Grocery Stories

The grizzled guy before me has a package of hamburger meat and one of frozen spinach. Two people are in front of him and he impulsively grabs two chocolate bars. They put the candy where you wait in line. One woman finishes and now there’s just one person before him. It’s enough time to reconsider. He says, “I don’t need these,” and puts the candy back. I laugh. “That’s a mature decision.” But the person in front of him is not done quickly enough. “Maybe just one,” he says and puts a Snickers bar back on the conveyor belt. Been there. Done that.

Stormy downtown Denver view

The package of frozen mixed berries reports as follows: “Blueberry: Product of Canada, Blackberry: product of Chile, Strawberry: product of Peru, Raspberry: product of Mexico. Packaged in California.” I rest my case about the diversity of the world, the country. A braiding this complex cannot be unwound.

Overheard: Two young men, shopping together: “So that’s the kind of support I need and I’m not getting it.”

I had shoulder surgery March 12, 2020. About a week later Colorado went into pandemic lockdown, as did much of the country. Surgeries like mine were cancelled. I didn’t experience the first weeks of lockdown. I was mostly confined to the house, had been warned of dire consequences if I fell or tried to lift anything over a few ounces. Friends and neighbors brought us groceries and although he hates doing it, Phil went on his own. The first time we shopped together, masked, a month later, was a revelation. TP stacked at the entrance, store employees guarding that precious commodity, one pack per customer. Empty shelves. Paper product shelves empty. Cleaning supplies empty. Baking shelves empty. No flour. Plenty of fresh meats and vegetables. “People are baking but they’re not cooking!” I exclaimed. Special hours for senior shopping. Reduced store hours. We’d become a third world country overnight.

2020 lining up for early morning senior hours

In mid-2023, although lockdowns have faded into the past, every trip to the store includes a few items we can’t find. Store employees shrug. They haven’t received that for weeks, no one knows why. In this you-can-get-anything-you-want world, we can’t get chutney anymore. The soy milk we like appears sporadically. No pasilla chiles this week. At first, we were indignant. Three years later we accept it. It’s our new reality. We calmly alter recipes, find workarounds. Our supply chains apparently have long covid.

Why I only use grocery store bathrooms in urgent situations: as I walk in, a voice from one of the stalls: “You can tell her lawyer that.”

We’ve almost filled our bags, a job we didn’t used to do. In line behind us, a black guy with a few things in a handbasket told Phil he hated to use the self-checkout because the help was so hostile there. “Or at least indifferent,” Phil added. Behind him an older black woman with a modest amount in her cart. As he hands me our receipt, the new young white checker asks if the black customers are together. “No,” they both reply instantly, the question causing them to inch further apart than they already were. The black guy laughs, “happens all the time,” and the woman nods, manages a brief smile.

Tony often checks us out, observes that we’re not buying much today. “Usually, you guys look like you’re preparing for the last supper.”

Our grocery morning is Monday, but that Monday was Memorial Day. We went anyway. When you’re retired any day can be a holiday and when you’re a writer everyday can be a workday. I told Phil, let’s go early because if I know my Americans, they’ll be last-minute buying what they need for their barbeques. We arrived before 8:30, not bad, but by the time we left, the place was packed. It was validating to see carts with packages of hot dogs and buns. After 9:30 as we checked out. The tall blond densely tattooed young man behind us was buying a huge slab of bacon, two dozen eggs, pancake mix, syrup and two eight-packs of beer. His friends told him they’re coming to his apartment for breakfast. Dude: when is that? Like noon? Wait: beer?

Some younger generation lifestyles are incomprehensible to old people like us.

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4 Responses to Grocery Stories

  1. Sylvia Montero says:

    When I go to the grocery store, we go to Natural groceries because it is usually cheaper. We get meats from Whole Foods, because Tony likes to grill in the summer. He goes to buy granola from the bulk department, he finds no bulk label for his granola, we both remember the number for the cashier. We get there and the young women looks like she hates her job. I think maybe she is having a bad day.
    We tell her there is no label for the bulk. She gives us a stare and says ‘well most people take a picture with their phone’ She looks sharp at us and I tell her as I point to my brain, my brain is my smartphone. She gives me another sharp look and I remember why for many reasons we rarely shop at Whole Foods.
    As a child, when we would go to the grocery store, My dad would immediately give me a box of animal cookies. You know, the ones with the sting handle. The animal cookies were wonderful: I loved to bite the heads off first. I would sit in the grocery cart and just loved looking at the box, while I ate my cookies. I would save the boxes and use them as a purse until the string broke.
    Thank you Pat, for bringing back that wonderful memory with my dad! Those were the days.

    • dubrava says:

      Sylvia, I haven’t remembered those animal crackers in the little box with the string handle for years! Great memory! Speaking of memory, those who routinely take photos with their phones may not have much memory. Thanks for commenting!

  2. Bob Jaeger says:

    My neighborhood King Sooper has many new employees, some of them as old as me, mostly friendly, helpful folks. If I had to use the bathroom, though, I think I’d run across the street to the coffee shop.

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