I know my more puritanical readers may object to the term, or may be unfamilliar with its original intent or the situations that lead to its relevance and, therefore, it's practice, but I've come to realize that shopping at the grocery store in our development is the equivalent of a sympathy f@#&.
It's there, it's open, it asks little and gives even less in return. It's convenient, it's simple, and fills you with regret before the job is even done. You pity it, so you give in. And it's embarrasing for the both of you and you're all but guaranteed to net nothing more than the filling of your most basic needs.
It's a sympathy f@#&.
It's shopping at the Village Foods IGA.
When the pantry is but a collection of empty wire shelves, the refrigerator bears little more than a row of condiments and dressings, and when the only thing keeping the Arm & Hammer in the freezer company is the salmon I bought 15 months ago, I know it's time to do the deed. To really do it. Oh, we're far beyond human guttural instincts and the meeting of needs. It's about something much, much more. It's the hunt for that magical combination of quality and quantity.
And when this time comes, I don't waste my effort and time slumming at the local shop. I'm on the prowl for a cartload of substance and perhaps a little surprise or two. And I venture out prepared. I spiff myself up with coupons and reusable canvas bags, I may even clean out the backseat of my car just in case I see something exotic that needs a little extra room to stretch out in. I'd hate for it to get jabbed with a stray bike pump or rub up against a sticky empty Gu wrapper. I want my quarry to arrive in one piece. And to be clean when it does.
But the cupboard isn't always bare. Sometimes the needs are few. Maybe just a dozen eggs or a gallon of milk or a bag of tortillas. Oh, the need is there, but the fulfillment needn't be fancy or elaborate or even attractive. It just needs to be quick.
We all know that one girl or guy from our past -- or maybe from our friend's past -- that could always be counted on to be there when one's needs were a bit more primal. Deep down you knew you could put on a cleaner shirt, maybe give yourself a shave or splash on some cologne and venture further from home to the bar/dancehall/frat-party that had the bigger, shinier selection, but sometimes you just didn't feel like it. You were lazy and weren't picky, so you took what was closest. You'd stop by the home of the sure-thing, find her without makeup, in stained sweatpants, and her hair already tousled. Maybe some balled-up Kleenex on the floor. But you didn't care. You rush in, get what you came for, find a strangely disappointing form of satisfaction, and leave. It didn't matter if you got your rocks off or not, you'd leave full of regret and shame regardless. That's how these things work.
Not unlike the homely girl (or guy) you knew in college, the Village Foods IGA has had a run of really bad luck. The fates have seemingly conspired against it and doomed it to a life of might-as-wells. When my needs are deep, I drive past it on the way to the Safeway. Sometimes I glance at it and wish it didn't have to be this way, othertimes I drive on past oblivious to its existence.
But on those rare occasions when my needs demand immediate gratification and aything will do, I hop on my bike and sympathy shop the IGA. I wander inside and find my footsteps echoing through its cavernous aisles devoid of shoppers. The row of check-out stations eternally staffed by a solitary employee makes me thankful for every part-time job I ever thought boring. I weave past the produce to the ailse of chips and soda and spot a selection so vacant of choices, it cannot be called a selection. Do you want Coke or do you want Coke? It's shopping in the Third World.
Meat certain to spoil before purchased fills the refrigerated troughs as if an entire king's army is due by any moment. Meanwhile, steps away, the pet food aisle barely has enough kibble to stave off starvation in a large chihuahua. The prices are meteoric, the quantity extra-terrestrial, minus the extra. I'm not sure what that means either, but I like the way it sounds.
I'm at once depressed, my hopes dashed, and I begin asking myself aloud, "How did I end up here?" I fill my basket -- never a cart -- with hot dogs, rolls, and a bag of sauer kraut. A bag?! In the land of IGA, jars and name-brands have yet to be invented. My search for pita bread is fruitless. The container of peppery-hummus I bought elsewhere will have to wait another day. The silence of the place isn't deafening (because saying so is cliched and really makes no sense at all) but it is indeed depressing. A bright, beautiful, Saturday morning. The neighborhood is abuzz with activity. Everywhere but here, in this store.
I head to the register and the clerk seems a little too happy to see me. She's lonely. I'm in a hurry, I have to leave this place before I scream, but she doesn't sense my lack of patience. I complete the transaction and hop back on my bike.
And a thought floods my brain: it's the check-out girl, sitting on the edge of the conveyor belt asking me if I really have to go so soon. Can't I just stay and keep her company a little longer? She's mindlessly twisting and curling a plastic shopping bag in her hands and looks about to cry.
The image continues to play in my mind even after I get home and begin cooking lunch. Right up to the point I notice the pakage of hot dogs only has 7 in it.
"That poor store can't do anything right."