Grocery Store

It’s part of your routine, I suspect, those frequent trips to the grocery store.  But though routine, only you visit the grocery store in your own unique way.  It’s a story; it’s a poem; it’s a tragedy; it’s a memoir; it’s a comic riff on life these days.  I’ll post one of my trips to the grocery store to get you started, but I’m sure you have your own grocery story to share.

Grocery Store

My favorite reality check is

when I leave the grocery store,

pushing my cart with its many brown bags.

The automatic doors open

and the sky greets me.

The blacktop of the parking lot meets my feet.

I like to check in at that moment,

noting if my hands are tight on the bar of the cart

so I won’t scream or perhaps melt into the pavement.

Other days, my heart leaps to the beauty of the clouds.

Sometimes I am drawn to the sight of other shoppers

whose lives I do not have to live.

That woman so heavy her gait is a struggle

That man with the loosened tie who hawks and spits

That gray-haired, firm-jawed man with pain visible in each uneven step

That mother herding children who are whining about what they want

Then I’m back inside myself—my own legs moving, cart rolling, my car in sight, another day I’m in.

And I’m alive today, each step, this one at the grocery store,


11 responses to “Grocery Store

  1. Sandra Degrow (Sandrella)

    What a pleasant drive to the store
    The outdoor sales sign is alive sending out “you need this”
    between the lines
    The lot is full of expectant shoppers.
    Inside is bedlam and some shoppers smile and some hiss.
    The Cashier is sweet yet harried; it’s a long day
    My purchases are efficiently rung through
    I compliment the Cashier and she smiles
    “Have a Great Day”
    Out in the cold I push my cart to the car and
    back home to stash
    and cook

  2. Mondo Market

    There are over seven billion people in the world and, together, they consume over eleven million pounds of food each day. Just the number of shopping carts required to transport this food, 8.7 million, is staggering. Yet, few people outside the grocery store industry can even imagine the massive infrastructure required to procure, stock, and sell such a large quantity of food. For example, take the seven-million square foot paper mill in Ecuador that manufactures the paper tape used for receipts. This plant, working three shifts and employing laborers as young as six, manufactures enough paper tape to circle the Empire State Building more than 137,000 times at its base. And that is each and every day.

    As impressive as that may seem, your local market needs far more than paper tape to create a positive shopping experience. Consider the plastic produce bag factory on the tiny Pacific island of Guam. This factory, located adjacent to a plastic bottle facility, occupies seven hectares and manufactures millions of miles of bags used exclusively for transporting produce from the shelf to the checkout line. Since the factory first went into operation in 1958, each bag has been stamped with the traditional phrase, “Fresh Produce.” Marking the bags in this way required more than 18,000 gallons of green ink daily. However, when international child protection regulations were changed, Guamanians showed their adaptability by adding the text, “This bag is not a toy.” The increase in characters, along with repeating the message in Spanish, pushed daily ink consumption to over 62,000 gallons. Of course this was good news for the fur trappers on the north coast of Ceylon where the pelts of the Ceylonese Green Hedge Ferret are harvested to manufacture the unique biodegradable and non-toxic green ink that resists transfer to wet vegetables.

    As gargantuan as these manufacturing facilities are, there are others that make their contribution to food shopping through the application of advanced technology. Take for example the barcode scanner plant on the Chinese island of Zondshunong. Bathed in the warm breeze of the South China Sea, young entrepreneurs scramble about piles of recyclable electronic waste looking for working laser diodes in the remains of retired DVD players. Many of these future captains of industry have moderate to severe eyesight problems as a result of looking into the diodes to determine if they work. They hardly care though, as vision is a small price to pay for the satisfaction they derive from finding working parts. The completed scanners, produced within the walled factory complex at the center of the island, have an industry leading 97% recycled part content and are among the least expensive scanners available with an accuracy rating greater than 40%.

    Not everything at your local market has been manufactured in a high tech factory however. The town of Free Range in Tennessee is a good example of the intersection of technology and animal husbandry. Free Range was created in the 1980s when the US Environmental Protection Agency changed the Super Fund status of parts of the existing town of Oak Ridge. Today, Free Range is often called the “Chicken Capital of the World.” No other single location produces more chickens per cubic foot than Free Range, and it’s easy to see why. The secret is in a cavernous reinforced concrete space hundreds of feet below ground which is illuminated both day and night by a natural bluish light. This environment is ideal for chicken production and has produced many of the world’s largest chickens, as well as unique variants including the Free Range Double Breasted Chicken. The development of a unique system of steel compartments allows each chicken almost one cubic foot of space to roam, and the 24 hour lighting gives the birds the time they need to explore. Free Range chicken is just one of the many innovations brought to you by your progressive grocer.

    Far away from Free Range, across the trackless waste of the frigid north, lies Ellef Ringnes Island in the Canadian Artic. Here, native Intuit “ice miners” tunnel miles below the surface of one of the world’s largest glaciers to extract ice that had last been liquid water when dinosaurs roamed the Earth. Since harmful chemicals such as fluoride and artificial flavors hadn’t been invented at the time it froze, no other water on Earth can possibly be as pure. To protect this purity, the clever Intuit miners package their bounty in the fresh bladders of baby harp seals for transport to a bottling facility on the Pacific island of Guam. Out of respect for the fiercely modest Intuit people, and to protect the source of supply, this ancient water, purest of the pure, is sold in your local market as generic bottled water, a fact that few people are aware.

    For all of the high technology and large scale manufacturing that goes into running a modern market, there is little of more importance to the typical shopper than the price to be paid. This is the realm of the Yanomami people of the Amazon rainforest. Sitting cross-legged of the floor of a vine-covered stone temple built centuries ago by a lost civilization known only as the “Ancient Ones,” twelve apprentice scribes ply their trade in total silence. Their clothing, barely rags, hangs from their emaciated bodies as their boney fingers dance across a bleached parchment. Each holds a meticulously fashioned bamboo stick that is frequently dipped in a terracotta jar containing the blackest of black ink. With a skill greater than that of the best calligraphers the world has ever known, they make precise vertical lines of varying widths upon their white canvas. The young men of the tribe make only “2D” bar codes containing a simple UPC. The elders, after decades of careful training, make a far more complex version, using smaller visual elements that allow their work to contain product information, and, when master status has been achieved, a web address containing a complete URL. Although they are a remote stone-age tribe, the Yanomami are strict adherents to the guidelines laid out by the United Nations Commission on Universal Product Codes, and each code they produce is registered at The Hague.

    Here we have seen just a sampling of the strange world behind the modern market. A world where the rare is plentiful, and the plentiful, rare. A world so strange, so unbelievable, and so incredible, we can only describe it as, Mondo Market.

    • I have a mondo condo on Zondshunong! Luckily it faces away from the waste piles which would send noxious fumes when I BBQ my Free Range chicken and drink my pure generic water packaged in bottles recycled from Guamanian plastic.

      Up to your usual tricks, I see, GT.

      • The next time you are staying at your Mondo Condo, you should rent (not buy) Mondo Cane. Or, if you are living on the edge, Mr. Mike’s Mondo Video. 🙂

  3. That grocery store scene is so familiar, it could’ve been the one I go to. But I could never describe it like you do…
    Glad to have an access into your writing and tips after the class has finished! Thanks, Ann!

  4. Take on a trip to your grocery store, allthatjas!

  5. The Grocery Store

    I clutch my list tightly in both hands and take a deep breath as I pause in front of the automatic doors and watch as they open wide. I’ve been here before hundreds of times, I tell myself, I can do it again. I step inside the chilly vestibule stacked to the ceiling with brightly-colored pallets of sparkling water, crackers and chips; all on sale and advertised as a “must have” for the holidays. Duty bound, I remember my list and walk past the scores of happy family faces, plastered on the adverts, and pull out a cart from one of the dingy corals. I take a few steps backwards and simultaneously drop my bag into the metal cart. I’m on auto pilot. Another deep breath and I am off, headed towards the familiar isles and neighborhood faces. I clutch tightly to the cold handle of my cart as I make my way towards the produce section.

    The first items on my list are celery and onion. For our stuffing, I think. We must have stuffing. I begin to calculate how much of each I will need when, next to the pumpkin pies and avocados, I run into Mrs. Baker, Michael’s tenth grade English teacher. It’s been more than a decade that she has had Michael in her class but she speaks of him as if it were only yesterday. “How is he?” She asks.

    Still on auto pilot, I give her my pat answer. “He’s doing okay.”

    “Will he be home for Thanksgiving?”

    I glare ahead at the celery and onions stacked on the wall behind Mrs. Baker. I want to knock her over with my cart and get on with my shopping but I cannot. I must remain polite. I am always polite. “No,” I say. “Not this year.”

    “Maybe for Christmas?”

    “Maybe,” I say, knowing it is a lie. “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Baker.”

    “Merry Christmas to you, too, Olivia. Stay strong.”

    I smile at Mrs. Baker and turn my cart around and walk back towards the vestibule.

    Not today, I think.

    Once outside, I run across the parking lot and to the safety of my own car. I fumble with the keys as Ben, our elderly neighbor, spots me and slows his step. I finally unlock my car door and climb inside. I lock the doors and slump down into the seat. I am the opposite of polite.

    Maybe tomorrow I will return to the grocery store, I think, as I pull out of the parking lot.

    “But maybe not,” I whisper.

    I drive away and watch as old Ben and the grocery store fad away in my rear view mirror. Tears begin to cloud my eyes once more as I drive. “Not today,” I say aloud. “Not today.”

  6. There is something about the grocery store that is so common to us all. It is a trip repeated over and over. Here it is the scene of your narrator’s attempt to cope with tragedy, with loss, with the dream we all have for our children that has somehow crashed into foreign territory where we cannot reach it or make things right. I found this very touching. Good to see you Olivia!

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