Last Friday night I faced a dire situation. Three items critical for my daily survival were missing from the house. One was yogurt. Another was Organic Greens With Envy. The third was golden raisins. With heading out of town last weekend, I knew if I arrived home on Monday to find none of these in the house I would barely make it through the day.
A trip to Trader Joe’s was in order.
I pulled into the parking lot around 8 pm. Once inside, it was clear that I had found what the strangest of the strangest strange people of Downers Grove do on a Friday night – they go to Trader Joe’s.
The store was filled with people. Young people, old people, fat people, thin people. A woman with orange hair, a couple with two kids, a clearly has no date on a Friday night young woman, far too many frumpy women with straight hair and glasses, and then there was me.
Look at me.
Black Mary Jane’s, rainbow socks, snowman pajama pants, and a winter coat with a furry hood that I stole straight from Ally Sheedy in The Breakfast Club. Please don’t tell her. And, too top it off, sweaty post-bike hair pulled in frizzy pigtails.
This is standard late night shopping attire. This is what happens when you get married, you get freedom to food shop while looking like this.
There I was, rolling into the store with a cart and dressed most closely like a clown. Where to go first? Well, as long as I’m here I might as well pick up a loaf of bread. I hate shopping for bread. It’s nothing but evil dough-filled trickery. I’ve made dozens of loaves of bread and all they’ve included is flour, water, yeast, salt, maybe a pinch of sugar. So why is it that every freakin’ loaf of bread has an ingredient list twenty words long. I pick up loaf after loaf, looking for something that is not enriched, corn syruped, so on and so forth. Spelt. It doesn’t get much worse, or simple, than spelt. I pick up the loaf. I fear if I drop it I will break a toe. Forget the spelt. Multigrain, rye, kamut, gluten-free, rice-floured, country grain. I just want bread. Some slices of bread. I settle on a loaf of white wheat.
That was way too hard. For bread.
I spot the golden raisins. Easy enough. They make it into the cart.
On to the yogurt. What in the hell is going on in the dairy section. Two small children with two small carts are screaming for the love of dairy for all of the store to hear. The mother is choosing yogurt, the father is off getting some bread (good luck) and the children are voicing their preferences for things they seem far too young to have a preference for.
“Blueberry bites. I want blueberry bites. I WANT THE BLUEBERRY BITES.”
I’m tempted to toss the blueberry bites in the cart just to clear the kid out of the way of my plain fat free yogurt. Come on kid, it’s Friday night. I’ve got bigger and better things to do. Not really. But……oh my god – do you think the kids sense that? Do you think they looked over at me and thought the clown can wait, the clown can wait while I request my blueberry bites besides what kind of clown shops on a Friday night, wouldn’t a good clown be at a party making balloon animals or something?
Shut up kid.
On to the frozen section. Organic Greens With Envy are calling my name. I nab the last two bags.
Now, frozen fruit. If I get home on Monday to find no fresh fruit, I better have a back up. But what’s this – a young girl with fiery red hair is standing smack in front of the organic mixed berries. I wait. Like the kid said – this clown can wait.
But she takes too long. And, after all, what was she reading on the back of the package anyways? Warning: this package of frozen berries contains berries. If you are allergic to berries be advised that this product contains berries. This package is processed in a factory that contains f*cking berries. Visions of a smashed bag of frozen berries threatens to move from my head on to hers. I’m getting berry, berry impatient.
She finally moves. Score one for me and the berries.
All right, almost done, brown rice, extra firm tofu, soy milk. How did three things (yogurt, greens, and raisins) turn into thirty-three?
I roll up to the front of the store and every register is stacked. I wait.
A few minutes later, a young clerk walks up to me and says he can help me over there. Oh he’s cute. I can still notice things like that. I haven’t been married that long. And then he takes my cart. This is the best service I’ve gotten all day – a personal escort to the register plus someone to wheel my food-filled chariot. Is he for sale, too?
Brian starts unpacking my cart. “So, big plans for this evening?”
I look around. Is he talking to me? Wait a minute – didn’t we just go through this a few months ago in Whole Foods? What is it about me, Friday nights, and specialty food stores?
He looks at me waiting for an answer. Right, he was talking to me.
“This is the evening’s highlight,” I report. It was true, other than driving up and down Route 34 looking for the lowest price for gasoline, this would be as good as it gets tonight. That’s right Brian, this is my Friday night special, baby. Want to come along? If you’re lucky, I’ll let you wear Ally Sheedy’s coat. Better yet, Brian, how about we tackle the big list of things I should probably get done this weekend. Would that count as big plans? How about we scrub the shower, or sift through the 700 wedding photos that I still have not sorted even though I was married in 2005, or even better how about we wash grease marks and handprints off the basement walls. Are you big enough to handle those big plans?
He didn’t respond to my questions, instead he posed his own.
“No big plans? Just chilling out and sitting around tonight?” he asks, almost as if too confirm that I was honestly admitting to the fact that Friday night fun for me meant groceries and gas pumps. I’m ready to fess up, but honestly I can’t remember the last time I had “chill out” on my schedule. Furthermore, I’m not sure it’s something I even want to admit too. What does it entail? I mean, I know what I used to do back in college when I chilled out. Is it still the same? When I think about that phrase it reminds me of being under the influence of something – maybe milk and cookies – listening to The Beastie Boys sing I’m just chillin’ like Bob Dylan. Somehow, though, I suspect even Bob Dylan has more exciting plans tonight. Perhaps he’s chillin’? But I wasn’t chillin’. I didn’t know what to say. This was far from chillin’, this was just plain grocery shopping. And then a gas stop. But it will be cold outside when I pump that gas. Does me being chilled count as chillin’?
Back to the conversation.
“No plans. Leaving for Phoenix tomorrow and just wanted some groceries in the house for when I got back,” I said, hoping to exonerate myself from the crime of admitting to the most pathetic and small version of Friday night plans.
“Phoenix, wow, Phoenix…..” The conversation goes on. Actually, Brian goes on. And on, and on. And almost so far on that I started bagging the groceries myself to expedite the whole checkout process. Not that I mind bagging groceries, but I literally had to reach across Brian to reach the groceries. It was that bad. Twenty nine dollars and thirty-four cents have never stretched on so far. Neither have my arms.
Brian finished up the transaction still chatting, handing me my receipt and sending me on my way. I happily wheeled my groceries to the car and drove on to the gas station.
As I drove away, I couldn’t help but contemplate what was so complicated about women meeting men. Is it really that hard? After all, Brian seemed like a nice guy. Sure, he’s working at a Trader Joe’s on a Friday night but he appeared clean, sweet, and capable of starting a conversation. Maybe this is the secret of the married people. That once you get married you stop chillin’ and start finding yourself in places where all the good people really are. Normal people in normal places doing normal things like grocery shopping. The kind of people you’d want to sit down and chill with (of course, the legal post-college type chillin’), or just have a conversation.
I wasn’t really looking for conversation with Brian, but he seemed more than willing to give. Which makes me think that if I had been a single woman I would have found quite a buy for $29.34. Quite a buy. Not only that, but being dressed like I was dressed makes me think that if I had dressed less like a clown - the offers, the conversations, the furtive glances would have just been rolling into my cart like crazy.
So, once again, it’s a call to action for all you single women. I’ve said it before. Get thee to a grocery store on a Friday night. The Brian’s, the stock boys, the customer service clerks are waiting. They are waiting with their tiny little aprons and their fast bagging hands. Go bag yourself a Brian. Or a stock boy. What are you waiting for?