I was lying on the couch on a beautiful Sunday afternoon, doing a little light reading, Gulag Archipelago I think, but it hardly matters. What matters is that my wife comes in, tosses the car keys on my chest and says, “We’re going to the store.”
Now, this can be a pretty good thing. My wife gardens, so going to the store could easily imply a trip to someplace with tools, like Home Depot. That means while she’s in the plant department I can stroll into the store and annoy the clerks with questions like ‘what’s the compression difference between Type N and Type M mortar, or, what’s the clear span capability of a triple 2x10 on a load bearing wall, with no second floor, but assuming a 1,000sf shed roof. Stuff like that just makes their day, I can tell you.
So I bound up from the couch and reach for “The Complete Carpenter” off the shelf in order to fortify myself with some new questions when she says,” Forget that, we’re going to the Supermarket.”
Aw, geez. The one place a husband shouldn’t be on a Sunday afternoon is at the supermarket with his wife. But I’m up and I’ve already used the ‘I think I’m coming down with consumption dear, (cough cough) excuse last week, so with slumped shoulders, shuffling gait and the same sort of put upon sigh I used to give my mom when she’d drag me shopping when I was ten, I get the car.
The parking lot is a zoo. I don’t mean to be sexist here, but there’s something frightening about three or four hundred women in mini vans and SUVs all in the same place, so I usually try to park a few rows out where things are more tranquil. Of course, my wife says, “Can’t you park any closer? There are lots of spaces near the door.”
I look. The one empty space is there because at this moment there are sixteen irate women who are screaming at each other while their Ford Explorers and Dodge Caravans are jammed together, looking for all the world like gridlock on Madison and 56th on a Friday afternoon, fighting for it.
“I have an idea, darling,” I say sweetly,” why don’t I drop you at the door, park and come in and meet you? That way you’ll hardly have to walk at all.”
She likes that idea, being chauffeured and all. I pull around to the first row and edge past the traffic jam I mentioned earlier which by now has degraded into an all out street fight, with women swinging coupon arrangers wildly and spiking each other with their kids’ soccer balls. As my wife gets out there’s a lull in the riot as all the combatants turn and stare at her, frankly envious of her car service treatment. I give a small shudder of sympathy for all those husbands who are bound to catch it when these women get home.
My wife strolls smugly inside as I race to the far side of the lot before one of these SUV Valkyries tosses a shopping cart through my windshield.
Envy is an ugly thing. I creep into the store unnoticed as the paramedics and police arrive and attempt to deal with yet another round of grocery store hooliganism. Once inside I don’t immediately see my wife, so I grab a cart and head for the Bulk Purchase aisle. I choose that aisle because it’s the widest and least travelled, which was perfect for my needs. I break into a run, and gathering momentum, leap in the air with the aim of jumping up onto the rear axle of the cart and taking a ride.
But much to my surprise and consternation, my feet slam back down onto the floor, the rubber soles of my Nike’s making a sickening auto accident screech. I look down in confusion. Oh, no. This is one of those stupid new carts that don’t even have a rear axle. I look up. Oh, no! I’ve veered to the left and I’m heading straight for the bulk Campbell’s Soup Display! One corner of my mind flashes back to this exact same situation when I was a kid shopping with my mother at the A&P. That little tragedy kept me grounded for six weeks and banned from the store until I was twelve. This promised to be much worse, since my mom would never dream of hitting me and my wife felt no such restriction in administering corporal punishment.
Luckily I hooked my foot onto a pallet of Marcal Paper Towels enabling me to change my trajectory and slowing me down enough to come to halt with a gentle bump against a ten pound box of Count Chocula cereal. I was just getting my breathing under control when my wife’s voice sounded sharply in my ear, causing me to jump nearly out of my skin.
“What are you doing here! There’s nothing we want in this aisle. Now, come with me and behave!” Normally I’d take exception to her tone of voice, but I was so relieved at not getting caught and dope slapped that I followed her meekly over to the Deli/ Produce aisle.
She goes off to thump the melons or something, so I amble over to the Deli counter.
“How’s the roast beef today?” I ask the woman behind the counter conversationally.
“I don’t know, I don’t eat Deli meats.” she replies, somewhat sullenly, I think.
“Really? Why not?”
“I don’t like the way Deli meat tastes.” She gives her hairnet a surly tug.
“That’s a bit ironic, isn’t it?”, I chuckle.
“Why?” she asks, her tone quite frankly challenging. She was beginning to scare me, but I push on.
“Well,” I stammer,” it just seems odd that someone who doesn’t like Deli cooked meats would be assigned to the Deli counter.” Was this so hard to grasp?
“Look”, she said, clearly annoyed,” Do you like lima beans?”
“Uh, no.” I don’t know what scared me more, that she seemed ready to vault the counter and pop me one or the fact that she immediately pegged me as someone who hated lima beans. Does that kind of thing show?
“So if you worked here and someone wanted to buy a can of lima beans, would you sell it to them?”
“I guess so.” This was getting distinctly uncomfortable. I started backing up a step or two, ready to bolt if need be.
“Well?!” she fairly screamed. I turned to run and bumped smack into my wife, who hissed,” What in the world are you doing? Now come with me and don’t get lost again.”
Gratefully I followed her, confident that she could beat up the Deli Girl if things got out of hand and I was attacked. Just as we rounded the corner I turned back towards the Deli. Deli Girl was still staring at me, so I stuck my tongue out at her and quickly disappeared around the bend. So there.
The Feminine Hygiene, Condiments and Hair Care aisles passed uneventfully, (except for a small squirt of hairspray in my left eye, but that sort of thing happens all the time) and Paper Products took less than five minutes to re-stack the toilet paper rolls. So it seemed that I would get out of there without further problems, that is until my wife said,
“Oh, I forgot to get carrots. Go back to Produce and get me a bunch.”
Uh, oh. Produce is next to Deli and... Deli Girl! Maybe, if I make a circuit around the front of the store, past Checkout, I can come to the carrots without Deli Girl seeing me. I edge past the people on the checkout lines (catching a few carts in the shins from the women who were in the fight in the parking lot; it’s funny how they put aside their differences in the face of a common enemy...me) and, move at a military crouch towards Produce.
About ten feet from my objective, I kneel down like I’m tying my shoe and sort of slide along the floor until I’m just below the carrots. I glance over the top of the center aisle display, my eyes just level with the rutabaga; There’s no sign of the enemy. I grab a bunch of carrots and straightening, turn to retrace my steps.
I was at the oranges when something small and hard hit me with some force on the back of my head. As I spun about, my hand came up instinctively to protect myself. My outstretched fingers just barely brushed the lowest orange in a perfectly stacked pyramid.
You know what happened.
The upshot is that the manager assured me that once he retires I’m allowed back into the store. As I was standing there, head down, listening to his gentle remonstrances, I noticed a two inch long piece of pepperoni laying amidst all the fruit. I glanced over and there was Deli Girl, a triumphant smile on her face.
There is a definite upside to this whole mess, however. I can’t go to the supermarket anytime soon, so how bad can it be?