“It’s just a few groceries,” my wife says with an innocent look on her face. And that’s how it all begins.
It’s the Eve of July 4th, and company is immanent, like barking dogs during fireworks; it is unavoidable, like Luke Skywalker’s destiny. Even though, technically, that ended up being… pretty much avoidable. Anyway, our family is coming over, so the idea is, we need to buy nicer food than we normally eat so they don’t think we’re cheap or starving or poor. Which—we pretty much are. And everyone knows it, but that’s just how the game is played. So we play along.
But my wife usually buys the food. I buy the cool stuff, like oil for the car, fishing line, bullets. Those kinds of things. But apparently not today.
“It’s just a few groceries, Josh,” my wife says. “Don’t be a baby.”
I have to buy a CD case too, which is marginally manly, so I figure I can use that as an excuse in case my quest to the store is questioned by any other suspicious males.
“Fine,” I say. “Where’s the list?”
Things go well enough for me as I check things off the grocery list until I get to the fruit and vegetable section. I honestly don’t know if there’s an official title for this area of the supermarket. Does it have a name? I vote we call it the Bermuda Triangle. I feel nauseous and disoriented just thinking about it.
‘Relax, take a deep breath’ I tell myself as I smile knowingly at an earthy looking man with dreadlocks, who looks for all the world like he probably grew half the produce isle himself. ‘As long as you pretend like you know what you’re doing, you’ll be fine.’
I see they’ve placed rolls of plastic sanitary bags in easily accessible areas. Grateful for such thoughtfulness, I unroll two of them and place one over each hand. ‘It’s odd they don’t shape these more like gloves,’ I think to myself, looking at my bag-covered hands and frowning in mild confusion at a pile of twisties stationed nearby. I’m not sure what those are for…
Finally feeling ready, I glance again at the last part of my list. It reads:
Right away, I’m in over my head. There are lots of tomatoes. Different sizes of tomatoes. Different shapes of tomatoes. Lots and lots of tomatoes. And the same is true for the onions—white onions, yellow onions, red onions, whitish yellow onions, purple onions—or are those the same as the red ones? I grab three of the biggest tomatoes I can find, a shiny yellow onion that looks like the one I picture from donkey’s metaphor in the original Shrek movie, and then head for the lettuce… that happens to be available in every shade of red, green, white, or… all of the above, but bagged. “Great,” I think.
But corn is the clincher. Because that’s all the list says: ‘corn.’ Is it supposed to be canned corn? Or… still on the cob corn? And if so, how many? That’s when I do the pathetic thing I’ve been avoiding all along—I take out my cell phone and call my wife. It’s hand-holding time.
“Help.” I say when she answers.
“Is this about the corn?” she asks.
“How did you—“
“Not canned,” she says. “On the cob. Six of them.”
“Okaaaay,” I mutter, turning in a slow circle with the phone still pressed to my ear, surveilling the foreign landscape to acquire my target. No luck.
“I can’t find the corn,” I whisper into the phone.
“WHAT? she says loudly—“I can’t hear you. Speak up!”
“THE CORN—” I blurt out, free hand hiding my face—“I CAN’T FIND IT.”
A girl in a yellow sun dress snickers as she pushes her cart past. An elderly man looks at the bags on my hands and shakes his head in disgust. I sigh and roll my eyes, turning around quickly. I’d rather face the mocking vegetables than the scorn of my fellow shoppers. And the vegetables don’t disappoint. There, directly in front of me, is the corn.
“Never mind,” I mutter into the phone, and hang up. White corn or yellow corn? I hastily grab what appear to be three of each.
My catastrophe of an errand lightens moderately at the checkout counter.
“That’ll be $19.68,” says the lady behind the counter to the woman in front of me, and then adds, under her breath—“The year the devil was born.”
The customer she’s talking to doesn’t seem to hear the addendum, but I can’t resist the need for more information.
“How’s that?” I ask, smiling with a squint as I take the bait.
“My ex-husband,” she begins, slowly reeling in the line before setting the hook— “that’s the year he was born.”
“Ouch!” I say with a feigned grimace.
“Yup,” she says with a genuine grin.
It’s a relief to be dealing with people again. You can keep the fruits and veggies.