Wednesday, September 22, 2010

The Aldi Gauntlet

The other day I was getting groceries at Aldi when I experienced a sudden bout of anxiety. It happened as I approached check-out with my cart; I had engineered my shopping pattern for last things in such a way as to guarantee an arrival in line behind, at most, one other shopper, in order to minimize waiting and self-consciousness around such obviously experienced pros. This worked as I had intended. However, the deftly-handled canned goods and bottles, the implicit camaraderie shared by seasoned mom and late-twenties cashier, and the mutual understanding of a need for quickness and efficiency in their totally ordinary transaction scared me. There was obviously a secret code! An order of adulthood into which I had not been accepted! This real-person's world, real living grocery-purchasing "I'm making it okay for now and ps can cook for myself" person's world had no current vacancy for me, and I was left with two options: fake it, or wear my incompetence endearingly on my sleeve, possibly damaging my delusional aspirations to mature personhood forever.
I chose to fake it. These were groceries, for the sake of everything good and important; if I couldn't handle groceries, how in the world of God's strange design could I handle my bank account, or having a legitimate job?
I resolved, and then acted. I started putting my things on the belt from the back of my cart, then thought, wouldn't this be easier from the front, before moving around to the front to unload other items from the front of the cart. This was going as well as I could hope, but with a loaf of bread in my temporarily palsied hand I realized the woman in front of me was paying and about to leave with her own cart - I would need to replace her cart with mine in order for the cashier to put my paid-for goods back into my cart! So with a willful and inefficient movement I rolled the cart back in front of me while simultaneously pulling out cartons of juice and apple sauce cups. The look the cashier was giving me at this point was, in a word, disinterested, until I ran over my right foot. Her eyes grew with concern. This guy just ran over his own foot with his shopping cart. I gave no indication of having felt anything and continued to drop cans and cartons on the moving surface, vacantly smiling in order to comply with the demand of my rapidly heating face and doing my best to make occasional non-threatening eye-contact. My hopes for her having not noticed my idiocy were broken with the first two words to be directed at me.
"Okay, honey," she said as she leaned into the accumulated groceries and began to ring them up. This unfortunate pair of words was a sledgehammer to my pride and pretense of self-possession. My acutely-felt failed performance of competent adulthood was emphasized further by the care she took during my purchase to be accommodating. I replied to her kind rapport in the barely-audible mouse voice of the recently shamed.
"You take it easy now, honey," followed me out the automatic doors with the escaping wind of the A/C. It seemed to be a sincere and well-meaning instruction, primarily for the sake of those unfortunate enough to care and destined to be nearby during my next demonstration of ineptitude in something totally ordinary and adult.

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