What thoughts I have of you tonight, Walt Whitman, for I walked down the
streets under the trees with a headache self-conscious looking at the full moon.
In my hungry fatigue, and shopping for images, I went into the neon fruit
supermarket, dreaming of your enumerations!
What peaches and what penumbras! Whole families shopping at night! Aisles
full of husbands! Wives in the avocados, babies in the tomatoes! — and you,
Garcia Lorca, what were you doing down by the watermelons?
~ Allen Ginsberg, “A Supermarket in California“
When did I become someone who shops for groceries at 9’o’clock on Wednesday night?
Who am I kidding? I know when it happened — it was when I decided that instead of sacrificing all of my life for my career, I was going to use this fresh, Bostonian start to become a master juggler. Remain dedicated to my nonprofit and reengage with singing and tend to my home life and also have this whole sideline as a feminist blogger.
None of those pursuits erase the body’s need for sustenance. So, the post-choir stop has become a Thing for me. And here I am.
Late-night groceries aren’t the same here as they were in the big city. Not as many college kids and grad students keeping their crazy hours. (I remember those crazy hours. I miss those crazy hours.)
It isn’t exactly like that scene in the post-apocalyptic film where folks find their way into a grocery store and forage for sustenance. But it’s close.
We seem to have an unspoken agreement, the other customers and I. Do not acknowledge one another’s presence. There’s lots of aisles and few shoppers: everyone gets their own territory and no one will get hurt.
I feel like a spy tonight, stretching the boundaries of the unspoken code. Glancing, looking, watching. Wondering and assessing.
A young woman wearing scrubs and tennis shoes: I guess she might be getting off-shift. The fabric is patterned with hearts — red, black, white. Does she work in the children’s ward? There’s an older gentleman, keeping his jacket zipped up to his neck. A mother and her school-age son: isn’t it past his bedtime by now? More professionals like me, decked in their work attire.
Also: a few guys who I’d place as from the one little college that is up the road from here. The casualness that encompasses their wardrobe — baggy shorts, loose tank tops, unshaven faces — makes me wince to think about gender programming and the self-consciousness that persists around what clothes I will allow myself to wear in public. Even when “out in public” is as banal as grocery shopping.
After ringing out, as I take my bags in-hand to depart, there is a break with protocol. A flash of recognition, acknowledgement. She works here, and this Wednesday shift has become a Thing for her, too. With the regularity of our seeing each other, why not take the risk to connect as humans, even if it’s the lightest of touches?
“Have a good night.”
A shy smile and head-nod in return. “You too.”
There’s a saying confettied across Facebook and Pinterest. The wording shifts, and the attributions are fantastical. (Plato? The ever-popular Ms. Anonymous?) But the gist of the message is: “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about.”* If I were to hold this knowledge to my heart, rather than pretending knowledge while preserving my separate-ness, how would my heart open?
What connections might I risk to make?
[Post-script] This was a response to the Day 8 prompt for Writing 101: “Go to a public location and make a detailed report of what you see. The twist of the day? Write the post without adverbs.” I haven’t done a super-intense editing pass to make sure that every single adverb was erased. In fact, there’s one adverb I left in on purpose — I tried and tried to write around it, but I couldn’t make the set-up to the Zombieland clip work as elegantly sans adverb as I could by leaving that lone “exactly” in the texture. Sometimes rules were made to be broken, right? [/Post-script]