The Old Man at the Grocery Store


Wayne Michael DeHart   April, 2020    (The Spring of Pandemic)

Caveat: The following drivel was written off-the-cuff upon returning home from a grub run and, candidly, is probably not worth your time, unless you’re stuck at home and are tired of doing push-ups and cleaning the bathroom, or are otherwise bored beyond comprehension. So proceed with caution, and don’t blame me when you’re done if you wish you had those minutes of your life back.

I went to Market Basket on Wednesday for the first time in a month. And I learned something about myself at age 71.

I can dance!

Judging by the nearly-full parking lot, I was hesitant to enter because it didn’t seem possible to observe the six-foot distancing thing, but I needed some stuff to eat. I knew exactly where each of the 6 or 7 items on my list was located, but was also aware of one-way aisle traffic, thus my plan for the quickest possible in-and-out route may have to be adjusted on the fly.

My head was adorned with not one but two balaclava masks (not to be confused with the more edible baklava mask), one over the other for double thickness. (One was olive green, one was purple – hey, they were 99 cents each on e-bay about 10 years ago with free shipping and those were the color choices. I had no idea why I was buying them at the time, other than that they were 99 cents and I love a bargain.) Not only was my mouth and nose covered, but so were my floppy ears and my pencil neck. With only my eyes showing, I looked the best I have in about half a century.

I wore a baseball cap, with the front of the cap facing forward. You know, like back in the day. Since my head was already covered by the masks, there was no need for the cap, but I never leave home without it, just like my long-expired American Express card. Old habits Die Hard (there’s always room for a Bruce Willis movie reference, dontcha think?).

But I digress, like Peter Falk reading “The Princess Bride” to the kid in, well, “The Princess Bride.”

My first problem became evident almost as soon as I entered the store. My glasses fogged up immediately. I didn’t have the luxury of taking them off because the temples were hopelessly lodged inside the confines of the skin-tight masks, so I simply soldiered on, knowing the condensation would evaporate rather quickly. ( I – was – wrong.) I bumped into someone as I struggled to see through the haze and apologized profusely. I kind of expected a friendly “Don’t worry about it” or something similar, but no response. I pushed my glasses down with my covered wrist just long enough to determine if my silent victim was a Sir or a Ma’am, only to discover the likely reason for the silence. I had run into a dessert display near the service desk. Feeling rather foolish, I shoved some cupcakes into my handbasket (not handbag – c’mon, really?), which we men choose over a cart because, well, it’s a testosterone thing. I then ventured forward, where many had gone before, still in a haze.

As I walked toward the mustard aisle (is that a thing? a mustard aisle?), I began shaking my head all around and up-and-down in hopes of accelerating dissipation from The Fog still harassing my glasses. I had Taylor Swift’s “Shake It Off” playing in my mind for no valid reason, so that’s what I was trying to do. Guess I was overdoing it because a female voice asked me if I needed help. I told her there was a bug near my face and I was okay. I lowered my glasses a tad, looked over them, and saw a confused look on an employee’s face. Apparently, she thought I was jerking my head around trying to find a certain product and was asking me if she could help.

By the time the fog had cleared from both my glasses and my brain, I had managed to secure the first 5 items on my list plus the non-essential cupcakes, including the always-essential loaf of oatmeal bread. Only two items left – a gallon of milk (even more essential than the bread) and a couple of dark chocolate bars (THE most essential of all).

At the intersection of Aisle 8 and the back aisle of the store, I walked smack dab into The Great Market Basket Traffic Jam of 2020. There were like 147 people there, most of them pushing carriages every which way and lunging around like the Old Man in the Mustard Aisle. The 6 ft, rule was more like the 6-inch rule. I felt like one of those ducks in a carnival booth. Wham, Bam, no-thank -you, Ma’am. (Oops, digressed again.) I got hit by carts and elbows so many times I felt like I had fallen onto a Whack-A-Mole table. I had to do something, and fast.

And so I danced. It’s amazing how one can do the unexpected when the situation calls for it. I twisted to the left. I waltzed to the right. I dosey-doed, hucklebucked, trotted the turkey and shimmied shamelessly.

I moved like Jagger.

And I did indeed accomplish The Great Escape – though by now my butt was black and blue and my hips were too.

Almost done and more than feeling my age, I stopped in front of the chocolate section of the candy aisle. My eyes searched for the Market Basket 85% Cacao bar, my staple, which is often out-of-stock even in normal times.

There they were – four of them left. As I was about to lay claim to two of them, I got a sudden case of the “the guilts”. I had images of someone rushing up and pointing at me and yelling, “Hoarder, Hoarder”. So now, already too long in the store for safety, I found myself muttering, “one or two? one or two? What do I do?” Luckily, a young woman approached and patiently waited, observing the distancing guidelines. Since I couldn’t decide, I did the chivalrous thing and left the aisle so she could get what she wanted with me out of the way.

I headed for the milk section to pick up a gallon of 1%, allowing me a minute or two to decide on buying one or buying two of the 85% treats. Perhaps the woman would still be there, pondering her purchase as I had been, allowing me even more time to decide.

When I got back, she was gone.

And so were three of the the four 85% bars.

It’s true – the Lord works in mysterious ways !

I grabbed that remaining bar like it was a $1200 stimulus check and headed for the check-out (no pun intended) (okay, yes, it was intended) like it was closing time at the zoo. Paid, left the store, drove home, emptied the bags – and found that through my then-fog-filled glasses I had bought jalapeno mustard instead of spicy brown mustard.

Ugh. Jalapeno. Good thing I still have some TP left in the cupboard …

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