Brain Dropping #141
Check-Out. I shop at the supermarket once a week. It takes me no more than 15 minutes because I avoid 99% of what is offered on their shelves in colorful, misleading packages, and head for the very small sections of certified organic products. But before you beatify me as a Saint of Purity I must tell you that I’m a sucker for dark chocolate Kit-Kats. For most other edibles I go to Rail City Market, a small whole foods store in downtown St. Albans. For meat, raw milk, free range eggs, sauerkraut and Kim Chi I depend on my pal Doug Flack and the Flack Family Farm. I, along with four or five others, volunteer once a week to help pack and label jars of sauerkraut and kimchi in what we call the “Sauerkraut Seminar,” a combination of packing, labeling and wide ranging discussions covering genetics, evolution, political philosophy, music, movies, the politics of food and anything else that pops into our heads – followed by a lunch featuring what we call “stinky cheeses” of which Doug is an aficionado.
But I don’t mind going to the supermarket. I often bump into acquaintances and neighbors, like the unmarried twin sisters behind the deli counter, who work a dairy farm just over the hill from me in Fairfield, and who supplement their dairy income by working part-time at the supermarket. And over the years I’ve gotten to know a few of the stock clerks who miraculously seem to know how to find a needle in a haystack. One woman in particular, Denise, can zero in on any product amidst the eye-popping profusion of stuff demanding my attention – like a small jar of capers.
I also enjoy engaging the check-out clerks. Most of them, girls and boys, just out of high school, but some are middle-aged women who, I imagine, are part of a two-wage-earner couple trying to get by on the minimum wage. I always try to get beyond the routine “How are you doing today” with some comment or another, usually about the coming snow storm, or staying warm, or the dreaded possibility of pipes freezing. They all wear name tags – Claire – Carol – Roberta – John. John is blind. He’s a bagger. I would guess that he’s in his late fifties, tall with gray hair, his telescoping walking-cane lying alongside the counter. Very often I’ll bag my own groceries in my own cloth bags, just to hurry things along, but when John is bagging I keep my distance. He’s quick and can determine soft from hard items and the order of their packing by running his fingers over the counter. From time to time the woman at the cash register will call out a clue about what’s coming down the line: “Eggs coming John!” or “Glass jar!” Without fail, watching their teamwork brings with it a warm feeling that stays with me as I roll my cart out into the frigid air.