Ryan and the Technicolor Wardrobe
Short Stories and Essays

As much as it’s documented that I’ve always hated going to mall with my mom, I always enjoyed going to the grocery store with her.  There are many reasons for this: being able to get a sneak peak on what my mom was going to make for dinner for the upcoming week, getting candy and toys from the coin slotted vending machines, and  I also remember killing a lot of time by talking to the guy who worked in the back, behind the milk section of the store.  He would push the cartons forward and refill the empty spaces (Does this job still exist?).  I would never see what he looked like, I never asked him for his name, but I would ask him questions about his job, sports, and what college he went to.  I wasn’t trying to insult the guy by asking him about college.  As a young kid, I assumed everyone went to college. (or jail was the alternative, I guess).  Talking to that guy, along with being able to press the pedal that moved the conveyor belt in the checkout lane gave me plenty to do on our trips to the market, and even as an adult, I’ve still managed to find it entertaining, even though Southern California grocery stores have taken away the ability for customers to control the conveyor belt.

As an adult, I’ve found that the most entertaining thing to do at a grocery store is to see what the people ahead of you in line are buying.  In a strange way, their shopping carts give you a small window into their lives.  Perhaps, they’re just buying food for just their upcoming meal, perhaps they’re buying their groceries for their week, or maybe they’re just buying a case of beer for a party they’re going to, but it’s uncanny how much information the contents of a person’s cart can give you.  I could come up with more than a handful of categories for my fellow shopping brethren – the single bachelor and his microwave dinners, the bitter divorcee and her cheap wine, the college student and their top ramen, and so on.  The aforementioned shoppers tend to carry an air of melancholy since this is their everyday lifestyle.  It may not necessarily be permanent, but for the time being, this is how they live their lives.  As I look back, I can say that I’ve been no different.

In college, my roommates and I lived down the street from a grocery store.  We often did our grocery shopping during the twilight hours.  Whether we did this to avoid crowds, or whether we shopped late at night just because that’s what college kids did, I can’t be for certain (I’m pretty certain that we were pillaging candy from the bulk candy containers).  We were definitely stereotypically poor college students.  During our twilight grocery excursions, we would be regularly seen with a bottle of olive oil, a bottle of balsamic vinegar, and a baguette of french bread.  While these three items might not scream “college students”, the fact that we would buy these items in the middle of the night clearly does.  There were no proteins, no fruits and vegetables, just bread and “sauce” for dipping.  This was definitely a reflection of who I was then: poor and I ate to live opposed to living to eat.

I’m obviously in a different stage of my life now, and my grocery cart reflects that.  While I still might pick up the occasional baguette of bread, my cart is now balanced with proteins (steak, chicken, pork, fish), vegetables, and fruits.  I learned how to cook after college so I found that a little bit of money can go a long way if you are okay with preparing meals by yourself.  You would be able to easily discern that if you had a snapshot of my college cart and my present cart side by side.  I would probably be a little embarrassed by hypothetical snapshots and I would probably implore you “not to judge me”, but you would anyways, and you should do so.  I still judge the people ahead of me in line to pass the time, and I gain a lot of amusement from it.  So to the couple who bought store made fried chicken, two packs of Klondike Bars, a handle of the cheapest grocery store brand Vodka, and a pack of Marlboro Reds, I thank you (I also can tell what you guys were up to that night… gross).  In a super voyeuristic and twisted way, you’ve brought the youthful joy of hanging out at the grocery store back to me, whether you knew it or not.


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