Thursday, August 2, 2007

Fear and loathing at the grocery store

Although completely unlike Hunter S. Thompson in just about all respects, I do share with him a desire to be a little bit reclusive in my personal life. This week, for instance. A lot of people would have made plans to see movies and do lunch with various friends, but the thing that appealed to me the most was to be able to just be by myself, whether staying at home or having lunch or going to a bookstore. I like to be by myself. And to tell you the truth, there are a lot of weird people out there that I'd just as soon avoid.

Like the ham lady I met at the grocery store. And poor Cody. And Melissa's mom.

I went out for breakfast this morning -- by myself -- and on the way home, decided to stop by the grocery to pick up a some things, like a bottle of sesame oil for tonight's stir fry. I traveled through the store briskly, remembering that my husband had requested cookies and that I needed a bottle of sunscreen.

I was walking with my cart through the produce section when I heard a woman call out, "Melissa!" Naturally, I didn't respond. Because my name is not Melissa. How was I to know that she was summoning me? She said again, more urgently, "MeLISSA!" and I still didn't turn around. Finally, at the end of her patience, she yelled "MUUUUH - LIH - SUUUUUUUUUUUUH!" and grabbed me by the shoulder.

I whirled around and looked at her and she immediately dropped her hand from my person, abashed. "Oh, I am so sorry," she said. "I....thought you were my daughter."

"I'm honored," I said politely.

"There's my daughter, up there," she said, suddenly seeing a young woman at the deli counter. "You look a lot like her."

I eyed the person at the deli counter and felt pleased because she did appear to be in her twenties and I....well, I'm older than that. A lot. But the thing that made me want to start giggling was the fact that this woman and her daughter were both African-American. I mean, I do have a pretty dark suntan, seeing as how it's August and all, but still. Melissa, buying some potato salad, was a very pretty cafe au lait color and I am a brunette and we were both - *ahem* - full figured women.

But still.

It was pretty funny.

Melissa's mom evidently thought it was kind of funny, too, because laughter spurted out of her and she patted me and walked off. I sincerely hope she wasn't laughing because she was all, "Now that I'm up close, how could I ever have thought that this old cow was my baby?" and thinking how she and Melissa would scream with amusement as her mother pointed me out to her on another aisle and oh, well. Some days are just like that.

When I got to the check-out stands, the lines were enormous. I had too many items to get in the express lane (even though there was another brazen hussy standing there with enough groceries to feed a refugee camp for about a month, looking belligerently around as if daring anyone to mess with her.) I was about six carts back in a slow, slow line when another store employee came out of the customer service area and said, "If some of you would like to step over to line ten, please?"

I stepped over rather briskly and so did a lady from another line. She was in front of me and had a whole enormous cart full of food, so I resigned myself to a slightly shorter wait and began filling out my check. Suddenly, I became aware that she was talking to me.

"I'm sorry?" I said, looking up from my checkbook.

"I said, 'Look at all this food I'm buying,'" she repeated. "I only came in here for about three or four things."

"That's easy to do," I said, thinking of my own days when "a few items" could suddenly add up to seventy dollars worth of impulse buying.

"I got some good deals, though," she remarked, gesturing to her bulging cart. "Like this ham. See this ham?"

"Yes," I said, obediently looking at the package of ham she was holding up.

"This ham was on sale, $2.49 for the pound."

"That was a good deal," I said, smiling one of those smiles that is friendly, but doesn't necessarily encourage further social discourse.

"You should buy you some of this ham," she persisted, fixing me with a stare with an intensity worthy of an evangelist.

Taken aback, I said, "Oh, no....that's okay."

"Seriously. You should buy some."

"No, really. I'm fine."

"I'll hold your place for you while you go get it. It's right back there, in that refrigerated bin by the lunchmeat and hot dogs."

I thought about the pound of sliced ham sitting serenely at home in my refrigerator and wondered if it would be worth it to buy more ham, just to get her off my back. I decided not to. "I really don't need any ham," I said pleasantly.

She raised her eyebrows and looked at me incredulously. "What? Don't you like ham?"

Is there some rule I don't know about? Some heretofore unnamed law that states that if you shop at Lane Bryant, you must like ham?

"I like ham," I said with a touch of frost in my voice. "But I don't want to buy any."

"I don't like ham," she said, changing sides unexpectedly. "Look, I bought all this food -- this ham and this Jimmy Dean sausage at $1.59 for a one-pound roll -- and all this other stuff, but I won't eat none of it but the bagels and cream cheese. Not a single thing."

By this time, the cashier was scanning her many purchases and the woman's attention was diverted from me to her grandson, who looked to be about thirteen and had decided not to help his grandmother unload the groceries onto the belt and instead was sitting on a bench looking sullen.

"Cody," she said indignantly, "get yourself back over here and help me."

"I don't want to," Cody responded, scratching indifferently at a mosquito bite on his arm.

Cody, I thought. Be smart. This is your chance to run.

"Fine," said his grandmother, unloading about fifteen packages of sliced ham onto the conveyor. "But you can't have any bagels."

"S'okay with me," he replied, yawning.

Suddenly, her attention swung back in my direction. "You really should get back there," she said earnestly. "That ham will go pretty fast. You don't want to miss it. Come on, Cody."

I was reminded of the exhibit of artwork from the Vatican in Cincinnati last year and how we really meant to find the time to go, but never did.

I unloaded my groceries and then made my way home, deciding that, if my choices for lunch today fell between a ham sandwich and a bowl of dog food, I would definitely go for the kibble.

1 comment:

Kbg said...

I guess you could have looked at her and said, "Oh, you know, I am part Jewish, right?" You wouldn't even be necessarily untruthful as we are, after all, of the Judeo-Christian tradition...then again, she might not have gotten that either. You are keeping Passover, right? See....

You MISSED THE VATICAN ART AT THE CINCINNATI MUSEUM???? Mark it down now: Roman Art from the Louvre at IMA in Indy September 23, 2007-January 6, 2008. NOW! I would let you forget that, right?