In an effort to offset the 96 straight hours of gluttony that is Thanksgiving Weekend, I decided to go food shopping last night… for the first time in a year and a half. Yes, it’s really been that long. I won’t get into the how and why; all I’ll say is there was a lot of beef lo mein involved.
I chronicled my excursion to give the world a look at what it’s like to go food shopping when you’re a clueless 26 year old single male who is also out of practice. It basically doesn’t get any worse than me, last night, when it comes to food shopping ability. I’m one level above a trained monkey. I’m like a blind, deaf and dumb contestant on Chopped.
Here’s what transpired.
– I am on the way to the market after having gone to the gym for the first time in years. I run regularly, but this was the first time I had lifted weights since Obama’s first term. My legs are not functioning. To walk, I lean my upper body forward, and my gelatinous legs seem to instinctively flop ahead of me to keep me from faceplanting into the sidewalk. The same physics behind the Slinky are propelling me forward.
– My arms are stuck at about a 30 degree angle upwards, with palms facing the sky; I feel like one of those ash corpses from Pompeii, frozen in time forever.
– I have selected a newly opened establishment, Westside Market (on east 12th and 3rd), as my market of choice. I briefly considered Trader Joe’s before remembering the last time I went there; for weeks afterwards I kept having this nightmare where pretty Jewish girls were ramming me into a corner with their carts and no matter how loud I screamed, none of the employees could hear me.
– I take a deep breath and enter the market, grabbing one of those small roller baskets to pull behind me. Almost immediately I cause a three-cart pile up and wish I had chosen the simpler carrying basket. I begin to perspire.
– I already look stupid: a confused, sweaty neanderthal pulling around an empty basket. I quickly grab a head of lettuce and toss it into the basket just so something is in there.
– I make the first right turn, following the natural layout of the market. It appears much less rigid than the aforementioned Trader Joe’s. At TJ’s, I had the distinct feeling that if I stepped out of line, some uniformed officer would whack me in the face with a billy club; here, I feel more free to roam. The progressive laws of Westside Market have settled my nerves a bit.
– The first section is vegetables. The chance of me purchasing anything in this section is exactly zero. I decide to mingle around here regardless, because chicks dig a guy who hangs in the veggie area. He probably knows how to cook, eats healthy, washes his hands after urinating…I’ve got ’em all fooled.
– I toss some unknown brown vegetable up and down in my hand, as if I’m carefully weighing it’s properties to decide whether it’s worthy of my five-star kitchen back at my Soho loft. I’m fairly confident any woman looking at me right now believes me to be, at least, a 1-star Michelin rated chef.
In my head, I’m pretending it’s a baseball and I’m on the mound at Yankee Stadium.
– I glance to my right and see that I’ve already reeled one in. A girl in yoga pants is looking at me, somewhat flustered. I smile at her and look back down at my imaginary baseball, waiting for her to approach. These damsels are always a sucker for a ballplayer.
“Umm…excuse me, can I grab a few of these? Thanks.”
Turns out she just wants a few of Vegetable X. I was almost positive she was going to ask me to guess the color of her underwear, right then and there. I had a guess ready and everything – purple, because it was raining this morning.
“This is a good one,” I say sheepishly, putting my fake baseball into my basket and wobbling off to the next section. I’ll ditch the ball later in some other aisle; no chance I’m paying for it.
– Next up is the deli counter. I feel more comfortable already. A couple of jovial Mexican men are dicing up meat behind the counter. I have a brief daydream of telling them I went to Spain this summer, followed by them inviting me behind the counter to cut up some ham and play dominoes with them. When I come to from this ridiculous vision, it’s already my turn to order.
“Watchu want, man?”
“Uh…turkey,” I stammer, my arms stuck in the Pompeii position. I realize it gives the appearance that I’m unsatisfied with the service or in a rush, which explains his hostile demeanor. How long have I been standing here?
“What kinda turkey?”
I am completely unprepared for this line of questioning. Am I applying for a bank loan or trying to get a half pound of meat? I find myself angry at his inquisition. It’s fairly obvious I am not the type of person who cares what kind of turkey it is; if anything, I’m proud of myself for even specifying a meat, rather than just grunting “meat”. In truth, I didn’t care at all what kind they gave me and would have happily spun a Meat Wheel to pick, if there was one.
– The anger turns to despair as I realize I have no idea what to say. I can feel the line getting restless behind me. I don’t even know if he’s asking for a turkey brand, like Boars Head, or a type, like “oven roasted”. Wait a minute – that’s it! I can just answer both questions.
“Boar’s Head; smoked turkey, please.” I say it as if I’m ordering a fancy cocktail with very specific instructions.
– As he begins slicing my meat, I turn around and survey the line behind me. There is at least one attractive female, in addition to one girl I would definitely have sex with if I was, say, eight beers deep. My order was too simple to impress anyone this time; I make a mental note to order something more exotic on my next trip to the deli counter. I drift off into another daydream.
Plainville Farms, Hickory Smoked Honey Maple Turkey Breast…shaken, not stirred. Then I’ll wink at the beautiful brunette behind me in line, and she’ll bite her lower lip and giggle before sneakily leaving her number in my basket. We’ll have a whirlwind romance of 90 days; a lotta fights, a lotta highs and lows (such is to be expected when a relationship begins in the supermarket), but boy, could that girl dance. She’d force me to come onto her in that same supermarket weeks later, calling it “role playing”, and only then would I realize that it wasn’t real romance but rather just a fetish of hers, and I happened to be the guy stupid enough to play along. And I thought ya loved me, baby, but no – if it was some loser in that deli aisle that turned around and caught those baby blue eyes of yours, he woulda been the one making sweet love to you last night on a bed of iceberg lettuce, not me. The sad thing is she fell for me too during those magical three months, and by the time I got wise to her act it wasn’t an act no more. But ya took me for a fool, babygirl, and now I gotta go. I’d light up a cigarette right there in the aisle and walk out with my chin high and my heart down by my ankles, listening to that dame crying her eyes out over my shoulder. They could hear her from all the way in the dairy section. Sad, but she had it comin’.
– I make a turn into the cheese aisle because I had read a review or two about this place and heard they give out free cheese samples. I’m pretty disappointed by what I find; it’s just an open box of cheese, sort of a “help yourself” situation. I was picturing more of the Costco model: a friendly senior citizen living out their days giving away tiny pizzas on toothpicks.
When I arrive, there is indeed a senior citizen, but she’s not an employee. An old lady is sloooooowly reaching her hand into the Free Cheese Box, and sloooooowly lifting a little square of cheese up to her quivering lips. I have the sad thought that she is a widow who sends all of her money to her ungrateful son and relies on the Free Cheese Box for 100% of her nutritional intake. I make an awkward 180 and turn around mid-aisle (punishable by death at Trader Joe’s) to escape the depressing scene.
– I stumble upon the rotisserie chickens, of which I am a huge fan. While I was in college, these were $5 each and considered a delicacy to my poor friends and I. They’re $9 now, but still a good deal. I always feel like I’m in Game of Thrones when eating a rotisserie chicken. There’s ligaments flying everywhere, I’m chewing on the bones…it really whips me into a frenzy. I’m ready to sack Rome after a roto chicken.
– I quickly make my way into the last aisle, bypassing the fun aisles – the drinks, the candies, the snacks. I can’t go in there. I’m like a crack addict when it comes to snacks. If I have one Goldfish, next thing you know I’m on the corner, living in a cardboard box, offering to fellate you for a Cheez-It.
– The last aisle is the bread aisle. As a Balkan boy, I’ve got a real soft spot for bread. I’m the guy who eats all the bread from the basket before dinner, then asks for more bread, then eats all of that too. That’s why I want to date a gluten-free girl; I imagine they only have sex in the missionary position, but it’s worth it for free reign on the bread basket.
The bread aisle in NYC confuses me, though. It’s just bread laying around. Back in Jersey, a bakery is my version of Willy Wonka’s factory. It’s warm and inviting, it smells amazing, and instead of Oompa Loompas, there’s short Italian guys who banter with the community and sponsor Little League teams. In an NYC supermarket, it’s this:
– I make my way to the checkout area, which is surprisingly calm. Usually, the checkout area in a Manhattan supermarket resembles a Japanese stock exchange during a market crash.
– The cashier at this register is a real pro – she’s swiping things at an astonishing speed, sometimes flipping them around one-handed to find the barcode on the back. It appears as if she’s enjoying herself. She’s like the cashier version of a Coyote Ugly bartender. In my head there is a country rock song playing and her shirt is tied in the front to reveal her midriff.
– As I begin placing my items on the belt for scanning, I realize I still have that damn mystery vegetable from the girl with (likely) purple underwear. I quickly drop it on top of the gum by the register. Not my finest dump off, but it’ll do.
– I turn around and realize that exact girl is right behind me in the checkout lane. She is staring at me. I’m 99% certain it’s because she saw me stash it by the Dentine Ice and finds me pathetic, though I’m stubbornly leaving a 1% chance that she is sizing me up as a potential mate.
– Total comes to $43 and change; not bad. I take it as a sign of maturation that I have decided a fortnight’s worth of nourishment is more valuable than two lap dances.
I walk home immensely satisfied with myself. For purchasing a dead chicken and a few other nick-nacks, my level of pride is roughly equivalent to earning a Purple Heart. Whatever, I earned this. Baby steps.
– By Jack Gashi