How do I work this?

Since in America you are what you consume, here’s a self-portrait. The dominant colors are green and orange. I buy in pairs. They don’t do 3-for-2 specials here. Because we hardly ever do the weekly shop at either of these stores, it was a sort of skewed one that anticipates the departure of my husband on a business trip and a meal plan that read Wintzell’s for one night (but then we stayed home and grilled chicken) and babysitter another, the rest left to chance, marinade and the magic of the slow cooker. I was thinking a lot about packed lunches, too. Packed lunches and breakfasts.

When I returned home and set out my purchases my husband’s comment was “you didn’t buy enough food,” but I think this will get us through the week.

I showed him the mojo sauce, which will extend the chicken into a second meal. The first supermarket is crazy expensive. They blast classical music along with the air conditioning, which feels to me like the display of haughty airs of a waiter at a fancy restaurant or a country club in a 70s sitcom, where the protagonist is first cowed and then, provoked by some snobbish moral breach, later able to assert his true, down-to-earth character and values, reject unpronounceable delicacies, throw down the starched napkin and either order beer, ask for ketchup or leave in a huff, announcing his intention to go enjoy a brontosaurus burger at the drive-in. Other patrons sniff and daintily return to the food while the waiter shudders in disgust and the management howls “…and never come back,” to which our hero rejoins, “don’t worry, I won’t!” and the studio audience applauds madly.

I do however appreciate this supermarket’s dedication to the finer things when it comes to  chicken, which is what takes me there. My colleague has been recommending a particular brand of bacon so I take a pack. Beans have better graphics, less sodium and are on offer for $1 per tin, but then I’m trying to remember what they charge for beans at Kroger, 86 cents? $1.03? But the music is so elegant. Two pears. Total $32. (The chicken is nearly $10, but totally worth it.)

I would add that this is also a place where they make elaborate displays out of the seasonal Peeps (sugar-coated marshmallow shapes) now produced for any occasion that resembles a holiday, not just for Easter anymore, a yearlong rotation of Mike and Ikes and Dots and other candy change along with them so that one walks past this display, in recalibrated hues—irony or just smart marketing? Both!—on the way to the cheese counter, Vivaldi blaring.

Lurpak butter, yay, and chorizo. A pack of somewhat healthy looking chicken tenders/fingers. Lunchbox snacks: cereal bars, “fruit chews,” made from “natural” ingredients (candy you can eat in school). Frozen berries that haven’t been treated with anything. Other items: seeds to grow basil and catnip, which I hear repels mosquitoes, hair elastics, needles and pins, cotton balls, Snoopy stickers.

I buy broccoli, a red onion, spring onions, carrots and some rose garlic from Mexico. (Click the link, it’s a great recipe.)

I photograph the groceries on the conveyor belt as I get the idea that this is a snapshot of a state of mind, and of having settled in, but also not totally acquiescing to the amazing amount of products and non-food “food” on offer. A portrait that mingles need with desire.

Photographing your own groceries at the store is like announcing that you are insane.

I have stopped beating myself up about not being able to find my car in the parking lot. Cars all look pretty much the same. You can ask my friend Mia. Unable to distinguish one beige sedan from another I locked my bridesmaid dress for her wedding in the wrong car. When we returned to the car where I had done this, she cried incredulously, “You thought this was my car? This looks nothing like my car!”

On closer inspection it was seedy and beat-up. There were some Herbalife brochures and product displays on the seat, cigarettes in the ashtray, tsotchkes on the dash. Fortunately the owner returned and was understanding about our attempt to retrieve the dress with a coat hanger pushed through the gap in a window.

It is certain that this is my car. There is a spray of red dirt against the front fender from some truck in front of me the other day and lying on the seat are the elaborate directions I print out when  I need to take an unfamiliar route.

I’m sure the chain-smoking Herbalife saleswoman in Seattle has these moments, too. Standing in front of a sleek, taupe, maybe Mercedes sedan, smoothing her hair in the wind, seeing herself in the tinted glass, wondering if her key will open the door.

I sit in the car with my purchases, my idea of the week ahead, my hopes for it, the balm of the stocked pantry, the promise of industrious kitchen arts. The pears are the first to go.


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