My husband and I are at the grocery store. We’ve been shopping together for decades, so we’re efficient. We barrel through produce, then on to meat and seafood, sprint through cheeses, dairy, and baked goods, make a break for the checkout line.
I usually try to leaf through magazines at this point, but for some reason, I look down at the groceries in our basket. I am stunned. You have never seen a more wholesome cluster of food in your life — kale, okra, lettuce, avocados, tomatoes, blueberries, bananas, fish, meat from happy, grass-fed animals, almond milk, walnuts, snack bars that are so good for you, they taste and look very much like dirt.
“Look at us,” I hiss to my husband. “We look like a traveling salad bar.” I pause to clench my teeth. “How did we get this damned healthy?”
He’s now pulling our groceries out of the cart, piling them on the counter (we are efficient, as I mentioned). Our foodstuffs are so brightly colored, they’re blindingly gaudy. “At least they’re really expensive,” he says.
“I’ve just noticed how boring our groceries are,” I say unnecessarily to the young woman who’s checking us out.
The young woman smiles noncommittally. She is used to customers making unnecessary remarks. It’s just like your mother always told you: You think people are noticing you all the time. Well, they’re not. They’re too busy worrying about their own lives. This young woman, for example, is probably wondering about that strange knocking sound in her car and the orange light that goes on when the strange knocking sound stops. This is infinitely more interesting to her than our head of organic red-leafed lettuce.
I, on the other hand, remain enthralled by the contents of our grocery basket, now splayed out on the counter, now adding up to a small fortune. Organic vegetables and fruits? Good grief. Is this what we’ve come to?
Since the woman behind the checkout counter is not terribly interested and my husband is now bagging the groceries in the sacks we brought, I go on with the conversation in my head — which is where I often carry on very long and spirited discussions.
You think we’re boring now? You should have seen us when we were younger! I think, going into a long, involved reverie about Storied Grocery Carts of Our Married Past. We used to get nothing but frozen dinners — chicken pot pies, enchiladas, pizzas! Doritos! Deluxe ice cream (since, as I often told people, I was on the Haagen-Dazs diet)! Cigarettes by the carton, beer by the six-pack, wine by the vineyard!
We were profligate, we were thriftless, we had parties that lasted till dawn or till everybody passed out. We were lighthearted, we were rowdy, we were — as is true of the young, in general — not nearly as fascinating as we thought we were.
But you know, eventually we all get the tab. Today’s total is close to $150 for a bunch of measly organic food. Or, if you want to see the total tab on a life of continued profligacy, after youth has fled and tables have been folded so you can’t crawl under them any longer, see the movie Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle. It’s about the famous writer and Algonquin Circle wit, Dorothy Parker, and it does not end well or attractively.
I suppose none of us end as well or as attractively as we’d like, but there’s something to be said for eventually growing up and eating your vegetables — especially if you’re not a genius like Dorothy Parker.
I would tell that to the young woman behind the counter, but she looks preoccupied. Strange knocking noises do that to you.
(Copyright 2013 by Ruth Pennebaker)
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