Monday, November 7, 2011

Adventures in Shopping

I have a cell phone mainly for emergency purposes. I don’t text, I don’t tweet, I don’t watch Israeli action movies on it, I don’t take pictures of every single thing I see and post it on Tumblr, I can’t land a Harrier jet on an aircraft carrier, I can’t control the route of a city bus, I can’t read John Grisham’s latest tome of good lawyer vs. bad lawyer. I carry the phone with me and occasionally make a call.

To save money I have a Tracphone. There is no $80/a month plan with so many conditions and provisions you need a major in accounting with a minor in international law to understand the contract you are signing in blood. To keep a Tracphone active you add a minimum of 20 minutes to the phone every 3 months at a cost of $20. If you miss your end date, however, then you have to call the company, talk to a man with a Pakistani accent named Steve and jump through hoops to get it reactivated. I believe the last time I had to purchase an elephant and teach it to use its trunk to blow “Melancholy Baby” on a trumpet before my service was restored.

Last Friday was my last day to get a new card to put minutes on before my phone deactivated. I went first to a local grocery store I knew sold the cards. The store was packed with what appeared to be lunatics from an asylum, wandering the aisles, gape-mouthed and drooling. I bobbed and weaved through the throng, got to the Tracphone display stand only to see the $20 cards sold out. Oh, they had plenty of the expensive cards: 200 minutes, a years worth of minutes, enough minutes to connect with the other side and call your dearly departed Aunt Gertrude to ask why Uncle Fred can’t stop farting when he walks. If I had wanted to take out a loan from the man named Murray who sat behind a desk snacking on oyster crackers, I could have had my card.

Instead I got back in my car, fought the traffic to drive through the intersection to the Rite Aid on the other side of route 24. I wandered the empty aisles until I found the display and . . . they were sold out of the $20 cards also. “What’s going on here?” I thought. Have I stumbled onto a vast, global conspiracy to deplete the stock of Tracphone cards? Were their men in black suits watching me, recording my thoughts and catching my skin flakes in tightly wrapped tin foil? Were the Lizard People using Soviet manufactured satellites to track the bar code imprinted on a computer chip that was embedded in my left nostril?

I decided it was all a coincidence and left the store in a huff, giving an odd glance to a man in a dark suit perusing a copy of Global Conspiracy Magazine. I drove to yet another grocery store where finally, I found my $20 phone card.

I should have ended my painful shopping trip right there but no, I made the fateful decision to buy a few groceries. It was during my time in the bread, egg and cheese aisle that I heard the thing that haunted the rest of my weekend. I was happily picking out a package of provolone cheese when a family passed behind me. It was a Norman Rockwellian scene: A mother with her three children in tow, shopping for the family’s basic needs. One of the children asked if they could buy a particular item. I couldn’t understand what the child said but the mother’s response flattened me.

“No,” she replied, “those always loosen you up too much.”

I have never vomited in a grocery store and I was determined to keep that streak alive. The bile that rose in my throat from the graphic image that popped into my head with a devious grin, stayed in my mouth. I choked on it. Choked hard. I ran to the check-out, barreling over an old woman trying to choose between extra-absorbent and super extra-absorbent paper towels. I showed the clerk the items in my hands, threw a wad of money at her and ran from the store.

Once in my car, I wept openly. The world was a darker, danker place and my innocence had been tossed into the trash. I hate shopping on a Friday night.

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