Thursday, January 7, 2010

Produce Escape

I am driving along, two blocks away, and I am still not sure if I will give in to my boring adult responsibilities. The car ahead of me slows down and puts on the right blinker. Thinking this is a sign that NOW is the time to force myself to get something productive done, I flip on my right blinker and remind myself that I can always pull into the parking lot then drive right back out. I have done that before. But mostly I do it at gyms. I grunt a huffy complaint to myself.

"FINE. I will go do my GROCERY shopping."

It's late. It's about 11:00 PM and I am wondering when all the normal people do their grocery shopping. Those are the people who consistently shop with food lists. They are organized and they have a final dollar amount in mind before they walk in the door. If they somehow end up with an embarrassingly loud squeaky wheeled shopping cart, they know exactly what to do. They know how to discreetly and strategically abandon it so that it becomes a natural fixture near the cooler with the bags of ice. They also know how to park a cart in the pasta aisle at a perfect 45 degree angle so that other shoppers can easily pass through. Their bent over butts never get banged by other moving carts and they don't have to double-back for forgotten items.

These people are grocery store rock stars. Some of them even have small plastic folders for their coupons.

I love those small plastic folders with the elastic bands, and I wish that I had something important enough to keep in one. I remember keeping receipts in a special plastic folder for awhile, but it was really just a useless holding tank until I was satisfied that the receipts had lived long enough to finally send them on to the shredder. So my plastic folder served kind of a useless purpose. It was kind of a Death Row for my receipts.

No, I do not have important things like coupons to go into one of those plastic folders. I look through coupons that come in the mail, but I do not feel confident enough to use them. I should use them. I should be working harder at saving some of the money I spend on food. But I get panicky when I think about being up at the cash register and holding up the line while making some sort of newbie-coupon-clipper mistake.

I am used to shopping with the late night grocery crowd. We are a unique group of individuals. We are independent, off-the-reservation types who lack solid rituals or routines. We are a mixed group of single people, forgetful husbands, insomniacs, college kids, and bums. We are Silently United. We don't judge the way those snotty 6:30 PM shoppers do. No, everyone is cool in the late night grocery crowd. It's OK if the only items in your basket at checkout are baguette, ketchup, and natural toothpaste. And condoms. (Relax. It's okay.)

I park my car as close as I possibly can because the temperature is below zero. Grocery shopping feels like a drag until I walk through the sliding door. That is when my world is transformed. Time stops as I take in the scents of the baked goods and my eyes are immediately soothed by the rainbow display of color before me.

The produce section. It is a place of exploration and delight. I am wooed by the soft water mist that caresses the carrots and the kale. My nose is seduced by the sweet fruity vapors mixed with earthy root vegetable aromas. The produce section is an escape from the banalities of my chalk-white winter life.

Lately I have been keeping my mittens on while I shop in the produce section. I suppose it's a comfort thing. I keep my head low because I am afraid of making eye contact with people who have a more purposeful agenda in produce (i.e. guys wearing blue tooth headsets getting explanations from their wives on how to properly identify the jicama from the turnips).

I walk around in big, slow circles, picking up items with my soft black paws. I sniff things – mangoes, oranges, herbs, tomatoes, and pomegranates. These pomegranates fascinate me. I have seen a coworker eat them at work, and through watching her I know about their lovely interior. Each pomegranate holds exactly 613 seeds. The seeds are these translucent rubies bursting with a sweet-tart splashy crunch.

I am feeling compulsively extravagant. I often get that feeling in the produce section. I notice that for the cost of seven dollars, I can purchase a tub of pomegranate seeds. I think about how it will take away from the enriching experience of digging through the pomegranate flesh if I purchase the seeds pre-picked, but I just want them. They look so enticing in the clear plastic package, like a jewelry box full of precious gems.

I pick up the clear pomegranate package and place it in the corner of my cart just in case I change my mind about this extravagant purchase. I meander over to the natural products section because I like smelling the beeswax candles. I shuffle over to the kitchen items section and I stare at the blue dish gloves that my dad once convinced me to buy. He liked grocery shopping, and it was a real treat for the two of us to walk the aisles of this grocery store late at night. Like me, he has a childlike fascination with products stacked on shelves, so we would spend hours discussing new utensils and we would debate a purchase of expensive local Maple Pecan ice cream. Of course we bought the ice cream.

It's late – almost midnight – and there are no normal people here. Normal people are at home fast asleep and their clothes are laid out for work in the morning.

There is this man who works the night shift at this particular gourmet 24-hour grocery store, and he stops me as I am looking at organic turkey hot dogs.

"You must do cross country skiing!!!"

Yes, alright, he's right I am wearing my Swix earmuffs which are from my high school skiing days. Yet I do not know how to break out of my produce trance and discuss sports with this man. I have seen him working here before late at night. He is overly energetic and uncomfortably conversational. Sometimes when I am checking out at the cash register, he talks about how much he loves "the night crowd" of grocery shoppers because they are different than the day people.

Has it truly come to this? Am I not of the 'day people'? Am I a single woman who buys pomegranate seeds at midnight for no good reason?

I am distracted by this thought as he stands there smiling, waiting for me to answer whether I want paper or plastic. But I have half-heartedly brought my own cloth bags. I have done this less out of concern for the environment and more out of avoiding the possibility of being ostracized in Uptown.

I carry my bags to the car and I already feel vaguely annoyed as I think about lugging the bags into my apartment. But once I arrive, safe and sound in my little Uptown kitchen, I take out all of my produce items and I have a little produce buffet. Plastic containers of blackberries, raspberries, and cherry tomatoes are dripping water in the sink, and my tub of sparkling pomegranate seeds awaits a big fat spoon. I sample a bunch of my food and it's as if I have came home from clothes shopping and tried on every sweater and pair of pants at the same time.

The pomegranate seeds prove to be worth the seven dollars. I go to my refrigerator and I eat spoonfuls of them for the next few weeks, and each time it is an escape for the senses. Food has this uncanny ability to refresh, comfort, and delight. Someday I want the luxury of eating only fresh produce. And I want to have a garden. I will walk out to my garden at midnight and pluck raspberries off the bushes and pick tomatoes from the vines.

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