We head to the grocery store. A man stands at the entrance next to a bowl
of sliced clementines. He wears glasses
with black frames. He has curly hair,
verging on messy. He’s thin and tall and
has his hands jammed into the pockets of his jeans. In a horrible monotone, he welcomes us to the
store. I barely nod and veer around him,
because to approach his sample display; to take a piece of fruit would lock me
into some invisible and unknown contract; it would oblige me to something greater
than just groceries.
Near the produce, a man stands behind a glass device—a hot
machine with a large lamp at the top.
The man tosses in a flattish brown disc and shuts the door. Ten seconds later—WHOMP!—the disc pops and expands and the air fills with the odor of
hot buttered popcorn. No one, I notice,
stops to investigate this device further.
Further on, another man wheels a silver cart along the bank
of checkout stands and yells out, “hot, fresh Italian bread! Ninety-nine cents.” No one stops to take a loaf from his silver
Ahead of us, a thin man leans heavily upon his cart. He wears a white button-down shirt tucked
into his jeans. And on his head, he
wears a bicycle helmet. He stands at the
end of the aisle, intently studying his list, pausing to look at the overhead
signs before wheeling on to the next aisle.
A woman passes. Stares at
We finish our shopping and when we head out the door, this same
man tells us to have a good day in the same bored tone. I giggle to myself and roll my eyes at my
husband. I find that the man irritates
me. No, not the man himself. I find the need for a greeter irritating. It feels like a farce, paying a person to be polite. The grocery store is trying to tack a human
face on a largely impersonal transaction.
How must it feel, I wonder, greeting everyone who
enters? How must it feel to say goodbye
to customers pushing carts full of bursting bags, their contents straining
against the confines of blue plastic?
And then, I realize, after I’ve walked past the man with barely
a glance: He must feel invisible. He must
feel unimportant. He must feel irrelevant.
I pick up my meat and dairy from my local farmer. While the farmer chats with another customer,
I wait at the table. I find my name on the
list and check it off. I stack my empty
egg cartons with the other returns. I
hold my empty cream jar to wait for my refund.
I tell Squints what cooler holds our purchases and he heads over to
empty it into our own cooler. I don’t
mind this waiting. Talking with the farmer—the
farmer who greets me by name every week—is one of the best parts of buying
A woman approaches the table. She wears a long brown coat sweater and brown
boots. She leans in front of me; runs a red
fingernail down the list to find her name.
I take a step back. She moves forward
to fill the gap. I frown at V. I set my empty jar on the table and slide my
check beneath the metal cash box.
I feel invisible.
I feel unimportant.
I feel irrelevant.
And the next time I go to that grocery store, I’ll return that
Who knows? Maybe I’ll
even take a sample.
Labels: Creative non-fiction, shopping locally