People want life to be easy. This lady made it unpleasant. The lady, the man and the girl left, but the tension remained. People blamed the lady. “She’s a gracist,” said a man next to me. I asked what that that meant. “It means she’s against old people.” Before I could digest this, another voice chimed in: “That’s not right,” said a woman whose shoes had toes. “A gracist is someone who doesn’t like grapes.” Murmurs of assent, dissent and horror rose from the crowd.
Things turned ugly. “You’re both wrong,” yelled a man with a cart full of tangerines, “Gracists hate dark grapes.” There followed a heated discussion about whether one should call lighter grapes green or white, the debate escalating even as it splintered. Some blamed the little girl. Others defended her. “Her grandpa served her the grapes; it’s not her fault she had an illegal server.” Soon, everyone was yelling over the piles of fresh food, calling each other gracists. The fight was over, but the fight about the fight was just beginning.
Christopher Myers lives in Greenville, where his ramblings are ignored by his Soulmate, three dogs, and friends with poor judgment. He never did get his jicama. He can be reached but not affected via email: [email protected].