I’m not a good listener. I don’t hear what people are trying to say when they don’t just say it. That’s my problem. And I talk about myself too much. So I won’t tell you too much about my life, just a couple things: I live alone, suddenly—actually in a house with five other grown men—and I work a shitty new job. Most nights I work late then hang out at the grocery store until the liquor store closes. I’m sick of meetings.
When I get to the store I skip the pharmacy and the baby section, and go for the natural foods. I used to eat all organic stuff, produce. The labels in there are good. You’re helping a rainforest tribe survive in their culture. You’re eating powdered seaweed in your pasta sauce. You can get vitamins to help your body survive whatever idiotic diet you’re on—weight loss, or sympathy, or Eastern renunciation. Buddhism is a spectator sport now, for me. And I’m not ecologically minded enough. That’s another one of my problems, she said. I eat mostly hamburger helper and tunafish now, some soup. There’s one fridge in the house, and I prefer to keep my shit in my room. I get bananas, too.
There’s a liquor store near the grocery store, and today at twenty to eight a woman came out of the baby section and passed me where I stood reading some organic coffee. She had a cart with a plastic car on the front. There was a baby slumped in the rack in front of her, the little seat. One little boy rode shotgun, one foot on the bottom rack of the cart, the other in the window of the car, swinging his whole body to shake the cart. Another kid was in the car with his head hanging out the window, trying to get kicked by the bigger one. He tipped his head back to look up at me. I didn’t make eye-contact. Land mines. I have some nephews. The woman didn’t say anything or look at me, just kept going. She was right up against the cart, using her chest to keep the baby from slumping forward into the handlebar.
I save the dairy and meats until the end; I hook back from the natural foods into the regular aisles, walk those and end up in the deli, meat, and dairy at around ten to eight. By the time I check out I can just walk out and drive home. Isn’t this what they tell you to do?
The kid working checkout tonight was Pete. He was the one with balls enough finally to ask me why I’m there every night and buy just one or two things. I told him my wife works nearby and gets off later. Which is partially true.
I was trying to figure out the Spanish on some Mexican food and I saw him and the bagger have a look at that woman while she went by. They laughed after she was in the next aisle. And the bagger I think flipped off the little fucker on shotgun. She must have turned around because all of a sudden they were looking at the register, conferring over the buttons. I was reading soup when the lady went to check out. I walked over. I’m curious about stuff like that. A guy rolled in behind me, and it felt like a crowd. I hadn’t meant to be in line, but I had tortillas in my hand and figured I could just buy them. The guy behind me had Brie and whole-grain bread and some fancy mustard and fruit.
The lady was cute. I hadn’t noticed before. She had a tight little ass and not-too-bad hair. Small shoulders and round—not fat, round—arms. You could just curl around a body like that and sleep. But she was a little young. Young with her three kids and me in a bachelor house. But whatever. She pulled out the cheese and milk from her cart, cereal, eggs, carrots, juice and some dried beans. She said something to Pete and handed him something like a cashier’s check. He rang up the stuff and wrote on the check. She signed it, then started pulling the rest of her shit out of her cart. The guy behind me was rolling his cart back and forth, blowing through his nose. I looked at some gum. I never look at the magazines. All food says is Buy me. I’m cheap. I’m imported. I’m good for you. I taste good. I’m organic. You’re helping the rainforest.
I hate magazines. 50 hot sex tips. True love quiz.
When Pete gives the lady her total she flinches, pulls out her card. But she holds it and says, “Is that right?” It’s not huge, but it doesn’t look like she bought that much. Pete says,
“Yeah, you watched me ring it all up.” The bagger snorts. I look up at him and he shuts up and bags. The lady runs her card through. Pete’s tape runs out halfway through the receipt and he has to change it. He gives it to the lady after she signs for her card, and he rings my tortillas. “Just tortillas tonight, man?” I nod. I’m your running joke. I don’t care. I pull a five, the five, out of my pocket, but I hold it crunched in my hand. The lady is still looking down her receipt. She says,
“I don’t think this is all here.”
Pete says, “One-thirty-seven,” to me.
I say, “She didn’t get her whole receipt.”
He says, “It finished printing after I changed it.”
She says, “No, there’s some missing.” Pete says he can’t re-print once he starts the next transaction. He’s not looking at her. He looks at me when he says it. I stop myself, then tell him his manager can. He looks at me and I hear the guy behind me chuckle. I say,
“Turn on your light.” My new job isn’t that shitty, but I know there’s a dinger in that office. I turn around. The guy says,
“There’s other people waiting here, you know.”
I say, “Do you sign my paychecks?”
“Go fuck yourself.”
The manager is walking over with a clipboard in his hand like he was doing something back there. Younger than me too. They’re all fucking ten years younger than me.
Pete doesn’t say anything. I tell the guy he needs to reprint her receipt. He says the same shit Pete did about not being able to once the next transaction starts. He points at the receipt in her hand and says “There’s a number here at the top that you can call any time after ten tomorrow and they can reprint it for you and you can go pick it up.” I listen to this, and the kid on shotgun is kicking the garbage behind the next register. The baby is hunched down on her purse. The lady looks up at me like I’m going to hit her. I say,
“Re-ring it, then.” Pete looks over at me. “Re-ring her stuff, then. He’s here. Re-ring it and void it. See if it comes out the same.” The guy behind me is looking around, but this is it. Just Pete and this stooge. “I’ll wait. This dipshit’ll wait.” They’re all looking at me. The lady crumples the receipt. She doesn’t fold it. Just mashes it up and sticks it in her purse around the baby.
“That’s all right,” she says.
“Re-ring the fucking order,” I say.
“Sir.” I don’t know which one said that.
I didn’t hit anyone. I dropped my five and took the tortillas and left. That was all my cash, but I have plastic. I walk past the lady on my way out. I’m going fast. She says, “hey,” then, “excuse me,” but I don’t want it.
I made it to my car without thinking anything. There’s halves of tortillas on the ground, and part of the bag is floating away. I don’t remember that, but I’m sure I didn’t hit anybody. I got out of there. And it’s still five to eight. I don’t want to stop talking, but I got nothing else to say. My hands are shaking on the steering wheel. Starting to. I’ll find a new store tomorrow.