“You doing anything fun today?” the checker asks as he swipes bundle after bundle of produce past the PLU scanner.
“This!” I say, because I love grocery shopping, and Findlay and I are on a mission to pick up food for the week while Mama’s out.
“HAT!” Finn says loudly as interruption, signing the brim of a cap, the checker mid-swipe.
“What’s that, Little Man?” Finn signs ‘cap’ two more times while pumping his legs in the grocery cart.
I translate as an aside: “Yes, Finn—he’s got a hat!”
The checker has a proto-Iron&Wine beard and a fuzzy embroidered skullcap. He smirks and glances up: ‘Cool little Dude there.”
I’m in a good mood. The sky’s post-rain and the light’s bouncing off the undersides of whitening clouds. I got the front parking spot, even.
The grocer and I continue chatting.
“Yeah, this kid grew up at Whole Foods. My other one, too. Been coming to this store for eighteen years, I think?”
“That’s awesome, Man.” The guy looks up for a second, flashing a smile, then down again as a sizeable jicama rolls across the scanner. The little whorls of his moustache work themselves into a twist as he ponders the knobby root.
“Got me–dammit!” He thumbs through the PLU code bible next to his register, looking up‘J’ for ‘jicama’. I imagine it’s a source of pride for any checker to know every code for all the things.
I tell ‘Fuzzy Skullcap Guy’ that I used to run every obscure produce item past my old favorite checker, Jessie, sometimes as sport. Jessie would’ve paused on the keys of his register sometimes, but he never got anything wrong. Except:
“He missed on lemongrass. It was my one victory. And I fucking STILL didn’t get it for free.”
Guy laughs as he punches in the proper code.
Meanwhile, Findlay waves while the septuagenarian that we met in Aisle 3 walks her cart out. She was deliberating canned tomatoes and I pointed her to the San Marzanos.
She squinches her eyes, hunkers down against the push-bar of her cart, and claps a one-handed wave at Finn.
“He has such beautiful red hair, such fair skin,” the lady remarks, while gripping my shoulder.
“He is beautiful, ma’am. Thank you.”
As soon as she walks out, it’s then the guy with the toddler who gives Finn knucks.
“Nice talk, Friend,” he says to Finn, he and Finn having had a good convo by the quinoa.
Finn was talking more to the guy’s daughter, to be honest. (Everyone approximating the size of a breadbox merits Finn’s instant and undivided attention).
Finn knucks the guy four times, and Guy says ‘Whoops,’ while trying to keep up with Finn’s particular handshake.
(It’s: two knucks forwards, two knucks sideways, then one back-and-forth light-saber swoop. Zhwoom, zhwoom. Cayde and I have been doing this for years, and Finn’s picked up on it).
The grocer and I swap names for the remainder of our exchange:
‘You know Kyle?’
‘Oh, she’s over at ‘Tiger, Tiger.’
‘Not sure. Probably by face. You know Erik? I totally dig that guy.
‘Yah—he’s great. Receipt?’
We don’t need a receipt. I don’t care what I spend on food.
Jenn’s doing a challenge at the gym she’s an ambassador for. She mentioned liking to use this particular avocado salsa as dressing for her greens. That clicked a switch for me. I know I have to pick up bread and tomato sauce, but everything is else ad lib.
There’s an amazing joy if, and when, walking into a grocery store, the foods become potential ingredients, not just stand-alone items waiting to be bought. Like when I used to very purposefully arrange my watercolor tubes and drawing pencils years ago, fastidiously and in a fishing tackle box. THAT cerulean is going to work out well in this next thing I’m thinking about, and—oOo– I love that conte crayon.
Avocado salsa? Well, hmmm…
The guy figures out the jicama PLU code, and then Fresno peppers make their way to the conveyor belt. He sighs.
“Dammit,” he says again.
I continue chatting up the grocer, which is strange because my palms sweat like mad at the idea of FORwarding a conversation.
(Wait—that’s a lie. Jenn and I used to talk all night, every night, until we finally co-signed a lease and would eternally entwine our ankles come bedtime).
You realize how much I love her, right?
I have to walk down the street to Baron’s to finish the groceries. A nice mile.
I try to call both Ryan, then my brother on the way down the street, with no answer. So I pocket my phone, and—wow–the things you see.
“Oh, my poochkie,” says the lady, in an antiquated blouse, and she haunches down with her probably 50% spandex skirt, approximating a fleur-de-lys with her backside while unleasing a shivery Chihuahua onto the sidewalk. The dog is brown, with buggy eyes. He spills out, like wet laundry. The dog had been knapsacked into a pink canvas tote thing before being unfolded onto the concrete.
“Auch, Poochie, poochie.”
Lady’s wearing heels, the dog wears the embarrassment of being an accessory. These are perhaps mutual things. The dog shivers.
I walk on.
This woman slows while crossing the street in front of me, leans against the light post, sweating, then bolts down the avenue! She is awesome! And wires of her ear-buds swing back and forth like while she hitches at her clothes. She is a resolution happening, and I want to prescribe her yoga pants exactly one size less.
She looks great.
I ask the produce guy if he has squash. He doesn’t. But I buy up up everything else in the section.
“You got shallots?”
“Not the best.”
I like cooking stuff. I pass by the ‘Compounding pharmacy’, which is next to the Baron’s, and they’re inexplicably blaring ‘Earth Angel’ out the front door.
Compound ‘earth’ and ‘angel’, you’ll get something.
On the way back home, oh that couple kissing. It was caty-corner to a porch, and he had his hands loosely draped on her hips. The hedge was blossoming red, as were my cheeks upon passing.
“Take me to a hospital!” the man down the street yelled. The police had him pushed against a low fence, and the lesser officer held in his hand the man’s thrift store purse, embroidered and with a silly clasp. The purse was quilted.
“Take me to a hospital!”
There was a nearly-full beer poised on the curb, an avalanche of personal items.
“I was sleeping!” the man sobbed.
“Please,” he continued, “I want to kill myself.”
“We’ll get you to that hospital, Guy,” the officers say. Guy had his hair neatly combed into two sections, one partitioned section formed into a bun and particularly arranged.
No one combs their hair before nothing.
I’m walking by with a bag of groceries, and I catch Guy’s glance.
“It’ll be ok, Man.” (I have proof).
“I wanna go to a hospital,” he says, looking at me.
And I didn’t say anything more because the police were in the middle of an arrest, and I had to keep walking. Goddammit. Maybe I shouldn’t have said anything, but that’s most likely inaccurate.
Then I’m passing my friend down at Thorn St., Cory having a smoke on the stairwell. We slap hands before he has to go back to pouring draughts, while I shoulder my groceries.
“How’s it going, Thom?”
“Fantastic, Man,” I turn. “How’s it going it with you?”
“Crazy beautiful sky,” he gestures with a cigarette.
The food truck is vaporing out cholesterol-laden perfumes, and there’s the hum of the generator.
The sky was so gorgeous yesterday, with a light perfect. Gulls like pristine white thumb-tacks on a grey sky. I mean, c’mon.